Review: Taken by the Russian, by Alexa Riley

Taken by the RussianTaken by the Russian by Alexa Riley
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

I’ve finally read my first Alexa Riley book! I know I’m pretty late to the game…but it was good. I give it a solid 3.5 stars. I’m still trying to decide exactly how I feel about it, so my rating might change in the future.

I always struggle with how to rate quick, smutty reads like this one. I can’t rate it against other full-length books, because that isn’t the type of story that this is. Instead, my rating is based upon other comparable, short, smutty reads — if that makes any sense.

The story is very short and progresses quickly. There wasn’t a lot of character development and things just seemed to kind of happen without much build-up. That being said, I was surprised with the amount of development that was there, given the small number of pages.

Anya is a young girl, on the brink of her eighteenth birthday, at the onset of the story. She has been sheltered for most of her life, but is headed off to college. Her long-time bodyguard, Sasha, is supposed to deliver her to school, but he has other plans.

Sasha has worked for Anya’s father for several years. In exchange for bringing his family to America, he agreed to serve as Anya’s bodyguard for an agreed upon number of years. During that time, one of his primary responsibilities was making sure that she remained pure and untouched. That task proved to be almost unbearable for Sasha, who has lusted after her for years. Taking her to college is his last assigned duty before his time is up.

The huge age difference between Anya and Sasha definitely adds to the taboo nature of this story. Add to that the fact that Sasha had been fantasizing about Anya for years, since the time she was middle-school aged, and it is enough to make you pretty damn uncomfortable. Of course, that is the appeal.

Needless to say, Anya and Sasha eventually cross the line and their relationship morphs into something entirely new…and dirty. I’m pretty drawn to taboo and forbidden stories, but this was pretty over-the-top. I enjoyed it, but it was the kind of smutty entertainment that I just can’t take too seriously. Some of it was incredibly hot. Other parts were kind of disturbing.

All in all, I thought that it was a pretty good, smutty read. I can definitely see what the appeal is, now that I’ve read my first Alexa Riley book. Usually, I prefer a lot more build-up and development in my stories, but this is a great choice if you’re looking for a quick, dirty and hot type of read. This is definitely a “guilty pleasure” type of story.

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Review: The Iron Tiara, by Beth Flynn

The Iron TiaraThe Iron Tiara by Beth Flynn
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I loved ‘Nine Minutes’. So, when I saw that Beth Flynn had published a spin-off, I was all over it. No way was I going to miss anything remotely related to Grizz and Ginny!

‘The Iron Tiara’ is the story of Anthony Bear and Christy Chapman. If you’ve read ‘Nine Minutes’, you’ll remember Anthony as the leader of the “rival” biker gang on Florida’s west coast and Grizz’s best friend. This book shows a softer side to the intimidating biker.

Like Grizz and Ginny, Anthony and Christy’s relationship began with an abduction and captivity by the leader of a dangerous biker gang. That is where the similarities end though. Christy was an adult at the time she was taken. Anthony’s motives were also much different than Grizz’s.

While Grizz stole Ginny because he wanted her and had every intention of claiming her as his woman, Anthony did not set out to possess Christy. In fact, he loathed her initially. Their relationship evolved as Anthony watched her and came to realize that his preconceived notions about who she was were entirely unfounded.

Anthony took Christy as leverage. Her step-father owed Anthony a lot of money and Anthony planned to hold her hostage until he paid up. Unfortunately, Christy wasn’t the cherished princess that Anthony had envisioned. In fact, her relationship with her step-father was probably worse than Anthony’s relationship with him was.

After Christy’s step-father, Van, skips town, Anthony continues to keep Christy as his prisoner. As the reality that he isn’t coming back begins to dawn on him, he decides to keep her for entirely different reasons. He wants her, whether he is ready to admit it to himself or not.

Meanwhile, it becomes evident that Anthony isn’t the only one looking for Christy. Her step-father’s careless spending placed her on the radar of some very dangerous people. It is then that her captor transitions to the role of protector.

Despite the captivity theme, the relationship between Anthony and Christy develops over time. Anthony woos Christy gradually, even though he recognizes his feelings pretty early-on. Don’t expect any type of sex slave scenarios to play out here.

I enjoyed the slow burn of their relationship. Likewise, the glimpses of Grizz and Ginny’s story, told from a new POV, were a nice touch. Seeing the worlds of these characters intersect and putting the pieces together to form a more robust history was really nice.

That being said, I didn’t enjoy this book quite as much as ‘Nine Minutes’. Don’t misunderstand me, it was great. ‘Nine Minutes’ is a tough act to follow.

In the end, I though that this was a wonderful spin-off. I enjoyed it quite a bit. I’m still dying to get my hands on the next book in the ‘Nine Minutes’ series and this book provided some extra background and paved the way for what is to come. I cannot wait!

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Review: The Things We Wish Were True, by Marybeth Mayhew Whalen

The Things We Wish Were TrueThe Things We Wish Were True by Marybeth Mayhew Whalen
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

‘The Things We Wish Were True’ was a book that I picked up with my Kindle Unlimited membership. I listened to the Audible edition and it was better than I expected. This story had a lot going on, but the author managed to weave the characters and events together seamlessly. It was my first Marybeth Mayhew Whalen book, but it won’t be my last.

The story is set in the small, southern town of Sycamore Glen, North Carolina. I enjoyed the description of this town and thought that the author did a fabulous job of capturing the essence of a small southern town. So often, authors are guilty of only portraying southern towns as being filled with idiotic, racist rednecks, feeding into all of the worst stereotypes of the people in this region of the country.

As a Mississippi native, I appreciate that this author didn’t do that, taking the time to present a more balanced view. There are certainly some racist rednecks in the South, but they aren’t a good representation of the majority. Having lived in, and traveled to, various locales across the country, I can assure you that racist, ignorant rednecks are everywhere. Sad, but true.

The story is told from multiple POVs. Everyone seems to get a chance to share their version of events. With a robust cast of characters, I admit that this was a little confusing at first. However, it wasn’t long before I had all of the characters sorted and I was completely lost in the goings on of this small community.

This is the type of town where everyone is connected somehow. Maybe their grown kids went to school with the young parents that are now raising their own families in town, as was the case for Zell. Maybe they’ve returned to town to lick their wounds, returning to the safety of their parents’ home after a failed marriage, as Jancey did. Perhaps, like Lance, they’re struggling to raise their children alone after being abandoned by their spouse. Or, maybe they’re trying to grow their family while working hard to keep their secrets at bay, like Everett and Bryte.

Everyone has a story and their lives are interconnected. Some connections are obvious, while others are revealed slowly, over the course of the book. The tragic near-drowning of a child at the community pool will pull them all together and set a series of events in motion.

Despite being a relatively short book, there was a lot going on. A child abductor is in their midst. Lies, betrayals and secrets abound. However, the author manages to incorporate many different elements without the story feeling “over the top” or outrageous. Granted, some things were a bit too coincidental, but it worked overall.

All in all, this was a great story. I really enjoyed it and found myself lost in the small town drama that played out. If you’re looking for an entertaining read that has a little mystery, without a high level of suspense and anxiety, I think this is a good choice.

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Review: Preppy: The Life & Death of Samuel Clearwater, Part 3 (King, #7), by T. M. Frazier

Preppy: The Life & Death of Samuel Clearwater, Part Three (King, #7)Preppy: The Life & Death of Samuel Clearwater, Part Three by T.M. Frazier
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

As much as I have enjoyed the ‘King’ series, I have mixed feelings about this book. Preppy is a favorite character of mine, but I was left feeling somewhat underwhelmed with this final book in his story. At the same time, I was glad that everything was tied up and that the series drew to a close. I think it was time. It is kind of bittersweet for me.

Like earlier books in the series, Preppy, Bear and King team up to take on those that would do them harm. This time around, Dre is a target. Picking up right where the last book left off, Dre is in a dire situation and has to fight for her life. That isn’t the last time that they’ll find themselves in a life or death struggle though.

Despite the action and danger that fills the pages, I was left feeling somewhat bored. Maybe I’ve just grown tired of the constant danger and implausibility of this series, but I just wasn’t surprised or even anxious while reading this one. It felt kind of flat for me.

That being said, it was nice to see these characters all “grown up” and settled down. Each of them managed to find their happy place, going on to have children and live out their HEAs. These rough and tumble, drug-dealing guys have become the picture of domestic bliss. It is kind of sweet, in a bizarre way.

Overall, I thought that this ended up being a pretty good book. It didn’t hold my attention like the earlier books in the series, but I was also glad to see everything wind down and come to a close. It was a great ride while it lasted, but it was time.

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Review: Yasmeena’s Choice: A True Story of War, Rape, Courage and Survival, by Jean Sasson

Yasmeena's Choice: A True Story of War, Rape, Courage and SurvivalYasmeena’s Choice: A True Story of War, Rape, Courage and Survival by Jean Sasson
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Set in Kuwait, ‘Yasmeena’s Choice’ is a graphic account of war crimes committed by Iraqi soldiers. The focus of Ms. Sasson’s work is the lives of women in the Middle East. Accordingly, this book is centered on the experience of Yasmeena, a young Lebanese woman that is in Kuwait at the time of the Iraqi invasion. After surviving a harrowing experience, she tells her story, bringing these atrocities to light.

Yasmeena is a flight attendant and it is only by chance that she finds herself in Kuwait on the day that Iraq invades it’s much smaller and more peaceful neighbor. She had agreed to trade shifts with a coworker. It’s funny how sometimes the small, seemingly mundane events in our lives often have the ability to set off a chain of events that is unforeseeable. This small act of kindness toward a coworker ends up being the most significant decision of Yasmeena’s life.

When the Iraqis invade, Yasmeena finds herself stranded in besieged country. She runs into a family friend, who invites her to stay with him and his family at their home while they wait out the Iraqis. At this point, everyone is sure that the invasion will be very short-term. Nobody could have predicted that the occupation would have gone on for so long before other nations intervened.

Stopped at a road block, Yasmeena is arrested and sent to a prison of sorts. However, this prison houses only female prisoners and their sole purpose is to satisfy the sexual urges of the Iraqi soldiers. Nothing was off-limits. When a soldier tired of his chosen victim, he just killed her and took another one. It was despicable.

Not surprisingly, this was an incredibly difficult story to read. The author did not hold back. This book is meant to upset and outrage readers and it certainly hit it’s mark. Yasmeena’s accounts of life as a female prisoner for her and the other girls under the Iraqi soldiers was horrifying.

This book serves to raise awareness and shine a light on one of the brutal realities of war — the crimes against women and children. The torture and rape of civilians, particularly women and children, is not something unique to Iraqi soldiers or this particular war. Yet, it is a topic that few dare to address. It is the worst kept “dirty little secret” of war that nobody wants to discuss. However, if it continues to be hidden away and ignored, then there is no hope for change.

Despite the brutality of this story, I think that it was an important book. It is a call to action, forcing readers to think about the plight of women in this war-torn region of the world. More importantly, it exposes the human side of these crimes and the emotional impact on the victims, making it harder to dehumanize them. Books like this one are painful, but necessary.

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Review: Kings Rising (Captive Prince, #3), by C. S. Pacat

Kings Rising (Captive Prince, #3)Kings Rising by C.S. Pacat
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Like earlier books in this series, ‘Kings Rising’ had my rapt attention from beginning to end. This book was action-packed and full of emotion. It broke my heart, only to piece it back together slowly. I loved every minute!

This book sees both Damen and Laurent fighting to reclaim their kingdoms. Despite their differences, the two are forced into a tenuous alliance. They need one another, if either of them hopes to succeed. This makes for plenty of emotional highs and lows along the way as the two attempt to navigate through their new realities. In many ways, the tables have turned. At the same time, so much remains unchanged.

Finally, all of Damen’s secrets are out in the open. No longer does he live in fear of what will happen when Laurent finds out who he really is. Instead, he now lives with his wrath. If he thought that Laurent would be angry, he was right.

To say that I found this a little hypocritical is putting it mildly. I kept thinking, “where does Laurent get off?” After all, Damen was his slave by force. Of course he would keep a secret like that. What did he expect him to do, tell his captor his true identity and face certain death?

That feeling only grew stronger as Laurent revealed some secrets of his own. I mean, where did he get off being so self-righteous? It seemed to me that Damen was played, yet again. If anything, Laurent proved, once again, to be one of the most manipulative characters that I’ve ever encountered.

Even so, I cannot deny that I absolutely loved this book. Every interaction between Damen and Laurent was like a delicious little drop of heaven for me. I spent the moments between their encounters holding my breath, waiting for their next interaction. It was pathetic really, but I have no shame.

In the end, I was left feeling quite satisfied. I wasn’t sure that these two would ever get there, but they eventually get some peace. I’m not a big fan of M/M romances generally, but I absolutely loved this series. It was heartfelt and sexy, with plenty of action along the way. The characters and storyline were well-developed and engaging. I would definitely recommend this series to others.

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Review: Prince’s Gambit (Captive Prince, #2), by C. S. Pacat

Prince's Gambit (Captive Prince, #2)Prince’s Gambit by C.S. Pacat
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

As the ‘Captive Prince’ series progresses, I find myself completely lost in the story of Damen and Laurent. Talk about a slow-burn, I have been dying for something to happen between these two. The anticipation was absolutely killing me.

While the first book primarily focused on the hedonistic indulgences and cruelty of Laurent’s court, this second book shows more of the inner workings. Many of the pieces are beginning to fall into place. There is far more to Laurent’s situation than meets the eye. In many ways, he is every bit the captive that Damen is.

The nearer Laurent gets to the day that he will claim his throne, the more underhanded his uncle becomes. It is evident that he has no intention of ever relinquishing the power of being King. He does everything within his power to discredit and undermine his nephew at every turn.

Unfortunately for Laurent’s uncle, his own manipulations end up being unexpectedly counterproductive. He coerces Laurent into serving near the border, anticipating that he and the substandard group of soldiers that he sent him with will end up being killed off. The assassins that he sends will surely finish off the job if the poor state of the group does not manage to die of their own accord.

Instead, Laurent and Damen form an unlikely alliance. Their tenuous relationship grows much stronger, even becoming the best of friends. Damen often finds himself in the position of a trusted confidante for Laurent. Before long, the two are practically inseparable.

At last, it is evident that there is far more going on between Laurent and Damen than meets the eye. Of course, there is a pervasive ominous feeling to this book. Damen’s identity is still a secret at this point. The looming threat of discovery lingers, tainting his interactions with Laurent. The more he grows to care for Laurent, the more Damen fears that his betrayal will come to light.

I enjoyed every minute of this book. I was taken in by the evolution of Damen and Laurent’s relationship from enemies to friends to lovers. I want things to work out for them so badly, even as I know that disaster is lurking around the corner. So many secrets. So many feelings. My heart is breaking for these two.

Needless to say, I thought that this was a wonderful book. I will dive into the third book immediately. I absolutely must know how things work out for Damen and Laurent. Despite the fact that M/M is not my usual preferred genre, I have absolutely fallen in love with this story. I want Damen and Laurent to get the HEA so badly.

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Review: Captive Prince: Volume One (Captive Prince, #1), by C. S. Pacat

Captive Prince: Volume One (Captive Prince, #1)Captive Prince: Volume One by C.S. Pacat
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

‘Captive Prince’ has been on my radar for a long time now. I have seen a plethora of glowing reviews from friends that have loved this series. As curious as I was, I kept putting off reading this series because M/M reads aren’t really my thing. However, my curiosity finally got the best of me and I downloaded the first audiobook in the series.

The rest is history! I blew through all three audiobooks in a couple of days, listening to them back to back until I had devoured the entire series. This series was fantastic!

Since I finished all three books in the series before sitting down to write my reviews, I’ll do my best not to give any big spoilers. The specifics of where one book ended and the next began are a little hazy for me. However, they were all worthwhile and highly entertaining books.

‘Captive Prince: Volume One’, introduces us to Damen and Laurent. The two are princes from rival kingdoms, only Damen’s true identity is a secret to everyone in Laurent’s court. If his true identity were known, he would surely be executed. Damen is surrounded by enemies, betrayed by his half-brother and sold into slavery.

Although the two are enemies, Damen and Laurent have many things in common. Both princes have fallen prey to family members who want to seize their crowns. Damen had his rule usurped by his illegitimate half-brother, Kastor, while Laurent is at the mercy of his uncle, who rules in his stead until Laurent is old enough to claim his crown.

That being said, it is hard to envision Laurent in the role of a victim. From the first introduction, his manipulative, and often cruel, nature is apparent. His treatment of Damen is deplorable as he strives to assert his power over his new, wild and unbroken pleasure slave. Laurent is clearly a character that enjoys head games.

On the other hand, Damen is a character that has instant appeal. He is put in an unspeakable situation and betrayed by the brother that he looked up to. My heart went out to Damen. I wanted to see him prevail.

Upon Damen’s arrival in the Vere, he is thrown into a life of debauchery. The Verethian court is filled with hedonistic and taboo sexual activities. The members of the courts indulge in every depraved act you can imagine. Nothing is off-limits, with the exception of enjoying pleasure slaves of the opposite gender in an effort to prevent the conception of illegitimate children that would sully the Verethian bloodlines. Rape and pedophilia are a way of life.

Accordingly, this will not be a book for many readers. It is full of dark, controversial and offensive content. This is not a lovey dovey type of story AT ALL. You will be appalled.

In fact, that is a large part of the appeal of this story. There aren’t too many graphic sex acts depicted, but the constant lingering threat of rape gives this book a very ominous feeling. I spent the entire time on the edge of my seat, waiting for the assault that I knew was inevitable. The anticipation, and resulting anxiety, was immense.

For most of this book, Laurent portrays a spoiled, bratty and cruel prince. He treats Damen harshly and is extremely abusive. However, there are brief glimpses of another side of him. I have no doubt that there is far more to Laurent than meets the eye.

This book definitely had my rapt attention. It wasn’t like most of the books that I read, but I was completely hooked. Without missing a beat, I dived right into the second book to continue Damen and Laurent’s story.

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Review: The King (Masterpiece Duet, #1), by Skye Warren

The King (Masterpiece Duet, #1)The King by Skye Warren
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I have been dying to get my hands on Damon Scott’s story ever since he was introduced in ‘The Pawn’. He was just so sexy and dangerous that I couldn’t help but be drawn to his character. At the same time, it was clear that he wasn’t entirely “bad”. He had an underlying protective, even kind, nature that would sometimes shine through. When Penny was later introduced, the obvious tension and history between the two piqued my interests even more. I had to have this book.

Thankfully, I can say that this book did not disappoint. The Damon and Penny’s story was absolutely captivating. It was a story of youthful innocence against the backdrop of the city’s gritty criminal underbelly. It was also a story of innocence lost, addiction, betrayal and other unspeakable acts. There were so many facets of this story and I loved every single one.

Penny first meets Damon when she is a young girl. Living on the streets to try and escape his crazy father, a teenaged Damon grows fond of the bold little girl from the trailer park near the woods where he was camped. Left on their own as Penny’s father leaves her for days at a time to feed his gambling addiction, the two strike up an unlikely friendship. In many ways, Damon becomes an older brother type of figure in her life, although it is apparent that some of his feelings aren’t very brotherly.

Eventually, the two lose contact, but neither one forgets about the other. Penny grows into a teenager, struggling to make ends meet while her father continues to gamble away every bit of her money that she earned waiting tables. Meanwhile, Damon rises up from the back alleys to become a king of sorts in the criminal underground, his power surpassing even his own father’s.

When Penny’s father’s addiction places her in grave danger again, she finds herself in the crosshairs of Jonathan Scott. Knowing that his son cares about Penny only makes her an irresistible temptation for Damon’s deranged father. While Damon works hard to try and free Penny from the situation that her own father placed her in, Jonathan Scott sets out to harm Damon and he plans to use Penny as the tool to do so.

If you’ve read the ‘Endgame’ series, then you’re already aware of the outcome for Jonathan Scott and the state that Penny was left in. This book provides the backstory that was not provided in that series. It details the events leading up to Penny’s horrible attack and provides far more details about the events that followed. Some of the timeline overlaps with the ‘Endgame’ series, but most of it does not.

This book leaves off with a lot of questions unanswered, which is no big surprise since there is another book expected in this series. I am dying to see how Damon and Penny will move forward. I’m not even humoring the thought that they won’t be moving forward together at this point. It just isn’t going to happen. No way!

I will certainly be reading the next book as soon as it is released. There is no way that I would miss it. If you are a fan of the ‘Endgame’ series, you don’t want to miss this spin-off series. If you haven’t read the ‘Endgame’ series, I would recommend that you start there. You could certainly read this series as a standalone, but you’ll miss a lot of the backstory and details that are provided in that series. They’re both wonderful though, so enjoy!

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Review: The Knight (The Stolen Duet, #2), by B. B. Reid

The Knight (Stolen Duet #2)The Knight by B.B. Reid
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Much like the first book in the series, ‘The Knight’ continues to provide plenty of emotional turmoil and action. While ‘The Bandit’ draws you into the mysterious workings of Angel’s crime family and leaves you with plenty to ponder, ‘The Knight’ is full of revelations — about both the criminal organization and the personal lives of the characters.

When the extent of Angel’s duplicity is revealed, Mian must face the fact that she never really knew the man that she thought she loved at all. Even I was surprised by the lengths that he had gone to and just how deceptive he had been. Suddenly, I had to look at all of his subsequent actions through a new lens. No longer did he even have the slightest claim to being a victim.

While there was a tremendous shift in the overall “feel” of the book that followed some of these shocking revelations, it still proved to be a captivating read. It was every bit as sexy as the first book, with plenty of tension between characters. Despite his horrible actions, Mian couldn’t completely freeze Angel out.

Thankfully, Mian actually makes Angel pay for his crimes. There is nothing that I hate more than when a heroine forgives the hero after he does something atrocious with little more than an insincere apology. The need to make the hero suffer a little for his crimes is something that this author understands well. While Angel doesn’t come off as weak or sappy, he definitely has to pay for his crimes and work hard to try and win Mian over again.

My only major complaint about this book is that, like the first book, the editing was horrible. This book is littered with simple grammatical mistakes that will drive many readers nuts. These errors were frequent and should have been caught easily, because they were so “basic”. Sometimes there were multiple errors on a single page. I frequently found myself having to stop and re-read a sentence, making the corrections in my mind for what should have been written. It wasn’t so bad that you couldn’t figure out what the author meant to say, but it disrupted the flow of the story in a big way. This was a huge draw back and did take away from the reading experience.

That being said, the story itself was still pretty good. It had just enough mystery to keep me wondering about what would be around the next corner. Meanwhile, it was very erotic and even emotional at times.

If there is an audiobook version available, that might be a better way to experience this story. A lot of times the narrator will “fix” many of these editing errors as they read the story, in my experience. Otherwise, I’d only recommend this series to individuals that have a great deal of patience when it comes to these types of errors.

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