Review: With Everything I Am (The Three, #2), by Kristen Ashley

With Everything I Am (The Three, #2)With Everything I Am by Kristen Ashley
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

The second book in Kristen Ashley’s ‘The Three’ series, ‘With Everything I Am’ tells the story of Callum and Sonia. Callum, the King of Werewolves, meets his mate when she is a young girl. Although their initial interaction was brief, Callum was never far from Sonia’s mind.

Since she was a young girl, Sonia has dreamed about the wolf she “adopted” as a young girl. After the death of her parents, she is taken in by a family friend. Eventually her family’s cabin and “her wolf” remain only in her dreams.

When Sonia is attacked, Callum is forced to claim his mate earlier than he had intended. The threat to her safety has made it imperative that Callum step in. He no longer has time for the prolonged “human” courtship that he had planned for Sonia.

Unaware of the existence of supernatural beings, Sonia dismisses everything Callum does as the actions of a madman. Clearly, he is unhinged and completely delusional. Initially thinking that she’s been kidnapped for ransom, she soon decides that Callum is the leader of some fanatical cult instead. This made for some pretty comical situations as Callum tries to win Sonia over.

As Sonia comes to terms with the existence of werewolves and other supernatural beings, she slowly comes to question her own special abilities. Sonia has always had extremely heightened senses, but never knew the cause. Furthermore, she suffers from a debilitating illness that she must take daily injections to manage or risk suffering tremendously.

This book was definitely a slow-burn, as is typical of a Kristen Ashley book. At times, I found myself wondering if the storyline would ever progress. Similar to the first book, Callum was not upfront with Sonia about the prophecy and what she meant to him.

Eventually, everything between Callum and Sonia works itself out. Now two of the three prophesied couples have connected. Things are heating up and it is clear that war is on the horizon.

After finishing ‘With Everything I Am’, I was anxious to meet the third couple and see what Ms. Ashley has in store for these supernatural warriors. I am sure that the third book will prove to be much more action-oriented and dangerous. I cannot wait for Lucien’s father to get what he has coming.

Overall, this was a great story. It was a little slow at times, but the characters and storyline were well-developed and engaging. I enjoyed Sonia’s quirky personality and sense of humor quite a bit. I will definitely be continuing this series.

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Review: The Julian Chapter: A Wonder Story (Wonder, #1.5), by R. J. Palacio

The Julian Chapter: A Wonder StoryThe Julian Chapter: A Wonder Story by R.J. Palacio
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I absolutely loved ‘Wonder’ and think that everyone should read/listen to it at least once. However, with all of the different viewpoints offered, I felt like one of the most important POVs had been skipped. As much as I detested Julian in ‘Wonder’, I really wanted to know exactly what made him such a mean kid. How does a child learn to behave so hatefully?

Apparently, I wasn’t the only person that felt that Julian’s POV was needed. Immediately upon finishing ‘Wonder’, I went in search of Julian’s POV and I lucked out. The author wrote a separate short story to tell Julian’s side of the story. Of course, I dived right into Julian’s story right away and it proved to be a great decision.

I have to admit that as much as I wanted to hear Julian’s side of events and learn about what motivated him, I was a bit hesitant. Julian was a character that made me feel anger and rage at his actions. I had to keep reminding myself while reading ‘Wonder’ that he was just a child and that he probably didn’t fully grasp the impact of his words. Starting this book, I was worried that I wouldn’t find any redeeming qualities in Julian and that I would spend hours being upset by his callous behavior. Thankfully, my fears were unwarranted.

‘The Julian Chapter: A Wonder Story’ takes place toward the end of the school year and the following summer. It begins when Julian is caught leaving mean notes for Auggie and Jack in their lockers. The Principal and school counselor are tipped off and are able to intervene, finding an especially cruel note before Auggie does.

While Julian’s actions were inexcusable, his family dynamics spoke volumes. I was immediately taken aback by his parents lack of concern for his behavior and their obsession with public image. It was clear to me that this is where Julian’s troubles really started. As a parent, I was appalled by these shallow individuals. Julian’s mother even went so far as to photo-shop Auggie out of the class photo! I just have no words.

Initially, Julian is defensive and doesn’t really grasp the severity of his actions. However, as the story progresses – and with no help from his parents – he comes to see the error of his ways. His grandmother, whom he spends his summer vacation with in France, is instrumental in this.

Julian’s grandmother tells him about a boy that she knew when she was younger. He was disabled and often treated cruelly by the children in the village because they were afraid of him. As a young Jewish girl, hunted by the Nazis, it was this boy that ended up saving her life. Despite the mistreatment that he had endured, he showed kindness and bravery. He risked his own life to save a girl that had never paid him much attention, except to avoid him.

After hearing his grandmother’s story, Julian is able to connect the empathize with Auggie. Finally, he feels genuine remorse for his actions and understands exactly what he did. It was like he turned a new leaf and I really liked this new Julian.

I’m very glad that I read Julian’s story. I was worried about what I would get when I started it, but it did not disappoint. I especially liked Julian’s grandmother. She provided the guidance and wisdom that Julian’s parents failed to.

On the flip side, I could not so easily forgive Julian’s parents. Yes, they too came around a bit at the end, but only with the grandmother twisting their arms. Some explanations were offered for Julian’s mother’s behavior, but I found them to be weak at best. Julian may have been a child, but his parents were not. They should’ve known better. I just couldn’t get past that.

Overall, this was a fantastic story. He isn’t an easy character to like, but this book serves as a reminder that even bullies are human. Despite his despicable behavior toward Auggie, Julian was only a child in need of some direction and positive role models. In the end, he becomes a better person. If you enjoyed ‘Wonder’, I would definitely recommend this one.

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Review: Wonder (Wonder, #1), by R. J. Palacio

WonderWonder by R.J. Palacio
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Wow! I am so glad that I finally got around to listening to this story. ‘Wonder’ had been sitting on my TBR list for a really long time, but I had been waiting for a time to listen to it with my daughters. That time finally arrived last weekend, when we had to spend a full day in the car on a trip.

I had read many great reviews for this book, so I had really high hopes going into it. In fact, I was worried that I would be disappointed, as I often am with a book that is surrounded by so much hype. However, I can say that this book did not let me down in any way. In fact, it exceeded every expectation that I had. I absolutely loved this story!

‘Wonder’ tells the story of a young boy, August Pullman aka “Auggie”, who is going to begin attending school for the first time ever. Auggie has been homeschooled for years by his mother because he was born with severe facial deformities, requiring multiple operations over the course of his young life. Despite the myriad of surgeries that he has undergone, he still lives with significant facial disfigurement. Now, Auggie will be entering the fifth grade at Beecher Prep.

Told from multiple POVs, this book provides a thorough account of Auggie’s experiences. I was especially impressed with the raw honesty of his sister’s POV. Growing up with Auggie wasn’t easy, as she always came second to his needs. She struggled with resentment and guilt over having those feelings, as she truly loved her brother but craved the attention of her parents also.

Auggie’s POV was also brutally honest. He was well aware of how other people viewed him. Yet, no amount of awareness can make a child immune to the stares and cruel words. His story was heartbreaking, but inspiring.

It was also easy to relate to the POVs of others, including Jack, the boy who befriends Auggie at school. Although some of his actions were upsetting, he was only human. I had to remind myself that he was just a young boy, battling his own insecurities and trying to fit in at a very impressionable age. Even good people do bad things sometimes.

As a parent, I both admired and sympathized with Auggie’s mother. My heart went out to her. I could only imagine how difficult it would be to enroll your child into school, wanting to provide as normal a life as possible, while also wanting to shelter and protect him. I don’t know what I would’ve done in her shoes.

Not surprisingly, this was an incredibly emotional story. At times, it was downright depressing. However, I couldn’t help but fall in love with Auggie and his resilience. This story broke my heart, but it also inspired me.

Most importantly, this story will make you reflect on your views and behaviors. This story highlights the cruelty of people’s actions, bred from ignorance and fear. Never have I read a story that so effectively prompts readers to examine the impact of their actions and words. For children, this was a wonderful lesson in empathy.

This book prompted some thoughtful discussion with my daughters (5 and 10) about bullying and the “golden rule”. Although some of the story went over the head of my 5 year-old, who was primarily hung-up on the hilarity of the “farting nurse”, my 10 year-old didn’t miss a beat. I have no doubt that this story will stick with her and make her more considerate and empathetic toward other children.

‘Wonder’ is the type of book that should be required reading in schools and I’m glad to hear that it is in some schools already. Just like ‘The Diary of a Young Girl’ (Anne Frank’s Diary), this book is a book that guides you to be a better, more thoughtful, person. It is beautiful and engaging. No doubt about it, this book left it’s mark on me. I highly recommend this book to everyone, young and old!

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Review: Slade (Walk of Shame, #1), by Victoria Ashley

Slade (Walk of Shame, #1)Slade by Victoria Ashley
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Hmm…Where do I even start with this one? It definitely wasn’t what I expected. Totally my fault, by the way. For some unknown reason, I had it in my head that this was a biker romance. Clearly, I didn’t read the blurb. Again, totally my fault. Instead, ‘Slade’ tells the story of a male stripper that is super-slutty. I didn’t see that coming! LOL.

Although I was able to adjust to the unexpected storyline pretty quickly, I found this short read to be mediocre at best. There was a huge dose of insta-lust and not enough time to actually make the supposed emotional attachment between the two main characters seem genuine.

Essentially, Slade is a manwhore that “falls in love” with his new roommate, Aspen. The attraction is instantaneous, followed by some roommate rivalry. He wants in her pants. She wants to deny her attraction because he is such a slut. His sluttiness is really the result of ineffective coping, using sex to avoid dealing with his tragic past. She has her own secret reasons for not wanting to get involved with the sex machine under the same roof. Eventually, he reforms himself for her.

As you can see, this is similar to a thousand others in this trope. However, the short length of ‘Slade’ resulted in this story being unbelievable and having a rushed feel. It takes time to make readers feel a real connection to the characters. That never happened with this one.

I love a steamy love story as much as the next girl, but I need to have some “meat” in my stories. This one was a little smutty for my taste. The sex was plentiful, even gratuitous, but it lacked appeal because I felt no connection to the characters at all.

Overall, ‘Slade’ is a 2 1/2 star read for me. If you’re in the mood for something quick and very smutty, then you might enjoy this one. I needed more of an actual story and I didn’t find it with this one.

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Review: Until the Sun Falls from the Sky (The Three, #1), by Kristen Ashley

Until the Sun Falls from the Sky (The Three, #1)Until the Sun Falls from the Sky by Kristen Ashley
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

It has been a while since I read a vampire story, but ‘Until the Sun Falls from the Sky’ was just what I needed. This story puts a different spin on the “vampire and human fall in love” trope. This one took a little time to warm up to, but in the end it was well worth it.

In Kristen Ashley’s ‘The Three’ series, human and supernatural beings have coexisted for centuries. A war fought centuries earlier resulted in some rules to keep vampires in check and to keep both species alive. This has helped to maintain the balance of power and to keep vampires from hunting the humans to extinction.

Willing families have served as “concubines” for the vampires. When the children of the concubines come of age, they attend a gathering known as the Selection, where they are selected by a vampire to serve on a contractual basis. While serving their vampire, they are receive lavish gifts and attention. Even after their time of service is finished, the vampire continues to provide for their former concubine for the entirety of their life. The concubine provides sustenance to the vampire and companionship.

Leah Buchanan was born into a family of concubines. Her lineage included some of the most desired concubines in history. She was raised to believe that service to the vampire race is to be honored and even enjoyed, but Leah has no interest in ever fulfilling her predestined concubine role.

When Leah is finally unable to avoid attending a Selection, she goes begrudgingly. Whispers of a powerful vampire, Lucien, make her nervous. It seems that the mysterious Lucien has been waiting for Leah. She doesn’t know anything about Lucien, except she senses that he is a vampire that even other vampires fear.

As expected, Leah is selected by Lucien. Right from the start, he commandeers Leah’s life. The contract is altered and Leah is not offered the opportunity to decline to be Lucien’s concubine. It is clear that Lucien is willing to do anything to have Leah as his and is willing to break any rule to have her. She doesn’t stand a chance.

With every opportunity that she has, Leah defies Lucien. She is unaccustomed to the highhanded, domineering ways of this powerful vampire. Although he tries to be patient with Leah, his actions proved to be incredibly frustrating on more than one occasion. Lucien was definitely not an easy character to like. He had as much to learn about human ways as Leah did about the vampire world.

Eventually, Leah and Lucien manage to get on the same page. However, insecurities plague Leah and Lucien unwittingly adds to her insecurities with his reckless actions. Every time that I thought they were going to get things straightened out, something else would happen.

Meanwhile, there is war brewing in the background. It is clear that Lucien is getting ready to lead some sort of rebellion and that he is tired of abiding by the rules that were set in place following the last war. Leah’s role in this rebellion is largely unclear, but what is known is that she will be an integral player.

This is the first book in “The Three” series and I will definitely be continuing on to the next books. The following books are expected to focus on two other couples with different paranormal abilities. I am very interested to see where this will lead.

If you enjoy paranormal romances with over-the-top Alpha males, then this is a good choice. If you can’t tolerate a leading male that is a huge jerk for much of the story, acting in a callous and dominating manner, then this will not be a good choice. Personally, I have a weak spot for a$$holes, so this worked out splendidly for me. However, Lucien is a character that will make many readers cringe and want to throw their book/Kindle against a wall.

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Review: Lost and Found (Lost and Found, #1), by Nicole Williams

Lost and Found (Lost and Found, #1)Lost and Found by Nicole Williams
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

‘Lost and Found’ was a sweet, heartwarming story that ended up being a pretty good way to pass some time. This book tells the story of Rowen Sterling, a troubled teenage girl that has spent years acting out. She has used drugs, alcohol and sex to try and get her deadbeat mother’s attention to no avail.

When Rowen’s mother has finally had enough of Rowen’s antics, she sends her to the home of an old friend in Montana. Rowen has never met the Walker family before, but she will be spending the summer on their ranch. It is about as far from Rowen’s normal life in the city as possible, but she begrudgingly agrees to go or else her mother will not pay for her to attend art school in the fall.

Right from the start, I noticed that there was a contradiction between who Rowen was supposed to be and who she actually was. From the moment that she arrived on the ranch, she was considerate and respectful. She immediately fell into the routines of the Walker family and pulled her own weight. She was a far cry from the rebellious hell-raiser that she was supposed to be.

In very little time, Rowen and the Walker’s son, Jesse, have caught each others’ attention. While Rowen was supposedly the “bad girl”, Jesse was a total sweetheart. He was hardworking, good looking and the type of guy that parents want their daughter to date. It was hard not to love Jesse.

As Rowen and Jesse’s summer romance takes off, Jesse’s past comes back to haunt them. His ex-best friend and his ex-girlfriend add a little drama to this story. Both Jesse and Rowen have to fight their insecurities at every turn.

When Rowen’s mother shows up on the scene, all hell breaks loose. To say that her mother is nurturing is putting it mildly. Rowen’s mother has spent years selfishly placing the needs of her revolving door of boyfriends above the needs of her own daughter. She is selfish and shallow. Suddenly, it becomes very apparent why Rowen had been acting out at home.

Overall, this was a nice, sweet story. If you’re in the mood for a heartwarming, YA type of romance, this is a pretty good choice. This can easily be read as a standalone, although it is part of a series. You won’t be left hanging. It will leave you with warm fuzzies.

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Review: Mister Black (In the Shadows, #1), by P. T. Michelle

Mister Black (In the Shadows, #1)Mister Black by P.T. Michelle
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

This short read has been hanging out on my TBR list for awhile. I picked up the Audible version because it was a relatively short audiobook. I don’t like to start long audiobooks at the end of my workweek because I generally don’t listen as much on the weekends. This book was about the right length to occupy my commute time, while still having enough time to finish it off before the weekend.

In any case, this book started off promising for me. Natalia, aka Talia, aka Red, is a young teenage girl at the onset of the story. She is walking alone in the city when she finds herself in a compromising position. Refusing to hand over her necklace, she engages in a dangerous stand-off with her homeless mugger.

Just as Talia is growing to appreciate the precarious situation she is in, a handsome young man comes to her rescue. “Mister Black” fends off her assailant and offers her a ride home. After he leaves she doesn’t see him again, but she thinks of him often.

Years later, Talia is an aspiring reporter looking to land an exclusive interview for her college paper. She knows that there is more to the mysterious death of the wealthy co-ed than the authorities are letting on. She is determined to speak to the victim’s roommate to get to the bottom of it.

Talia’s opportunity presents itself in the form of an exclusive party. Her best friend has an uncanny resemblance to another girl that has been invited. This other girl is not planning on attending, so she plans to assume her identity for the night and take Talia along with her.

Once Talia has gained access to the party, she focuses on finding the elusive roommate. However, before she does, she runs into the handsome stranger from her past. She had dreamed of the mysterious Mister Black for years, but now learns that his real name is Sebastian Quinn.

Sparks fly immediately between Talia and Quinn. Things get real smutty, real quick. Everything happened so quickly that I was kind of like, “what the hell just happened?”.

Then, Talia returns her focus to the story. Sebastian introduces her to the roommate, who happens to be his sister. She uncovers some shocking circumstances surrounding the death of the girl’s roommate. What she finds out resonates with her on a deeper level, as the details are eerily similar to secrets from her own past.

Just as the story is starting to take off, it draws to a close. Apparently, Mister Black/Sebastian is a Navy Seal. He is going to be deployed soon and Talia will have to wait to see him again. Bad timing and all that.

To get answers, I’d have to read the next book. Unfortunately, I just don’t care enough to do that. While this story was “okay”, it didn’t hold much appeal for me. It was too convenient and felt a little reminiscent of ‘Nancy Drew’ or ‘The Babysitter’s Club’ to me. Young, naive girl takes on a huge criminal organization and tackles corruption, exposing the wrong-doers, etc., etc. I just wasn’t feeling it.

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Review: Truth or Beard (Winston Brothers, #1), by Penny Reid

Truth or Beard (Winston Brothers, #1)Truth or Beard by Penny Reid
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I’ve been meaning to get around to this series for quite a long time. Finally, I downloaded the audiobook and decided to find out what all the fuss was about surrounding these bearded brothers. I wasn’t disappointed.

In the first book in the series, readers/listeners are introduced to the Winston brothers. Listening to the Audible version, I couldn’t help but envision the men from the ‘Duck Dynasty’…which wasn’t exactly sexy. However, with time, I was able to overcome that and mold the brothers into sexier versions of bearded bliss.

Despite being rather over-the-top at times, each of the brothers stood out as being unique and loveable. They were definitely a quirky bunch, but very endearing. I think they might be my latest guilty pleasure.

Jessica James is the leading female character in this first book in the series. She is dying to get out and see the world, but her plans have been temporarily derailed. She’s returned to her hometown to earn enough money to pay off her student loans so that she can travel the world. Long-term relationships or any other commitment that would tie her down are not in her plans.

When she runs into the object of all her young fantasies, Beau Winston, she acts in an uncharacteristically passionate way. Nobody is more surprised than her to discover that her impromptu make-out session was actually with Beau’s twin brother, Duane, her childhood nemesis. She certainly wasn’t prepared for the jealousy and longing that she felt toward her one-time rival.

I enjoyed the progression of Duane and Jessica’s story, from stand-offish to inseparable. This was a sweet, heart-warming kind of story. I smiled and laughed at the personality quirks of the various characters throughout this story. There was just enough action and mystery to keep me engaged as well.

Eventually, everything works itself out. We get the HEA that we craved and are left feeling contented. This story can easily be read as a standalone, even though it is the first book in the series.

If you’re in the mood for a sweet, humorous, feel-good type of love story, then this is a great choice. I can see why so many of my friends have fallen in love with the Winston brothers. I will definitely continue this series. I look forward to seeing what the other brothers have in store for me.

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Review: Illuminae (The Illuminae Files, #1), by Amie Kaufman

Illuminae (The Illuminae Files, #1)Illuminae by Amie Kaufman
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Wow! This book certainly took me by surprise. I’m still digesting exactly what transpired in this book.

‘Illuminae’ was unlike anything that I’ve read before. For starters, I’m not a big Science Fiction fan. However, this story had a strong romance element and so it managed to draw me in and hold my attention. That being said, I was definitely stepping out of my comfort zone with this book.

The writing style was also very unique. The story is told through the transcripts of recordings, e-mails and other communications between various characters. Admittedly, this style took me quite a while to get used to. Yet, once I adjusted to this unique perspective, I was completely hooked on this story.

‘Illuminae’ tells the story of battling mega-corporations in the future. They are fighting over a speck of a planet at the edge of the universe, with little regard for the lives of the people that are caught in the crosshairs.

Kady Grant and Ezra Mason are two of those people. High school sweethearts, the two had just broken up the morning that their worlds would be turned upside down. They find themselves under attack and fighting for survival.

In the wake of the attack, the world that they knew is changed irrevocably. A virus has broken out amongst the survivors, turning friends and neighbors into murdering zombies. Kady and Ezra are separated, but work together to try and save everyone.

As the story progressed, there were plenty of twists and turns. Every time that I thought I had everything figured out, the story would turn in a completely different direction. It definitely kept me on the edge of my seat.

It did take me a little longer to get into this story, but once I did, it had me completely focused. I even found myself liking AIDAN, the ship’s artificial intelligence that was arguably a “bad guy” for much of the book. This book ended up being surprisingly good for me.

I listened to the Audible edition and I have to give kudos to the narrators. They did a fantastic job of keeping this story engaging and keeping the multiple characters straight. This was a great audiobook selection.

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Review: Last Call (Cocktail, #4.5), by Alice Clayton

Last Call (Cocktail, #4.5)Last Call by Alice Clayton
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

It has been a long time since I read ‘Wallbanger’, but I was looking forward to seeing what the future held in store for Caroline and Simon. They stood out in my memory as being one of my favorite couples for their witty banter and humorous antics. Unfortunately, I think that I let too much time pass and the novelty has worn off.

Admittedly, I did skip ahead in this series. I never took the time to read the second, third or fourth books in the series, which were the spin-off stories of their friends. That proved to be somewhat important to fully enjoy this book. I thought that I could just skip the friends’ stories to get back to Simon and Caroline, I was wrong. Their friends and their relationships proved to me a significant part of this story.

Despite feeling lost for the first quarter or so of the book – totally my fault – I did enjoy this book as a whole. Once the focus shifted from the friends to Caroline and Simon, I found myself enjoying the tamer version of the couple that I remembered. The dynamics of their relationship were greatly changed, from adversarial to blissfully happy, but it was sweet.

All in all, it was a nice, sweet book. It had the feel of an extended epilogue for Simon, Caroline and their friends, providing closure and the HEAs that readers crave. There was nothing that ripped my heart out or made me feel intense emotions, but it was nice. Sometimes, you just need a nice, predictable read with a HEA. This book delivered on that account.

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