Review: Midnight Soul (Fantasyland, #5), by Kristen Ashley

Midnight Soul (Fantasyland, #5)Midnight Soul by Kristen Ashley
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

The fifth, and final (?), book in the ‘Fantasyland’ series, ‘Midnight Soul’ tells the story of Franka Drakkar and Noctorno “Noc” Hawthorne. Like earlier books in the series, this book features two characters that are from parallel worlds. There is plenty of magic and fantastical elements throughout. Yet, despite all of that, I found this to be just an “okay” read.

While Kristen Ashley worked hard to redeem Franka Drakkar in this book, for me the damage was done. I pitied her, but I never really grew to like her. As a result, I never really felt fully invested in her story.

Similarly, “Noc” was not a character that I ever really felt a strong connection with. After all, wasn’t he supposedly in love with Cora just a couple of books back? He was a nice guy, but to me, he came off as kind of desperate and lonely. Franka seemed to be the only option because all the “better” heroines had already been spoken for.

Even though I never felt bonded to these characters, I did appreciate having Franka’s history revealed. My heart went out to her and it explained a lot about her nasty behavior. She wasn’t a character that was easy to love, but at least I felt like I understood why she worked so hard to push people away.

This book also stood out from the others in that Franka goes to Noc’s world and not the other way around. I guess it is consistent in the sense that the woman always seems to follow the man to his world, but Noc was the first hero from this world. As a result, this book had a different “feel” to it.

While this book is supposed to be the last in the series, I wonder if that is “firm”. There were several teases and loose ends left over. Mainly, this book seemed to pave the way for another book centered on the other Circe and Dax.

If this is truly the last book, then I’m a little bummed. Theirs is a story that I’d love to read. If another book isn’t coming, it seems kind of cruel to tease us readers like that. Maybe we’ll get a novella or something at least.

Overall, this was a middle of the road type of story. I liked it, but nothing about it was particularly compelling. I listed to all of the audiobooks for this series back to back, so it could be that I was just on ‘Fantasyland’ overload by the time I got to ‘Midnight Soul’. Whatever the reason, this one ended up being my least favorite of all the books in the series. It was okay, but nothing that I couldn’t live without.

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Review: Broken Dove (Fantasyland, #4), by Kristen Ashley

Broken Dove (Fantasyland, #4)Broken Dove by Kristen Ashley
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

While ‘Broken Dove’ was much better than ‘Fantastical’ in my opinion, it was still a long way from reaching the greatness of ‘The Golden Dynasty’. More so than the other books in this series, ‘Broken Dove’ was tender and emotional. My heart broke so many times while listening to the story of Apollo and Ilsa. Yet, there was something so sweet and endearing about their story that I couldn’t pull myself away.

Apollo “Lo” Ulfr of the parallel world was happily married to Ilsa. They had two beautiful children together and Ilsa was loved by everyone – none more than Apollo. Tragically, her life ended too soon. Apollo has grieved the loss of his wife for years.

Ilsa of our world is also married to the Apollo of this world. Only, the Apollo of this world is an abusive, drug-dealing bastard. Ilsa has been on the run, hiding from “Pol” for years. She knows that he will kill her if he finds her and she lives in a constant state of fear.

When Lo discovers that his deceased wife has a twin in a parallel world, he is determined to bring her to his world. Despite being warned that the “twin” Ilsa is not, in fact, an exact replica of his wife, he is set on bringing her to his world. Only, upon her arrival he discovers that she is much different than his wife was.

While Ilsa is glad to be far away from the abusive “Pol”, she now finds herself dependent upon another man. It doesn’t help that this man is the exact physical replica of the man that grew to be her worst nightmare. To make matters worse, it is clear that she is a poor substitute for the woman that Lo really wants, his deceased wife.

From the start, my heart broke for Ilsa. She didn’t deserve any of the heartache that she was doled out, in this world or the other. She was such a sweet and fun-loving lady and it was so unfair that she had to endure so much cruelty.

Although Lo treated Ilsa poorly, I couldn’t help but pity him. I don’t think that he ever intended to be so thoughtless. He just wanted his wife back so desperately that he was willing to do anything to have her back.

Over time, Lo begins to fall for the Ilsa of this world. However, given his initial treatment of her, it was hard to believe that his feelings were genuine. It wasn’t fair to Ilsa to be placed in that position, constantly being compared to his first wife.

To make matters worse, when Lo’s feelings are put to the test he repeatedly fumbles. He pulls away from Ilsa time and time again, leaving her neglected. In many ways, she was like his dirty little secret.

Of course, things eventually work themselves out. It takes Lo nearly losing Ilsa to truly appreciate her. While everyone around them seemed to take notice of how great they were together, they seemed to be late to arrive at the same conclusion.

All in all, this was a great story. It was more emotional than the earlier books in the series, which was fine by me. Listening to these books back to back, I was glad that this one had a different “feel” to it than the others. Yet, it retained enough of Ms. Ashley’s signature traits as to not lose my interest.

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Review: Fantastical (Fantasyland, #3), by Kristen Ashley

Fantastical (Fantasyland, #3)Fantastical by Kristen Ashley
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

The third book in the ‘Fantasyland’ series, ‘Fantastical’ ended up being just an “okay” read for me. In all fairness, any book that had to follow ‘The Golden Dynasty’ probably wouldn’t have measured up for me. ‘Fantastical’ was that book. It paled in comparison.

‘Fantastical’ tells the story of Cora Goode and Prince Noctorno “Tor” Hawthorne. Beginning in a similar fashion to ‘The Golden Dynasty’, the Cora of modern-day Seattle wakes up in the parallel universe as her “otherworld twin”. However, that is where the similarities end.

The Cora of this world discovers that the Cora of the other world is kind of a pain in the ass. Unbeknownst to her, she makes a grave mistake upon her arrival in the “new” world, which sets off a curse. It doesn’t take long for her to figure out that her inadvertent action is only the latest in a long line of selfish, cruel behaviors on the part of her “twin”.

To make matters worse, she finds out that she is married in this alternate world…and her husband despises her. Apparently, twin Cora and her husband, Prince Noctorno “Tor” Hawthorne, can barely tolerate one another. This means that Cora is subjected to a LOT of Tor’s ire upon her arrival in this new world.

She has an uphill battle on her hands to win him over. Yet, she genuinely likes Tor and wants him to like her. She is faced with the difficult task of trying to re-vamp her image with virtually everyone that the other Cora had wronged in this world.

Tor is certain that his wife is playing games with him. He cannot figure out what has motivated her sudden change in personality, but he is happy to enjoy it while it lasts. Finally having the wife that he fantasized about, he is hesitant to grow too attached only to be heartbroken when she decides to revert to her old ways.

Eventually, Cora and Tor seem to get on the same page. Things are pretty peachy for awhile. Then, Cora overhears something that upsets her greatly and she is transported back to her world again.

While I liked Cora and Tor’s story, I didn’t love it. For every part that was highly enjoyable, there were parts that seemed to drag on and on without purpose. Maybe this had something to do with the fact that I listened to all of the audiobooks back to back, or that this book followed ‘The Golden Dynasty’, which was hands-down the best in the series. Regardless, much of this book seemed tedious to me.

Noctorno does finally come around and works to win Cora over again. For me, it was just too little too late. I was glad that they got their HEA, but I was mostly glad to finish this book.

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Review: Wildest Dreams (Fantasyland, #1), by Kristen Ashley

Wildest Dreams (Fantasyland, #1)Wildest Dreams by Kristen Ashley
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Every once in awhile, I crave a story with an over-the-top Alpha and a sassy heroine. I know that I can always count on Kristen Ashley to deliver when I’m in a “caveman” sort of mood. Her heroes are always uber-masculine and about as far from metrosexual as you can get. Though what they lack in sensitivity, they make up for in pure, primal sex appeal.

True to form, ‘Wildest Dreams’ did not disappoint on any of those fronts. In fact, travelling to this alternate universe felt much like travelling back in time by a few hundred years and then throwing in a plethora of supernatural elements. This story takes us to a world where there are ancient royal families ruling over their lands; where travel is by horse and wagon; and where witches, elves and dragons exist. ‘Fantasyland’ is an apt name for this series and I am already hooked.

The first book in the series, ‘Wildest Dreams’ introduces us to this magical world. The descriptions were so vivid that I felt like I had been transported, right alongside Finnie. I listened to the Audible edition of this book and I thought that the narrator did a fabulous job. I am glad that I chose to listen vs. read this time around. If, like me, you enjoy a good audiobook from time to time, this is a great selection.

Kristen Ashley has built an alternate world, where everyone has a “twin”. Although they may have a physical twin in this alternate world, the personalities and other characteristics are certainly not identical. With the help of a witch and a large dose of magic, people in this world may communicate with people in this alternate world, or even travel between worlds. That is how this story begins.

Seoafin “Finnie” Wilde has plenty of money, but has lost the most meaningful people in her life – her parents. Ever since her parents died in a plane crash while on one of their adventures, Finnie has been heartbroken. She misses them more than anything and like them, Finnie is always up for an adventure.

When Finnie discovers the existence of an alternate world – a world where there are living versions of herself and her parents – she decides she is going to go there. Communicating with the “her” in this other world through a powerful witch, she comes to an agreement with her to trade places for one year. Despite the pleas of her best friend, Finnie pays a fortune to the witch and sets out on the biggest adventure of her life.

Only, when Finnie arrives in this new world she quickly discovers that the other “her” hasn’t been completely forthcoming about everything. Stepping into the shoes of Princess Sjofn, she is set to wed the fiercely intimidating and ultra- male, Frey Drakkar immediately upon her arrival in this new world. Finnie doesn’t even have time to read the note that Princess Sjofn left for her before she is marched down the aisle. She’s been duped.

To make matters more complicated, it is clear that Frey Drakkar does not care for Princess Sjofn. In fact, he seems to barely tolerate her presence. After whisking her away to a remote cabin far away from her parent’s castle, he promptly takes off, leaving her to fend for herself in this new land.

Determined to make the best of the situation, Finnie makes the most of her time while Frey is away. She befriends the inhabitants of the nearby small town and bides her time until his return. She cleans their cabin and makes it a cozy home.

When Frey returns, he is shocked to see that the pampered princess has morphed into a completely different person than the one he knew. She is kind and funny. She performs manual labor that the old Sjofn would have thought was beneath her. Perhaps most importantly, she denies that she prefers women lovers over men. He doesn’t know what game she’s playing at, but he intends to find out.

With the changes in their relationship, the two begin to grow closer. As you can imagine, Frey is initially interested only in bedding his beautiful bride. Finnie wants to take things a bit slower. Of course, there are plenty of misunderstandings and awkward moments along the way as the Finnie of this world tries to blend into the life of Princess Sjofn of that world.

Eventually, Frey discovers the truth. However, he and Finnie are already deeply in love by that point. In fact, he has realized that she is his prophesied soul mate and their union signifies the beginning of a new era where the dragons will awaken again. Did I mention that Frey commands dragons and talks to elves?

Overall, I thought that this was a fantastic story. I enjoyed every minute of this fantastical world that Kristen Ashley created. I fell in love with Frey and Finnie. I cannot wait to see where else this series will lead. I will be starting the second book immediately.

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Review: Eleanor & Park, by Rainbow Rowell

Eleanor & ParkEleanor & Park by Rainbow Rowell
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Wow! There was so much about this book that I really loved. ‘Eleanor & Park’ was touching and beautiful in it’s simplicity. This book captured the essence of first love and the perils of high school, while also tackling some serious issues, like abuse.

I listened to the Audible version and I have to give kudos to the narrator(s). The narration was extremely well done. The voices of the characters really drew you in and made you feel like you were right there in the moment with the characters. It says a lot about the narration when it can pull you into a story so completely.

As I was listening to this story, my heart broke for Eleanor. She had such a horrible home life and her school life wasn’t any better. The poor girl couldn’t escape bullying wherever she went. I felt so bad for her as she tried to navigate her difficult teenage years while trying to stand proud in the face of such cruelty. She was so smart, but trapped by the life she was dealt.

Park’s life stood out in stark contrast to Eleanor’s. He was raised in a home that was pretty much “ideal”. Of course, he had the typical teenage concerns and conflict with his parents. However, his petty problems only served to highlight how fortunate he was to have loving parents when contrasted with Eleanor’s reality.

Although Park initially avoided any association with Eleanor, succumbing to peer pressure, he eventually opened up to the girl that sat beside him on the school bus. That took a great deal of bravery on his part. Let’s face it, teenagers can be very cruel. Park risked joining Eleanor at the bottom of the social hierarchy when he decided to go against the grain and be kind to her. Little by little, they formed a friendship. Eventually, that friendship grew into more.

Park became the single most positive part of Eleanor’s daily life. He was the only person that showed her concern and treated her kindly. As the two grew closer, his family also served as a safe haven for Eleanor. For these reasons, I grew to love Park also.

This is a coming of age story and a story of first love. Rainbow Rowell managed to transport me right back to high school. Everyone who has been a teenager can relate to the experiences and emotions of these characters. This is the type of story that serves to remind us of the consequences of our actions and the effect of our words.

From start to finish, I was enthralled with ‘Eleanor & Park’. I was sure that this would be a 5-star read for me right up until about the 90% mark. Then, the story ended rather abruptly and I was left wanting. I couldn’t believe that the author that wrote such a beautiful story would end it in that way. It just didn’t seem fair or right. After everything, I was furious to see it close in the manner it did.

Overall, it was still a fabulous story. I won’t lie. I hated the way that the story ended. I just don’t need my fiction to be that true to life.

In fairness, the ending doesn’t seem to be an issue for most of my friends that have read this book. For me, it was upsetting enough to knock a star off the rating. The ending wrecked me and I went in search of a second book or an extra something that would provide closure. It didn’t happen and I’m still reeling. So, I loved it….right up until the ending.

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Review: The Sheikh’s Forced Bride (Sharjah Sheikhs, #1), by Leslie North

The Sheikh's Forced Bride (Sharjah Sheikhs Book 1)The Sheikh’s Forced Bride by Leslie North
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

I downloaded a copy of ‘The Sheikh’s Forced Bride’ as one of my Kindle Unlimited selections. As you can probably guess from the title, this is not a particularly “deep” story. I’m not knocking it, just being honest.

Sometimes, I like cheesy stories like this to help with my “recovery” after reading a really fantastic story that continues to occupy my mind. We’ve all been there. You’ve finished a phenomenal book and are suffering the dreaded book hangover. When I find myself in that situation, I look for something “lighter” to read. I know that whatever book I read next isn’t going to measure up, and usually, I’m not quite ready to lose myself completely to another consuming story. For lack of better words, I need a book that I can read without really having to “turn on” my brain completely.

Again, I’m not knocking this book. You just don’t have to think too much while reading it. It is a straightforward, cheesy romance. It doesn’t pretend to be anything else. You won’t find any deep emotional connection or any bigger meaning here. It was just pure, fun, smutty entertainment.

This story centers on the Sheikh Khalid Al-Qasimi, who is forced by his father to marry or else risk everything he knows – his title, wealth and prestige. In the midst of his arranged wedding, a reporter, Casey Connolly, barges in. She’s looking to score a big story, exposing this controversial tradition and the disregard for women’s rights in Khalid’s country.

When Casey is thrown into jail at Khalid’s father’s orders, she finds herself in a precarious situation. She is not in her home country and learns quickly that she doesn’t have the civil rights that she’s taken for granted in this new land. Luckily, Khalid makes her an offer that she can’t refuse.

To get out of jail, Casey must agree to pretend to be Khalid’s fiancée. Khalid is sure that this will be a win-win for both him and Casey. Surely, his father will not allow him to marry the outspoken reporter and will reconsider his decision to force Khalid to get married. In exchange, he will help Casey secure interviews in order to get the story that she wants so badly.

Of course, what starts off as a farce soon becomes entangled with reality. As Casey and Khalid spend more time together, they develop real feelings for one another. However, given the nature of their relationship’s beginning, it is difficult for the couple to trust one another’s intentions.

There is enough drama along the way to keep it entertaining, but not enough to become all-consuming. It was sweet, fun and smutty. Eventually, the two get their happily ever after.

It was good, but not the type of story that will hang with me. It wasn’t long enough or well-developed enough to feel any type of strong connection to the characters or the storyline. However, it isn’t intended to be that kind of story. An okay way to pass a couple of hours, it served it’s purpose.

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Review: Lone Star, by Paullina Simons

Lone StarLone Star by Paullina Simons
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

‘Lone Star’ is a beautiful coming of age story, brought to us by the same author that gave us ‘The Bronze Horseman’. It tells the story of a group of teenaged friends from Maine that set out on a European adventure before they begin college. I enjoyed this story immensely.

However, I couldn’t help but to keep comparing it to Ms. Simons’ better-know work, ‘The Bronze Horseman’. In contrast to that epic story, ‘Lone Star’ fell noticeably short, despite being great in and of it’s own accord. In so many ways, it isn’t a fair comparison to make. They are different types of stories and, let’s face it, not many books will ever measure up to the greatness of ‘The Bronze Horseman’ in my mind. Nonetheless, I couldn’t help but to compare them.

That being said, I loved the way that Ms. Simons was able to capture the essence of youth in this story. More often than not, I find that teenagers are either portrayed as mini-adults or pre-teens. Accurately capturing the behaviors and emotions of this age group seems to be particularly challenging for many authors. This is probably because their emotions and maturity levels are all over the place. Regardless, I thought that Ms. Simons did a great job of selling these characters as believable teenagers. The one exception to that would be Johnny Rainbow, which I’ll get to later.

Told from multiple points of view, this story follows Chloe, her best friend, Hannah, and their boyfriends as they travel eastern Europe. Barcelona is their destination, but to gain permission to go on this trip of a lifetime, Chloe had to agree to a few conditions set by her grandmother. She must lay flowers on the grave of her grandmother’s one-time lover, who was murdered by the Nazis in WWII.

Along the way, the four meet another young American traveler. Johnny Rainbow is an incredibly charming young man that seems to be an expert on getting around Europe. He repeatedly crosses paths with the other young travelers and insinuates himself into their group. It was clear that he had eyes for Chloe. The only person that seemed unaware of this was Chloe’s oblivious boyfriend, Mason.

Johnny was a pivotal character in this story. I always had a strong distrust for him, even as he seemed to do everything perfect. In fact, that was probably it. He was just too damn perfect. Like me, Blake was suspicious of Mr. Perfect right from the start.

Aside from his overwhelming charm and charisma, I had a hard time believing that he had done everything that the author would have us believe. At nineteen, he had traveled Europe, making connections virtually everywhere that they were going. He had also been accepted to some very prestigious schools, and promptly been kicked out. He had a band and performed in the US. He was a street performer and a tour guide. Whatever the topic may be, Johnny was an expert on it. Want to go somewhere? He’s already been. Etc., etc. I just found him to be a little too accomplished for a nineteen year-old boy.

Despite not buying into Johnny completely, I still found myself lost in this story. I loved Chloe and as she began to fall for Johnny, I fell for him also. Their story was reminiscent of naiveté, youth and summer flings. It was sweet and innocent and earth-shattering all at the same time.

Meanwhile, I loved Blake also. While I can’t say that I ever grew especially attached to Mason or Hannah, I adored Blake. He was always the steady friend that could be counted on. He was kind and responsible, even while being taken for granted.

When their trip ends, the relationships between these friends are forever altered. Some will grow closer. Some will grow apart. Hearts will be broken. I even cried.

The ending is not necessarily the way that I had envisioned, but I thought it was fitting. In fact, I’d say that it worked out perfectly. Sure, it was kind of sad…but it was kind of beautiful also. I especially liked the tie-in to the characters from ‘The Bronze Horseman’ at the end. That was a really nice touch.

Overall, I thought that this was a fantastic love story. It was sweet and incredibly touching. It may not be the huge, epic romance that ‘The Bronze Horseman’ is, but it is still a wonderful story.

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Review: Strange the Dreamer (Strange the Dreamer, #1), by Laini Taylor

Strange the Dreamer (Strange the Dreamer, #1)Strange the Dreamer by Laini Taylor
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

What a spectacular world Laini Taylor has crafted in this book! Every once in awhile I enjoy a paranormal/fantasy type of story, but it definitely isn’t my go-to genre. Yet, Laini Taylor has managed to suck me in once again. The beauty of her words and the vivid imagery that she creates never ceases to amaze me.

This book centers on Lazlo Strange, aka “Strange the Dreamer”. An orphan, he has never really had a home or felt like he fit in. The closest he’s come to a sense of normalcy is during his time in the Great Library. He grows up to become a librarian, submersing himself in the stories that he loves so much.

More than anything else, he is captivated by tales of the “unseen city”. He remembers hearing the stories about the city and the travelers that used to return from having crossed over the city’s borders. Then one day, the city seemed to be forgotten. Unlike everyone else in his town, Lazlo remembers the feeling of having his memory of the name of the city pulled away from him. In it’s place is the name “Weep”.

When a mythical hero, the Godslayer, arrives in town, Lazlo is able to join the group on their quest for Weep. This is his biggest dream come to life. He finally has a chance to see the legendary city that he’s only fantasized about.

What awaits Lazlo is more than he had imagined. Mythical beings, age-old grudges and a history that melded the worlds of gods and men. As more of Weep’s past is unearthed, the brutality of the city’s past is brought to light. Lazlo is forced to look at the city and it’s inhabitants through a new lens.

Although Lazlo was the central focus for much of this story, Ms. Taylor provides a robust cast of characters. Each member of this large cast brings something special to the story. I don’t want to say too much for fear that I might spoil this story for others.

Sarai is such a character. Her relationship with Lazlo is essential to the progression of the plot. From his dreams to his reality, Lazlo could not have found a better match than Sarai. They made each other better for having known one another. Their relationship was sweet and innocent, but also intense and emotional. I loved watching their bond evolve and seeing how their actions changed how they viewed the “outside” world.

From start to finish, this was an entertaining and captivating story. Laini Taylor’s writing is poetic. You can’t help but notice the beauty of her prose.

I listened to the Audible version of this book and it was well-narrated. My only criticism is that it was a bit hard to follow at first. This author’s works are multifaceted and incredibly detailed. At first, this can be a bit difficult to follow when listening. I did have to rewind a few times in the beginning to keep my characters and events straight. However, I was able to get it all sorted out pretty soon and I wouldn’t trade the richness of the story for the small amount of time lost.

Overall, I thought that this was a wonderful story! I would definitely recommend it, whether you’re a die-hard fan of paranormal/fantasy or if you’re just an occasional dabbler, like me. Laini Taylor has created a fantastical and intriguing world. I am looking forward to seeing where this series will go.

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Review: Forbidden, by Tabatha Suzama

ForbiddenForbidden by Tabitha Suzuma
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Wow! That was some deeply disturbing and super depressing stuff. I’m thinking this was somewhere between a 3 1/2 and a 4 star read for me. This one will take some time to digest. In fact, as I write this review days later I’m still not sure exactly what to make of this story.

Lochan and Maya have been forced to grow up too quickly. As the oldest, these two siblings have had to take on the responsibility of raising their three younger siblings. Their drunken, deadbeat mother breezes in and out of their lives when she chooses, leaving all of the day to day responsibilities up to her two oldest children. As a result, Lochan and Maya have a relationship that more closely resembles that of a husband and wife than that of a brother and sister.

Since I knew where this story was heading from the start, I wasn’t surprised at all when the siblings’ relationship started to take on a more romantic feel. However, I was incredibly surprised when I found myself rooting for them as a couple. Going into this book, part of me had convinced myself that they were going to be step-siblings or half-siblings or some other relation that would somehow lessen the taboo nature of their relationship. That wasn’t the case and I had to deal with some very uncomfortable feelings. It was so wrong, but they were just so damn right for each other at the same time.

Okay, I know what you’re thinking. You’d be right too. Awkward, right? I’m going to get it out and just say what we’re all thinking, “Ew!” I’m not going to try and deny that this was some seriously messed up stuff. Just the thought of incest makes me cringe. To say the least, this was a very uncomfortable read as a result.

Nonetheless, I found myself hoping that Lochan and Maya would somehow get a HEA. Even as I knew it was totally improbable, I wanted them to be happy. No teenagers ever deserved happiness more than these two. They bore the weight of the world on their shoulders. Right to the end, they sacrificed for their younger siblings.

Of course, this is not that kind of story. This is the type of story that you go into knowing that it will break your heart…and it does. I cried big, fate tears and probably went through half a box of Kleenex while reading this story.

Aptly titled, ‘Forbidden’ is taboo and controversial. While I won’t try to justify incest, consensual or not, I will say that this story was a heartbreakingly beautiful love story. You will fall in love with each of the siblings, as you hate their worthless mother. You’ll respect Lochan and Maya for their strength and dedication to their family. You will feel their love, anger, and desperation, even as you curse the injustice of it all. No way around it, you will FEEL while reading this story.

As much as anything else, this story made me feel conflicted. I usually don’t waver much in my convictions. However, this book made me question my values and morals. I found myself pondering “what if” more than I was comfortable with. Days later, I have to say that this story still has me feeling unsettled.

Will it make you highly uncomfortable? Yes. Would I recommend it? Absolutely! In my opinion, the books that challenge the status quo and make me look at life through a different lens are the best kinds of books. Agree or disagree, but consider alternate viewpoints. Books like this aren’t necessarily there to change what you believe, so much as they are there to make you examine why you believe what you do and consider other perspectives. Are there situations in which there should be exceptions to some steadfast rules of morality? This book will make you think about that type of thing.

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Review: Black Hearts (Sins Duet, #1), by Karina Halle

Black Hearts (Sins Duet, #1)Black Hearts by Karina Halle
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Ever since reading ‘On Every Street’, I have been a huge fan of Karina Halle’s work. Admittedly, I’m still a little bitter over the fact that Ellie and Javier didn’t end up together. Being a “glass half full” kind of lady, I see this spin-off series as Ms. Halle’s chance to give those of us on team Javi a little something. After all, if we can’t have Javier and Ellie then we can at least have Vicente and Violet. (Take that Camden!)

If you haven’t read ‘The Artists Trilogy’ followed by the ‘Dirty Angels’ series, I would do that before starting the ‘Sins Duet’. You could probably read the ‘Sins Duet’ without having done so, but then you would be missing a lot of the backstory. Without understanding the history between these characters’ families, you won’t get the full impact of everything that transpires in this series. I would definitely recommend going back and reading those series before diving into this one. Don’t worry though, they’re fabulous!

If you haven’t read those series, you may want to stop reading this review. It is highly likely that it will contain spoilers for the books in those series. Since this series is largely built upon the history laid out in those books, it would be difficult to review this book without discussing some of that background.

Taking place years after the end of ‘Dirty Promises’, Javier and Luisa’s children are grown. Many more years have passed since Ellie left Javier behind to be captured by the authorities. Not being one to forget any affront, Javier has been biding his time.

Vicente’s relationship with his father is somewhat strained. The son of a notorious drug lord, Vicente never had a childhood resembling anything that would be considered “normal”. From a very young age, he was groomed to take over his father’s cartel. While other kids were playing soccer, he was learning to be a cold-hearted killer. He has only known the father that is feared by the world and seems to have no emotions or weaknesses.

When Vicente stumbles upon a file on Ellie Watt/McQueen, his curiosity gets the best of him. He is determined to find this woman that managed to capture his fathers’ heart, only to leave him the broken shell of a man that he knows now. With this seed planted in his mind, he sets out to San Francisco to find Ellie and make his father proud.

On the one hand, Vicente really detests his father. Yet, he yearns for his approval and affection. He has arrived at a stage in his life where he wants to challenge and usurp his father. Where Javier is considered, Vicente has a lot of mixed feelings.

Arriving in San Francisco, Vicente locates Ellie and her family. Immediately, he is drawn in by Ellie and Camden’s daughter, Violet. He sets out to use her as a means to gain access to her family. Only, he ends up falling in love with the innocent, kind and beautiful young lady. She is the polar opposite of everything he has ever known. She is refreshing in a life of violence.

While Vicente is busy falling in love with Violet, Javier is working on his own plan for revenge. He sees Violet as a way to mold his son into the hardened man that he’ll need to be to run the cartel. At the same time, Violet is an effective means to his long-awaited revenge on Ellie. Vicente never really had the freedom that he thought he had been granted, if only briefly.

This was a steamy and completely addicting story. I started this book and before I realized it, I was at the end. I was consumed by this story. Luckily, I waited until the second book was released so that I could start it immediately.

If you’re a fan of ‘The Artists Trilogy’ and/or the ‘Dirty Angels’ series, I highly recommend this spin-off series. I love the characters, new and old, that have been introduced. If you haven’t started this yet, I recommend going back to the beginning and taking it all in. This book, as well as each of it’s predecessors, is fantastic! I highly recommend it! I cannot get enough of this story!

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