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: Bright Side (Bright Side, #1), by Kim Holden

Bright Side (Bright Side, #1)Bright Side by Kim Holden
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

This book wrecked me! It was incredibly touching and heartfelt. Despite dealing with some rather depressing subject matter, it was handled with care. I can’t say that I didn’t cry big fat tears, but I can say that I smiled far more than I cried while reading this book. It was beautiful.

The heroine, Kate, moves from San Diego to Grant, Minnesota for college. Right off the bat, I loved her. It is easy to understand why her best friend, Gus, gave her the nickname “Bright Side”. She is the type of person that just lights up a room. Kudos to the narrator for being able to capture the essence of Kate’s character so well.

As Kate makes friends in her new home, she never lets her relationship with Gus weaken. They talk daily on the phone, while he tours with his band, Rook. There is no mistaking the strength of their bond, or the fact that there are feelings shared that extend beyond the bounds of normal friendship.

Despite claiming not to believe in romantic love, Kate finds herself falling in love. Keller Banks is the hot guy that works the counter at the coffee shop that she frequents for her caffeine fix. They flirt tirelessly and find themselves thrown together more often through mutual friends.

Once Kate and Keller begin spending more time together, their attraction is evident. Before long, Keller has let Kate into the private aspects of his life that he doesn’t share with others. The two grow incredibly close in a very short period of time.

Nobody is more surprised by their quick intimacy than Kate herself. She never planned on falling in love. She didn’t even believe it existed. More importantly, she has a big secret that she’s been keeping from everyone she loves, which she knows will ruin everything.

Aside from the romance between Kate and Keller, I found myself drawn to the stories of friendship in this book. Kate’s relationship with Gus was incredible. The support and love between them was so strong it was tangible. Similarly, her relationships with Clayton, Shelley and Pete were inspiring.

This book certainly did not lack for a strong cast of supporting characters. Each of these characters was endearing in their own way. Even the ones that made me mad initially, like Kate’s roommate, won me over eventually. I loved all of them and am looking forward to reading their stories.

In the end, I cried big, fat tears. It was sad, but also very inspiring. This is one of those books that makes you step back and reevaluate how you go through life. It was inspirational and helps keep things in perspective.

This is a must-read! I can’t believe that I put it off for so long, but I am so glad that I finally read it. This book was fabulous!

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Review: Black Swan Affair, by K. L. Kreig

Black Swan AffairBlack Swan Affair by K.L. Kreig
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

When I started ‘Black Swan Affair’, I anticipated a steamy love affair and a fair amount of angst. I had absolutely no idea that this book would gut me the way it did. This book ripped my heart out! Several days later, I’m still trying to get ahold of my emotions and come to terms with what this book made me feel.

The story centers on Maverick DeSoto, who is marrying her childhood best-friend, Kael. Only, Maverick isn’t in love with Kael. She’s in love with his older brother, Killian.

After an intense opening scene with Maverick and Killian arguing on the day of her wedding, I knew that I was in for a hell of a ride with this book. Killian is trying to stop Maverick from going through with her wedding to his brother and she is determined to marry Kael to spite Killian. It was like watching a bad train wreck in slow motion.

For most of this book, my heart broke for Kael. He was so in love with Maverick and she just couldn’t see past her love for Killian to appreciate what she had in front of her all the time. Kael truly did have enough love for both of them.

In contrast, I despised Killian until about 85% through. He seemed to want to have his cake and eat it too. He had married Maverick’s sister, Jillian, without so much as an explanation, leaving Maverick brokenhearted. I doubted the sincerity of his feelings for Maverick right from the start. After all, who would do that if they really loved somebody?

Then, there is Maverick. Jilted by Killian, she sets out to do the same thing to him that he did to her…marry his sibling. Only, she actually claims to love Kael, even if she isn’t in love with him. Kind of cruel, if you ask me. All the while, she pines over Killian.

The longer Kael and Maverick are married, the more he begins to creep his way into her heart. Slowly, she begins to fall in love with her husband. She is determined to push Killian out of her mind and Kael is eager to help her make that happen.

However, there are some big secrets being kept from Maverick. When they come to light, everything will change. Suddenly, the reasons for Killian’s shocking marriage will be explained. The betrayal and lies run deep. Everyone except for Maverick seems to be in on it. She has to decide whether she can get past this deception at all.

I loved every painful moment of this story. It broke my heart, but I couldn’t get enough of it. I wanted to scream and throw a tantrum so many times while reading this one. In the end, I came to a place of acceptance with the decisions that were made. Yet, I can’t say that I felt content with the ending.

I don’t think that there was any way for this to work out with a perfect happy ending. It just wasn’t that kind of story. I understood why Maverick made the decisions that she did and think it was the right one…but it still hurt so much. This one definitely got me in the feels. I highly recommend any book that can make you feel the way that this one does.

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Review: My Skylar, by Penelope Ward

My SkylarMy Skylar by Penelope Ward
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Once I finished ‘Jake Undone’, I had to start ‘My Skylar’ to get Skylar’s story. This book can be read as a standalone, but reading ‘Jake Undone’ will provide a brief introduction to Skylar and a little insight into her background. Similarly, you’ll have the backstory for Jake and Nina, Skylar’s super-supportive friends, if you’ve read that book first. However, it is not necessary to read ‘Jake Undone’ first to understand and/or enjoy ‘My Skylar’.

Skylar and Mitch meet when they are young children. Mitch’s grandmother lives across the street from Skylar’s family. He comes to stay with his grandmother one summer while his parents split up.

The two find that they have a lot in common, despite their separate upbringings. In no time at all, they become best friends. They spend every waking moment with each other, until Mitch has to return to his home.

When Mitch’s father shows up unexpectedly early to pick him up, he is surprised. He is only more surprised by the news that his parents are getting divorced. As a young boy, the demise of his parent’s marriage has shook his belief in the foundation of marriage. He even questions the permanence of “love”.

Skylar does not hear from Mitch for years. As a teenager, she hears his name at a party and immediately the memories come back. She has never forgotten the boy that walked into her life all those years ago, even if he seemed to have forgotten her.

When Mitch returns as a teenager to live with his mother in his grandmother’s home, Skylar and him pick up their friendship where they left off. It is almost like he never left. Only, now there is a definite sexual attraction brewing between the two.

This was a story that delivered a ton of angst and teenage melodrama. There were several times that I found myself wanting to shake Mitch and Skylar. So much heartache could’ve been avoided if they had only been open and honest with each other. It was incredibly frustrating at times, as they danced around each other ignoring the elephant in the room.

Along the way, the story takes a few unbelievable twists. I can’t say that I didn’t enjoy the story, but I did think that some of the twists were over-the-top. Skylar and Mitch were dramatic enough without having some of the extra twists in my opinion. I kept thinking “What else?”. It was like the universe was working to keep these two apart.

This story follows Mitch and Skylar’s relationship from childhood into adulthood and there are plenty of angst-filled moments along the way. They are together, then they aren’t. They’re inseparable, then they’re estranged. It was enough to give me whiplash at times.

Despite all of the back and forth, I found myself glued to my headphones while I listened to their story. It was angsty and over-the-top, but I loved it. My heart broke at times, but it worked out perfectly in the end. I recommend this story for anyone that loves a HEA, but isn’t afraid to work for it or cry a few tears along the way.

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Review: Jake Undone (Jake, #1), by Penelope Ward

Jake Undone (Jake, #1)Jake Undone by Penelope Ward
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

‘Jake Undone’ is one of those books that I’ve had sitting on my Audible shelf for quite some time, but never got around to listening to. After finishing a couple of great dark books, I was looking for something a little “lighter”. While this book ended up having some pretty emotional twists, it certainly was uplifting enough to balance out some of my recent dark, gory reads.

Admittedly, I was a little worried that I wouldn’t like it since my tastes have changed a bit. Lately, I’m finding that many of the college-aged, YA-type books just aren’t doing it for me. I was worried that this book would be one of those irritatingly immature romances that have started to lose their appeal for me. Luckily, ‘Jake Undone’ ended up being just right.

Nina Kennedy meets Jake Green when she moves into the apartment that he shares with a childhood friend of hers. Only, when Nina shows up she gets more than she bargained for. What better way to meet your new roommate for the first time than to eavesdrop on his steamy one night stand, right? Talk about awkward.

As Nina struggles to adjust to life in a new city, Jake becomes her primary source of support and comfort. The two become fast friends and the sexual tension is thick between the two. Jake becomes her math tutor and a life coach of sorts, helping Nina conquer the irrational fears that plague her daily life.

Little by little, Nina comes out of her shell. Jake helps her to face her fears and she is able to make it through her days without suffering from crippling anxiety. The two are practically inseparable, with the exception of the weekends when Jake has to return back to his hometown of Boston.

Jake is standoffish at times and avoids taking his relationship with Nina to the next level. They want each other, but his repeated brush-offs leave Nina feeling unwanted. That couldn’t be farther from the truth where Jake is concerned.

There is a huge part of Jake’s life that he hasn’t been upfront with Nina about. He doesn’t know how to tell her everything. The longer he waits, the more he fears losing her and the harder it gets to explain why he hasn’t already told her everything. Eventually, it all comes crashing down.

Even though I guessed the twist before it was revealed, it didn’t make it any less emotional or upsetting. I felt Nina’s pain. All the while, I felt Jake’s also. It was so easy to understand and to relate to each of their viewpoints. I was angry. I was heartbroken. Yet, I also felt compassion for Jake while admiring his loyalty and strength.

This was not a couple that came across their HEA easily. They had to fight for it, but eventually persevered. Although this story was heartbreaking at times, it was beautiful and worth the pain. I am glad that I finally made it a point to listen to this one. Overall, it was a great choice.

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Review: Heart Recaptured (Hades Hangmen, #2), by Tillie Cole

Heart Recaptured (Hades Hangmen, #2)Heart Recaptured by Tillie Cole
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Another Fantastic Book In The Hades Hangmen Series!

Picking up where “It Ain’t Me, Babe” left off, “Heart Recaptured” focuses on the story of Lilah and Ky. Unlike Mae, Lilah had no desire to flee the religious cult that she had been raised within. She still holds strongly to her beliefs and teachings of the cult leaders.

Ky is immediately attracted to Lilah’s beauty, but isn’t prepared to deal with her extreme religious beliefs. He’s a man unaccustomed to having his advances turned down or having to work to gain the affections of a woman. Ky can’t begin to comprehend the depth of her beliefs, anymore than she can comprehend the strange and frightening ways of life outside of the cult compound.

When Ky is assigned to teach Lilah about the world outside of the compound in order to help her make the transition into her new reality, both of them are pushed out of their comfort zones. The more time the two spend together, the stronger their attraction grows. Ky quickly becomes Lilah’s protector and gains her trust. Little by little, she begins to come out of her shell.

Despite it all, Lilah still hangs on to the belief that her beauty is a curse and that she is evil. The long-standing impact of the cult’s teachings and her subsequent self-loathing was incredibly sad. She is deeply scarred and, at times, seems entirely incapable of moving on with her life.

Eventually, the cult, now led by Prophet Cain (Rider), makes a reappearance. She is thrust back into a world that she thought she had wanted, only to then recognize how much she’d grown to love her new life and to question the validity of the cult’s teachings. Submitted to unspeakable horrors, she eventually finds her personal salvation.

It becomes apparent that Prophet Cain is no longer the kind-hearted Rider that we loved in the first book. He has forsaken his morality in exchange for power. He has become a passive bystander to the cruelties and perversions of the cult. While he may be conflicted, he lacks the strength to stand up for what he knows to be right, looking the other way as atrocities are committed in the name of God. In his role as their leader, he has become a follower, nothing more than a puppet for the cult elders. With his obsession for Mae still burning strong, there is no doubt that we’ll be seeing more of Prophet Cain in the future.

Ms. Cole’s storytelling continues to amaze me. This story is captivating and deeply disturbing. I am completely enthralled with these characters and the strength of these women. I cannot wait for the next book in this series to see what lies in store for Flame, Maddie and the rest of the characters we’ve been introduced to along the way.

Spectacular book!

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Review: Avoiding Temptation (Avoiding, #3), by K. A. Linde

Avoiding Temptation (Avoiding, #3)Avoiding Temptation by K.A. Linde
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

The final book in the ‘Avoiding’ series, ‘Avoiding Temptation’ provides the answers to all of the questions that I had. At last, I can put my frustrations to rest. Finally, I know how things work out for Lexi.

I don’t want to spoil this series for anyone, so I won’t say exactly who Lexi ends up with…or if she ends up with anyone at all. However, I will say that if you’re a fan of angst that this is one of the most angst-filled series that I’ve ever encountered. I could not believe the massive amounts of drama that played out over the course of this series.

This book certainly lived up to the reputation of earlier books in the series in that regard. There was never a dull moment. I couldn’t get enough of this salacious soap opera. This series is such a guilty pleasure. I know I should be appalled by the characters’ actions…but I just can’t stop reading!

As glad as I was to finally know how things worked out for Lexi and her string of male admirers, I was sad to see this series come to a close. I loved every minute of this series. It is probably one that I will re-read in the future, because I just can’t get enough of these characters.

I don’t want to ruin it for anyone, so I’ll just say that this is one series that you want to read. If you like forbidden love stories with a TON of angst, look no further. This is the series you’ve been looking for!

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Review: Avoiding Decisions (Avoiding, #1.5), by K. A. Linde

Avoiding Decisions (Avoiding, #1.5)Avoiding Decisions by K.A. Linde
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

After reading ‘Avoiding Responsibility’, I simultaneously read ‘Avoiding Decisions’ while listening to ‘Avoiding Intimacy’. Of all the books in the series, ‘Avoiding Decisions’ was the only one that was not available in Audible format. I like to start and finish a series in the same format, so that kind of bugged me…but not nearly enough to keep me away. This series is my latest addiction!

Unlike the other books in the series, ‘Avoiding Decisions’ wasn’t really a full-length book. It is a compilation of two “novellas” really. While I enjoyed every minute of it, it read like an “extra” or “bonus material” vs. an actual book.

The first part of ‘Avoiding Decisions’ describes Jack and Lexi’s first encounters from Jack’s POV. Reading this helped me to understand some of his actions, even if I disagreed with his choices. I needed reassurance that Jack’s feelings for Lexi were sincere after everything he’d put her through. This book gave me that.

Likewise, the second part of ‘Avoiding Decisions’ provides Ramsey’s account of his first encounters with Lexi. In much the same way as Jack’s story convinced me that he had real feelings for Lexi, Ramsey’s story did not. If anything, his story confirmed my suspicions that Lexi was a fill-in for Parker and that he was never really in love with Lexi.

That being said, this book only covered a very brief period of time from the POVs of either Jack or Ramsey. It is quite possible that Ramsey later came to love Lexi very much, as he professed. It is also possible that Jack later fell out of love with Lexi, as this book only provided a brief glimpse into the beginnings of these relationships and did not follow them for the entire course of their relationships.

My only gripe is that I still feel like Lexi was never enough. Jack supposedly loved her, but still didn’t care enough to make her a priority. Why were her feelings always less important than everyone else’s? It drove me nuts!

This was a very quick read and well worth it if you’re a fan of the series. Like the other books in this series, I ate this one up. I cannot get enough of this sordid, angsty, drama-fest! I just love it!

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Review: Avoiding Responsibility (Avoiding, #2), by K. A. Linde

Avoiding Responsibility (Avoiding, #2)Avoiding Responsibility by K.A. Linde
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Once I finished reading ‘Avoiding Commitment’, I immediately downloaded ‘Avoiding Responsibility’. I was completely sucked in by this story and I couldn’t wait to find out where Lexi’s life was going to take her after the upset at the end of the first book. Even though Lexi epitomizes poor choices and a lack of self-respect, I cannot get enough of her story. I’m a masochist like that!

If you haven’t read ‘Avoiding Commitment’, know that this review may contain some spoilers for that book. ‘Avoiding Responsibility’ is the second book in the ‘Avoiding’ series and the books should be read in order to maximize enjoyment and understanding of this story.

Back in New York City, Lexi is left to lick her wounds. Meanwhile, the planning for Jack and Bekah’s wedding is underway. Talk about a nightmare! I spent a fair amount of time moping around, grieving and alternately raging, with Lexi for most of this book. It was just so unfair!

While Jack is relegated to a background role in this second book, Ramsey becomes a primary focus. Where Jack has left Lexi broken, Ramsey sweeps in to pick up the pieces. As much as I liked Ramsey – and I really did like him – I had “friend-zoned” him long ago. So, when Lexi begins to see him as more than a friend, I never really got on board with that.

It’s a hang-up of mine. I always want the heroine to end up with the “first” guy that I experienced her falling in love with. (If that makes any sense.) Even though Jack was a complete and total douche, I was still doodling “Lexi + Jack forever” in my mind.

Since this book centers on Lexi and Jack moving on with their lives without each other, I was left with a hole in my chest. No matter how destructive, it was hard to let go of the idea of their love. It pained me.

While Jack and Lexi’s relationship may have changed drastically, Lexi’s tendency to make very poor decisions did not. Poor Lexi always settles for second-best. It was sad, really. My heart broke for her as she again picked a guy that would never place her first. Ramsey may have even grown to love her on some level, but it was clear that he was still hung up on his ex-girlfriend, Parker. I just kept thinking, “Man, Lexi really knows how to pick them!”

Of course, this book had several twists and surprises along the way. Jack may have been less of a central focus this time around, but he’s still lurking in the background. No matter what they say, Lexi and Jack have not gotten past whatever it was they had together. Sparks fly and feelings get hurt. If you think you’ve seen the end of the drama surrounding these two, you’d be sadly mistaken. It isn’t over, baby!

Overall, I am still loving this series. I am a sucker for an angsty, forbidden romance that rips your heart out. This story definitely delivers on that account. I plan to listen to the next book immediately. I am very thankful that I didn’t read these books immediately upon their release. The wait for the release of the next books would have killed me!

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