Review: After (After, #1), by Anna Todd

After (After, #1)After by Anna Todd
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

If you thought the ‘Fallen Crest High’ series was full of angst and teenage melodrama, you haven’t seen anything yet! ‘After’ is like many other teenage/college-aged romances, with all the “end of the world” dramatics…on steroids. I found this book to be equal parts irritating and addicting.

The “adult” part of me has to acknowledge the truth in much of the criticism I’ve seen regarding this story. Hardin and Tessa’s relationship was a train wreck. I spent a lot of time rolling my eyes and thinking “hang it up already”. However, I’d be lying if I said that I didn’t enjoy this story. It was a total guilty pleasure. Even though I was often annoyed, or even infuriated, by the goings on in this book, I couldn’t turn away. I really enjoyed this book, despite the responsible adult in me saying I should run far in the other direction.

The story centers on Theresa “Tessa” Young and her relationship with Hardin Scott. Tessa is portrayed as the quintessential sheltered prude. She is a sweet virgin, who dresses conservatively and arrives at her dorm with her over-bearing mother and high school sweetheart in-tow. Immediately, Tessa stands out and becomes a target for her roommate’s hard-partying group of friends.

More so than anyone else, Hardin seems to take extreme pleasure in tormenting Tessa. He is constantly toying with her and trying to humiliate her. He goes out of his way to put her down, but he’s always there. Despite all of his insults, he is constantly showing up in her daily life.

Little by little, Tessa and Hardin form a tenuous friendship. Eventually, it grows into more. There are plenty of obstacles along the way — none larger than Hardin’s broody, closed-off, and often volatile nature. Time and time again, Tessa forgives Hardin for his reprehensible behavior.

These two might take the prize for the number of times a single couple can go back and forth, breaking up and making up, in a single book. It did start to wear on my nerves, even as I couldn’t turn away. They were the perfect example of everything that only works in fiction. In real life, these two needed some serious counselling and intervention. They were toxic, to an extreme degree. No way would I ever want to be any where near a couple like this in real life. However, for a smutty romance, they definitely kept things interesting.

While I don’t want to give anything away, I will say that the ending of this book gutted me. I actually cried. I was so furious, I think I might have felt the betrayal as acutely as Tessa did!

So many times, I told myself that when this book was over that I wouldn’t be diving back in for another round of their melodramatic, childish antics. I was kidding myself. There was no way that I was going to skip the next book after that ending. It’s on to the next book for me.

As an aside, this book was apparently written as fan-fiction originally. It is supposed to be based on the lives of the boy band “One Direction”. Since I’m not very familiar with this group, I don’t have anything to offer in terms of how closely this book follows any of those band members. If it does closely follow one of the bandmate’s lives, God help the poor girls that are his prey.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Review: Undeserving (Undeniable, #5), by Madeline Sheehan

Undeserving (Undeniable, #5)Undeserving by Madeline Sheehan
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Madeline Sheehan has done it again! If you’re like me, you’ve been waiting a long time for the next book in the ‘Undeniable’ series. This series is probably my favorite biker series of all of them, and there are plenty of them to choose from. And let me tell you, this book was worth the wait!

When I first saw that the book was going to center on Preacher, I have to admit that I didn’t expect to love it. After all, he was Eva’s father and was already kind of old in ‘Undeniable’. For some reason, I had envisioned a present-day romance with an elderly Preacher and some new love interest. Before you succumb to the fit of nausea those thoughts will leave you with, know that I was completely wrong. Thank God for that!

Although the story does feature a present-day Preacher, along with Eva and other characters that we’ve grown to love over the course of this series, the actual love story takes place in the past. Dying, Preacher finally opens up to Eva about his one true love. He has plenty of secrets to share and the truth about her mother will shatter Eva’s ideas about who her mother was.

Everything that Preacher told Eva about her mother, was a lie. She wasn’t a junkie. She didn’t walk out on Eva…at least not in the way that she thought. These were all lies. The truth was so much more – more beautiful, more loving, and far more painful. Sometimes it is too hard to face the truth.

Preacher’s love story was heartfelt and incredibly tragic. I could not put this book down. Start to finish, I was hooked.

He first meets Eva’s mom, Debbie Reynolds, aka “Wheels”, when she tries to steal his wallet. From that point forward, the two form an unlikely friendship. Preacher is fresh out of prison and uncertain about the direction of his life, especially where his father’s motorcycle club is concerned. He recognizes the desperation and resilience in the beautiful, young runaway that tries to best him.

This book is a beautiful and highly emotional. Your heart will melt, and it will break. This story made me feel elated and also completely devastated. There was so much tragedy in Preacher’s past, but also so much love and happiness.

I won’t give too much away, because I don’t want to spoil it for anyone. I’ll just say that this is one book that you don’t want to miss if you’re a fan of this series. It is phenomenal!

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Review: Mists of the Serengeti, by Leylah Attar

Mists of the SerengetiMists of the Serengeti by Leylah Attar
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Telling the story of two people brought together by an unspeakable act of violence, ‘Mists of the Serengeti’ proves to be a heartfelt and emotional read. Listening to the Audible edition, I found it difficult to motivate myself to get out of my car once my commute was over. I lost myself in this story.

Rodel Emerson and Jack Warden meet in the wake of a terrorist attack. When a shopping mall in Africa is bombed, Jack’s young daughter and Rodel’s sister are among the dead. This prompts Rodel’s trip to Tanzania to collect her sister’s belongings and lay her to rest.

While going through her sister’s things, Rodel stumbles across unexpected information. Always one for an adventure, her sister had agreed to help transport children safely across the country. In honor of her sister’s memory, Rodel commits to complete the work that her sister started.

Soon she realizes that her sister was involved in a dangerous cat and mouse game. She was helping rescue albino children, who are highly sought after because it is believed that they possess special powers. They are often murdered and their body parts sold as key ingredients for witchcraft. These children are even sold by their own families because of the money that they can bring in. It was a horrifying reality that Rodel was not prepared for.

When Rodel ends up at Jack’s home with a young girl in tow, his grandmother offers them sanctuary until the weather clears up. Unbeknownst to them at the time, this is the beginning of a great adventure. Despite his gruff demeanor and all-consuming grief, Jack’s character won’t let him send Rodel and the girl out into the African wild without protection. He knows that this foreigner is in over her head and has no idea of the danger that she’s in.

Gradually, Jack and Rodel’s attraction grows. They help each other through their grief. Each has to face their feelings of survivor’s guilt and the what-ifs that haunt them. Meanwhile, they are on a life or death mission to try and save these hunted children, since they could not save their own loved ones on that tragic day.

‘Mists of the Serengeti’ was a touching and highly emotional story. I listened to the Audible version and it was well-narrated. The imagery was beautiful. I could envision the plains of Africa as if I were right there with Jack and Rodel.

Although there was plenty of tragedy, I was impressed with the author’s ability to address such subject matter without letting it affect the overall mood of the book. It is easy to imagine the dreary, depressing book that this easily could have been. Instead, it was inspiring and heartfelt.

With a slow-burn romance and plenty of action/adventure, this book kept me fully engaged. It was heartbreaking at times, but I fell in love with this story and it’s characters. I would definitely recommend this book for anyone looking for an heartfelt romance with mature characters.

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Review: Tailspin, by Jaimie Roberts

TailspinTailspin by Jaimie Roberts
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

**I received an ARC from the author.**

It has been a week since I finished ‘Tailspin’ and it is still consuming my thoughts. Even though my emotions are still all over the place with this one, I’m going to try and capture my thoughts in this review. Who knows, maybe it will prove to be therapeutic!

This book completely and totally wrecked me — in the best of ways. I absolutely devoured it. If I had started it early in the day, I would have read it in one sitting. As it was, I started it in the evening and read well into the night. Eventually, pure exhaustion overtook me and I fell asleep with my iPad propped up on my chest. When it finally fell over and hit me in my face, all I could think about was getting right back to the story. It was that kind of book for me. The kind that consumes your every thought until you finish it…then continues to haunt you for days or weeks afterward.

Although this book has fast become my latest favorite, I will be honest about the fact that it will not appeal to many readers. In fact, I know that many of my friends will downright hate this book. Why? Well, it deals will some difficult and controversial subject matter. This book tackles topics like abuse, rape, addiction, mental illness, etc. If you require your books to be a “unicorns and rainbows” picture of perfection, then you should run far, far away from this one.

If you are like me though, and love it when a book can make you “feel” things that you may not even be comfortable feeling, then this book is exactly what you are looking for. This book made me feel conflicted, sad, angry, joyful, devastated. You name it and I felt it while reading this one. It has been a long time since I’ve read something that took me on that kind of an emotional rollercoaster ride. It blew me away!

There is nothing that I love more than an uber-a$$hole that may, or may not, be redeemable. I have a personal weakness for leading males that make you love them in spite of all reason. Devon Jackson is exactly that type of guy.

In real life, this is a guy that you should run from at all costs. However, for me, his character was fictional perfection. I could not get enough of this complex, damaged, guy. Oh, how I loved him…even as he broke my heart.

The heroine, Andi Bellingham, was Devon’s polar opposite. She was naïve, sweet and strictly off-limits. The younger sister of Devon’s best friend, Charlie, she is hired as Devon’s personal assistant as a favor to her brother. Of course, she has spent years lusting after her older brother’s best friend, but she knows that he’s out of her league. If Andi ever had doubts, the weekly condom runs that he sends her on and his mid-day office trysts drive the message home.

When I started this book, I thought it would play out like a million other romantic comedy types. Devon was an ass, but I couldn’t help but laugh at his outrageous antics. I was sure that I knew exactly how things would play out as he began to lose his internal struggle to hide his attraction to Andi. I kept thinking, “This is great, but I know where it’s headed.” I was wrong.

Then, about half-way through, there is a shift in the story. It took on a different tone. Again, I thought I had it pegged. Nope. I was still clueless. Nonetheless, I cruised along blissfully unaware of what Ms. Roberts had in store for me.

Suddenly, big things are happening. Huge, plot twists and revelations seem to spring up out of nowhere. My world was turned upside down as I looked back at all of the subtle warning signs and clues that were there all along. Ms. Roberts left a trail of crumbs, but I didn’t want to see them. I was blinded by my own hopes and expectations. Then, she came along and pulled the rug out from under my feet.

It was absolutely brilliant! I don’t want to give too much away, because this is a story that needs to be experienced. It is a story about obsession, love and forgiveness. It was painful, but I wouldn’t have it any other way. I have no doubt that this book is one that I will re-read, time and time again. I absolutely LOVED this book!

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Pre-Review: Tailspin, by Jaimie Roberts (Expected Release Date: 06/20/17)

TAILSPINTAILSPIN by Jaimie Roberts
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

This book has wrecked me! I can’t even begin to make sense of all my emotions right now. I’m angry, devastated, completely gutted and heartbroken. I’m so damn conflicted! This story…argh! It really hit me in the “feels”.

Full review to come once I’m able to get a grip. Seriously! I devoured this book and I’m a total mess right now.

**I received an ARC from the author.**

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Review: The Iron Queen (The Iron Fey, #3), by Julie Kagawa

The Iron Queen (Iron Fey, #3)The Iron Queen by Julie Kagawa
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Of all the books in ‘The Iron Fey’ series, ‘The Iron Queen’ is my favorite. This book is pivotal and takes the story in an entirely new direction. Not only is this book filled with action and adventure, but I finally got to see the romance between Meghan and Ash evolve.

Not only does the relationship between Meghan and Ash grow, but Meghan undergoes a great deal of self-discovery and growth as an individual. ‘The Iron Queen’ really is Meghan’s “coming of age” book. She grows stronger, both physically and spiritually. She is faced with many painful truths and twists along the way, but she rises to the challenge.

To say the least, I felt that this book had a strong “girl power” vibe going on. In earlier books, Meghan was always cast as the damsel in distress, waiting for Ash or Puck to come to her rescue. While she still has a plethora of male protectors to do her bidding, Meghan also rises as a leader in and of her own right. She is only beginning to learn about the power within her and I cannot wait to see what she will be able to do once she is able to access it fully.

Meanwhile, this book proved to be emotionally engaging and, at times, heartbreaking. Mostly, my heart went out to Puck. He made some mistakes along the way, but none more serious than anything that Ash ever did, in my opinion. He loved Meghan so much, but it was evident that he had been “friend-zoned” and had no chance at ever becoming anything more. As much as I loved Ash and Meghan as a couple, I couldn’t help but feel bad for poor Puck.

King Oberon and Queen Mab take on unexpected roles, as the false Iron King continues to gain power. In order to save faerieland, Meghan will have to rise to the challenge. She is faced with many difficult choices and adversity along the way.

More so than other books in the series, ‘The Iron Queen’ ended with a huge upset. I was left reeling. It felt like my heart was ripped from my chest. Knowing that the story wasn’t over yet kept me pushing forward. I knew that things wouldn’t be left like that.

Like the other books in the series, the narration for this book was superb. I continue to be enthralled with this story and the magical world that Ms. Kagawa has created. After finishing this one it was on to the next on immediately. I had to know how things would work out for these characters.

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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: 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: Dirty Filthy Rich Men (Dirty Duet, #1), by Laurelin Paige

Dirty Filthy Rich Men (Dirty Duet, #1)Dirty Filthy Rich Men by Laurelin Paige
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Laurelin Paige continues to blow me away with this series! I cannot get enough of this twisted, angsty love story. If I thought that ‘Dirty Filthy Rich Boys’ was addicting, I hadn’t seen anything yet!

The first full-length book in the ‘Dirty Duet’ series, ‘Dirty Filthy Rich Men’ was every bit as captivating as ‘Dirty Filthy Rich Boys’. I love this story and the constant push and pull between the characters. This book kept me on the edge of my seat, waiting to see what would happen next.

Donovan, in particular, has my rapt attention. He is certainly one of the most contradictory heroes that I’ve ever encountered. He is aloof, possessive and completely confusing. Naturally, I cannot get enough! I am appalled by some of his harsh and inconsiderate behaviors. I want to hate him, but I can’t. Like Sabrina, I am under his spell.

Weston also comes to life in this book. While ‘Dirty Filthy Rich Boys’ predominantly featured Sabrina’s fantasy version of who Weston was, this book introduces readers to the real Weston. Despite some less than flattering behaviors, I have to say that I really liked Weston. After all, he never pretended to be something that he wasn’t. Underneath his manwhore ways, he ends up being a pretty decent guy.

Sabrina has certainly got her hands full with both of these dirty, filthy, rich men in this book. My head was spinning at times. Talk about an emotional roller coaster! I was glued to the pages of this book.

If you love angsty, emotionally charged love stories, then you don’t want to pass this one up. I am hooked on this story! There are plenty of surprising twists and turns along the way that will keep you on the edge of your seat. Not to mention, it is hot, hot, hot! Days later, I’m still thinking about these characters and where this story might lead. I cannot wait to get my hands on the next book!

As an aside, ‘Dirty Filthy Rich Boys’ is included as the prologue in this book. So, if you haven’t already read it separately, you’ll get the backstory with this one also. However, if you’re not sure if you want to pay for the full-length book yet, it is offered for free and you can get a feel for the story.

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