Review: The Man I Love (The Fish Tales, #1), by Suanne Laqueur

The Man I Love (The Fish Tales, #1)The Man I Love by Suanne Laqueur
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

After reading ‘An Exhaltation of Larks’, I knew that I wanted to read every book written by Ms. Suanne Laqueur. Her writing is exquisite. The stories and characters that she brings to life are raw and emotional, heartbreaking and inspiring. I’ve definitely gone a little “fangirl” where she is concerned!

‘The Man I Love’ tells the story of a close-knit group of friends at Lancaster University. In many ways it is a coming of age story, set against the backdrop of a terrible tragedy. They were young and carefree until the unthinkable happens. Then, this group of friends struggles to survive in the aftermath of a terrible attack.

Each of them copes with the trauma in a different way. As young, college students, they don’t appreciate the need to seek out professional help. All of them develop some destructive behaviors. In the months and years that follow they fall into a downward spiral, nearly destroying themselves and their relationships with those that they love.

No relationship undergoes more strain that that of Erik “Fish” Fiskare and Daisy Bianco. Erik was a theatre tech when he met Daisy, a lead ballerina at the school. The two were head over heels in love. They had the kind of relationship that others envied…until that day. Nothing was the same after that day.

Aside from Erik and Daisy, there is a robust cast of characters that make this story memorable. Will Kaeger, Erik’s best friend/roommate and Daisy’s dance partner, also plays a pivotal role. He is left to live with guilt and questions whether or not his actions were to blame for the events of that tragic day. It was his brief love affair with another student, James, that seems to have been the motivator for James’ horrific actions on that day.

Spanning over a decade, the long-term effects of a single traumatic event are played out through these character for readers. This story was absolutely beautiful, but also tragic and highly emotional. These characters both broke my heart and inspired me.

The first book in a series, ‘The Man I Love’ proves to be an addicting read. I will definitely be reading the other books in this series immediately. I highly recommend this book. I am utterly captivated by this story and these flawed, very human characters.

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Review: Love in Lingerie, by Alessandra Torre

Love in LingerieLove in Lingerie by Alessandra Torre
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Alessandra Torre has a way of telling stories that suck me in and make me fall in love, even as my brain is telling me that I shouldn’t. She is the queen of writing forbidden love stories that leave you feeling conflicted and questioning your sense of right and wrong. She doesn’t seem to focus as much on huge, “in your face” subjects. Rather, she skirts the edges of what is generally considered socially acceptable behavior.

Whatever her magic formula is, it is working! She never fails to captivate me. Like every other book of hers that I’ve read, ‘Love in Lingerie’ grabbed me and held on tight right to the very end. I was completely absorbed with the antics of Kate and Trey.

Kate and Trey meet when Kate is hired to turn Trey’s lingerie company around. Looking to leave a company where she had no possibility of advancement, Kate is ecstatic to be working for Trey’s company. The company is failing and Trey is at risk of losing everything that he’s worked so hard for.

Despite the fact that he is immediately attracted to Kate, Trey cannot risk losing her as an employee. He’s been down that road before and it ended disastrously. Regardless of the intense desire he feels, he knows that he has to focus on saving his company. He cannot risk chasing Kate away with his kinky tastes.

‘Love in Lingerie’ was a unique love story in many ways. Most notably, the main characters were not “together” for most of the book. In fact, they didn’t really explore a romantic relationship until about 75% of the way in.

In the meantime, there was plenty of sexual tension and heated exchanges. This was definitely a slow-burn story. By the time that Kate and Trey finally took the next step, I felt like I was going to combust myself! However, Ms. Torre proved to make it well worth the wait.

If you’re looking for a sweet, sexy and humorous read, then I highly recommend ‘Love in Lingerie’. I was completely sucked in by these two. Their back and forth, sexually charged interactions were absolutely addicting. I enjoyed every minute of this story!

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Review: The Club (Colombian Cartel, #1), by Suzanne Steele

The Club (Colombian Cartel # 1)The Club by Suzanne Steele
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

I’m having a hard time deciding how to rate/review this one. On the one hand, I liked that the author didn’t shy away from dark content. On the other, the author didn’t necessarily weave said content into the story in a logical manner.

Antonio Ramirez is a crime boss of sorts. He owns strip club(s) and rules them with an iron fist. Although the full extent of his criminal dealings isn’t really revealed, it is clear that he is a guy that is feared and respected. His brother is Ricardo Ramirez, an even scarier guy.

Roxanne is a cage fighter. Along with her best friend, she has profited from throwing matches. When they get caught trying to scam Ricardo, he takes the women as payment. Roxanne is shipped off to marry Antonio, a gift from his brother. Meanwhile, her best friend is forced to marry Ricardo.

Of course, Roxanne is a virgin and is extremely surprised to be attracted to Antonio. That explains the pleasure and orgasms that she has while enduring the gentlest rape in history. Did I mention that she’s a closet masochist that ends up enjoying his sadistic tastes? (Yes, I’m rolling my eyes.)

One night is all it takes and he’s in love. She holds out a little longer, but can’t fight the attraction that she feels for Antonio while trying to maintain her righteous hate for her new husband. Eventually, she admits what was apparent from the start and quits trying to escape Antonio…or his spankings.

More often than not, this story left me feeling confused and wondering if I’d missed a few pages somewhere to explain exactly how the story arrived at a certain point. The characters’ emotional responses seemed contrived, rushed and, at times, ridiculous given the situation. It was hard to connect with the story when you can’t believe the responses of the characters to the given situations.

For example, with little more than a flip of the page, the hero goes from loathing the heroine that has been forced upon him by his brother to being completely obsessed and in love with her. Hmm… A few more conversations between the two might’ve helped to sell that a little better. It just didn’t work for me.

The short length of this story is a large part of the problem. There was way to much going on to cover in a short novella. If this novella had been fleshed out and made into a full-length novel, it would have been much better and wouldn’t have felt so forced.

Captivity, forced marriages, dubious consent and other dark themes are amongst my favorites…but they take time to craft into a story that is believable. It takes a lot of build-up to illustrate the gradual evolution of those relationships in order to sell it to the reader. That didn’t happen with this story. Instead, it felt forced and a bit “smutty”, lacking the emotional depth and connection that a story like this usually evokes.

Overall, I give this one 2 1/2 stars. It had potential, but was poorly executed. Instead of being a dark captivity story that tugs at your heart and makes you squirm in your seat, this story will make your eyes roll and might even make you laugh.

I’m slightly curious about the best friend and brother’s story, but probably won’t go there because I’m worried it’ll end up being just like this one. Maybe I’ll try another one of this author’s works sometime in the future. For now, this author’s style just doesn’t seem to match up with my tastes.

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Review: Dishonorable, by Natasha Knight

DishonorableDishonorable by Natasha Knight
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

After reading the blurb for ‘Dishonorable’, I was sure that this would be a dark, twisted and disturbing story. In other words, I thought that this would be just what I needed to satiate my thirst for depravity. Unfortunately, this book didn’t deliver on that front for me. It was the type of story that plays with the idea of darkness, without really ever crossing the line into truly “dark” territory. Don’t get me wrong, it was great. It just wasn’t what I thought I was going to get.

The heroine, Sofia Guardia, is essentially forced into marriage with Raphael Amado. Her grandfather wronged him in some terrible way and Raphael has demanded Sofia as repayment. Sounds twisted, right? Well…kind of.

While Raphael’s intentions were certainly bad, he wasn’t the monster that I had imagined – hoped for – in my depraved mind. You see, he was pretty much after her inheritance and not necessarily her. For many readers, I’m sure this will be a positive turn of events. However, it was pretty disappointing.

Of course, in time, Sofia and Raphael’s relationship grows more intimate. From the start, the chemistry between the two is pretty intense. Their initial interactions are heated, to say the least. However, they soon reach a middle ground. Eventually, flirtation becomes more.

Although I didn’t find the dark read that I was craving, I couldn’t deny the appeal of this story. Raphael was such a damaged hero and he grew on me. While Sofia might have been young, I found her to be admirable and mature for her age. It didn’t take long for me to fall in love with the idea of this couple.

The supporting characters were well-crafted and interesting. They breathed life into the story, while not stealing the spotlight. Raphael’s brother, proved to be especially endearing to me.

This book had a little of everything. It had romance, without being syrupy. It had plenty of danger and an aura of darkness, even if it never really turned “dark”. There was a feeling of impending doom that seemed to lurk in the background for most of the book, serving to keep readers on edge.

Overall, this was a great story. Despite the fact that it wasn’t the dark romance that I had anticipated, I enjoyed it quite a bit. I love an a$$hole that ends up being redeemable. The worse they are, the more I love them. Raphael certainly didn’t disappoint in that regard.

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Review: Salt to the Sea, by Ruta Sepetys

Salt to the SeaSalt to the Sea by Ruta Sepetys
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Before starting ‘Salt to the Sea’, I had heard quite a lot of praise for the book. In fact, I was a little nervous to start it because I was afraid that it wouldn’t live up to it’s reputation. Thankfully, that didn’t prove to be the case. This book was beautiful, devastatingly so.

Ms. Sepetys does a wonderful job of shedding light on the sinking of the Wilhelm Gustloff, a maritime disaster that claimed more than 9,000 lives and remains an overlooked part of history. Admittedly, I had never heard of this disaster until reading this book. Perhaps this is the result of a world that was less than sympathetic to German pain and loss following the end of WWII and the unveiling of the Nazi atrocities. Whatever the reason, I am glad that Ms. Sepetys brought this piece of history into the light. This story needed to be told.

Weaving fact and fiction together seamlessly, the author tells the story of a group of WWII refugees trying to flee as the Russian troops gain ground toward the end of WWII. Told in alternating POVs, this book reveals a human side of war. Everybody seems to have something to hide and a different motivation for their actions. Above all else, this story highlights the fight to survive.

Most noticeable in this cast of characters are: Joana, the Lithuanian nurse; Emilia, a young Polish girl; Florian, Emilia’s mysterious rescuer; and Alfred, a young German soldier. There is a full cast of supporting characters as well, such as the shoemaker, that contribute to the richness of this story. Each play a significant role in making this a robust reading experience.

I don’t want to spoil this story for anyone. Obviously, the ship sinks. However, I won’t say much else about the storyline because I think this is a story worth experiencing.

This isn’t a rainbows and unicorns type of story. It is real and moving. At times painful, this book highlights the depths of human depravity, as well as the incredible kindness that people are capable of. This is a story of tragedy and survival. It was raw, gritty and inspiring. I enjoyed this story quite a bit and would recommend it without reservations to anyone that is looking for a good, historical fiction that addresses a lesser-known part of WWII history.

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Review: “It’s Not About the Sex” My Ass, by Joanne Hanks and Steve Cano

“It’s Not About the Sex” My Ass by Joanne Hanks
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

After reading ‘The 19th Wife’, I wanted to know more about polygamy in religious cults like the FLDS. I ran across this book when searching for other books on the topic. Given the often disturbing and emotional nature of the topic, I was glad to see a book that seemed to approach the topic with humor. In that regard, this book really stood out from the rest.

I listened to the Audible version of this book and my biggest complaint is that it was too short to really explore the topic as in-depth as I wanted to. The author did a fantastic job of pointing out the downright laughable “prophecies” that were a part of her day-to-day life in the polygamist community that she lived in. Written after leaving the polygamist community and breaking away from the cult, she does a good job of pointing fun at her blind obedience and outright idiocy. I just wanted more.

This autobiographical account tells the story of Ms. Hanks, who entered into the polygamist cult as an adult, along with her husband. At that time, she was the only wife and she later helped her husband to “recruit” additional wives later on. Of course, they believed at the time that this was the will of God. Looking back, she recognizes it was really the will of horny guys that were able to craft “prophecies” to their liking.

I really liked the fact that the author did not try to portray herself as a victim, while painting her husband as the monster. Yes, he certainly “reaped the rewards” of plural marriage. However, they made a decision to enter into the polygamist lifestyle together, as consenting adults. Fools they may have been, but victims…no.

On the other hand, there were several things that I really struggled with while reading this book. First of all, I had trouble grasping that two well-educated adults raised outside of a polygamist community would ever be so naive. (He was a Chiropractor and she had a degree in Interior Design. Both had lived in “modern” cities and were exposed to “modern” ideas, as well as the condemnation of polygamist cults by the mainstream Mormon Church.)

Maybe I’m just too skeptical, but I call bullshit. My personal theory is that for whatever reason this woman felt compelled to humor her husband’s desire to have multiple wives. Maybe she was insecure. Maybe they were both closet perverts. I don’t know, but I don’t believe that these two adults actually bought into the religious cult BS.

That being said, I did appreciate the honesty of the author with regards to the ridiculous cult teachings. She also was forthcoming about the emotional toll that plural marriage takes on the wives and the disharmony it creates in a household. In my humble opinion, any woman that says that she is “okay” with hearing her husband have sex with his new, younger bride down the hall is either lying…or glad to be relieved of the chore because secretly she hates his guts. The author didn’t try to paint a rosy “I just love my sister wives” picture for readers and I was thankful for that.

The other thing that really bothered me about this book was that I was pretty appalled by the actions of the author and her husband. On some level, I wanted to relate to the woman and even feel bad for her as her husband took on more wives. However, I just couldn’t bring myself to do it.

After all, she had been an integral part of the decision making process every step of the way. She even helped her husband select his second wife, who was a teenager at the time. While she griped about having to “raise” his second wife like she was another child in her home, I kept thinking “because she is, you sicko!”.

As far as I was concerned, she was as culpable as her husband. They preyed upon this young girl. Her husband may have been the dirty old guy that wanted to sleep with the teenager, but she facilitated it. She may have been 18 by the time the marriage was consummated, but it was sick. Just yuck!

Overall, this was a 3 star read for me. I would have liked more of an in-depth expose, but realize that this was just the account of one woman that lived in a polygamist community for several years. While this book was actually pretty humorous, I had trouble believing that these adults could have been so gullible. I couldn’t help but questions their true motivations for entering into such a taboo lifestyle. Nonetheless, I appreciate that the author points out many of the lies that seem readily apparent to most of us already. It goes to show that even intelligent individuals can be duped when it suits them.

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Review: Documentary (Documentary, #1), by A. J. Sand

Documentary (Documentary, #1)Documentary by A.J. Sand
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I listened to the audiobook of ‘Documentary’ and it was pretty good. The narration could have been better, but was not terrible. Overall, this was a 3 1/2 star read/listen for me, but I’m rounding it up because I feel optimistic today. It falls in the “good but not great”, “liked it but didn’t love it” category for me.

Dylan Carroll is a filmmaking student that is offered the job of a lifetime. She is hired to film a web documentary on the life of Kai White, a rock star that is undergoing a PR crisis. This is the type of job that can open doors for her and set her on a path to success. She knows how important this job is and she cannot afford to screw it up.

Kai White has had a recent fall from grace. On probation after beating up his former bandmate, his fans have turned on him. Once loved by all, he is now shunned in the industry and viewed as an out of control and violent offender. This web documentary is a last ditch effort at salvaging his public image.

Despite the need to keep their relationship purely professional, Dylan and Kai cannot fight their strong chemistry. They “get” each other on a level that others do not. However, Dylan knows that pursuing a romantic relationship would be disastrous. If she ever had any doubts, Kai’s manager has made that abundantly clear to her.

Meanwhile, Kai is refusing to be forthcoming with Dylan about the infamous fight with his former bandmate, Jeremy. She knows that the best way to save his image is to address the elephant in the room and she can’t understand why Kai won’t talk about it. How is she supposed to save his image when he seems to be working against her?

Eventually, everything comes out. However, there is a lot of jealousy and misunderstandings along the way. Both Kai and Dylan contribute a lot to the ongoing tension and seem to enjoy playing games with one another.

Maybe I’m just outgrowing the college-aged romances, because I couldn’t help but feel that the characters were emotionally immature. There was plenty of angst and lots of back and forth drama. I spent most of this book wanting to shake some sense into the main characters. So much stress could’ve been avoided if they’d only been honest with each other about how they felt.

By the time everything was revealed, nothing was much of a surprise. It was predictable, but fairly entertaining. This was an “okay” story, but I don’t feel compelled to continue the series. It is a good choice for recovering from a book hangover, when you just want a predictable, HEA-type of story that you can listen to and not have to think about too much. It won’t leave a lasting impression, but it served it’s purpose. I’ve listened to/read much worse.

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Review: Killing The Sun: Part 3, by Mara White and K. Larsen

Killing The Sun: Part 3Killing The Sun: Part 3 by Mara White
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

In this third, and final, installment of the ‘Killing The Sun’ series, the tension between Danny and Aimee is at an all-time high. Aimee is finally ready to stand up to Danny, even as she still yearns for his love on some level. With Aimee slipping away, Danny is at his most brutal.

For the first time while reading this series, I really feared what Danny might do to Aimee. He was always violent and controlling, but I never got the sense that he wanted to truly harm Aimee before. Now, there is no telling what he might do to her. He might even want her dead.

As Danny is brought to justice for his criminal activities, Aimee’s secrets also come to light. In fact, she proved to be more duplicitous than Danny, in my opinion. It was like there was this whole other person that I was blind to before. Part of me felt betrayed by her, while another part felt proud that she had it in her.

I don’t want to give anything away, but I will say that this series took me by surprise. It was a whirlwind of steamy sex and betrayals. And that ending! I am dying to know what happens next. I would kill for an epilogue or another book. I imagine a dark romance with Danny and Aimee living out the HEA together…but I always root for the anti-hero. Damn these two twisted geniuses!

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Review: We Were Liars, by E. Lockhart

We Were LiarsWe Were Liars by E. Lockhart
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I went into ‘We Were Liars’ blind, for the most part. It had been sitting on my Audible shelf for so long that I had long-since forgotten what it was supposed to be about. Sometimes, I get it in my head that a book is going to be about something, when it absolutely has nothing to do with it. God only knows where I get these ideas, but I do. As a result, I often find myself being surprised by the content of the stories I read without re-reading the blurbs. This was one of those times. Note to other readers: This book has nothing to do with WWII. Where do I even get these ideas?

Instead, ‘We Were Liars’ tells the story of four young teens. They spend the summer together on Beechwood Island, a private island owned by the Sinclair family. Needless to say, the Sinclair family is filthy rich.

The story is centered on Cadence, the oldest granddaughter of Mr. Sinclair. She is her grandfather’s favorite. Along with her cousins, she has spent many a summer on her grandfather’s island, getting into trouble and taking her privilege for granted.

One summer, her Aunt’s boyfriend brings along his nephew, Gat. He has lost his own father and his uncle has taken Gat under his wing, so to speak. Despite the obvious differences in race and financial standing, Gat becomes good friends with Cadence and her cousins. Together, they come to be known as “The Four Liars”.

Cadence and Gat soon become inseparable. He makes her think about life and the wrongs of the world. He brings depth to her pampered existence, prompting thought on topics such as race and social standing. It was young love. It was beautiful.

Then, Cadence suffers a terrible accident. She nearly dies, but doctors are able to save her. The accident has left her forever changed though. It has also taken it’s toll on her relationships. Worst of all, Gat seems to have abandoned her in her time of need.

After a prolonged absence, Cadence returns to the island once again. It is the first of many steps that she will take toward recovery. However, the truth that has alluded her will eventually resurface.

I won’t say too much because I don’t want to spoil this book for anyone. Unlike others, I have to say that I did not predict the big twist at the end. I was completely blindsided. I never saw it coming.

Overall, this was a great read for me. At times, it could get a little slow. However, I found myself really enjoying the story of Cadence and the “beautiful Sinclair family”. ‘We Were Liars’ serves as a cautionary tale, warning readers of the consequences of greed, hypocrisy and racism, among others. Things aren’t always as “perfect” as they seem when looking in from the outside. This book makes that crystal clear.

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Review: Killing The Sun: Part 2, by Mara White and K. Larsen

Killing The Sun: Part 2Killing The Sun: Part 2 by Mara White
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

After finishing ‘Killing The Sun: Part 1’, I jumped right into Part 2. Even as I was outraged by Danny’s behavior, I have to admit that I couldn’t get enough. I’m that sicko that is always rooting for the “bad guy”.

Danny is probably irredeemable, but I don’t care. I am equal parts appalled and intrigued. Deep down, I think he really does love Aimee in his own, twisted way. She probably needs to get far, far away from Danny…but I hope that she doesn’t.

This second installment delves deeper into the relationship between Danny and Aimee. If you were ever unclear on just how “bad” Danny is, you won’t be by the end of this serial. He is a selfish man, consumed with lust and power. Aimee becomes the object of his obsessions and darkest fantasies. She too discovers her darkest desires, but at a cost to her self-worth.

As old patterns begin to reemerge, Aimee again decides to get some space from Danny. She is spending more time with her neighbor, and friend, Wade. She is also reunited with the handsome stranger from the elevator, Leif.

Yet, regardless of Aimee’s plans, Danny has no intention of letting her go. He may give her a little time to humor her, but he is always watching. He is not a man that lets go easily and Aimee is reminded of his presence the minute she begins to think about moving on with somebody else.

This second serial ends on one hell of a cliffhanger. Be ready. You’re going to want to dive right into the third installment ASAP. I am completely hooked on this messed-up, twisted story!

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