Wicked Restless by Ginger Scott

Blurb:
26821969Andrew Harper grew up in a house marked by tragedy. His older brother Owen did his best to shelter him, but you can only be protected from life’s pain for so long. Eventually, you end up just feeling numb…and isolated.

Loneliness was the one constant in Andrew’s life. Until one girl, met by chance in a high school hallway, changed everything. Emma Burke was a mystery and all that was beautiful in this world, the only air Andrew ever wanted to breathe. She took the lonely away, and filled it with hope and color, and Andrew would do anything to keep her safe, happy and whole.

But sometimes, what feels good and right is what ends up hurting us the most. And when Andrew and Emma are faced with an impossible decision, Andrew is tested to see just how far he’s willing to go for the girl who owns his heart.

Cuts are deep.
Scars are left behind.
And revenge beckons.

When Andrew finally gets his chance, in college, five years after his first love broke him completely, he finds out old feelings don’t really disappear just because you say you hate someone. The more he tries to avenge all that he believes he lost, the more he uncovers the real story of what happened years before.

Love is wicked. But a restless heart is never satisfied beating on its own. Can Andrew and Emma make it right before it’s too late, or will the ties that bind them now destroy their only chance at a future?

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My Review:
4 stars — OK, this one is a harder book to review and rate too, but the successes were much clearer and more impactful for me, so they definitely weigh more heavily in my opinion.  So I can definitely say that Andrew’s book was a hit for me, even if I did have some reservations.

I think my problem comes in that I was SO in love with Andrew in Wild Reckless, or at least what I could see of him.  He was sweet, and felt more beta boy, and yet lonely too.  I was curious where his story would go.  AND I FELL IN LOVE with him in Part One!  OMG, that boy was everything I was hoping he would be!!  He gave me tummy tingles, and made me giggle and swoon.  I ADORED Part One of this story (and yes, all the way through the letters too).  It made me so happy and so sad all at once.  I’m not always happy with being in the dark for long periods about certain aspects, but I did at least know there was more to Emma’s story based on comments made here and there (and actually had a pretty good guess, though it turned out to not be quite right).  I really loved that love story between them.  I felt their infatuation with one another, I felt how strongly their feelings came on.  And because of the Part One “climax” of sorts, I could understand how those feelings could be made even more impactful when you go through something difficult together.  I understood why Emma was scared (even without knowing the details of her story), and I totally believed in Andrew’s sacrifice.  So if I’m not making myself clear, I LOVED both characters in Part One.

And thus, my heart HURT for who Andrew became 5 years later.  And I actually got it.  I think the reason Ms. Scott succeeds in making me believe in Andrew and how he got to where he did is that I saw inside his head (LOVE dual POV books), AND I saw who he was before, I saw some transition in the letters, and eventually we learned a lot of the things that fundamentally changed him for the worse.  I TRULY GOT IT.  But I wish I didn’t.  My ultimate problem with this book, and the reason it’s a 4 star and not a 5 star, is that I hate Andrew’s choices for 30% of the book.  He was HORRIBLE.  To Emma yes, but mostly to Lindsey.  I think it went too far for my delicate sensibilities.  I don’t want to be *that* disappointed in a boy I love.  I honestly think the only reason I can forgive him is because I knew who he was before, who he *still* could be inside, and because I got to see some remorse.  But I’m still sad.  I would have appreciated it more if he made some initial bad decisions, but then distanced himself.  Ah well, we can’t always get what we want.

And I didn’t expect all the drama that found our hero and heroine in this story, but I was hooked on the ride.  I saw a few things coming, and I had all the feels for Emma and the struggles she goes through.  I thought that side plot was particularly impactful, and I enjoyed the journey she went on.  I think everyone’s journey is different, but I believed in the paths she took.  And I was satisfied with the way Andrew handled the situation.  I think that’s where we begin to love our hero again and forgive him.  It’s too bad it takes that, and maybe it’s a bit convenient, but I’m ok with that.  I actually felt like the Emma struggle from Part One (I’m trying to be vague and not give anything away) kind of got lost in Part Two.  I thought it would get more limelight, but it didn’t really seem to impact her life or come into play between her and Andrew.  I was a bit disappointed with that.  Again, sometimes there’s too much difficult stuff, and so you can’t spread the focus to all of it.  Ah well.

My absolute FAVOURITE part was the first date in Part Two.  OMG, could Andrew be anymore adorable?  And the way Emma hugged those presents, OMG OMG OMG.  LOVED them both.

AND, I’m totally onboard with another reviewers suggestion of a story for Trent.  PLEASE PLEASE PLEASE!!!  That boy was so sweet, and it was nice to see Andrew have a good friend.

So yeah.  I had some struggles, but the good stuff wins this time.  (on a side note, I don’t get the cover…particularly the ferris wheel)

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The Silent Waters by Brittainy C. Cherry

Blurb:
32070295Moments.

Our lives are a collection of moments. Some utterly painful and full of yesterday’s hurts. Some beautifully hopeful and full of tomorrow’s promises.

I’ve had many moments in my lifetime, moments that changed me, challenged me. Moments that scared me and engulfed me. However, the biggest ones—the most heartbreaking and breathtaking ones—all included him.

I was ten years old when I lost my voice. A piece of me was stolen away, and the only person who could truly hear my silence was Brooks Griffin. He was the light during my dark days, the promise of tomorrow, until tragedy found him. Tragedy that eventually drowned him in a sea of memories.

This is the story of a boy and girl who loved each other, but didn’t love themselves. A story of life and death. Of love and broken promises.

Of moments.

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My Review:
4.5 stars —  I saw this book on sale on one of my bargain book emails (BookBub I think), and while I haven’t read any by Ms. Cherry, I do have a few and I’ve heard great things.  And she’s going to be attending an author event I’ll be at in the fall, so that right there had my interest peaked.  And then, as I usually do when deciding on a book, I read the 1 star reviews.  😛  It’s basically so I can see if the things they’re complaining about are the kinds of things that would bother me.  It helps to temper the 5 star reviews (of which I’ll read a few, as well as any friends reviews).  Well damn, the 1 star reviews really intrigued me, and gave me the impression that if I read the sample I would see right away what they didn’t enjoy.  Well damn, challenge accepted!  And you know what?  I was SUCKED IN!!!  I NEEDED MORE!  So apparently I’m not like the 1-star reviewers, b/c this was sooooo my kind of book.  Like seriously, I knew darned well just from the blurb that this would fit as a guilty pleasure for me.

So yeah, that was a seriously long and pointless introduction, I just found it really amusing is all.  But you guys, this was just my kind of book.  I know it’s going to sound really stupid, but I am so attracted to books about damaged heroines.  I can’t imagine I’m the only one.  And add in a swoony sweet hero?  Oh yes please.

I actually just recently read a book about selective mutism, and while I enjoyed it, it didn’t blow me away.  That’s because *this* was the book I was looking for.  I’m probably going to completely fail this review quite honestly, I just really really really enjoyed myself.  Everything from the plot, to the characters, to the swoony romance, to the intrigue, to the depth and message.  I actually highlighted something that hit me so hard I shared it with my husband:

“Sometimes our minds acted as a form of kryptonite, and we had a responsibility to our own self-worth to aggressively tell it to fuck off with its lies.”

Oh Maggie May, you speak the truth.

I actually enjoyed the way the family dynamics played out in this book (which was one of the things others complained about).  I appreciated that they didn’t all handle it well.  It was actually a balance on how they coped with Maggie’s mutism and agoraphobia.  Her Mama broke my heart, but it wasn’t outside the realm of possibility you know?  People can be so easily influenced by others, and everyone has their own demons to face when confronting adversity.  I won’t say that I wasn’t occasionally baffled at how Maggie could maintain that level of fear for SO MANY YEARS, but trauma affects everyone differently and I was able to accept it somehow.

And speaking of family dynamics, I REALLY appreciated the way the Cheryl relationship worked out.  I wasn’t expecting that, I love when secondary characters surprise me.

And even the way the relationship with Brooks played out was satisfying to me.  I really felt their connection and chemistry and I swooned so hard.  Even if I will admit that I HATED Brooks’s taste in music.  😛  It was terrible.  To me.

There was a part of me that didn’t enjoy the time jumps in the middle.  I mean, I enjoyed the way they were presented, but I was saddened that so much time went by.  I wasn’t expecting that.

I totally called the mystery element.  Maybe I was supposed to, but I saw the way that was going to play out.  But I was happily surprised with how Maggie’s healing developed.

Anyways, I’m just babbling here and probably not being very helpful.  Essentially, this book was a Lenore book.  It hit all my buttons, and gave me so much of what I was craving.  So yay!  I’m excited to get to more of Ms. Cherry’s books, but they will likely have to wait until the summer.  But after reading the sample, I just couldn’t resist diving right in.

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Back Piece by L.A. Witt

Blurb:
34442289Colin Spencer is a tattoo artist with a past he’d prefer to keep a secret. Actually, he has a few secrets that he’d rather people didn’t know about, which is why Colin doesn’t do commitment. But when a shy sailor approaches him at the gym, Colin finds this guy pushing all his buttons.

Growing up in a conservative family, then escaping with the Navy, Daniel Moore is an unsure virgin who feels like he can’t share his true self with anyone. Seeing Colin—and his tattoos—at the gym are the sign Daniel needs to finally get those tattoos he’s always wanted, and maybe try his hand at flirting.

As Colin and Daniel spend more time together, their awkward hesitations turn into a deep passion neither expected. But with both men harboring secrets, will their relationship be able to survive their insecurities and become something beautiful?

Back Piece is a sexy, emotional journey of two people learning to love and finding acceptance for who they really are.

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My Review:
3.5 stars — I received a free copy through NetGalley in exchange for an honest and unbiased review/opinion.

I have lots of mixed feelings about this one.  I honestly finished it and was just completely uncertain how I felt.  And not necessarily in a bad way, there was so much I genuinely enjoyed.  I just knew there was another part of me that was hankering for a bit more.  But I think the things I enjoyed outweighed my nitpicks this time so I’m totally rounding up.

This book dealt with a crapload of odd and intriguing issues.  You have Daniel, shy, sweet, and incredibly naive.  A virgin in SO MANY ways, occasionally his naivete would make me a bit skeptical, but at other times I felt like it was intriguing and refreshing.  I could really feel his panic and worry about not knowing what to do.  It wasn’t the sex naivete that threw me off, I totally got that and thought it was handled really well.  It was the relationship stuff.  It was so odd that he felt so unsure about how relationships worked.  I’m not entirely sure I buy into that, but I can’t completely convince myself that it couldn’t happen with the way he was brought up…that he would somehow assume that gay relationships would work any other way than every other romantic relationship.

I really appreciated the struggles he went through with his parents, and that the author showed that just because they were homophobic didn’t mean they didn’t have great qualities.  And inevitably Daniel had to make the decision about what was important to him.  I thought that was handled rather well.

And I even enjoyed his introduction to sex, and the strange amount of detail we got as a result (about pitfalls of bottoming or topping for the first time).  To be frank, there was a LOT of sex in this book, but I didn’t mind that so much as that I wanted a bit more on the relationship side.  The steamy scenes were quite delicious, and the chemistry between Daniel and Colin was awesome.  I just found myself occasionally puzzled about the relationship progression, and why some choices were made, and even if I guessed the reasons, why did they not ever discuss it and any hangups they might have had?  I needed some more depth there.

And then there’s Colin.  I can’t decide if I want to spoil the “secret” or not, I’m not sure if it really affects the enjoyment of the book to know here…you find out pretty early on (or at least there’s hints from the first chapter).  So if you don’t want to be spoiled, skip to the next paragraph in this review.  Still with me?  OK, I LOVED that Colin struggled with an eating disorder.  I felt like it was given so much authenticity and realism, and I could really FEEL his struggle.  I thought it was respectful, and I appreciated its addition to the story.  I also LOVED that his being a former porn star wasn’t some horrible shameful thing.  It added a strange layer onto the story.  I will say that while I LOVED Daniel’s reactions to learning these secrets, I kind of wished he considered Colin’s struggles more often.  I know he was overwhelmed with his own issues, but Colin was there for him with his family and thinking about him, why didn’t Daniel give more thought to how he could help Colin cope?  I wanted some development there that I didn’t get.

There were the occasional parts where some of their conversations got a little repetitive.  I’d be thinking “didn’t they have a similar conversation” (like Daniel comparing Colin’s situation to friends who came home with PTSD), and I get that that happens in real life especially with important stuff, but in romance books it feels kind of odd and unnecessary.

I enjoyed the tattoo stuff, and the meanings behind the back piece.  I would love to see it, even as I understand it doesn’t exist in real life.

My only other nitpick is that I would have liked to see more of an epilogue.  I was totally anticipating seeing how things fell out with Daniel’s family, and particularly the sister and maybe other siblings.  I’m not sure if the next book will be Daniel and Colin again or other characters.  If it’s other characters, then I definitely wish we’d gotten that bit more since the ending came kind of quickly.

So yeah.  It was a mixed bag, but definitely more to love.  Will be intrigued to see what’s next in the Skin Deep Inc series.

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Who She Was by Stormy Smith

Blurb:
34515672Trevor Adler loathes the music he used to love, but it’s the key to his full-ride scholarship and the ticket away from his dysfunctional parents. To kick off their freshman year, Trevor’s roommate drags him to a frat party, where he ends up face-to-face with his childhood best friend and finds himself entrenched in memories he’d rather forget.

Unable to let Charlie go again without understanding the truth of why she disappeared from his life and chose to become the type of person they always hated, Trevor is relentless in his pursuit of the girl he once knew.

Charlotte (Charlie) Logan is broken. Under her perfectly-crafted exterior are the shards of a shattered heart. A handful of angry words changed her life completely and Charlie’s never been able to forgive herself for the truth she’s hidden from everyone.

While Trevor pushes Charlie to remember the music that lit her soul and the laughter they shared, they find themselves reverting to a banter-filled rhythm that feels all too familiar, yet different now. When Trevor’s own secrets come to light, it becomes clear he and Charlie both must face their tragic pasts if they have any hope at a future together.

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My Review:
4 stars — I received a free advanced copy from the author in exchange for an honest and unbiased review/opinion.

There is SO much to love about this story, but the highlight for me is most certainly the characters.  They were so full of depth, quirky, EXTREMELY lovable, but also with epic flaws that made them feel real (and made you occasionally not like the things they were doing, even as you still loved them).  And since characters are a highlight for me, this played a huge part in why I enjoyed this book.

Trevor was seriously swoony.  He pursued his friendship with Charlie with a single-minded determination that had you cheering for him…most of the time.  It was interesting to see a character that put so much thought and care into another human being, but at the expense of himself and sometimes without realizing that a true friendship has the give and take, and to expect someone to let you in, you also have to let them in.  So occasionally I would want to smack him into learning that lesson faster…but again, that’s where that depth of character and flaws part comes in.  He had his own growing and learning to do (and not just because of what was happening in his own life, and the struggles he was dealing with).  But he was honestly so sweet and understanding with Charlie, and I loved the way he knew when to push her and when to back off.  And he seriously had some of the swooniest lines I’ve ever heard, I was melting right along with Charlie (and Darcy).

Charlie was strangely easy to love as well.  Strange because we don’t get to hear her thoughts much in the first half, and the way she behaved could be very offputting.  But maybe its because you get such a strong hint that something awful has happened to hurt her and force her to put on that mask.  And I will admit that I had a strong hint (and I’m not sure why, maybe it was from the first chapter, or I saw something that spoiled it?), of what might have happened.  So I was waiting to see inside her mind.  I loved the growth her character went through, and the conclusions that she comes to about what she needs.

And the chemistry between Charlie and Trev was pretty fantastic…especially friendship wise.  They had this amazing flow between them, a banter and a way of interacting that just made me want to know them in real life.  And some of the swoony moments between them gave me such freaking butterflies.  I will admit to being a little bummed we didn’t get more romance.  I’m a romance lover, and after some of that build up, I really wanted the payoff to be bigger.

Speaking of characters, Sam and Darcy were the sh*t.  Seriously.  Some of the best secondary characters I’ve seen in a while, I loved the way they were there in the background, offering support, and going through their own struggles.  They were SO fun and offered some of the best advice.  I adored them.

In the end this book delved into some pretty hard topics, but I felt like it did so with realism and heart.  My heart broke for both characters and the struggles both in their past and present.  I really thought that their personal developments moved at a real pace.  It wasn’t something that could be changed overnight, but that took time and a lot of steps.  Sometimes I feel like other books rush this, and so it was really refreshing.

So why not 5?  Some little reasons, and a bigger one that has me a bit baffled.  I can’t put my finger on why, but I kept avoiding reading this book, even while reading it.  I would find other things to do.  I even got snagged by another book in the middle.  Was it that I was avoiding the tough topics?  Maybe.  But I think I might have been a bit bored on occasion, I needed just…something more.  Or maybe that there was just SO much that Ms. Smith tried to pack into this one novel, and I felt like one or two things then got shortchanged.  In particular I felt like I needed more of a connection with the music.  It was supposed to play this large role, but often times I would find it got forgotten and then just brought up here and there.  It’s hard to explain.  I really enjoyed the lyrics that they wrote to one another nearer to the beginning, I thought those were beautiful.  I was a little confused on some of the later ones, but I’m kind of dense when it comes to lyrics, so that was probably just me.

I felt a bit let down with the ending too.  The developments with Charlie’s family COMPLETELY threw me, and I couldn’t really reconcile the changes.  It’s not that I didn’t expect some development and change, but what we got felt too neat and tidy and unrealistic (at least for me).  It sort of felt that way for a few things, like we had this real and gritty book, and then the ending fell flat (the grand gesture left me confused) and a bit rushed.  I might have just been tired though.

So there’s my novella of a review.  There were just so many things that I loved about this book, but I just can’t shake that other feeling.  I hate when I can’t articulate (even in my own head) what I’m feeling.  I sincerely hope its just a me thing, b/c this book has so much power and love to share.

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Campaigning for Christopher by Katy Regnery

Blurb:
26159697Christopher Winslow, the youngest of the four Winslow brothers, was born with a silver spoon in his privileged mouth, which has made it difficult for him to establish his credibility in the fast-approaching congressional race. Working against the clock to assure Pennsylvania voters that he is forthright, trustworthy and able has been an exhausting challenge, but Christopher’s chances at beating the incumbant look good.

Julianne Crow, a plus-size model struggling to make ends meet, jumps at the chance to make a little extra cash on the side. What does she have to do? Slip something into Christopher Winslow’s drink and take some very naughty pictures with him.

But Christopher is nothing like Julianne expected, and when her actions sabotage his hard-earned campaign only a month before the election, her guilt is overwhelming. She offers Christopher her help in an effort to repair the damage she’s caused, but can anything change the fact that he sees her as an opportunist and a mercenary? When she starts campaigning for Christopher, he may find out there’s more to her than meets the eye.

Return to the world created in the English Brothers books with this fresh foursome of scorching hot Winslow Brothers!

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My Review:
3.75 stars — OMG you guys, I was having such a hard time coming to terms with how I felt about this book, and honestly my skepticism started with the Note From the Author at the very beginning.  She talks about doing research and choosing to go with American Indian or Indian to refer to Julianne based on what she learned, and my whole being just rejected that.  I wondered if she actually talked to anyone, or if she’d had someone of that race read the book and gut check it.  And even though it’s really not super important to the overall story, it caused me to do my own research after I finished the book.  And I discovered one VERY important thing (besides discovering that it’s an extremely complicated issue, and that Ms. Regnery did not make a bad choice as I’d thought): the term Indian is considered much more offensive in Canada (where I live) than in the US.  AHHHH!!!  I feel so much better!  So my whole being rejected it b/c it’s different up here!!  I wish I’d looked into it right away from the beginning, b/c I’m not sure how much that coloured my reading, you know?   But anyways, you gotta love when a book causes you to learn something new for yourself.  Yay for knowledge!

ANYWAYS.  As seems to be the case with so many of my reviews for this series, I start off with a related, but not necessarily helpful piece of babbling.  The thing is, I really love reading diverse books, but I’m often wary of them as well, particularly when the author does not share that diversity…can I trust that they got it right?  As a white woman, will I even know?  But at the same time, I WANT to see this diversity.  I want to see characters that reflect the varied world that we live in, so I applaud Ms. Regnery for giving us Julianne, of the Lakota tribe of South Dakota.  And for not just having it be a throw away element of her character, but something that really defined her and the story that she tells.  I felt for her and all that she went through growing up, and I thought that while she had her struggles, she was also a very strong and admirable character.  Which is funny considering how the story begins.  She’s not so admirable at the start.

I can honestly say that I was SOOOOO leery of this aspect of the story (that’s hinted at in the blurb).  Maybe it’s because drugging a person is so anathema to everything in me, that I could not imagine what would transpire to make it OK for Jules to resort to that.  And the great thing is that while we saw her motivations, it *wasn’t* a good enough reason.  Why is that great?  Because she doesn’t excuse it for herself.  She made a HORRIBLE mistake and decision.  And she never backs down from that or plays it off.  From the moment she gives herself time to think, and then investigate, she does what she can to make it right.  Because you know what?  People do make very bad decisions from time to time, based on a multitude of reasons, but still bad decisions in the end.  And every time she lifted her head and sucked it up and quietly apologized and forged ahead, but also didn’t take too much sh*t as time went on, I just wanted to applaud.  Because I can love a flawed character that understands their flaws and works on them.  I admire that.  She was honestly my favourite character of this story, I LOVED her growth and change, I loved that she was forthright about her feelings, I loved that she didn’t play games.  And I loved that she respected herself and made hard decisions that were right for her.

Christopher wasn’t bad either, but I’m not entirely sure I had the same level of connection to him.  He had so much rage after being taken advantage of, and honestly, RIGHTFULLY SO.  But it was hard to fall in love with him.  Because *we* as the readers could see inside Jules’s heart, but he couldn’t.  So when he would snipe at her and same horrible things, it was just hurtful and hard to remember the context of where he was coming from.  I wanted him to be better.  And don’t get me wrong, he did get better.  But it was hard to reconcile his own development with the development we were seeing in Jules.  And I’m not sure what you could have done to make that work better, b/c it made sense.  But maybe I’m just not cut out for the enemy to lovers trope.  I don’t deal well with conflict.  Especially when it’s not born of sexual tension, but where the tension is there in spite of the conflict.  It was hard to get into.  And I kind of wanted to know more about Christopher’s campaign…or maybe not that so much as to see HIS passion.  We saw Jules’s passion, and we saw how much she admired his passion based on his platform.  But I wanted to see him get all riled up and passionate about things he believed in.  I think that would have endeared him earlier.

OK, so we have a heroine that I adore, and a hero that I liked, but took me longer to love.  Which would probably have had this book at a solid 4 stars for me (what? it’s my review, I’ll rate how I want).  But there were some niggles, hence the loss of a quarter star.  Who was the black hat man?  Why was that never resolved?  And why bother making Jules plus-sized if it’s never going to come into play?  I mean, it’s nice to have a plus sized girl, but it’s honestly mentioned like twice the whole time, so why put it there if you’re not going to give it some play.  Heck, we never even know if Chris likes plus sized girls.  It’s not bad, just a bummer.  And where was Alex?  I LOVED seeing Elise and Preston, and even a bit of Margaret and Skye.  But why was Alex never with his wife?

So that’s it, that’s all folks.  Imma gonna go pre-order me a set of Winslow Brothers paperbacks for the signing in May.  As much as I dissect these books and how I feel, I really do enjoy them.  They entertain, they give me a solid romance, and sometimes they even make me think and learn.  Sweet.

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Silence by Natasha Preston

Blurb:
31676476For eleven years, Oakley Farrell has been silent. At the age of five, she stopped talking, and no one seems to know why. Refusing to communicate beyond a few physical actions, Oakley remains in her own little world.

Bullied at school, she has just one friend, Cole Benson. Cole stands by her, refusing to believe that she is not perfect the way she is. Over the years, they have developed their own version of a normal friendship. However, will it still work as they start to grow even closer?

When Oakley is forced to face someone from her past, can she hold her secret in any longer?

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My Review:
3.5 stars — Well.  Hmmm.  So the thing about this book is that I started it before bed and stayed up until 4am finishing it in one sitting…and then I felt disappointed and underwhelmed.  Which doesn’t make much sense right?  Basically there were aspects of this book that were 4+ stars, and there were aspects of this book that were 2 stars.  But given I was sucked in and just kept going and going, I figured I’d give it a slight nod above the average of 3 because I do tend to rate based on overall enjoyment, not on the actual quality of the book.

This book reminded me a LOT of The Boy Who Sneaks in My Bedroom Window.  The relationship between Oakley and Cole and how it develops, and the damage done to Oakley, were surprisingly similar in feel.  That’s another book that I can’t necessarily say is superbly well-written (lots of editing issues common in early self-publishing), but I just LOVE it, you know?  Like a guilty pleasure.  And it was the same for this book.  I was super intrigued by Oakley’s secret, and didn’t even mind TOO much the way it was revealed slowly over the course of the first half of the book, though the false leads were a bit annoying.  And I really adored the sweet nature of Oakley and Cole’s relationship, and how close they could be without her ever speaking (or communicating in any way really).  I actually really believed that he understood her based on years of paying attention to her body language and facial expressions.

But here’s where this book falls short of TBWSIMBW: the pacing.  Seriously, that is my number one issue with this book.  I found I was staying up reading just to finally find out what happened, what was going to happen, b/c we know from the blurb that her past is going to catch up with her.  Seriously, I was like “OK, more relationship, more normal everyday, more sideplot…anytime now…”  I don’t think it was until like 87% that we got even a hint of the dark turn, and that’s just not enough time to give what should be a satisfying climax a lead up and solid conclusion.  And it really wasn’t.  It was super rushed.  I’m torn about how it all happened…there is a part of me that loves it, but there is another part of me that’s wholly unsatisfied that we didn’t hear from Oakley.  And then the ending.  OMG.  I don’t think I fully realized this was a series, or maybe I thought it was a series of connected characters, but nope…the ending is abrupt and unsatisfying.  Not a cliffhanger so much as a non-HEA.

And so there I am, laying in bed, just bummed.  Because you know what?  Even not having read the second book, I can tell that it didn’t need to be a 2 part divided story.  There was so much repetition in the meat of the book that really could have been pared down.  I enjoyed getting to see the emotional impact of what Oakley went through, but I still think it could have been shaved down and still been effective.  And I didn’t mind not knowing the details of what happened, b/c that’s a bit hard to take, and I enjoyed the focus being on how it impacted Oakley’s life.  But there was so much extraneous material in the book that honestly could have been either taken out or, for goodness sake, it should have had a purpose!  Like Julian!  What the what?  What was the point of that storyline?  Either it should have had a conclusion and a development that made sense, or it shouldn’t have been that large.  And Lizzie?  What was with that?

So while I would really *like* to have the conclusion of Cole and Oakley’s story, from what I can gather from looking at the lower starred reviews of the next book (when I take out all the annoying reviews that just talk about the grammar…seriously, that’s the whole reason you rated it 1 star?  Why did even read the second book then?), the pacing is fairly similar and unsatisfying.  So it’s not really worth it for me.  Maybe if it was free, but it still costs my time, you know?

Weird review right?  It was a weird reading experience.  To have so much love for the characters and to be simultaneously sucked in and impatient, it’s just odd.  It’s happened to me before, but it is always vexing when it does.  Oh well.  *shrugs*  I don’t regret it, I just wish it had been better.  Especially because I enjoyed the handling of the tough topic.

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The Vixen and the Vet by Katy Regnery

Blurb:
22888713In this modern-retelling of “Beauty and the Beast,” Savannah Carmichael, betrayed by an unreliable source, returns to her hometown of Danvers, Virginia with her once-promising journalism career in ruins. Given the opportunity to get back in the game by writing a patriotic human interest piece, Savannah turns her attention to the town hermit, Asher Lee, a wounded veteran who returned to Danvers eight years ago, and hasn’t been seen since.

After an IED explosion in Afghanistan took Asher’s hand and disfigured half of his face, he’s lived a quiet life on the outskirts of Danvers where the locals respect his privacy…that is, until Savannah Carmichael comes calling in a borrowed sundress with a plate of homemade brownies. When Asher agrees to be interviewed by Savannah, he starts feeling things for the beautiful reporter that he hasn’t felt in years.

Misfits in small-town Danvers, Savannah and Asher create a bond right away, touching each other’s hearts in ways neither thought possible. When a terrible mistake threatens to drive them apart, they’ll have to decide if the love they found in one another’s arms is strong enough to fight for their hard-won happily ever after.

** Contemporary Romance. Due to profanity, realistically depicted scenes of war and very strong sexual content, this book is not intended for readers under the age of 18.**

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My Review:
3 stars — I thought now would be the perfect time to finally read Ms. Regnery’s Beauty and the Beast retelling, what with the new movie out…and crap on a cracker, it just didn’t work for me.  It’s so weird, b/c I really enjoy her Blueberry Lane books, but this is now the second of her wildly popular Modern Fairytale stories that I just didn’t connect with.  Quite frankly, this book left me extremely underwhelmed, especially given how outrageously popular it is.

It was so odd, b/c I started this book before bed one night, and just really wasn’t sucked in right away.  I wasn’t too sure about Savannah, and I really wasn’t enamoured with her sister Scarlet, so I put it down and went to sleep.  Then the next day I was reading while exercising, and I was wholly sucked in!!  I was just super excited and thinking “OH!!!  This is what they were talking about!”  I loved the beginnings of Savannah’s relationship with Asher, and how they met, and there was just some magic in their developing friendship and more.  I even highlighted things!  And then I had to do real life things, and when I got back to it today, I was bored.  Like wth?  I can admit that there might be a small mood component to my enjoyment, because I was having a really hard time articulating (even in my own head) what exactly went wrong.  But I’ll give it a try.

On the surface, I really enjoyed the way Ms. Regnery’s chose to portray our Belle and Beast.  I could totally see a reporter from a small town not fitting in, and a veteran with terrible disfigurements feeling ostracized by that same small town.  But I’m not sure I fully bought into their roles…more Savannah than Asher.  I could actually really understand Asher’s backstory and what he went through and how he came to be who he was, and I really felt like he stayed true to his character for much of the book.  And while his actions at the climax were harsh, I could kind of get it even if it made me disappointed.  But Savannah really did NOT act like a reporter.  It was like a character trait that she was just supposed to have that kind of facilitated the plot, but I don’t really feel like I understood much of her.  She uses her past betrayal and disgrace in so many aspects of the story, but I just didn’t know much about what happened, and I just didn’t really feel anything towards her and the decisions she made.  I didn’t empathize with her character nearly as much as I needed to.  I needed something more for me to understand why she would make such a big mistake at the climax, b/c she really came off as selfish, self-serving, and really not very in touch with people’s emotions.  So to say I was disappointed in my Belle would be a bit of an understatement.

And while I enjoyed their initial chemistry and found that spark and magic quite exciting, somewhere along the way I got really bored with it, and wasn’t feeling the steamy scenes…I honestly thought “oh, here they go again.”  I enjoy steamy scenes, but apparently there wasn’t enough keeping me interested in these ones, but that honestly could have been just me.

So the other thing that really didn’t work for me had a lot to do with how this “Southern” town was portrayed.  Are they really like that?  It felt like a stereotype was taken as fact and embellished upon.  It’s not that I don’t understand elements, but I wanted a bit more nuance I guess.  This is not the first time I’ve been insulted by the portrayal of a region that I don’t even live in, so perhaps *I’m* the one who has it wrong.  I don’t know.  But it influenced how I enjoyed Miss Potts (which was sometimes I did, sometimes I really didn’t).  It influenced how little I enjoyed Savannah’s sister Scarlet.  Though honestly, there were many more problems with her.  Both she and her fiance Trent were downright mean.  And I just did NOT buy the turnaround.  I’m glad it was there, I wanted to buy it, but I needed an apology and some humility I guess.  And don’t get me started on the Lance business, and dealing with it in a Southern way.  NOT a fan of that tiny side plot at all, and how it played out.

OK, enough complaining Lenore.  Let’s end with a high note.  I really enjoyed Savannah’s Mother, and the story she told of her relationship with Asher’s Mother.  I really thought it added to the story, and gave depth.  I know she had her own elements of caricature, but I didn’t mind them…maybe because she was kind.  I needed that kindness.

And I really thought the description of Asher’s injuries, and the bits of detail that we saw on how he coped with only one hand, and the look into things that could help him were well placed and added to the story.  It was a really good read for my diversity challenge in that way.

So yeah.  I’m bummed.  I take it really hard when I don’t enjoy a book that’s so highly recommended.  But apparently I’m a special snowflake that just can’t conform.  Oh well.  I’m going to at least give her Hansel and Gretel retelling a try, and if that one doesn’t work either, I’m totally calling it a flatline and sticking with her other series.  Sometimes we’re just not a match.

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Forever Mine by Erin Nicholas

Blurb:

31684529Maya Goodwin doesn’t believe in holding back. Ever. As a cop, she never hesitated to throw herself into harm’s way to save someone. Even after an injury on the job forces her to retire, she’s not afraid to keep risking it all to get the life she wants. With a new career teaching martial arts to kids already underway, she’s looking forward to the future – and taking a chance on the unbelievably hot Dr. Alex Nolan.

Maya – daring and spontaneous – is the exact opposite of what Alex always thought he wanted. But when a nine-year-old daughter he never knew existed shows up on his doorstep, Maya is the one who helps them hold it together. With love on the line, will the guy who’s always played it safe be willing to take the biggest risk of all?

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My Review:
4.5 stars — I received a free copy through NetGalley in exchange for an honest and unbiased review/opinion.

OK, this was a fantastic addition to this series!!  And no, you most definitely do NOT have to read the first book to enjoy this one, but it’s super adorable as well, so I definitely recommend it.

I can honestly say that I loved both characters, and thought they both had some really unique aspects to their personalities, and were really well developed.  Both Maya and Alex were extremely likable, but not without flaws.  And because of those two aspects, it was so satisfying to see their growth over the course of the story, even if there were the occasional bits I wish we’d seen more of.

Maya was seriously badass, but also so satisfyingly nerdy.  She was just ridiculously one of a kind…I can’t even figure out how to describe her.  She’s completely unlike me, but I could really see liking her.  And admiring her.  I kind of wish we’d seen a bit more of her development wrt her future goals…because they kind of changed over the story, but we didn’t see her working that out, it just kind of happened along the way…one of those things that disappointed me.

And Alex was so cautious and meticulous, and eager!  He just kept surprising me along the way.  I loved seeing the little steps he was making forward, even if he was moving a little slower than I’d like, and even if occasionally I wanted to smack him.  But I kind of liked that he was not quite alpha, but not quite beta.  He had his strengths and weaknesses, and he admired the crap out of Maya’s strengths.

And the chemistry between Maya and Alex was smoking and very enjoyable.  But I could also see the relationship that developed between them that was more than just chemistry and lust.

I loved the nerd aspect, and loved some of the introspective commentaries made about the nerd community and why we love superheroes and all that stuff.  It just really felt…I don’t know, intelligent?  Is that insulting to other books?  Or maybe it’s insightful.  Like not just the nerd aspect, but the story as a whole — looking at why people help others, what that says about them, overcoming perceived weaknesses, all that good stuff.

I also really loved the secondary characters in this one.  I loved Maya’s group of friends, and that they are important to her and an integral part of her life.  I enjoyed Rachel, and was surprised that I did.  She was a bit too good to be true at times, but I actually enjoyed that it wasn’t a big dramafest and she really added to Alex’s life.  And Charli was pretty cool.  I loved how important she was to Alex, and how he was just so enthralled with her, but he eventually learned the importance of the dad role.

I did notice that occasionally things would happen that didn’t make sense in the timeline that was in my head, but perhaps that will change in the final copy.  It’s just that sometimes some events would be only days apart when I’d been given the impression it was more like a few weeks.

On a weird side note, I was surprised that none of the girls knew what hemophilia was, since I did…but I did an internet poll, and while the majority of my friends did know, there were a few that didn’t so I can accept it.

All in all I’m really loving this series.  I sincerely can’t wait for Sophie’s story if it’s anything like the first two.

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Things I Should Have Known by Claire LaZebnik

Blurb:

31375784An unforgettable story about autism, sisterhood, and first love that’s perfect for fans of Jenny Han, Sophie Kinsella, and Sarah Dessen. New York Times bestselling author of Tell Me Three Things Julie Buxbaum raved: “I couldn’t put it down.”

Meet Chloe Mitchell, a popular Los Angeles girl who’s decided that her older sister, Ivy, who’s on the autism spectrum, could use a boyfriend. Chloe already has someone in mind: Ethan Fields, a sweet, movie-obsessed boy from Ivy’s special needs class.

Chloe would like to ignore Ethan’s brother, David, but she can’t—Ivy and Ethan aren’t comfortable going out on their own so Chloe and David have to tag along.  Soon Chloe, Ivy, David, and Ethan form a quirky and wholly lovable circle. And as the group bonds over frozen yogurt dates and movie nights, Chloe is forced to confront her own romantic choices—and the realization that it’s okay to be a different kind of normal.

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My Review:
4 stars —  I received a free copy through NetGalley in exchange for an honest and unbiased review/opinion.

OK confession time!  I got this one a few months ago, and when I decided to start reading it, I kind of forgot exactly what it was going to be about.  So in essence, I kind of went into the book a bit blind.  Like so blind that I forgot her sister was on the autism spectrum, and then I was like “oh yeah!!”  So it took me a bit to really get into the story, but once I did I was seriously sucked in.

At the beginning, Chloe isn’t necessarily that endearing, and it takes a bit to really get a feel for who she really is…and part of that is that you start off seeing the facade that she shows to her peers, and not necessarily all of who she is inside.  And she’s not the only one I was unimpressed with, I really didn’t fall in love with many characters at the beginning, from her family to her friends and boyfriend.  In fact, I felt more antagonistic towards many of them, particularly her stepfather.  But I’ll get back to that.

As the story progresses you get to see why Chloe chooses to put on the persona and maintain her status in the popular crowd, with the “hot” boyfriend.  I actually think this is one of the best depictions I’ve ever read of a teenager going along and trying to fit in.  With all that she struggles with at home, I could see how she would want to be liked and how much easier it would be for her to just keep her opinions to herself.  You could see a bit of that internal struggle for her, but ultimately she didn’t want to make waves, and she kind of just wanted to feel what she perceived to be “normal”.  It’s always disappointing, for sure, but I *got* it.  Not sure if that makes sense.  But it also makes her development as a character that much more satisfying.  Seeing her start to feel like “enough is enough” and that perhaps other qualities are more important in friends and boyfriends than what she was initially seeking just really felt natural and believable.  That it’s OK to have different priorities, and to stand up for yourself against the norm.  Seriously, I really ended up loving Chloe by the end of the book.  It’s actually kind of nice to see a main character who is popular not because she’s secretly a nerd and tired of being bullied, but because she just likes being liked.

David, Ivy and Ethan were the other stars of this show.  If you’re looking for a book with a grand romance, I wouldn’t necessarily recommend this one.  The romance with David is very slow building, and while I adored it, it’s really not the primary focus of the story.  It kind of gets shuffled to the background.  In the end I appreciated their developing friendship and banter more than the romance, which kind of felt rushed and tacked on in the end.  But seriously people, the developing relationship was SOLID.  I enjoyed that David wasn’t all sunshine and roses, that he was kind of a difficult character to love, but you could understand him as well, and how he came to be the way he was.  And he didn’t lose all those antagonistic qualities at the end, he was still kind of a dick to people, but you love him anyways.

And Ivy and Ethan were depicted so well.  I mean, I haven’t really had many encounters with folks on the autism spectrum, but I really thought that this was a fantastic representation of some of the unique attributes that can make them up…particularly because they were even different from each other.  And I really enjoyed the conversations that Chloe and David had, and the representations of the encounters they had with different types of people when out with their siblings.  It was heartbreaking, but unfortunately realistic.  And I loved that the story was from the siblings perspective, and showed the different challenges that they can face.  They’re not perfect, but you could really feel their love for their siblings.

Chloe’s mother and stepfather were challenging characters.  I really hated so many things about her stepfather.  He’s not evil, he’s got many shades of gray…in that way he’s really realistic.  And I know we’re seeing him from Chloe’s perspective, but damn he made me mad sometimes.  I’m up in the air with how his role played out in the story…I guess because he really is realistic in that he’s still got these really bad qualities, but he’s not all bad, and he can have some good moments too.  Sometimes I can’t deal with so much real, you know?  It’s so much easier when people are black and white.  In fact, many of the characters in this book are that real…from James and Sarah, to David’s parents, to Chloe’s parents.  I admire it as much as it vexes me as a reader.

OK, I’m getting seriously verbose here.  And I haven’t even talked about everything.  I enjoyed the Ivy twist in the middle of the book…I kind of saw it coming, but I thought it was another piece of diversity that was handled really well.

My only real complaint with the story is that the ending was odd to me.  It just kind of ended.  I didn’t feel that normal story flow, with a solid and clear ending.  And I guess my one other niggle is that occasionally we would encounter scenes that seemed meaningless in the overall scheme of the plot (like a moment in Camp’s class would just happen, and then we’d be onto lunch, and I didn’t really understand the point of it being included).

So basically if you’re looking for a diverse read with a fantastic look at life with someone on the autism spectrum, you NEED this book.  If you just love good YA coming of age tales, I would really recommend it as well.  Despite the few things that niggled me, I really really enjoyed this book and highlighted so many of Chloe and David’s interactions.

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Conquered by M.A. Wilder

Blurb:
20810385Beckit Wright has survived a string of attempted murders that spans her entire young life. And as Crimson’s attacks grow bolder and bolder, Beckit is faced with the grim reality that safety is no longer a possibility for her loved ones either. As the té-trad’s four members finally come together and Beckit masters her té-trad ability, Beckit is committed to defeating Crimson once and for all. However, the balance between work and her growing family is a precarious one, and she soon finds the cost of her success comes at too high a price. Powerful and gripping, this highly anticipated conclusion to The Té-trad Tale promises an epic ending to the tragic narrative of loss and love that has captured the hearts of readers.

WARNING: This book contains some adult language, violence, and sexual content. Reader and parental discretion is advised.

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My Review:
4 stars — This was a solid conclusion to what turned out to be a very entertaining trilogy!!  I think the strengths of this story lie in their diversity, the rich and varied world the author describes, and the humour mixed with emotion.

This book, like the previous ones, gave me things I both loved and not so much.  It was a bit of an up and down read, but balances in the good (obviously, since I gave it 4 stars).  Since I finished this while on a vacation where I didn’t have my laptop, this review is going to be more terse, since all I could do is send myself bulletpoints to try to remember.  Here goes…

I wasn’t super happy with the way certain conflicts were resolved with very little explanation, it seemed really easy and kind of like a copout.  But then the author did bring it back in the end and gave it more purpose, so I’m not as disappointed as I initially was.  But I still kind of wish that things weren’t resolved in that way.  And yes, I know that’s super vague, but I don’t want to spoil things.

I was disappointed that Aaron suffered from a case of assumptionitis not once but twice…  Once made sense, the second time was annoying and I was disappointed that there wasn’t another reason for the wall.

I loved some of the developments with some of the secondary characters, particularly Ran and Frost.  Thinking back on the series as a whole, I do wish we’d learned more about Frost and his backstory, but since I got some great developments in the Ran and Frost area, I’m still satisfied.  I also really enjoyed all the new creatures that were introduced, both bad and good.  The Tables amused me.  And Era and Hakeem Wyvem were cool, I liked knowing more about those other members of the Té-trad.

Strangely, I didn’t feel quite as much emotion at the first battle with the losses that occurred there, but I liked how it changed the story entirely, and kind of stepped things up a notch.  I just wish that I’d been able to feel those losses more…not sure if it’s because of the way they came about, or just the mood I was in when it occurred.

On the other hand, I felt a LOT of emotion with the final battle and climax, and really felt the sacrifices and desperation.  Like really felt it.  It was so well done.

One of the things that was vexing me at the end of the 2nd book was the lack of development with the overarching plot…like who was Crimson?  What is the Té-trad?  And what is Beckit’s ability?  Thankfully I loved the twists and turns of who Crimson was and other bad guys.  And I was thoroughly satisfied with the way the Té-trad stuff played out, and Beckit’s ability was really rather cool and added some great twists of its own in how the battle would play out.

So yeah, like I said…solid conclusion to a very entertaining series.

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