BOOK REVIEW ~ NINE MINUTES BY BETH FLYNN

On May 15, 1975, fifteen-year-old Ginny Lemon is abducted from a convenience store in Fort Lauderdale by a member of one of the most notorious and brutal motorcycle gangs in South Florida.
From that moment on, her life is forever changed. She gets a new name, a new identity and a new life in the midst of the gang’s base on the edge of the Florida Everglades—a frightening, rough and violent world much like the swamps themselves, where everyone has an alias and loyalty is tantamount to survival.
And at the center of it all is the gang’s leader, Grizz: massive, ruggedly handsome, terrifying and somehow, when it comes to Ginny, tender. She becomes his obsession and the one true love of his life.
So begins a tale of emotional obsession and manipulation, of a young woman ripped from everything she knows and forced to lean on the one person who provides attention, affection and care: her captor. Precocious and intelligent, but still very much a teenager, Ginny struggles to adapt to her existence, initially fighting and then coming to terms with her captivity.
Will she be rescued? Will she escape? Will she get out alive—or get out at all? Part psychological thriller, part coming-of-age novel, filled with mystery, romance and unexpected turns, Nine Minutes takes readers into the world of one motorcycle gang and inside the heart of a young girl, whose abduction brought about its fall.

REVIEW
If there can only be one book you can get this month, heck, even this year, it HAS to be this one. This is going to sound cheesy, but I felt so alive when I was reading this book. It’s a story that evoked visceral reactions, put me in a book frenzy, and made me feel like I was taking caffeine shots. This book was 200% unputdownable for me. I’m a very paranoid and picky reader and unless a book has positive reviews from my friends (because we know each other’s tastes well) I won’t pick it up. However, this book’s synopsis had my attention and for the rest of the day I couldn’t stop thinking about it. I read a sample which was the engrossing prologue that gave me goosebumps and after that I was a goner. Putting down the book just simply wasn’t an option. Pages were flipped, tears were shed, and 2 hours later I was done.
The rest of my review is going to be a bit unconventional. There is SO much in this book so I decided to do a Q&A review. You see, every time I worked on my review, I would get a question, a message, or a comment asking me this and that and it really made me see that my normal review style is just not going to be good enough to cover everything. So the rest consists of questions others have asked me and my thoughts without spoiling anything.
Is there romance and an HEA?
That is the most asked question and my answer is yes to the romance. 100% yes. But I also have to say that if you are a romance only reader, this book may not be for you. As for the HEA part, I can’t emphasize enough that because this book crosses many other genres, we can’t subject it to the same kind of scrutiny as we do for pure romance books. So that HEA question? Hold onto it. It’s not defined and is something every reader has to decide for themselves. But for me personally? It was the best kind of happy ending that stayed true to both the characters and the story.
What genre is this book?
It’s not one specific genre. It crosses over many sub-genres as well and this is what I think the book falls under:
-MC
-Dark
-YA
-Psychological thriller
-Romance
-Historical (referring to the setting)
-Religious (referring to the heroine’s faith)
After mulling it over, I think it was faulty of me to project this book as mainly a biker book first. The heroine’s life does revolve around a motorcycle club but it’s not what defines her. Her age makes this book YA, her kidnapping, attitude, and psyche makes this a psychological thriller, her twisted love for a dangerous man makes this a romance, and the gritty biker life portrayed that has many triggers makes this dark. And speaking of triggers…
Yes, there are triggers in this book!!
Ginny is 15 when she’s taken. It honestly made me uncomfortable to know that our heroine is underage, probably because I have a younger sister close to her age and it makes me sick to think of an abduction like this ever happening to her. I will also be frank and say there is a questionable rape scene present and it was the first time in the book where I cried. The circumstances revolving around this scene is what made my heart break for all parties involved. And violence…yes, there is a good amount of violence, and a few scenes where it’s in explicit detail. But never did I feel like anything was gratuitous. Everything said and done had a purpose.
How historical is this book besides the setting?
Well the story spans from the time Ginny was kidnapped in 1975 to the year 2000 where a monumental trial takes place. 25 years of history packed in this story. I also want to point out that just because this book has a MC background, don’t expect it to be like other ‘modern’ biker books. You really can’t compare a present day MC to one 20-30 years ago. Times are different and people change.
Cheating, love triangle, and sex
With all honesty, I can’t say there was or wasn’t cheating or a love triangle because my opinion is not a fact. My opinion is no, there was no cheating and no love triangle (those needing details will have to message me), but for others even a tiny detail will make the difference in deciding if lines have been crossed. The sex is fade to black. This is not your typical MC where all guys act like manwhores and all girls are skanks. Sex in here is not meant to get you hot and flustered; it’s meant to drive an emotional impact home.
Is this a mindfuck?
200% yes. From the beginning to the very end, I felt like I was smacked upside down with plot twists. This story was so unpredictable, the characters unstable (some even volatile), and the psychological aspect added an extra layer of complexity to it all. Even now, I am still questioning whether the romance in here was more obsession or love. I think it’s both. An obsession turned into love and on the flip side where love for another turns into an obsession. If anything, the latter is confirmed with the revelation near the end of the book.
For me, this aspect was the most compelling. I think there are just some events, some things words are not enough to explain or account for, and the love/obsession is a prime example. You really have to experience it, feel it, to have a point of reference.
Cliffhanger, standalone, and series info
Once again, these topics are all subjective and opinion vs. fact. It is a fact that this is a series and book 2 will focus on these same characters. It is my opinion that this book doesn’t have a cliffhanger but of course I know some will say otherwise. The book has a full beginning, middle, and end and is very much a complete story, but the ending doesn’t resolve all the loose ends. That closure will be seen in the next book. But at the same time, even if there wasn’t a second book I would be completely satisfied with the way this one ended.
So yeah…this book is quite complex and difficult to explain in just a few words. I am still finding it hard to believe this is a debut novel. I can’t remember the last time a debut book has completely blown me away like this one did. I can undoubtedly say that this is a book that has it all.
Rating: 5 stars!!!!!

BOOK REVIEW ~ AFTER THE RAIN BY RENEE CARLINO

Under the bright arena lights of a rodeo show, young Avelina Belo falls for a handsome cowboy with a larger-than-life personality. After a whirlwind courtship, she happily moves away from her family in northern California and settles into married life with her cowboy on a seven-thousand-acre cattle ranch in Montana. One freak accident later, Avelina’s hopes for the future come to an end.
Nate Myers graduated from UCLA medical school at the top of his class, ready to follow in the footsteps of his father, a superstar cardiothoracic surgeon. Six years later, Nate’s career is being ruined by a malpractice suit. Questioning himself for the first time, he retreats to a Montana cattle ranch to visit his uncle and gain perspective. There, he meets a beautiful young woman named Avelina who teaches him more than he ever knew about matters of the heart.

This is one of those books where I read the blurb and immediately wanted to get my hands on the book. Not only is it described as an emotional second chance romance but a romance between a wrangler and a doctor, two people who are so opposite of each other and under normal circumstances would never have met. While this story started off strong, things started spiraling down after the 25% mark and though I didn’t outright dislike the plot and characters, I didn’t love them either.
At 18, the heroine Avelina gets caught up in a whirlwind courtship and marriage with another young wrangler and they live a quiet, simple life on the ranch. She never expects to lose the love of her life – first when he’s handicapped for the rest of his life, then when he commits suicide. Her experiences through the years have turned her from a vibrant young woman into a cold, harsh shell of who she once was. She blames herself for not being enough to save her husband and she blames her husband for destroying what was left of her heart.
On the opposite end of the country, the hero Nate is a rising star in the surgical field about to take on an operation. One faulty decision blasts his confidence and career into smithereens and makes him question everything he’s ever believed in. In the spur of the moment, Nate goes to his uncle’s ranch to regroup and reflect on his next move. It is in the lush scenery of Montana and amongst the wild horses he meets Avelina, a widow for five years now. It only takes a matter of seconds for Nate to see that this woman is different from others he’s met, in character and physical appearance. And it only takes days for Nate to see how refreshing the ranch is compared to the big city he’s used to – it’s a place where respect is earned and hard work is applauded.
Up to this point in the book, everything was perfect. It was at least a 4.5 star read, the writing was lovely, the character’s struggles were convincingly heartbreaking, and if done well, I could see the potential and beauty in having these two characters – both broken in their own ways – come together. Sadly, this is also the part that fell extremely flat and was the beginning of the end of this book for me. Here is my rationale: whenever there’s a second chance romance that involves two characters that are even slightly damaged, I NEED to be specifically convinced, 100% convinced that these two belong to each other. However, I wasn’t. I felt like Avelina’s connection to Nate was solely based on the fact that he wasn’t from town and was someone new, someone she could know based on a clean slate. And Nate’s connection with Avelina I thought it was because she was the very first woman he spent a little time with after dedicating 5 years to his career. In other words, I thought that these characters could be replaced with others and it wouldn’t make a difference. What makes these two specific characters right for each other? That is the question I ask myself whenever I read a second chance romance like this one and sadly, the author didn’t convince me of their connection.
As the story progressed, Avelina’s stubbornness grated on my nerves and even when the book hit a point where I could feel the characters’ romantic connection, Avelina would push Nate away and cling to the memory of her late husband. I normally would be less frustrated with this part but the author reveals some unsavory details about her late husband’s character that made me believe that he doesn’t deserve all this devotion from Avelina long after his suicide, especially since it was so obvious that she had the ability to move on with her life, whether it was with Nate or by herself.
I wouldn’t completely write this book off, but to read the book I would prepare myself for some insta-love and some character stupidity before starting. It wasn’t an outstanding book in my eyes but it wasn’t bad either. It fell right in the middle, and usually those are the books that readers have trouble in deciding whether or not to read. In my opinion, I would recommend this book but with caution, as a frustrating heroine can really wear you down.
After the Rain is a complete standalone that is unrelated to the author’s other books.
ARC provided by Atria Books via NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.

BOOK REVIEW ~ PROTOTYPE BY GRETCHEN DE LA O

Lauren Matthews believes she will be dead in seven days. She’s done witnessing others around her meeting that exact fate. With the device Marshall Grayson installed in her head as the only golden thread linking them, Lauren is left with no choice but to believe it is her destiny to die.
Unable to see her professional world in Washington DC is about to be ruled by her personal life in San Francisco, Lauren’s two realities collide when Grayson Industries’ influential financier, Alejandro Fernandez, infuses himself in her life. Enchanted by Alejandro’s old world charm and modern sensitivity, Lauren becomes tangled in a web of sex, love, deceit, and murder. She struggles to find a balance between self-preservation and ethical responsibility.
With the full scope of the prototype slowly possessing her every thought, she truly understands―her life is not her own. Will Alejandro’s love be enough to reawaken her soul and change her destiny?

2.5 stars!
First, WTF was this book?!?! Yeah, this is one of those books where you finish and you don’t even consider how good or bad it is. Instead, it’s just you chanting WTF over and over again. And even though I’ve had a couple hours to mull things over and decide on a rating, my thoughts are still frazzled and in chunks…so my review will be styled that way as well. It’s going to go in the order of how it went from a potential 5 star read to 2.5 stars.
5 star beginning
This book premise is so unique and the story started off strong. I was definitely clueless about what exactly was going on, but I was looking forward to reading how this mystery would unfold.
3-3.5 stars after the first 40%
There were a lot of things that made me question the believability of the story. First, the female protagonist Lauren is injected with a ‘prototype’ and after accessing secret files learns that she’ll be dead in 7 days. Her mission is to meet up with a financier of this prototype project, Alejandro. As the story progressed, there was no sense of urgency, like ‘oh, I’m going to be dead in 7 days if I don’t find out more about this device’ wasn’t emphasized. Instead, I read about her jealousy issues over Marshall, her inner dialogue complaining she never asked for all of this, and how much she swoons over Alejandro (which brings me to my next point).
“My god, he looked like he had been plucked from the pages of a GQ magazine.”
Insta-love alert!! I was under the belief that Alejandro was supposed to be the enemy as he knowingly financed prototypes and Lauren is one of them but it just didn’t feel like he was. The first chapters with them together were all about Lauren being speechless over his beauty and Alejandro repeatedly complementing Lauren’s looks.
“My name is Alejandro Fernandez. You must be Mrs. Matthews.
It’s Miss. I’m not married.
Oh, my mistake, I just assumed – you are such a beautiful woman.”
Mind you, this is right after Lauren fought with someone and has bruises all over her face. Ugh. And another thought running through my head was how the heck does a CIA agent act as clumsy and idiotic as Lauren does?
“I didn’t ask for any of this. I didn’t need this. All I wanted was to be a good CIA agent and do some insignificant side jobs for Marshall.”
Yeah…ok. I honestly don’t understand why Lauren thinks doing illegal ‘insignificant’ side jobs involving revolutionary prototypes wouldn’t get her into any kind of trouble. What was this woman thinking?!
2.5 stars for the last 60%
After the halfway mark, things really started picking up plot-wise but it wasn’t enough to answer questions brought up in the first half. Details were skimmed over and the main storyline (why these prototypes were manufactured in the first place, who was the mastermind, etc…) flopped and all the bad was pinned on the one obvious person responsible for everything. I did like Alejandro’s character but Lauren’s stupidity and dramatic antics really annoyed me.
Usually I can tell how much I enjoy a book just by how fast I read it – the best books take me mere hours to read. This book, however, took me almost a day and half to trudge through and every chapter or so that got my eyes rolling I had to force myself to not DNF and continue. In short, this is a book with an interesting concept but completely failed at its execution.
Prototype is the first book in the Possession series and not a standalone. The ending isn’t an exact cliffhanger but leaves the reader with tons of unanswered questions.

BOOK REVIEW ~ BAD ROMEO BY LEISA RAYVEN

While performing the greatest love story of all time, they discovered one of their own…
Cassie Taylor was just another acting student with big dreams at her prestigious performing arts college, then she met Ethan Holt. She was the good girl actress. He was the bad boy on campus. But one fated casting choice for Romeo and Juliet changed it all. Like the characters they were playing on stage, Cassie and Ethan’s epic romance seemed destined. Until it ended in tragedy when he shattered her heart.
Now they’ve made it to Broadway where they’re reunited as romantic leads once again, and their passionate scenes force them to confront the heartbreaking lows and pulse-pounding highs of their intense college affair. For Ethan, losing Cassie was his biggest regret, and he’s determined to redeem himself. But for Cassie, even though Ethan was her first and only great love, he hurt her too much to ever be trusted again. The trouble is, working with him reminds her that people who rub each other the wrong way often make the best sparks. And when it comes to love, sometimes it’s the things that aren’t good for us that are the most irresistible.

I really wish I could say I loved this one but sadly, I can’t. I felt like I wasted hours of my time reading a book that was one giant tease from beginning to end. The only reason why I didn’t rate this book 1 star is because of the author’s addictive writing style and a few good moments scattered throughout the story, but other than that, both characters truly angered me, the setup of the story frustrated me, and that ending? Oh my god. One of the worst endings I have ever read, cliffhanger or not.
But I’m getting ahead of myself.
Whether or not you will enjoy this book depends entirely on the kind of reader you are. You’re either:
A). A reader who likes some sexual tension but with gratification and doesn’t think of character stupidity as angst.
B). A reader who lives off of unresolved sexual tension, crazy high angst and seeing the characters suffer make you suffer but you love it anyways.
Choice A readers, you’re going to struggle with the book. Choice B readers, this is the perfect book for you if you don’t mind an abrupt ending. Now onto the actual review…
The book begins in present day where sensational actress Cassie Taylor is cast in a romantic play alongside Ethan Holt, the one guy who broke her heart 6 years ago. From her past experiences she’s really hardened her heart and the once open, optimistic, and naïve girl has turned into a cynical woman who will never be able to trust easily again. But her bad breakup with Ethan 6 years ago didn’t stop her feelings for him and as much as she knows that a relationship with him wouldn’t be practical for her heart, he also happens to be the one and only guy who stirs her emotions – good and bad – like no other and is truly it for her, but now she’s the one afraid to take the leap because their past relationship failed miserably.
After all these years, bad boy actor Ethan Holt has cleaned himself up and decides to pursue Cassie, finally realizing that he can’t live without her even though he’s the one who ruined all the good they had before.
I struggled a lot with Ethan’s character. The book unevenly alternates between past/present chapters where in the present Ethan’s fighting for Cassie and in the past where Cassie is fighting for Ethan. There’s a big difference between a lovable jerk and a flat out asshole and well, Ethan was the latter. His hot-and-cold behavior towards Cassie was frustrating when at times he’ll say something like this:
But in another moment, he’ll completely ignore Cassie and their explosive chemistry and continue on as if nothing happened between them. Repeat this process multiple times and by the halfway mark I was suffering from a severe case of whiplash.
Cassie was also a big reason why I struggled with the book. I have zero respect for female characters that let the hero walk all over them and because I didn’t believe that Ethan’s backstory (which is a clichéd and overused reason by the way) warranted his horrible treatment of her, Cassie was pretty much a doormat. She is also one of the horniest virgins I’ve ever read about who was either obsessing over her vagina, Ethan’s dick, or both, whether it was through her inner monologue or her girly diary she kept that constantly referenced Ethan’s “award-winning dick” and how it’s enough to make her “vagina start slow-clapping in anticipation.”
As much as I liked the author’s writing style and the occasional humorous moments, the setup of the story really bothered me. I felt like the past/present scenes were unevenly represented and whenever I was starting to get invested in the particular chapter, the author would suddenly do a time jump and I had to try hard to refocus in the new chapter. There was no fluidity, no transition that linked most of these time jumps so they seemed random and out of place to me. Make no mistake, there were a few scenes that did get my heart racing and I felt for the characters, but the choppy time jumps along with major character stupidity overshadowed the good.
Now for that ending. *drags hand down face* I wouldn’t call it a cliffhanger. Cliffhanger implies that we have an inkling of what to expect in the next book but in here? It literally ended in between a motion and for a while I thought I must’ve received a bad copy from the publisher. But no. After checking with another reader who read the book, that’s the ending. Just…ugh! Imagine my feelings. I wasn’t really enjoying the book much to begin with but towards the end it got better and I would like to know the reasoning behind their breakup (which is never revealed by the way), only to have the book end in such an abrupt, inconclusive manner. I feel cheated to be honest. Cheated because the book was one huge tease that started and ended with me knowing the same things. Nothing new happened.
I do want to end positive by saying that this is a book I would still contingently recommend to others based on the type of reader you are (see A & B above). And because of the way the story ended here, I am kind of forced by my own curiosity to check out the next book, even if my only reason is to find closure so I can finally move on.
Bad Romeo is the first book in the Starcrossed series and not a standalone. Cassie & Ethan’s story will be told over the course of two books, concluding in Broken Juliet. There will also be a third book which is a standalone romance focusing on Ethan’s sister.

 

BOOK REVIEW ~ REIGNITE BY J.M. DARHOWER

The moment the short-lived apocalypse came to an end, life returned to normal. Mortals continued on with their oblivious existences while the earth healed and flowers again bloomed, the devastation instantly wiped away. It was as if it had never happened.
But it did.
Luce knows. He’s cursed to remember every moment, forced to live with everything he has done. Suddenly finding himself out of confinement, he’s faced with a decision: where to call “home”. Free will turns out not to be the freedom he expects when the only thing he wants doesn’t know he exists.
Serah woke up with no memory of where she came from or who she was before that moment. Struggling to adapt to the world as a mortal, she’s haunted by a set of bright blue eyes that always seem to be watching her. She can’t shake the feeling that he could be her salvation… if only she can remember him before it’s too late.
Lucifer didn’t fall from Grace alone. He’s not the only angel with a grudge, nor is he the only one fascinated by his beautiful mortal.
The road to Hell is paved with good intentions…

After the events and ending in book 1, I couldn’t dive into this second book fast enough. Even though Extinguish was written as a standalone and meant to be left open-ended based on reader interpretation, I’m grateful the author decided to write another book. Because when it comes to romance, I need my questions answered and my ending clearly defined, and as I fell hard and fast for these characters in book 1, getting my closure and finding out what exactly happened to them after the showdown in Extinguish was absolutely necessary. With that being said, I did feel like this book was lacking compared to the first. Things were wrapped up in pretty bows too fast and with one of the main characters literally embodying the fallen archangel, it was hard to believe that all loose ends were tied up nicely without much conflict. Nevertheless, I enjoyed it for the most part as it was a fast-paced read with the return of all the beloved characters from the first book as well as new ones.
Just like my review for the first book, I have very few things to say about the plot as the story here builds up from what happened in Extinguish. I liked that there were more Lucifer POV scenes and I got to delve deeper into his thoughts and feelings. I still find the idea of giving the Devil himself a humane side fascinating – it definitely made his character seem a lot dynamic than most male leads I’ve read about. As for the romance, it was a bit weak and honestly, there weren’t that many scenes that focused on the main characters’ relationship development because this book was more plot-orientated, but the parts where the romance was showcased, it was beautiful, and it only strengthened my belief that despite how forbidden or unnatural the romance was, these two belonged with each other.
I think my biggest problem is that because this book is fast-paced and more plot-oriented than ever, it’s hard to have time jumps (I’m talking years and years) and have them convincingly weaved into the story. While reading, it felt like maybe a month or two passed instead of years, which is why I thought the story was a little all over the place and underdeveloped compared to the first. But despite that, I’m thankful that Lucifer and Serah did get a second book and was happy with the final ending the author provided.
As a whole, this 2-book duet ranks a solid 4+ stars and is well worth the read. They’re attention-grabbing, gripping from the get go, and the world building is excellent, not to mention each and every one of the characters were fascinating.
Reignite is the 2nd and final book in this 2-book paranormal forbidden romance series. It’s not a standalone and must be read after Extinguish.
Rating: 3.5 stars!

BOOK REVIEW ~ WITHIN THESE WALLS BY J.L. BERG

Within these walls, he became my solace, my sanctuary and my strength.
I am not strong. I am just a survivor of circumstance.Isn’t that what we all do? Survive?
Each of us has our own set of circumstances to muddle through. Mine are just more…complicated. Born with a severe heart defect, I’ve seen the inside of a hospital room more than my own bedroom.
I was drowning, a prisoner to the illness that owned me, until he appeared. He thinks he’s blocked out the world with his tattoos and hard exterior, but I see the real Jude, the one he so desperately wants to forget.
But is he the answer to my prayers or will he break my already damaged heart forever?
My name is Lailah Buchanan, and this is our story of hope, redemption and sacrificing it all for the one you love.

This was such a sweet story! While I didn’t totally love it, both main characters were adorkable, the message behind the story was uplifting, and the romance was heartwarming. After reading this book and this author’s Ready series, I notice that all of her books make me fall in love with the idea of love. There are clichés and her stories are definitely sugary sweet, but ultimately, it’s just impossible for me to not enjoy her books on a certain level. For me, her books are the perfect ‘feel-good’ romances that are bound to put a smile on my face and leave me with warm, fuzzy feelings. This book was no different.
The heroine Lailah Buchanan was born with a heart defect, and her entire life has been uprooted by her condition. She’s spent most of her time lying within the walls of a hospital. Now at 22, she’s finally looking forward to being discharged and living life like she’s always intended to.
“My life has been nothing but surgeries, procedures, and living from one test result to the next. I’ll gladly trade all that for a little normalcy. Give me a terrible prom and a hot, sticky day at Disneyland. Let me fall in love even if it means I’ll get hurt in the end. At least then, I’d know that I’m living.”
But unfortunately, things don’t go the way she planned and once again, she’s stuck inside her white-walled prison.
The hero Jude Cavanaugh is a nurse aide who harbors immense guilt after his fiancé died. Working as a nurse aide in the same hospital where Lailah resides, he’s a complete loner who gave up his lavish lifestyle in a twisted hope that walking the same halls where his fiancé once was would bring him closer to her. He believes he doesn’t deserve forgiveness and working as a CNA is his atonement.
“Healing required the desire to do so. I didn’t want to heal, and I certainly didn’t want to move on.”
I don’t want to spoil exactly how, but the way Lailah and Jude meet is SO cute and completely melted my heart, like awww-worthy.
Though the romance didn’t develop until later on, there is an underlying mutual attraction and I still felt that it was more insta-love, especially considering the number of years Jude shouldered his guilt and refused to move on from his ex-fiancé he fell for Lailah pretty fast. But because I really did love both of these characters who are just completely charming, I didn’t mind too much that they got together quick.
There’s a part of this book I have to mention. Lailah had this list, a Someday list of things she wanted to accomplish but couldn’t because of her poor health and whenever Jude would help her finish one of those goals, it completely melted my heart. Just the dedication and conviction behind Lailah’s desire to complete each goal and Jude’s determination to help her achieve them all made my heart feel so full. It also served as a step towards their relationship development as well so in light of that, the insta-love at the beginning really didn’t bother me too much.
Though I could have easily given this book 4 stars or more, the fact remains that the last 20% of the book was slightly disappointing and I flat-out disliked the decisions these characters made.
“Two broken hearts – we would destroy each other before we even had a chance to begin.”
Throughout it all, I felt like this conflict was unnecessary because as quickly as it was introduced, it was resolved just as fast and didn’t offer any significant plot development, only served to make this last portion of the book too sugary and rushed. But taking the book as a whole, this story was a solid romance read that is bound to warm any romantic’s heart.
Within These Walls is a NA contemporary romance that is NOT tragic. Though it’s written as a standalone, there is an upcoming book titled Beyond These Walls that continues this couple’s story and there’ll also be a spinoff book for Jude’s brother who is introduced in this book. Personally, I can’t wait for that one! It’s bound to be darker to match his character…
Rating: 3.5 stars!

BOOK REVIEW ~ DEAR EMILY BY TRUDY STILES

Adoption. Is it a choice you could make? For yourself? For your unborn child?
Live this heart wrenching story with both Carly and Tabitha. Carly and her husband desperately want a child of their own, but are unable to make that dream their reality. Tabitha has been through unspeakable things and must make one of the most difficult decisions a scared and pregnant girl can make.
Dear Emily is told in dual point of view, allowing the reader to experience the highs and lows of both Carly and Tabitha and the decision that ultimately brings them together.
Take a chance on these two very different, but incredible women.
*******Two women. Carly and Tabitha. They each have suffered life-altering events that have left them both traumatically damaged.
Carly Sloan’s life was perfect until her security and innocence was torn from her. The vast repercussions from these events threaten to destroy her stability and her chances for a happily ever after. Kyle Finnegan comes into Carly’s life at the height of her turmoil. Can he help her find what she desires most?
Tabitha Fletcher has constantly suffered from a very young age. She has been hiding from her past, which was full of sadness, loss and abuse. She has been so brutally damaged that she has very little hope for redemption. The revolving door of men only leads her deeper into misery.
What circumstance brings these two women together and can they help each other heal? And will they each find what they need?
Redemption.Love.Family.

This is one of the most unputdownable and unforgettable books I’ve read this year! I’m ashamed to say it’s not a story I would’ve read at first glance and I’d never have picked it up if it weren’t for a few friends who absolutely adored it and now…I can definitely see why. The story follows two women who are the main characters – Tabitha and Carly – and their individual lives and romances, and how one child brings them together. It’s a story not just about love, but family, friendships, and fate. The way the book is written is especially unique; with alternating POVs between Carly and Tabitha that sometimes jump back and forth in time, I really expected to be frustrated and turned off by the execution but quite the opposite happened. I adored the way the story unfolded and it felt like I was reading two books in one. Even more so, I’m amazed by how invested I was (still am) in both Carly and Tabitha’s lives, even when they hadn’t met each other yet. The author’s writing style is simplistic in an alluring and captivating way, gripping me from the VERY first page and ended the book with such a bang that I need to dive into the next one asap.

The premise of the story is a crisis that many women face today – adoption. In this case, an emotionally damaged and confused teenaged Tabitha prepares to give up her unborn child Emily to another couple who she feels is more qualified and will provide Emily with a stable family environment – to Carly and her college sweetheart Kyle. When the adoption agency links her up with Carly and Kyle, Tabitha and her current boyfriend Seth feel a kinship towards them and believes what they’re doing is the right thing as they’re both in no way ready to take on raising a child.
Here’s the really cool part. While the present focuses on working out the adoption details and seeing Tabitha and Carly interact and get to know each other better, the flashbacks to the past reveal painful scars both women have been carrying around for years and how their ordeals lead them to find love and get to where they are currently. It’s one of the most unique storytelling methods I’ve ever read that not only made me feel invested in both of these women and their individual tales, but also had me flipping the pages so fast just so I could devour more about these characters. The men in their lives that stood by them and were a pillar of support I could not be more grateful or love more, and it was so inspiring and heartwarming to know that these two women who were in dark times in their respective lives, had at least one person they could shoulder their burden with.
I also can’t forget to mention what an amazing cast of side characters were in this book. They were so supportive and a never-ending source of comical relief as the overall tone of the story is emotionally heavy.
There is, however, one thing that bothered me a lot while I was reading and is the reason why I can’t give this book a full 5 star rating. I am a grammar and punctuation Nazi and though it may not be a big deal for most, seeing tons of exclamation marks in the story drove me nuts. Sentences that could’ve easily ended in a period had a !. Sentences where the meaning didn’t convey much emotion ended with !. It may just be me being picky but it’s a pet peeve of mine to have too much of one thing.
Other than that, this story was perfect in my eyes. Emotionally, it struck deep and I teared up a few times. The words on the page demanded to be read and felt, and whenever I was forced to put down the book because of holiday festivities I was internally screaming.
While I felt like one arc of the book was wonderfully concluded, another part still had many loose ends, which is where book 2 comes in and I’m both nervous and excited to see where and how Tabitha’s story goes. Now that I know this author’s writing style and the way she presents her story, I’m sure the second book just promises angst, tears, second chances, and redemption.
It was plain dumb for me to keep this on my TBR for so long, though I am glad now that I at least gave it a shot or I would’ve missed out on one heck of a story. For anyone else contemplating on reading this one, I highly recommend you bump it to the top of your TBR list.
Dear Emily is the first book in the Forever Family series and not a standalone. Because there are two main female leads and only one of their stories is concluded here, book 2 must be read to fully wrap up both story arcs presented. There will be a third book, but it’s an optional spinoff.
Rating: 4.5 stars!!

 

 

BOOK REVIEW ~ DEAR TABITHA BY TRUDY STILES

You know me. You know who I am. What I am.
Damaged. Confused. Alone.
You feel sorry for me. You pity me.
You know what I’ve done. What I’ve given up. Who I’ve given up.
You try to understand what I’ve been through and how I can go on with my life. But you can’t possibly understand.
I’ve lost too much. Sacrificed too much. Given up everything so that I can find myself.
Well, I’m done.
I’m done walking away from everything that matters.
It’s time for me to heal.
It’s MY TURN to earn…
Redemption.Love.Family.
“Dear Tabitha” is the second book in the “Forever Family” series. This is book 2 of 2 and concludes the story that began in “Dear Emily”. It is NOT a standalone story and is meant to be read after Dear Emily.

Having read and loved the first book Dear Emily I dived straight into this second one, fingers crossed hoping that a certain character would finally get the ending she deserved. And Trudy Stiles delivered. As if the first book wasn’t emotional enough, book 2 packed quite a punch, delving deep and stripping bare Tabitha’s harrowing past while laying out a second chance romance with her ex-boyfriend, Alex. I will admit I started this book with mixed feelings towards Tabitha as some of her actions in the first book caused so much pain to the two people who loved her unconditionally. But by giving us her complete past that lead up to the present, I completely sympathized for her and only wanted her to finally get that happy ending she desired.
When I flipped to the first page, I kid you not, I immediately re-connected with the characters. The author wastes no time and immediately hits hard with her words, revealing the painful pasts of both main characters that are only briefly touched upon in book 1. Is it possible for a heart to break twice at a time? Because I’m sure that’s what was happening when I first read about Alex’s memories and then Tabitha’s following right after.
After Tabitha’s mom died, she’s tossed into one foster home after another, finally escaping but only to end up in another monster’s den until she finally meets Alex. On the other end, Alex has been physically abused since he was a kid and aside from his bandmates, is emotionally detached until he meets Tabitha. They run through the whole relationship spectrum, going from acquaintances to friends to lovers and because of one weak moment, break up. Even though they don’t meet again until a few years later, neither one has moved on from each other. And when they do finally see each other again, any misunderstandings and hurt are washed away and only longing and love remains.
I think the character growth in this book is stunning, especially for Tabitha. In book 1, she truly was a mess and couldn’t pull herself together after suffering from severe depression, pregnancy, and losing Alex. I was happy the book focus wasn’t entirely just on rekindling her romance with Alex and put Tabitha’s well-being and healing process a priority. I also enjoyed the Carly, Kyle, and Emily cameos as they all played a huge role in Tabitha’s life.
But without a doubt, what made this book stand out for me was Alex. For starters, I liked that he wasn’t portrayed as the typical rockstar who slept around with groupies and had an ego the size of a mountain. He’s loyal and loving, and because he knew the only girl for him was Tabitha, there was no room in his mind or heart for another. But at the same time he also struggled with anger and jealousy issues and that character growth is explored as well.
Though they wanted to, Tabitha and Alex certainly weren’t ready to handle the enormity of a family and their relationship without working out their own problems first, and once they had and faced their fears, it was a heartwarming thing to read them being able to move on towards their future together.
Just like the way the story was told in book 1, this book alternates between past/present scenes switching back and forth between Alex and Tabitha’s POVs. It sounds like a hassle, but honestly, I was entranced and sucked in by the author’s storytelling method and never felt annoyed or disconnected from the characters. However, the one thing that I wasn’t too fond of was Seth’s absence. He was such a big part of Tabitha’s life in book 1 and it saddened me to see him totally cut out of her life. I think I might be the only one who didn’t think he was annoying but instead, felt for this guy who had an unrequited love for Tabitha and the only thing he did receive was pain and hurt. Anyways, his book is next so I’m awfully interested to see where his story goes…
This book and the first one are stories that took me by storm. Completely gripping and the emotion practically bled out from the pages. I’m still getting used to the fact that this is one author who used past/present POVs and time jumps that didn’t get on my nerves (because 99% of them do). With just these two books, Trudy Stiles has skyrocketed to my list of authors to watch out for. And for the time being, I will be waiting for book 3 with bated breath…
Dear Tabitha is the 2nd book in the Forever Family series and not a standalone. Dear Emily MUST be read first and though there are more books planned in the series, it’s perfectly safe to read these two now as book 2 ends on a satisfying, conclusive note. But I won’t lie. I wanted the next book yesterday!!

BOOK REVIEW ~ SWEET FALL BY TILLIE COLE

We all have secrets.
Secrets well buried.
Until we find the one soul who makes the burden of such secrets just that little bit easier to bear.
Lexington “Lexi” Hart is a senior at the University of Alabama. Surrounded by her best friends, her loving family and having fulfilled her life-long dream of making the Crimson Tide cheer squad, everything is going exactly as she always dreamed it would. But beneath her happy exterior, demons lurk, threatening to jeopardize everything Lexi has worked to achieve. When events in her life become too much to cope with, Lexi finds herself spiraling down into the realm of her biggest fear. Lexi falls hard, victim once again to the only thing that can destroy her and, on the way, finds herself falling straight into the dangerous tattooed arms of a guy from the wrong side of the tracks.
Austin Carillo, starting Wide Receiver for the Alabama Crimson Tide, must get picked in this year’s NFL draft. He needs it. His brothers need it. Most importantly, his mother desperately needs it. Brought up in a world where the poor are forgotten, the sick are left to fend for themselves and no hero miraculously appears to pull you out of hell, Austin had no other choice but to make a living on the wrong side of the law—until football offered Austin the break to get his life back on track. But when a family tragedy drags him back into the clutches of the gang he believed he had left far behind, Austin finds himself falling. Falling back into criminal ways and falling deep into a suffocating darkness. Until a troubled yet kindred spirit stumbles across his path, where Austin quickly finds he is falling for a young woman, a young woman who might just have the power to save him from his worst enemy: himself.
Can two troubled souls find a lasting peace together? Or will they finally succumb to the demons threatening to destroy them?

Whatever expectations I had, I didn’t count on this book being so gutwrenchingly emotional. This book made me lose my marbles and break down and ugly cry…definitely one of the more heavy and dark NA romances I’ve read this year. The characters were yanking at my heartstrings right from the beginning, and little by little, the emotion built up until it exploded in the last 20% of the book and basically nuked my heart. Thanks Tillie Cole
But I’m getting ahead of myself again. Back to the beginning…
On the outside, Lexi Hart is a perfect college student who seems to have it all: loving family, supportive friends, and a spot on the cheer squad. But underneath, every day is a struggle for her and she’s barely keeping up. Unknown to most, Lexi is anorexic. Her body image worries and thoughts hurt her deeper than any blade could and ashamed of herself, she concocts a mask to hide behind when she’s with friends. Only alone, can she be her true self. Only alone, can she be free to give into her anorexic temptations.
Austin Carillo has a boatload of problems, all invisible to most. Coming from a poor and unstable home life with a sick mother and two brothers to look after, Austin sees football as his only way out of his shithole life. But it isn’t enough and with gang problems giving him trouble, Austin is cornered between pursuing his football dream and living like a lowlife like he’s perceived to be, all in the name of providing for his family.
Austin and Lexi’s romance seemed improbable at the beginning because they were so different. Aside from their circle of friends knowing each other, there is literally no overlap that should’ve happened between them so the fact that their romance did happen was totally unexpected and made it all the more intriguing. Perhaps it was because they were both broken and felt like they were shouldering the world that they had this deep, intense connection, but whatever the reason they’re able to let down their guard and be open with each other.
Reading about these characters individually and what they had to go through with all the problems in their lives gave my heart a big squeeze, but that was nothing compared to the scenes where they were a couple.
“Why the war paint, Pix?”
“Why the tattoos?”
I’m not even going to sugarcoat it – I felt overwhelmed. Reading about Lexi’s anorexia hurt, like in my chest kinda hurt, and it was all portrayed in such a raw and gritty manner I couldn’t help but be moved. Reading about Austin’s poor home life, his very real and heartbreaking struggle to keep his family together while trying so hard to make his football dream come true…all of that combined was a lot to process and emotionally digest down. And as mentioned before, all of this culminated and completely exploded in the last 20% of the book, leaving me a sobbing mess.
But at the same time, I didn’t fully love the romance part. I mean, it was very clear to me that these two characters belonged and complemented each other perfectly, but because there was just SO much going on – Lexi’s illness, Austin’s home life – plus tons of external conflict ranging from gang business to side character drama, I felt like the actual romance wasn’t given enough attention, hence I had to deduct half a star.
Regardless, this is a book that is guaranteed to make you FEEL and ultimately, that’s what I was looking for when I decided to read this book so overall, this one’s a winner for me!
Sweet Fall is a NA romance standalone and the 3rd book in the Sweet Home series. It can be read without reading the first two books and the events in this book run parallel to those in the first one, Sweet Home.