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review 2017-11-21 23:53
ARC Review: The Secret Of The Sheikh's Betrothed by Felicitas Ivey
The Secret of the Sheikh’s Betrothed (Dreamspun Desires Book 46) - Felicitas Ivey

First off, I had no issues whatsoever with the writing style of this author, or the writing itself. The story flowed along well, and I wasn't bored at all while reading. That is one of the two reasons this book got two stars instead of just one.

The other one is that I was super enraged for most of the book at the treatment Ikraam had to endure at the hands of her sister.

Moving on.... 

After I mulled it over for a while, I realized I had massive issues with some of the characters, the plot, and the setting, as well as the social aspects of this book. The messages within are really problematic for me. 

I mentioned in my status update when I finished the book that "this was different". It sure is. The book is set in a country in the Middle East, where sheikhs and Bedouin tribes are still aplenty. Goat herding is mentioned. Grazing grounds. Filthy rich sheikhs. Camels. Donkeys. Lots of goats. Women are second class, at best, required to hide their faces and their bodies in hijabs, niqabs and veils. 

The basic premise is that rich billionaire sheikh Fathi, who's secretly gay, has been told by his grandfather that he's been betrothed to a Bedouin girl named Ikraam, sight unseen, before the girl was even born, due to some debt the grandfather owed to the girl's father many many years ago.

That's basically believable, right? 

The rest of this? Not so much. 

Ikraam is actually not a girl. Ikraam is a young man who was born to the 2nd wife of a Bedouin tribe chief/leader who thus far only fathered girls. He's been raised as a girl in a large harem because his oldest sister didn't want him to be the heir and remove her from her position of power after their father died. She basically forced Ikraam's mother, and then Ikraam as he grew up, to keep his gender a secret and raise him as female. This was continued after the mother died. The oldest sister married a weak man who became the new tribe leader, but it's really been her in charge. She then set out to marry off all her sisters to other tribes so she could be HBIC. 

I had some issues right there. Not only is this plot point unrealistic, but even if it were believable, the psychological repercussions of Ikraam being raised as a female, and eventually realizing he's not female, are never even addressed. Can you imagine being raised this way? And noticing at some point that, hey, I have a penis, and, hey, the others girls do not? And, hey, I could be killed at any time if someone finds out? And, hey, my oldest sister abuses me daily and I have absolutely no way out of this situation other than death? Wouldn't YOU have some serious psychological issues? Can you imagine how fucked up that is? The suffering? The constant fear? Knowing you will die on your wedding night? Feeling that you have to go along with this plan so you can possibly save your niece from a fate worse than death? 

Additionally, Ikraam has been raised without ever learning to read, without knowing anything about the modern world (which I guess is expected when one grows up in a tent in the desert, weaving cloth and hiding underneath a niqab). And yet, this is never addressed even when Ikraam marries Fathi. The difference between Fathi, who was raised with money and educated in the US, and the poor Bedouin woman/man, who's never even been to a city, who's never read a book, who has no idea how the world works outside of goat farming and weaving cloth and hiding behind a veil - how could they possibly be compatible? And to top this off, when the secret does come out, Ikraam suggests living as a female in public, and as a male in the privacy of their bedroom, and NO ONE questions the feasibility of this and its possible repercussions. Fathi thinks it's a great idea. Is Ikraam identifying as gender-queer, made so by how he was raised? Are we supposed to believe that gender identity is thus nurture instead of nature? What message is the author sending here? 

We are introduced to Fathi and his twin brother early on. Fathi has a secretary whose only apparent purpose was to be a contrast to Ikraam as this secretary is educated and modernized, but then used only to be shamed and ridiculed for her aspirations. There's a scene at the very end that had me cringe in second-hand embarrassment that the way this particular scene played out made it past the editor. What was that, even? This is a young, modern, educated woman, someone who did a good job in the position for which she was hired, and yet, she's shamed for being interested in her boss, and the uneducated, unworldly, MALE-pretending-to-be-female Ikraam is held up as a "better" example of being female than this young woman, going so far as showing up on the arm of his new husband, dressed in traditional FEMALE finery and given an opportunity to announce to the secretary that her boss is now married and she needs to take a hike. How did this make it past the editor? What message is this sending to the reader? Readers who are primarily women? 

Don't get me started on Ikraam's oldest sister and the mother of his niece. The woman was pure evil but basically gets away with it. Not only is she perfectly willing to let Ikraam die for her subterfuge, which his husband would then obviously discover, but she's also willing to get rid of her own daughter by attempting to marry her off to a disgusting and violent man at least twice her age, who will likely break not only her spirit but also her body. Evil sister/mother don't care. And even when all of these things come out, she's not punished for her behavior. Ikraam is safe, and so is his niece, but the evil sister never gets a real punishment for not only the deception but also the cruelty and suffering she inflicted. 

Fathi is secretly gay, as I mentioned. His grandfather, described as a very traditional and old-fashioned man set in his ways, then doesn't even really blink when a) Fathi admits to being gay, and b) Ikraam's secret is revealed, and c) they want to get married anyway. Say WHAT? You're trying to tell me that an old man from the Middle East doesn't care that his heir is gay? Embraces it? Is fine with the Bedouin girl being really a man? And you explain it away by stating that he's not super religious and THAT'S IT?? I'm sorry, but I didn't buy what the author was trying to sell here. 

The secondary men in this book, namely the tribe leader and the niece's potential groom, are either weak or evil. Both were one-dimensional characters and used to provide a specific plot point or two, then discarded. 

I usually like the titles in this very tropey series, but this was a complete miss for me. The gender identity issue could have been handled in a much healthier way here, and I would have expected more conflict and pushback from the grandfather based on his portrayal. I would have liked to see some psychological help for Ikraam, and some education as well. 

This book didn't work for me. YMMV.


** I received a free copy of this book from its publisher. A review was not promised in return. **

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review 2017-10-01 04:01
Odd Child Out
Odd Child Out: A Novel - Gilly Macmillan

By:  Gilly MacMillan 

ISBN:  0062697838

Publisher:  William Morrow 

Publication Date: 10/3/2017 

Format: Hardcover

My Rating: 4 Stars

 

Gilly Macmillan returns following What She Knew and The Perfect Girl with her latest, ODD CHILD OUT —her third highly-charged compelling psychological (literary fiction) suspense.

Set in Bristol, meet two teen boys from different backgrounds: Noah Sadler— a native-born British boy, and Abdi Mahad —refugee from Somalia. 

An opening scene. One boy jumps near a canal at the edge of the water . . . He lands, gets up and begins running. One pleading with the other. 

A suicide attempt? What happened? Did someone fall? Foul play involved?

Two friends. As thick as thieves. They made friends of the first day and became inseparable at the college. One boy winds up in the hospital. An accident?

Detective Jim Clemo (we met in Book #1) returns and is assigned to the case with colleague DC Justin Woodley.

Things become complicated. Social tensions arise of fear and fury. Both parents want to learn the truth. 

Noah is dying. Cancer. Terminally ill. 

He has a bucket list. Thirteen items. His #1 item. “Don’t tell anybody else I’m dying. Not even Abdi.”

They need Abdi to speak. 

A photo exhibit. Images from war and disaster zones. A racially motivated attack?

Neither boy can provide a version of what happened. Noah is in a coma and Adbi remains mute. Emma, a reporter stirs up emotions.

Both Noah’s and Abdi’s families are forced to confront emotions and secrets. 

Covering the course of 5 days of the investigation and the day after, the author covers media frenzy and social tensions, as well as emotions of diverse families, in this highly-charged third book. 

A story of family, love, loss, illness, and friendship. A realistic and timely storyline, with similar critical issues we are faced with today in our own society.

A special thank you to LibraryThing Early Reviewers and Harper Collins for an early reading copy. 

JDCMustReadBooks

 

Source: www.judithdcollinsconsulting.com/single-post/2017/06/21/Odd-Child-Out
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review 2017-09-19 02:01
ARC Review: Saved (Breaking Free #1) by A.M. Arthur
Saved: Breaking Free #1: An Omegaverse Story - A.M. Arthur

I've never read an A/B/O book such as this one. My only exposure to Alpha/Beta/Omega is in shifter books, but this isn't a shifter book.

In this A/B/O universe, there are no shifters. There are no females. There are Alphas who are in charge, Betas who are barren but are allowed to hold jobs and adopt children (usually Beta and Omega children), and Omegas who are the lowest of the low and whose sole purpose, it seems, is to be mated to Alphas and be good little breeders.

Hmmm... that sounds familiar.

In this dystopian future of the United States, the Federal Government is no more, constitutional rights are a thing of the past, and the country is broken up into small provinces which all have their own rules and laws. 

We first meet Braun, an Omega, 20 and close to his first heat, upon his father's death. Now a ward of the state, since omegas are third-class citizens at best, unable to inherit, unable to make any personal choices, Braun is sent to a group home for orphaned omegas. Beaten regularly by his father, abused not just physically but mentally as well, told all his life that his sole purpose is to become some alpha-hole's breeding bitch, Braun is certain that alphas cannot be trusted and that happiness is not something he can expect at all. His own brother Kell is mated to a horrible Alpha, and Braun knows that Kell's lot in life is his future as well.

This was a difficult book to read, and it's just as difficult to write a coherent review without spoilers. I would advise any potential reader to heed the warnings in the blurb. Be prepared to RAGE at the injustices within. There were numerous times when I sat in my chair, my Nook gripped in my hands, and my eyes blinded with tears caused by helpless rage. 

Consent isn't required between an Alpha and his Omega. Domestic discipline is within the law. Omegas have no rights to speak of, and little protection from abuse. 

Yeah, I raged. A lot. 

The themes in this book are rather comparable to our current political climate, and there are many parallels that can be drawn between what happens in the book and what's happening in this world today. 

I liked that Braun, despite his circumstances, still had fight left in him. I liked that Tarek (the Alpha who helps Braun) was considerate and kind and patient. He took the time to win Braun's trust, something Braun didn't give easily, and he helped Braun as much as he could. He wasn't perfect, far from it, but he tried and tried to do the right thing by the young man in his care, no matter how hard Braun fought believing that an Alpha could be kind. 

I also quite liked the two Betas who take Braun in and conceal him, and who help him through his first heat. It wasn't easy reading to watch Braun go through that.

None of this book was easy reading, though there is reason for hope that things may start to change to make the lives of omegas a little easier. 

Kell's book is next. That will likely be even more difficult to get through.

Despite the dark themes inside, I would recommend this series. 



** I received a free copy of this book from Indigo Marketing & Design. A positive review was not promised in return. **

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review 2017-09-15 11:00
ARC Review: Be My Best Man by Con Riley
Be My Best Man - Con Riley

Con Riley never disappoints, and this author just keeps getting better and better.

 

In Be My Best Man, Con not only gives us a beautiful romance, but also head-on tackles one of the big current social issues.

 

Vanya, early 20s, has fled his home country of Russia nearly eight months ago when he was found out as being gay and violently beaten because of his sexuality. Now in Britain, still traumatized and scared, his dreams of becoming a teacher dashed, he is waiting to get this asylum request approved so he can be granted the ability to have a job and earn an income. In his current limbo, though finally safe from persecution for his sexuality, he lives in a run-down hostel where he has befriended a young man and woman from Estonia, who are both in Britain legally as EU citizens but whose status under Brexit is also uncertain. The hostel is not really safe either, though Vanya shares a room with his friend Kaspar. Theft is rampant. Rooms are broken into. Women fear being assaulted.

The author created a character that I immediately connected with. Vanya struggles to learn English, practicing whenever and wherever he can, and his struggles were authentic and realistic. His loneliness was evident, and I felt for him right away.

 

Jason is a man in his early forties, who's recently had a falling out with his foster brother Andrew over the brother's recent engagement and wedding plans. See, it's the 3rd wedding, and Jason, without even meeting the girl in question, has already decided that this is just another mistake. He too felt lonely to me, when he was first introduced, despite being rather successful in his business, and it was fairly clear to me that he was shaped by his childhood experiences and didn't really trust anyone, other than his late foster mother and foster brother.

 

The meet-cute happens in the department store where Kaspar works and Vanya is visiting after his latest asylum appointment and Jason is hiding to wait for a call or text from Andrew. Jason thinks Vanya works in the store, and Vanya wants to practice his English. And get to know the hunky older man.

 

Jason's wrong assumption leads to him hiring Vanya as his personal shopper, and the two begin spending time together. This is where the story really begins to take shape.


Con Riley combined the sweet yet complicated romance that develops between these two men with the social issue of asylum seekers who have no legal standing, are usually running from persecution, scared to death, having to learn the customs of a country so foreign to them, and being generally looked down upon by many people. Vanya's plight, his uncertain status before asylum is granted, his internalized shame, was heart-breaking, and I wanted to reach into the book and hug him and protect him. He keeps a huge secret from Jason, and this secret nearly breaks them.

 

Jason on the other hand is oblivious to Vanya's struggles for a long time, not intentionally of course, but he doesn't realize how traumatized the young man is. He also doesn't realize for a long time how much he's hurting Andrew and his future wife, and how his distrust of Andrew knowing his own heart is jeopardizing the remaining piece of family he has. But he learns. Under Vanya's attention, Jason begins to question decisions he's made, and how wrong he might have been. With Vanya in his life, Jason starts to believe that love might be real after all. He goes to finally meet Andrew's lovely young fiancee, and he begins to see how much they are truly in love, to the point where he even steps in to... well, no, you read this yourself.

 

The author has an extraordinary talent in giving life to the characters and making them feel real. Vanya's skittishness, Jason's irrational anger (born out of heartache), the social circumstances, Vanya making huge mistakes born out of fear - everything in this book was absolutely realistic and relatable.

 

This book (and the romance) flows slowly, and it needs to. Trauma such as Vanya's takes time to overcome. Jason's disbelief in lasting love can't just suddenly disappear. They are both shaped by their experiences, and since neither feels safe to talk freely and openly about their fears, they don't have an easy path to their HEA.

 

Writing their story in the third person present tense was also a stroke of genius, because this reader felt even more connected to the characters this way. Read every word carefully - this isn't a book you can speed-read. You must savor every carefully crafted sentence, every brilliant paragraph, and let the story unfold in real time to get the full impact. Vanya's English is heavily accented, and it's written in such a way, that I could easily "hear" him speaking the words.

 

I cried a few times. I wanted Jason to pull his head out of his ass. I wanted to shield Vanya from the big, bad world and give him shelter. I loved these characters, I loved this story, and I absolutely highly recommend that you read it.

 

Get to it.

 


** I received a free copy of this book from Signal Boost Promotions as part of the review tour for an honest and fair review. **

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review 2017-08-08 19:25
The Ballad of Black Tom - Victor LaValle  
The Ballad of Black Tom - Victor LaValle

These days we know from ranting, gibbering, racist, sexist, nasty-ass old men horrifying their friends and relations with pointless cruel stupidity, stunning everyone at the festive holiday gathering into silence. LaValle answers Lovecraft's most vile, offensive story, with a work of terrible beauty. "Ah, yes," you think as you close the shorts book: "that's what I wish I had thought to say." Order has been restored, the nasty old man has had his ass whipped in public.

You know what horror is? How far we haven't come in a century.

Damn, I love this story. I just want to go around smacking people upside the head with it, mostly figuratively. Perhaps the most thoroughly satisfying work I've ever read.

Library copy

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