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review 2018-03-12 02:58
ARC Review: Orange by B.G. Thomas
Orange - B.G. Thomas
I'm going to first talk about the book, the story, the two MCs, and the writing. The author's typical writing style is within the pages, and its familiarity (I have read almost all of this author's books) was soothing. I also liked the plot of two very different people meeting and finding each other, finding what they needed from each other, forging a path together that will surely lead them to their happy ever after. and experiencing personal growth. Both Frank and Roy are flawed and complex, both keep others at arm's length - Frank because of what he was taught by his father Glen (more on him soon), and Roy because of shame and fear. Because he was in jail, and because he's only recently figured out that he might be gay. 

I liked Harry and Cody, and Roy's grandmother as supporting characters, who all brought something the the table, and in some instances served as catalysts to further the plot. While we don't find out a lot about Harry and Cody in this book, there are some revelations about Roy's granny that really moved the plot forward. 

I loved how the romance unfolded, how Frank was blindsided by his feelings for Roy, how he tried to deny them, and how he failed. I loved how Roy began questioning his sexuality, and how his reflections of his actions in the past helped him get a clearer picture and overcome his fear. Obviously, there's angst in this book, as the two men approach the budding relationship from two very different angles, and neither is certain early on that a pursuit of the relationship is advisable or desirable. There are missteps, there is fear, there is shame, and there is anger. But ultimately, this book is about two very different men falling and being in love, perhaps for the very first time in their lives. Their path to real love was a bit rough and had a few sharp turns, but they stayed the course.

And now, let's talk about Glen, Frank's father. Massive mother bear rant ahead. You'll want to skip to the end if that sort of thing bothers you. Since it's also slighly spoilerish, there be some tags around some of it. 

Glen made me ragey. Here we have a man who decided to do a huge fuck-you to his ex-wife, the mother of his child, and basically city-hopped with their son from age 5 until Frank had enough of the nomadic lifestyle and forged his own path in KC. Sure, Frank's life with Glen wasn't entirely horrible, and he sure got to see some awesome places, but Glen's endless womanizing and the constant moving, really screwed with Frank's sense of self, knowing his place in the world, and his views on love and finding a life partner. I was already pissed at Glen fairly early on, when I found out about the constant moving and introducing woman after woman into the life of his impressionable son and seeming to be PROUD of that shit, but when the real truth comes out
and Frank's mother contacts him, tearfully confessing that she's been looking for him for 20 years, and that Glen kept eluding her, and then hearing from Glen that one particular woman he was romancing, with whom Frank had developed a strong relationship, was dropped because she was pregnant and subsequently had an abortion, pretty much as Glen's behest
(spoiler show)
  - well, that took the fucking cake. My status update at that point, around 60% or so (I wasn't keeping track, really, because I was so ANGRY) was fueled by RAGE and TEARS. Fuck you, Glen. You narcissistic, sociopathic, selfish asshole. 

So. There you have it. Any book that can bring out such strong emotions - it certainly deserves to have its rating rounded up. I also want to make clear that while I wanted to punch Glen on more than one occasion (and I'm not a violent person at all), I also very much appreciated how the author chose to finalize things for this character's involvement in Frank's life. Justice in this case was very sweet indeed.

As always, the author's writing style is distinctive, which may not work for everyone, but it certainly works for me. 

I don't usually comment on covers. I'm not enamored with this one, but please don't let that turn you off giving this book a chance. What's behind the cover is worth your time.

** I received a free copy of this book from its publisher in exchange for an honest and unbiased review. **


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review 2017-11-10 00:33
ARC Review: Birthday Presents by Dianne Hartsock
Birthday Presents - Dianne Hartsock

This is NOT a romance. This is a horror story. I knew this going in, and I was still pretty horrified while reading. 

Birthday Presents is dark. It contains rape, torture, and death. The villain is seriously disturbed. There are explicit scenes that are difficult to read. This book is not for the faint-hearted. 

The plot is fairly straight-forward, and we know from the get-go who the villain is. Spending time in Crimson's mind made me want to bleach my brain to get the disturbing images gone - he's vile and insane. He's a hunter, he is a murderer, and he has no conscience. He lives for the hunt, for the kill, for the depravity of his actions.

There's an attempt at making the reader sympathize with the villain, though that didn't work with me - I am firmly in the camp of not believing that a rough and abusive upbringing excuses the actions of our villain. 

I appreciated that the author gave the victims strength and allowed them to be more than just simpering damsels in distress. They fight for their survival, they do what they must to live. 

There's a bit of a mystery as to who's helping the villain, though I wasn't completely shocked to find out who the mystery person was - there were sufficient hints along the way. Still, that was a well-done plot point that kept me at the edge of my seat.

I hope that Tracey and Kyle get the psychological help they both need after living through these horrors, but I felt confident that they will both get through this. As for the little bit of romance we get toward the end, between Gene and his co-worker - that development came a little out of left field for me, and I didn't quite buy the long-time pining that's insinuated here. 

The writing was inconsistent in some instances, and I had to reread a few passages to understand what the author was trying to tell me. I also thought that the characterizations were uneven, and in some moments, the characters' actions didn't make sense to me. YMMV.



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

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review 2017-09-25 00:56
ARC Review: Pins And Needles by A.J. Thomas
Pins and Needles - A.J. Thomas

This is only my 2nd book by this author. The title is apt - I was on pins and needles for most of the time while reading this excellent story of suspense, intrigue, and romance among the ruins. 

Okay, so that latter part is a bit hyperbole - there are no actual ruins, per se. What is in ruins however is a promising career, a father/son relationship, and an invention that could revolutionize a part of the oil industry.

But I'm getting ahead of myself...

This is a complex story, and it would behoove the reader to read slowly and carefully, much in line with the slow progression of the story. As it is so often the case, all is not what it seems, and it takes some time to untangle the many threads that make up this particular plot.

The book begins by introducing us to Nate Delany, a young lawyer working for his father's well-known company, who is basically the do-boy for another lawyer, and whose briefs, as eloquent and well-researched as they are, are not getting credited to him, but the "supervising" attorney. Nate is frustrated, especially as his father doesn't seem to realize that the brilliant briefs "written by" the supervising attorney are actually his son's work and believes that Nate is just a slacker, unable to run the company himself. At the end of his rope, Nate quits. 

On his way out, his assistant gives him the name and number of a man who had an appointment with the supervising attorney, but who was apparently deemed too rough, with too many tattoos, to warrant the jerk's time. 

Nate makes a call. Nate makes a visit to the hospital where he meets Sean Wilkinson, whose former foster father Hawk was the man rejected by Nate's father's lawyer. As Nate hears what happened to Sean, he can't help but be intrigued by the young man who after a terrible accident lost not only his leg, but also his livelihood and his career as a petroleum engineer.

Hounded by his employer's lawyers to agree to a ridiculous settlement after the accident, Sean needs someone in his corner to help him navigate these new rough waters. And Nate is just the guy to do that.

Both MCs have their own personal struggles and rather different personality-wise. 

Sean, with his difficult early life and rough upbringing, isn't quick to trust anyone and plays his cards rather close to his chest. He's not only a brilliant engineer, but also a fantastic tattoo artist, who learned the craft in his foster father's shop. Hawk is perhaps the closest thing to a real father Sean has, and their relationship is very close and supportive. He doesn't have any close friends; in fact even the people with whom he spent months at sea don't really know him at all, including his boss, with whom Sean has had an affair since he interned with the company at 19. 

Nate, on the other hand, had a rather normal, if affluent, childhood and appears to most people as someone who had everything handed to him - with his last name being so well-known and the assumptions which come with that. His personal struggles aren't as obvious, but they're just as real. Nate has to prove himself repeatedly at his father's company, more so really than any other newly minted attorney would have to, because he's his father's son. In addition, his parents have more or less forsaken him because their older son is a bigot and doesn't want his children or his wife anywhere near Nate. Since, you know, homosexuality clearly rubs off and we must think of the children. For years, Nate hasn't been able to spend holidayrs or any quality time with his family; it's as if he's been erased. No photographs of Nate are displayed at their house - it's as if he doesn't even exist. His name isn't ever mentioned around the older son, and his brother's kids have zero relationship with him. 

Taking on Sean as his first client after quitting his father's firm seems like a great idea at the time, even if it's just fighting for Sean to get the biggest possible settlement for the accident that cost him one of his legs, but there's a lot more to their case than just that. See, Sean invented something that's been used on the ship, and the case now also involves intellectual property rights. 

And someone may be out to kill Sean to silence him.

The romance that develops between Nate and Sean is by design a super slow burn. Not only is Sean seriously injured and still recovering from the accident, but he's also Nate's client, and there are a bunch of ethical issues to consider before the two of them can be together. As an added detriment, when Nate tries to find another law firm to represent Sean and remove the ethics issue, he finds that many firms will not even consider taking him on, because of who Nate's father is. No matter how brightly the attraction burns between them, Nate must first and foremost consider that any romantic relationship they might have could adversely impact Sean's day in court. 

Underneath all the suspense and intrigue, the point this book drives home time and again is that of family. Not necessarily the one you're born into, but the one you choose, the one you make for yourself. And for that, Sean had a great example in Hawk, his mother's ex-boyfriend, who took him in, no questions asked, when Sean was kicked out at home for being gay. A man who never asked for anything but was there time and again when Sean needed him. A man who not only gave him a home but also a way of paying the bills, when he taught him the fine art of tattooing. Nate has an example too, really - that of how NOT to treat your family. While I believe his parents loved him, they never even considered how hurtful their behavior was when they excluded Nate to appease their older son's homophobia and bigotry. 

My only niggle came toward the end of the book, during the big reveal as to who was behind all the bad things that happened. It felt a little over the top, and the villain really came out of left field, to be honest. Sure, the explanation made sense, but the way it all went down was a little... too much, I guess. 

Still, this was definitely an enjoyable read, with a satisfying HFN, and I would recommend you give this book a try. I don't think you'll be disappointed.

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

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review 2017-08-21 17:00
ARC Review: Gabriel (Legacy Ranch #2) by RJ Scott
Gabriel (Legacy Series Book 2) - RJ Scott

Gabriel, book 2 in the Legacy Ranch series by this author, was a difficult book to read, primarily because of the abuse Gabriel suffers and has suffered. If you saw my status updates while I was reading this book, you know that I wished a painful and horrific death upon Stefan, the pimp who picked up Gabriel after the trial and who exploited Gabriel's low self-esteem, his weakness and pain, to make him hurt even more.

I'm not sorry for wanting that slimeball dead. 

Gabriel is trapped. While he has escaped the abuse he suffered at the ranch, he's still not free of it. He honestly believes that all he's good for is sex, a lie fed to him repeatedly, constantly, by his pimp, and on those few occasions that Gabriel dares reach for just a little more, like Kyle's letters inviting him to Legacy Ranch, Stefan knows how to keep him down. With fists and dub-con sex, telling him that he's good for nothing else, reinforcing what Gabriel already believes himself to be.

Cameron Stafford, hotel owner, nearly blind from a degenerative disease, just wants his awful, cruel family off his back. His last boyfriend was a no-good thief who stole from him, and Cam has no delusions of finding someone permanent, and he relies heavily on Six, his bodyguard/friend, who's been with him for many years. 

Gabe's latest client has booked a room in Cam's hotel, which is how Cam finds out about Gabe and then decides to hire him as a fake boyfriend. 

It's not as cute as that may sound. Cam's family is ridiculously nasty to him, over the top nasty, to be honest, and Cam's father is trying to take running the hotel away from him, because clearly, someone who's blind cannot possibly run a hotel. Right. Sit down, you jerk.

And Gabe - OMG, he broke my heart. There are a few outs that present themselves to Gabe, ways out of the hell he lives in, but he's too broken, too afraid, to trust and take them, instead returning time and again to his abusive pimp. I cried and cried, and wanted Stefan dead. I don't usually react with such violence to a fictional character, so my reaction to Stefan should tell you how abhorrent his character truly is. There is nothing redeeming about him, and when he meets his demise, I cheered. 

I would have liked to see a bit more development of Cam's and Gabe's romantic relationship - unfortunately, we are mostly told that they develop feelings for each other. Cam tries hard to show Gabe that there is another way, that he doesn't have to stay with Stefan, and I liked that he didn't give up. Sure, he had help from Six, even if it was reluctantly given, but I could see that Six only wanted what was best for Cam, and didn't at first believe that Gabe fit the bill. 

Both characters have experienced pain and hurt, though Gabe's abuse was obviously much more horrific. I felt for both of them, cried at the damage inflicted on them by others, and I wanted them to have their happy ending.

Which, of course, they get. This is a romance, after all. I would have liked that to have been expanded on a bit more, and I felt that the ending wrapped up a bit too quickly. Most of the book also takes place away from Legacy Ranch, and we get only a few scenes there. 

Overall, this book had a very different feel than the first one in this spin-off series. It's a lot heavier, I believe, and on more than one occasion, I wanted to reach into the pages and alternately strangle Stefan, and grab Gabriel and Cameron and shield them both from the people who wanted to hurt them. 

Not an easy book to read, but, I would say, worth your time.

** I received a free copy of this book from its author via Signal Boost Promotions. A positive review was not promised in return. **

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review 2017-06-03 01:39
ARC Review: Symbols by Mario Kai Lipinski
Symbols - Mario Kai Lipinski

Gosh, I wanted to love this book. I mean, read the blurb - the bullied kid who's spent his days hiding from everyone slowly falls for the gentle giant at the high school they both attend, until an act of violence threatens to tear them both apart... yeah, I signed up immediately for the ARC.

And for the first half or so, this book held me in its grip, as the story between Matt, the bullied kid, and Shane, the gentle giant, unfolds, as Matt begins to trust Shane, as they fall in love and forge a path together.

Yes, sure, there were some issues with the dialogue, which I attributed to the author not being a native speaker and not living in the US so research into how teens talk these days would have been tricky. And yes, sure, the principal pontificates to Shane when he first starts about there being a zero-tolerance policy at the school, and yet she has no idea that Matt has been bullied for years, hiding in corners, shaking and utterly miserable, terrified, in tears, something that even the cafeteria cashier has noticed, yet the principal has no clue - how's that possible? And why wouldn't the cafeteria cashier talk to an adult at the school? Many of the bullying incidents happen in hallways or inside the cafeteria, and yet nobody addresses it.

Still, it was engaging, and was invested.

However, right about the time, Matt is beaten up and ends up in a coma in the hospital, this book took a massive nose-dive. The asshole detective that arrests Shane for allegedly causing Matt's injuries (he didn't), the subplot with Shane engaging Matt's long-time nemesis to find the real perpetrator, the court date, the dramatic last minute rescue by Shane's former friend, the drama with Matt's mother's reaction to Shane's size, the nasty old woman on the bus, and, and, and - it was just all too much and too over the top and too unrealistic in how much was piled on Matt and Shane's shoulders.

Look, I got that the author tried to make the point that one shouldn't judge a book by its cover, i.e. a teenager by his size and tattoos, but good grief, that point wasn't just made so much as hammered home time and again. And Shane, whom I adored, just took the judgments time and again, making all kinds of excuses for people's reactions to him. I hated that he did that. I hated that people would judge him just based on his looks and not his actions. For Matt's mother to think that Shane had hurt Matt, for anyone to think that Shane would hurt a fucking fly just because he's super tall, just pissed me off.

And yeah, I knew who the villain was going to be, but the reasoning behind the violent attack was pathetic. The perpetrator's characterization up to that point didn't indicate anything like what was given as a reason - I didn't buy it at all, and thought that it was just too convenient.

I loved both Matt and Shane, and I loved how gentle Shane was with Matt, and how Matt came out of his shell over time, and became the stronger one of the two. Their relationship was well done, and the author did a fantastic job bringing across the emotional bond between the two young men. What I didn't like so much were the multiple incidents of miscommunication and false assumptions that both of them make, but I chalked that off to them being young.

I think it can be very difficult for a non-native speaker to successfully write authentic dialogue as language continually evolves, especially in this day and age, and that the manner in which teens talk cannot be gleaned from, say, books, TV shows, or movies.

The premise was fantastic - the execution not so much. Still, three stars is nothing to scoff at. I did enjoy reading this book for the most part, and I did love Matt and Shane.

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

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