Vicious (Sinners of Saint #1) by L J Shen

Book Description:

Published: December 27, 2016

Format: Audio/Audible

Emilia

They say love and hate are the same feelings experienced under different circumstances, and it’s true.The man who comes to me in my dreams also haunts me in my nightmares. He is a brilliant lawyer. A skilled criminal. A beautiful liar. A bully and a savior, a monster and a lover.

Ten years ago, he made me run away from the small town where we lived. Now, he came for me in New York, and he isn’t leaving until he takes me with him.

Vicious

She is a starving artist. Pretty and evasive like cherry blossom. Ten years ago, she barged into my life unannounced and turned everything upside down. She paid the price.

Emilia LeBlanc is completely off-limits, my best friend’s ex-girlfriend. The woman who knows my darkest secret, and the daughter of the cheap Help we hired to take care of our estate. That should deter me from chasing her, but it doesn’t. So she hates me. Big fucking deal. She better get used to me.

Review –

I always love a good “love/hate” relationship in my books and this one has it in spades !!!

Barron Spencer, more commonly known as Vicious, is a great anti-hero.  HE IS NOT A NICE MAN.  He’s not a good guy in disguise, he’s never redeemed, and he’s never apologetic for the cruel things he does, the cruelest of which is to Emilia, the heroine.

The story starts in the past.  Emilia is the daughter of ‘the help’ who looks after the home Vicious lives in.  She overhears a conversation he is having with someone and from that moment on he is determined to get rid of her.  He’s afraid she heard something he didn’t want her to know.  There is another issue, though, and that is that Vicious is attracted to her.  They are in the same grade at high school.  But when she starts dating one of his good friends, that’s it, he blackmails her into leaving her home, her family, and everything she loves.

The story picks up years later when Vicious runs into her at a bar she’s waitressing at and he decides he’s going to meddle in her life again and then sets about it.  He makes her an offer she can’t refuse, working for him, and he proceeds to run her life.  The reason Vicious has pulled her back into his web is to use her in a revenge plot.  The only reason Emilia allows it is that she has always had feelings for Vicious and sees a side to him that he hides from the rest of the world.  Since the story is told in first person in alternate POV, we get to see the same glimpses Emilia does.

I found this book a very compelling read, though not the easiest  at times. Although Vicious has no real redeeming qualities, Emilia sees him for exactly who and what he is.  She doesn’t connect the dots until later, but goes into the relationship with both eyes wide open and prepared for heartbreak.  I like her as a heroine, I really do.  She’s been through fire because of Vicious and has come out very much stronger because of it.  I give huge kudos to the author for writing such a controversial yet gripping male protagonist.

 

 

 

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Stinger by Mia Sheridan

Book Description:

Published: September 23, 2013

Format: Audio/Audible

Grace Hamilton was the girl with a plan. She knew exactly where her life was going and prided herself on always achieving her goals. It was who she was, and how she lived her life. She never stepped outside the lines, and never considered what she might desire and whom she was actually trying so hard to please. Until him . . .

Carson Stinger was a man who didn’t play by any rules except his own. Working in the adult entertainment industry, he didn’t care what others thought, and took each day as it came, no direction, no plan. He knew what women wanted from him and believed it was all he had to offer. Until her . . .

When circumstances forced them to spend several hours together, they walked away changed. But for two people who never should have meshed, overcoming the reality of their vastly different lives wasn’t possible. At least not yet . . .

THIS IS A STANDALONE SIGN OF LOVE NOVEL, INSPIRED BY SCORPIO. New Adult Contemporary Romance: Due to strong language and sexual content, this book is not intended for readers under the age of 18.

Review –

This was my first reading by this author and she  weaves a wonderful story of two polar-opposite people, who are in the wrong place at the wrong time or, maybe, the right place at the right time. It all depends on how you look at it. Porn Star meets Law Student. Definitely not something I would normally be drawn to, but how about ex-porn star turned Navy SEAL meets law student, turned D.A., now there’s a story!

The story itself spans years, but we keep tabs on both players and what is going on in their lives. I absolutely love the romantic scenes and the shift from sex to love. Carson and Grace are a perfect couple, even if it takes a five years to figure it out. The bond that they created years before shifted how they saw themselves and the choices that they made. All because of one weekend. LOVED IT!

 

Unmasked Volume Three (Unmasked #3) by Cassia Leo

Book Description:

Published: August 15, 2014

Format: Audio/Audible

My entire life has been unmasked.

Everything I thought to be true has been called into question.

Whom do I trust? What do I believe?

With two men promising to keep me safe and one promising to give me my life back, which path do I choose?

Masked or unmasked?

Review –

Volume Three opens with Daimon showing Alex that he is alive, that he still loves her, and he knows that she is carrying their baby. Daimon tries to tell her the more of her past and the truth about her parents and the prince and princess. Daimon tells her that Nick is a bounty hunter but Alex does not believe him until things start to fall into place.

Nick and Alex are on a boat racing to get to the plane to take her to meet her parents. But Nick slips up and calls her Alex. Can someone please tell me if that was a flaw on the writers part because I remember Nick telling Alex that he knows her name is not Alyssa and is Alex and that her parents are the prince and princess. So my question is even though he continued to call her Alyssa how was that a slip REALLY. I think Alex confirmed the information when she agreed to meet her “parents”.

That was just one thing that bothered me in this installment. The rest are too numerous to mention, surficce it to say, I’m glad I’m done with this series.

 

Unmasked, Volume Two (Unmasked #2) by Cassia Leo

Book Description:

Published: June 25, 2014

Format: Audio/OverDrive

I left my former life – and my mask – behind.

Running from a past where I was born unloved. A past where I was betrayed by love.

Running from an organization with limitless power and stealth. Running for my life.

I never expected to find love on the run. Not in a tiny seaside town on an island in the middle of nowhere.

Not without my mask.

But it seems as if my sad story is being rewritten with someone else’s pen. But whose pen is it?

This question haunts me day and night. And I get my answer on a perfectly decadent evening. When I come home to find my bedroom perfumed with the scent of death.

He’s here.

Review –

Like the first book this one is all over the place and a little difficult to follow but hang in there, answers start to come when the book changes to Diamon’s point of view and  Alex’s world starts to turn upside down!

Alex is now going by the alias Alyssa, hiding out in the Canary Islands, trying to figure out her past. Diamon led her to believe she is the kidnapped daughter of the Princess of Monaco – so ridiculous, but could Diamon be telling the truth and she killed him anyway? Who exactly were her parents then? Now she has time to think and  isn’t one hundred percent sure she killed Diamon.

She is incredibly suspicious of everyone, especially Nicholas, the beautiful Spanish man who befriends Alex. I think since Alex was locked in her basement as a girl, then trapped in her apartment as a young woman, her senses are heightened. She can smell Diamon in her house and on her clothes and it turns her on completely! God knows Nicholas doesn’t do anything for her. Alex’s world will never be the same – her body is changing, she is out in the open without her thick mask of makeup, & her feelings about Diamon are torn – she called him “my protector & my enemy.”

I didn’t like this installment nearly as much as I did the first and wasn’t sure if I’d finish the series, but WTH, I might as well.

 

 

The Last Days of August by Jon Ronson

Book Description:

Published: January 3, 2019

Format: Audio/Audible

In December 2017 the famous porn star August Ames committed suicide in a park in the Conejo Valley. It happened a day after she’d been the victim of a pile-on, via Twitter, by fellow porn professionals – punishment for her tweeting something deemed homophobic.

A month later, August’s husband, Kevin, connected with Jon Ronson to tell the story of how Twitter bullying killed his wife. What neither Kevin nor Ronson realized was that Ronson would soon hear rumors and secrets hinting at a very different story – something mysterious and unexpected and terrible.

In The Last Days of August, Ronson unravels the never-before-told story of what caused this beloved 23-year-old actress’ untimely death.

Review –

Until Ronson, a Welsh author, starts digging, the popular theory surrounding Ames’ suicide is that she died in response to being dragged on Twitter after making homophobic comments.

Ronson delves into these comments, gradually revealing what was said, who @’d whom, and whether Ames even saw the most vicious tweets before she died. Ames’ widower Kevin Moore has some cockamamie reasoning for why he doesn’t think the tweets were homophobic (they were), but that’s not the real issue in the podcast.

The real issue appears at the first episode’s end, when Ronson drops an interview with Ames’ friend and fellow porn actress Emma Hix. Hix says Moore had asked her to “hold a lot of things in” and not expose Ames’ “dirty little secrets.” And we’re off to the races! Except that Ronson opens the next episode with an attempt to contextualize the blood-chilling audio—deus ex machina-style—from his perspective at the end of the podcast’s investigation phase, 10 months in the future: “This will not turn out to be a murder mystery,” he says. I think that may be a big reason we all like Ronson so much—he’s got one hell of a story to tell us, but he doesn’t want to unfairly smear Moore as a murderer, in case you don’t finish all seven episodes.

The twists and turns of The Last Days of August exhausted me. Ronson runs back and forth between subjects like a reality show producer; Moore won’t let Ames hang out with her friends, Moore says Ames’ friends are pressuring her to do drugs, and so on. It feels like nothing solid ever comes out of the interviews. I can’t promise you’ll finish August feeling like a great veil has been yanked back from what Ames was thinking or what truly happened to her. But August is a fascinating show that manages something truly curious: It presents people from the porn industry quite nakedly, and you never even see them.

At the end of this sad tale nothing has been solved. No one truly knows by August Ames decided to hang herself on a stormy night in December of 2017.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Above, August Ames with husband, Kevin Moore in 2016.

Unmasked, Volume One (Unmasked #1) by Cassia Leo

Book Description:

Published: June 10, 2014

Format: Audio/Audible

I was born into this world unwanted.

I spent the first hours of my life unloved.

I spent the first eighteen years of my life with the parents who tried to shelter me from the harsh reality of my existence.

But you can’t un-write a sad story if the ending is literally written all over your face.

So I moved out and now I hide. I have a night job that pays the bills. Every night, I put on my mask and walk to work.

Then one night, I hear and see something that will change my purpose in life… forever: a murder that will bring him to me.

He says he wants to protect me. And, through a series of events I can’t fully make sense of, I find myself believing him.

But our nightly visits are always cloaked in darkness. I don’t know his face and he will never know mine.

I was born into this world unwanted. I will leave this world unmasked.

Review –

WTH !!!

This has to be the strangest book that I have listened/read in a very long time, I mean my mouth was agape at the end. I couldn’t believe it!  Still can’t.

This series has three parts or volumes and this first installment explores Alex’s past, the notion of beauty, the necessity of hiding, the consequences of secrets and betrayals. You can easily devour this first volume in one sitting  Enlivened by the author’s expert writing, you’ll be lured in by this sinister tale and fascinated by this 19-year-old girl whose actions are so unexpected that it keeps you guessing at what will surprise you next. Certainly the end was shocking in more ways than one!

A chilling mystery where desire, deception, secrets and betrayal mix in a deadly combination that leaves you wanting more.

Five stars.

Defy (Sinners of Saint #0.5) by L J Shen

Book Description:

Published: January 31, 207

Format: Audio/Audible

Defy is a smutty, insta-love, insta-lust short novella. Defy is a prequel to Vicious. It is recommended, but unnecessary, to read Defy before reading Vicious.

My name is Melody Greene, and I have a confession to make.
I slept with my student, a senior in high school.
Multiple times.
I had multiple orgasms.
In multiple positions.
I slept with my student and I enjoyed it.
I slept with my student and I’d do it all over again if I could turn back time.
My name is Melody Greene, and I got kicked out of my position as a teacher and did my walk of shame a la Cersei Lannister from the principal’s office, minutes after said principal threatened to call the cops on me.
My name is Melody Greene, and I did something bad because it made me feel good.
Here is why it was totally worth it.

Review –

I usually never read Teacher/Student contemporary romances because they are too “icky”, but this was a prequel to Vicious, which I did want to read, so I read it and I loved it.

Jamie is unlike any eighteen year old boy I knew in my teens, but this is fiction, after all. He is self-assured, cocky, hot and sexy and seems to know just what a woman eight years his senior wanted sexually. 

Melody isn’t your token stiff, boring, literature teacher and they get together when Jamie is  literally three months away from graduation. Melody was relatable in that she owned up to her lust for Jamie right away. She wasn’t a predator, she was more of the prey. Who can resist a guy like Jamie? She was in a tough position in life that makes it easy to understand why she would throw caution to the wind and consider an illicit affair with a student.

One thing I LOVED was Jamie’s unwavering devotion to Melody. He may have been so much younger than her, but he had the backbone and loyalty many full-grown men could use. He wasn’t just a teenager wanting to bang his teacher to have something to tell his pals over a few drinks. Genuine feelings took root and didn’t let go and transformed this book from just a forbidden fantasy story, to something a lot deeper and meaningful. True romance at its best. It won’t take you more than a couple of hours to read this one, so I highly recommend you pick it up right away, especially if you’re planning to read Vicious or the other books in the series.

 

The Sleepwalker by Chris Bohjalian

Book Description:

Published: January 10, 2017

Format: Audio/OverDrive

When Annalee Ahlberg goes missing, her children fear the worst. Annalee is a sleepwalker whose affliction manifests in ways both bizarre and devastating. Once, she merely destroyed the hydrangeas in front of her Vermont home. More terrifying was the night her older daughter, Lianna, pulled her back from the precipice of the Gale River bridge.

The morning of Annalee’s disappearance, a search party combs the nearby woods. Annalee’s husband, Warren, flies home from a business trip. Lianna is questioned by a young, hazel-eyed detective. And her little sister, Paige, takes to swimming the Gale to look for clues. When the police discover a small swatch of fabric, a nightshirt, ripped and hanging from a tree branch, it seems certain Annalee is dead, but Gavin Rikert, the hazel-eyed detective, continues to call, continues to stop by the Ahlbergs’ Victorian home.

As Lianna peels back the layers of mystery surrounding Annalee’s disappearance, she finds herself drawn to Gavin, but she must ask herself: Why does the detective know so much about her mother? Why did Annalee leave her bed only when her father was away? And if she really died while sleepwalking, where was the body?

Conjuring the strange and mysterious world of parasomnia, a place somewhere between dreaming and wakefulness, The Sleepwalker is a masterful novel from one of our most treasured storytellers.

Review –

I loved the first book I read by this author, The Flight Attendant, and so was confident that this one would be just as good. I was very wrong!

I was bored to tears during most of the book and wondered if ANYTHING would ever happen. The first two-thirds of the book are spent wondering whether Annalee is missing or dead. Once we find out, the pace picks up, but the only reason the ending is a surprise is because most of the clues seeded in the first two-thirds prove to be red herrings.

Sensational subject matter aside, this thriller is a sleeper.

I will wait a while before reading another from this author.

 

 

Complicated by Kristen Ashley

Book Description:

Published: May 2, 2017

Format: Audio/Audible

When small-town Nebraska sheriff Hixon Drake meets Greta Dare, the connection couldn’t be stronger, but the timing couldn’t be worse.

Dealing with the fallout of a divorce he never wanted and setting up a new home for his kids, Hix becomes that guy, that one he never wanted to be, and puts a stop to things before they can even start. Protecting his kids and himself is his only priority.

Greta, on the other hand, has found the place for her and the brother she adores that’s perfect for them – a sleepy little town in Nebraska. She’s learned from life that there are no hopes and dreams. The only thing to look forward to is peace. And that’s what she works hard to build for herself and her brother. Right up until Hix walks into her life.

Hix can’t fight the pull and stay away from Greta for long. And Greta’s finding it hard not to hope for something more with all the promise that is Hix.

But when the first murder that’s happened in over five decades rocks his small, sleepy county, Hix has got to learn to trust again, convince Greta to take a shot with him, and at the same time catch a killer.

In other words, things are definitely Complicated.

Review –

Complicated was a luscious standalone gem from an author that is new to me and I’ve heard can be  hit or miss. This one was definitely a HIT full of later life dreams come true.  The book is full of all sorts of interesting plot threads that radiate out from the two main characters.  They were likeable and lovable and they both had lives that marked them so their character depths were well-deep and many faceted.

On the surface, it could be reduced down to two divorcees- one recent and one a few years old finding a connection, but not expecting the connection or what follows when small town friends and family are also involved.  That was pretty good, but what took this one deeper for me was that the author took the time to tease out what killed the old relationships and what built this new one that was stronger and richer for the pair of them.  There are exes, conflicted children, interfering parents, and all sorts of small town stuff including their separate friends and places of employment.  The mystery is interesting and Hixon is the sheriff so he must deal with that, but it was interesting in the sense, too, of how it hit the community and the family of the victim.

This author seems to know how to make ordinary people with flaws and their simple, but flawed lives fascinating and story-worthy.   Hixon and Greta were a surprising pair in some ways.  But after a few false starts, they really make sense- the devilishly handsome family man county sheriff with the hair-stylist lounge singer once trailer trash woman with an adult brother with disabilities and a crazy-wacko mother.

Characters didn’t get lost in their heads or unnecessarily drama this up.  There are sections of character development and reflection as well as action which was a great balance.  These characters were mature (well, the ones who were meant to be portrayed as mature) and acted like it.  And while this was long,(over 18 hours on audio) it did not drag.  There is a lot going on and it all was natural to the story and equally engaging.

This is an Audible exclusive release and I was thrilled to encounter a new pair of fantastic narrators in Lance Greenfield and Erin Mallon.  Sections were told by Hixon with Lance taking the lead and then sections by Erin.  Both were a great match for their particular character counter-parts and did a great job with the large cast of characters ranging from kids to older folk.  There are many emotions to portray and changes in mood that were transitioned well.  Humor, sadness, and firework-worthy passion was superb.

I really enjoyed this book and I call it “soft smut” because although there is plenty of HOT sex and STEAMY sexual chemistry, it isn’t all up in your face and along with the sex is a very believable storyline with engaging characters.

This was my first listen to a book by Kristen Ashley and I’ll be adding more of her books to my TBR list.

Five stars!

 

Unbeloved (Undeniable #4) by Madeline Sheehan

Book Description:

Published: June 23, 2014

Format: Audio/Audible

Dorothy Kelley is a born romantic, searching for her prince. Instead she finds herself pregnant at fifteen, and in a loveless marriage by the tender age of eighteen.

Then hope comes riding into her life on a motorcycle and within weeks, Jason “Jase” Brady, a member of the Hell’s Horsemen Motorcycle Club, sweeps Dorothy off her feet.

But nothing is ever simple for Dorothy. Jase is married with children. And as Dorothy patiently waits for Jase to give her the happily-ever-after she’s been dreaming about, James “Hawk” Young, a member of the Hell’s Horsemen with secrets of his own, sees an opening into Dorothy’s life and takes it.

Carrying on two secret affairs is no easy feat. As Dorothy tries to dig herself out of the mess she’s created, covering one mistake with another, tragedy strikes, nearly costing Dorothy her life and that of her unborn son.

What follows is a long and painful journey of self-discovery and forgiveness, as Dorothy comes to realize that home was exactly where she’d left it, and the love she’d forever craved had always been within her reach.

This is the story of Dorothy, Jase, and Hawk.

We are all born pure; it is our journey that burdens us and leads us astray. Our mistakes that beat us down and cover us in guilt and shame, burying us a little more with each passing hardship. It is up to us to dig ourselves out, to come to terms with our faults, to embrace not only our imperfections but those of the ones we love, and to once again find the path we strayed from.

Warning: This is not a conventional or predictable love story. It involves one woman and two men bound by a love so destructive it spans two decades, pitting brother against brother, and shattering the lives of those touched by it.

Review –

This book is such an emotional ride about so many broken individuals that it left me feeling a bit sad about the hardships they faced, the things they missed, the bumps they hit.  No, some things may not seem fair.  Love isn’t easy for them.  But true love stayed true ’til the end.  Through the good and the bad.  Dorothy’s story is not the same as the others in the series.  And I was perfectly ok with that.

As much as I cared for Dorothy before, I truly came to understand her and feel for her in this book.  Her life, her emotions, her wants and needs.  What a life she’s had!  Then there’s Jace who might’ve broken my heart too.  And lastly there’s Hawk.  Who stole my heart!

Another job very well done for Madeline Sheehan who manages to suck me into her world with every installment in new ways.  And what about the CLIFFHANGER ending!!!!!!!!    OMG! No spoilers, but I can’t find the next book FREE so I’ll have to wait awhile, but no matter how long it takes I will not forget any of the characters that I have met in this series.