Before. After. Always. by Morgan Lee Miller

Potential not seen through

I picked this book up as I absolutely loved the previous book I read by this author. And this book had so much potential! The beginning of this book had me hooked yet, somehow along the way, I started to be less engaged. By the end, instead of feeling elated at the immense HEA, I just felt disappointed.

I’m unsure what went wrong. I mean, long-term effects of PTSD is a thing and therapy doesn’t always help with completely taking away the anxiety and panic attacks, although it should help in easing them. Especially after a certain amount of time has passed. Eliza most definitely doesn’t have CPTSD (Complex PTSD), as that, as its name suggest, is a far more severe form of PTSD, caused by years of repeated trauma in childhood. Yet Eliza has never moved on from a severely traumatic event when she was eighteen (now being thirty-one). She’s achieved so much, is accomplished in so many ways, yet part of her is still stuck in the past. It is certainly possible, but for someone who is so strong in other ways, it’s not necessarily a hundred-percent believable. It’s not to say that otherwise strong and accomplished people do not have panic attacks and suffer from anxiety, but long-term PTSD is usually so debilitating that it prevents you from pushing yourself as much as you otherwise would, strong or not.

Then there’s Blake, broken in her own ways, still sore after losing her brother. She just gets on with things, only breaking down at the anniversary of his death. Yet she is still hung up about a bad breakup with a long-term girlfriend, from about the same time ago as Eliza. Blake has had a few short-term flings, but nothing serious in recent years, happy with that even if she does eventually want more. Eliza has barely dated at all since the accident, just going through the motions a few times hoping to find a spark.

How these two come together, through the understanding of loss, is cute. And when they eventually decide to call each other their “girlfriend”, that’s cute too. Yet their strange bout of miscommunication, not understanding each other, that wasn’t. Every relationship goes through it at some point, yet it was the lack of communication between the two that left me banging my head. They’re both stuck in their own world with their own fears, and neither wants to tell the painful truth of why they’re hurt. It takes yet another traumatic event to bring the two back together again.

I guess that parts of the story felt slow. Other parts felt predictable. Then there were little bits of repetition. Tension is good, but even the tense parts didn’t feel tense enough. I still had moments of rooting for both of them, with their slow progress towards going further in their relationship, yet something was still missing. I wish I could be less vague, but sometimes a book just doesn’t click.

All in all, not a bad read, but not as great as I was hoping.

Final rating: ★★★☆☆ – Sort of liked/OK

*I received a free digital ARC via NetGalley and the publisher in exchange for an honest review.*

Pursuing Pandora by Maggie Brown

A not-to-be-missed romance-come-mystery

This book was quite delightful, in so many ways. We have sultry Pandora, who isn’t at all what she seems. Recently burnt Winter, who is happy to finally be able to move on from her controlling ex. Then Winter’s array of family and friends, some who really don’t appear to have her best interests at heart.

Winter ends up meeting Pandora after her aunt cajoles her into going to an upscale nightclub to check on her nephew, who insists he’s going to marry Pandora. Only problem is, instead of disliking her, Winter is attracted to her. As is her best friend, Jessie. Although Winter assumes that Pandora wouldn’t be interested in her, noting all the male attention she gets at the club. Oh how wrong could she be!

So, she gets to know Pandora, whilst setting up a trap for her nephew, unfortunately involving Jessie. Now, will everything go to plan there?

And of course, the intelligent Winter is able to discover some of Pandora’s secrets. Yet whether it will all be too much for both of them, when Pandora finally has to move on, is a secret that I’m not revealing.

Sometimes it’s quite frustrating finding out the details as I go along, rather than them being laid bare from the beginning, yet in this instance, it worked quite well. The only thing I will say that I disliked was how mean both Winter’s aunt and Jessie were to her! Considering how badly Winter was treated by her ex, I had expected better treatment from her family and friends.

Anyway, it’s still a worthwhile read. And also really nice to experience a little bit of Australia as a change!

Final rating: ★★★★☆ – Really liked

*I received a free digital ARC via NetGalley and the publisher in exchange for an honest review.*

Love’s Falling Star by B.D. Grayson

Love conquers all

This is not the first book I’ve read by this publisher, and it certainly won’t be the last! I’ve gotten off really lucky with the books from them that I’ve picked up, this one being no exception. And, to add to all that, this is the author’s debut novel! Seriously impressive!

I must say, however, before I start the main part of my review, that I’ve no idea what it’s like to be “in the closet”. As a cis female, it is of course not easy to understand the concept. But books like this certainly help in understanding. The fear of being rejected by peers, of potentially losing your career, losing your friends. But in this story it turns out, there was nothing to fear.

Could Lochlan and Vanessa be any more different? She, the popular Country music star. Vanessa, a med student. It just so happened that they were in the same library at the same time, albeit for different reasons, yet that chance encounter left an impact on both.

For Vanessa, she isn’t a huge fan, yet in that moment she sees the person and not the star. And with her naturally caring attitude, Loc is warmed to her whole person. Yet, it is an impossible attraction, as the star has a career where coming out could completely ruin it. It’s happened before, so of course it will happen to her, too! So that’s how life goes – she puts her career above everything, mostly at the advice of her best friend and manager, Jamie. Yet, in doing so, she risks losing the best thing that may have ever come into her life. And her sanity.

It takes Lochlan accidentally reaching rock bottom to see the truth. But will Vanessa still be there waiting for her when she does do the Country equivalent of the unthinkable?

It is a seriously cute love story. Yeah yeah, there are many like it, but it’s written beautifully. I wasn’t so happy with the ending, really, as it felt a bit dragged out and not as concrete as some of the rest. But all can certainly be forgiven for it being a debut novel. It was one of my quickest reads of the year!

Final rating: ★★★★☆ – Really liked

*I received a free digital ARC via NetGalley and the publisher in exchange for an honest review.*

Thunder Bay by Douglas Skelton

Darkness on the Sound

This story is based on a fictional Scottish Island, Stoirm, based in one of the Scottish Sounds. Now there are a couple of straits in Scotland with the name “Sound” as far as I can figure out: either “Inner Sound”, close to Skye, or “Sound of Islay”, between the islands of Islay and Jura. I’m not sure which is meant, but there are a couple of islands in either area which could give you that “small island community” feel. Not that I’ve ever been to Scotland, let alone a remote island with one main town where everyone knows each other.

So I took my ideas of what such a small community would feel like based on my very limited experiences of a small village community where, yes, everyone knows each other, and not always in a friendly way.

This small community on Stoirm has its secrets, which no one repeats, and must stay in the past. But that is all about to be stirred up with the return of Roddie Drummond, who was “not proven” of murdering his girlfriend, Mhairi, 15 years previously, and Rebecca Connolly, who not only wants to dig into the past to find out the truth of what happened to Mhairi, but also wants to discover why her father left the island in his youth, and why he never talked about it.

There’s a lot of twists and turns into finding the truth, which not only the islanders, but some dangerous men (such a typical cliché, them being Eastern Europeans) want to keep well hidden.

The trouble is, the truth. Well, the truth is not exciting at all. And the truth of why Rebecca’s father left, it didn’t give the impact expected, either. The most action to be had was in what appeared to be a homophobic attack on two of Rebecca’s new-found friends. That aside, Rebecca defying everyone to get the story she’s looking for, which is just as much her boss as the islanders themselves, is just as cliché as some of the rest.

The best part about this book, apart from the cover (the main reason I picked up the book in the first place), was probably the place descriptions. Thunder Bay was described beautifully, as a place that must be visited, and the scenery on the routes was just as detailed.

It’s a shame, really, as there was so much that could have been good and even better about this. In the end, I’m a little disappointed, with the grip not quite catching me completely.

Final rating: ★★★☆☆ – Sort of liked/OK

*I received a free digital ARC via NetGalley and the publisher in exchange for an honest review.*

Wide Asleep by Arizona Tape

Great idea, needs a little work

So here we are, primarily focused on Yen (11 out of 16 chapters), and the two side characters she bumps into, Rover (3/16) and Dahlia (2/16), plus a strange side plot that doesn’t quite make much sense – we get brief snippets about a plot against the government at the very beginning and the end, with a tiny detail connecting into it, but without more details throughout, it feels a bit out of place.

The fact that it is supposed to be dancing around the three characters made me feel somewhat disappointed. And, considering there is supposed to be some sort of slow-burn romance starting up, apart from the brief flutter in the very brief encounter, there’s nothing really to say anything is going to happen.

The impression I got was that we were supposed to hear much more from the two side MCs. Maybe it might have been better if their stories were split out across the three books? I’m not sure, but I did miss really getting to know them, as Yen’s story dominated so much.

Anyway, the story is about sleep deprivation, sleep being the currency used in this world. You can only get tokens to sleep if you work, and how many tokens you get for each of sleep, food, and other stuff, depends on your level in society, with “A” being the highest and “C” being the lowest. Considering it all, “C” citizens, with their low morals in order to survive, probably have it the easiest. Although we don’t come across any “A” class citizens to compare with.

So, the idea is good. And you are only allowed to attend the Academy if you do well on your sleep tests – those who can cope with a level of sleep deprivation are allowed to have more. Quite twisted, in a way, with most citizens walking around in a permanent level of sleep deprivation.

This needs, obviously, some work to become a finished story. As I said, I’d like to hear more from the other two MCs, plus there’s some work needed to tidy everything up. But I do think that, once the work is done, that there is a really great story to be had here. And romance in a dystopian world is a wonderful thing, so please give it!

Final rating: ★★★☆☆ – Sort of liked/OK

*I received a free digital Beta copy via the author in exchange for an honest review*

Valkyrie’s Choice by Arizona Tape

Resolution, but no resolution

Yes, we get a resolution to everything that happened in the previous book! The true characters all come out! Bryn finally stands up to her grandmother, in several ways, managing to impress her as much as piss her off! And Bryn finds out what she truly wants to be as well. But…

Yes, there’s always a “but”. The ending left me quite disappointed. We have here a slow-burn romance, which doesn’t fully resolve. Everything is building up to something that doesn’t quite happen. Maybe in the main series, we’ll get to see how that develops, but unfortunately it doesn’t happen here. I believe that that was the biggest let down of the two books, knowing that there could have been so much more.

What I liked most, however, was the deeper digging into the mythology, as Bryn travels through the afterlife on her own, discovering other lines in the mythology belonging to some of the other beings, which she in turns relates back to these other beings in the living world.

All in all, it isn’t bad. Bryn learning “BSL” (in this instance, Banshee Sign Language instead of British Sign Language) is an interesting one, along with why they use the sign language. Along with other little quirks, it makes it an interesting story.

Final rating: ★★★★☆ – Really liked

*I received a free digital ARC via Booksprout and am voluntarily leaving a review.*

Burn the Dark by S.A. Hunt

Poor Start to Near-Epic Finish

This book started off with a bunch of bad sayings, that made no sense whatsoever. Well, it was a review copy, so may have been updated by the time the book was released, but there is nothing more off putting (well, perhaps there is) than a bunch of author-created nonsensical sayings.

But, once I got into the book, despite the horror edge to the story, I actually quite enjoyed it. A few laughs, a few gory moments. A few excellent characters to top it off, with a few interweaving storylines.

The witches themselves are devious. And there is just something not right about that house… Yet Robin manages to go back to where she grew up and find out more about her past than she could have wished for, gaining a handful of trusty sidekicks along the way.

I might not understand much about the background or culture (typical Brit trying to watch US TV dramas and failing to get the context), but all in all it wasn’t bad at all.

Final rating: ★★★★☆ – Really liked

*I received a free digital ARC via NetGalley and the publisher in exchange for an honest review.*

Back to September by Melissa Brayden

Romance not necessarily at its best

There were many brilliant moments inside this, but just as many terrible ones. To start with, a book about books should be exciting, especially with people who absolutely love books and reading, and share that as much as possible. All the geeky stuff, the shared knowledge to help people find their “perfect book match”. That was wonderful. It was the romance aspect that let this all down.

One thing I found difficult to handle was that there was more than one “high” point. We have everything going brilliantly, switching to things fading out, switching to things going fantastically brilliantly again (eked out so far that it became boring), up to things going dramatically badly, but ending with an HEA. I’m sure huge chunks of this could have been cut out, as it’s not the idea that the reader gets bored in the middle. So the dramatic part (which didn’t feel so dramatic), which is supposed to hit at two thirds, actually felt like it came late.

The HEA, once it finally did come (after we had a fake HEA before that) was a great ending. It’s just the journey to there that was far too messy for my tastes.

Final rating: ★★★☆☆ – Sort of liked/OK

*I received a free digital ARC via NetGalley and the publisher in exchange for an honest review.*

Hammers, Strings, and Beautiful Things by Morgan Lee Miller

Hard hitting

I was drawn to this book first by a GR friend’s review, then by the beautiful cover and finally the description. I expected much from it, yet it has to come with some warnings – the alcohol and drug abuse is written so well, that you can feel the pain coming from all sides.

I guess, even with knowing that, I hadn’t expected it to be so hard hitting. Blair might seem to come off as quite selfish, as she sinks into despair, but the truth is she’s been trying to handle anxiety and depression in an extreme way. None of her friends have any real understanding of what she’s going through, placing the blame firmly on her side, which in the beginning just makes things worse. It takes her hitting rock bottom to truly be able to find a way out, whilst completely leaving her on her own once more.

This book shows the price of fame, whilst also showing humanity at its best and worst. Whilst I can be disappointed at the reaction of the side characters to Blair’s condition, it wasn’t at all surprising considering general opinions of addiction. The only way out is with support and help, which she was forced to find herself.

Running along behind all this is the romance element. Blair opens herself up to someone new, but neither is truly able to handle all of it until she’s clean. Luckily there is a HEA to be found behind all the drama and destruction, as things pull good in the end. But considering how hard won it is, I am surprised that Blair doesn’t have any bitterness towards those that let her down whilst she was letting herself down.

For me, I did find it well written, as well as enjoyable and relatable. The only thing I personally didn’t like was the awkwardness of some of the sex scenes. They didn’t always flow as well as the rest of the book did.

Final rating: ★★★★☆ – Really liked

*I received a free digital ARC via NetGalley and the publisher in exchange for an honest review.*

Wolf by Chris Fenwick

Needs time to grow on you

In the beginning, I was bored. The constant one-sided POV, with no intermittent dialogue, just dragged. What made it worse was that there were tense inconsistencies: moments of internal monologue in italics written in past tense, or a mixture of the two; moments when the tenses were confused amongst the rest of the story. As the story is all told from Cassidhe’s POV, you have to get used to her voice, and it didn’t warm to me at all in the beginning. Even when the first dramatic event happened, it was near impossible to empathise with her.

Things appear to change when she meets the wolves. The story starts to gain more depth, Cassidhe herself appears more interesting, as well as others that she meets. Although, even then, it takes time for the characters to appear more than one dimensional. The best part of the whole story, for me, was the final dramatic event where, even though Cassidhe was completely on her own, she finally had more character than she had had for the majority of the rest of the book. It’s for this reason alone that my rating finally reached four stars, rather than the two to three it was struggling with at the beginning.

An interesting upcoming point is how the pack is going to deal with the sexuality of the heir, when a key part of pack dynamics is based on the ability to produce children and secure the pack’s future.

Also, a side note is that the cover doesn’t really reflect the main characters, with their described colouring being different from what is shown. A minor niggle, if any, but I do like it when a cover helps to assist me in how to imagine the characters.

Final rating: ★★★★☆ – Really liked

*I received a free ARC via NetGalley and the publisher in exchange for an honest review.*