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.*

The Edge of Anything by Nora Shalaway Carpenter

Heart wrenching

This couldn’t be more beautifully told. Although, at the beginning, I was extremely sceptical. I’m not really a volleyball fan, so whilst I appreciated the detail in the story of all the gameplay, it was a bit lost on me. Yet, as the story gathered momentum, the story behind everything grips and doesn’t let go.

Sage, the superstar volleyball player, considered aloof to any outsider. Yet we soon find out that Sage isn’t all she appears to be. When Sage passes out during a match, it’s discovered that she has a heart condition which disqualifies her from playing. For life.

Len, short for Lennon, named after, well, her father is a huge Beatles fan, so should be obvious. She was once an amazing student, set for great heights in photography, yet everyone at school, including her teachers, have noticed she’s changed. The students typically laugh at her for being the weirdo, the odd one out, which just isolates her even more.

Sage is surprisingly sympathetic of Len, even before her diagnosis, yet she doesn’t understand at all. Once Sage receives her diagnosis, Len is the first one to notice that Sage is carrying a heavy burden of sadness. Len is also the only one to not judge, to not push her to be happy. Somehow, through these encounters, each seeks the other out, and develop a tenuous friendship, that may indeed save both of their lives.

As the story develops, all the signs are there of Len’s OCD, yet Sage is the first to truly notice and take an interest in it. Len, of course, in all her confusion, believes it to be something entirely different. The quirks of the condition are handled so well, the panic attacks, the obsessive behaviour. If you understand any of this in any way at all, then you can appreciate fully what Len is going through and how sympathetically it is written.

It’s near the ending when everything breaks lose, when Sage is on the verge of collapse after pushing herself too far, and Len comes to save her. Then Sage helps Len to finally confront what happened that changed everything. My Gods, I truly blubbed when Len was reunited with her sister.

This is a story of friendship beyond the lines, how two seemingly different teenagers meet and form a friendship from the ashes of disaster and devastation. By the time I got to the end, I appreciated, loved, and had a respect for it all.

Final rating: ★★★★★ – Loved it/couldn’t put it down

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

If I Love You by Tmonique Stephens

From bitter to sweet

A story that starts off with resentment, which we do learn the reasons for as the story moves along, yet resolves in a good way.

Kensley and Noah were once friends, having grown up together, along with her brother. Yet her brother didn’t come back from Afghanistan. Noah did. So when Noah returns to their hometown barely months after her brother’s funeral, he’s the last one that she wants to interact with. Yet, somehow, he’s there at every turn.

Will the truth set Kensley free? Can she forgive Noah?

There is plenty of heat here. Even though the two main characters are most definitely attracted to one another, it takes time for both of them to come to terms with what they have.

Love, loss, intrigue – this book has it all!

Final rating: ★★★★☆ – Really liked

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