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.*

Dead Silence by Robin Caroll

Christian political suspense

I should have paid more attention when picking this book up, that it was listed as Christian fiction, as I know that I have many problems with that. In fact, this book could also be surmised as “Mother of deaf child works her way back to God through additional trials and tribulations.” Yes, the substory was essentially that, which I felt a little uncomfortable with. It wasn’t too preachy, surprisingly, but as soon as a book goes into that sort of territory, I do hope that it’s not going to go too far.

But the main thing that invited me to read this book was actually the fact that the MC’s son is deaf. Sign language, lip reading, and deafness aren’t huge topics for a mystery suspense, so I liked the idea.

So, anyway, as for the main part of the story itself, we have a single mother, who lost her husband a few years previously, who now loses her difficult mother-in-law. She can sign and lipread, making her great as a court sign-language interpreter. But it also puts her into other difficult territory, when she reads the lips of someone without thinking, who turns out to be planning the murder of her mother-in-law, one of the state senators.

Well, of course, something comes in the way, so she can’t inform anyone, until it’s too late and the FBI are already at her workplace asking her questions. One FBI agent, who’s rude, abrasive, and incompetent. Another who is well meaning, but completely blind to how bad his partner actually is. When a leak puts Elise’s life in danger, all secrets are excruciatingly slowly forced out into the open.

In actual fact, it takes Elise herself, plus the assistance of a reporter who wants to help rather than going for the big money, and her ex-press step-father-in-law and sister-in-law, to crack the case. They somehow, between themselves, manage to uncover things that the FBI hasn’t.

How believable all of that truly is, I’m not quite sure. It was quite a ride, which left me wanting to read further at many points. Although it was pretty frustrating when it was revealed what Liliana (MiL) was actually working on and the penny didn’t even drop as to who the villain actually was. For me, it was blazingly obvious! So with the Christian elements, the FBI incompetence, and the supposedly ‘good sleuthing crew’ missing obvious clues, there were a few head bashing moments.

All of it put together, and it ends up as an OK read instead of a brilliant one. I don’t regret reading it, yet it doesn’t warm me to read any of the author’s other books.

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.*

The Englisch Daughter by Cindy Woodsmall and Erin Woodsmall

Fighting against the odds

Now this is exactly what I wanted from a religious book – an overview of the religion and culture, without preaching to me (this comment is because of having recently been burnt with that).

I haven’t actually read any Amish books before this, so I didn’t know what to expect at all. I have a vague idea of who they are, from various TV shows, but I didn’t know the difference between the different types of Amish or, indeed, the Mennonites, or even the language they spoke. This book is filled with their version of German, “Pennsylvania Dutch” (which is far more a German dialect and not even related to Dutch!). I actually wish that I had realised that there was a glossary at the back, with a direct translation of the sentences, before I started reading! Although each time, particularly with the children, that they spoke in their form of butchered German, there was an explanation as part of the story.

This is actually quite a heart-warming story. The Amish are highly religious, and opposed to all forms of violence. The women, once married, lose their independence and everything they have belongs to their husband. They are also expected to forgive any transgressions both publicly and easily. All of this, even for the highly religious women, is harder than it sounds. Especially when all the lies and deceit land on their own doorstep.

Yet love truly does conquer all. Through hardship and rebuilding the trust, if love is there, then it can overcome just about anything. The resilience that Jemima shows when she realises that her husband, Roy, has been not only distant, but uncovers that he’s been lying to her, is remarkable. Of course she is angry! Yet her love eventually brings her around once all the lies and deceit are unravelled.

There is a side story here, with Chris, who is going against his religion and culture by fighting, and Abigail, Roy’s sister, who has also gone against her culture by turning down many a potential partner as she prefers being on her own. She doesn’t want to get lost, like she’s seen so many other women do. And even with her connection with Chris, she finds yet another excuse to push him away. Of course, there is a happy ending here as well, which also isn’t hard won.

With the horse farm in the background, to provide an even more traditional setting, things are never as they seem. They fight to keep everything, when everything should be lost. And they do it all with an amazing strength where others would have failed.

All in all, a great and surprising read, that draws you in to another world.

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.*

Midnight Surrender by Nikki Landis

Really hard hitting

This is now book two in the “Freedom Fighters” series and is just as dark, just as filled with graphic violence.

One thing I can’t deny is that it is a page turner. I just ended up flipping through pages, even when it became uncomfortable. Having read the first book, I had a better idea of what to expect, yet some scenes were still shocking and brutal, especially as most consider this a “romance”.

I also questioned the reactions of some of the characters at every turn. Alex was never truly honest with Lizzie, which led her to doubt him greatly. Lizzie makes many questionable decisions, partly because of this, partly because of her weakness of character in general.

Despite all this, mind, the majority of readers seemed to enjoy this. I can’t deny being pulled along as the story progressed, and annoyingly it means that I’m invested enough in the story arc that I want to read the next, the third book. Yet I still wish that all of these books came with the necessary warnings.

Final rating: ★★★★☆ – Really liked

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

Refugee Road by Nikki Landis

Too much violence

This book needs to come with warnings. There are really a few things that grate on me here, the first being the amount of domestic violence, which we have absolutely no warning about in the blurb. We are told that Darren is dangerous, but not how dangerous and violent he is. He also isn’t the only one, with another character injuring Lizzie for the fun of it as well. If you have any issues with any of this, best to walk away and stay away.

The next is that, after three years, two people suddenly seem to decide that they’re in love with Lizzie, and want to make their intentions known, just at the point she rediscovers the one she lost, who she fell in love with at 15. It’s damned confusing! Lizzie obviously chooses Alec, as the blurb indicates, but Darren appears to use his sudden increased interest as an excuse to dominate her, and physically punishes her, despite his declared feelings, for insubordination.

Then there’s the timeline. I misread it at first. I assumed that it was all supposed to be taking place around 1945-6, but then Lizzie’s home on the Militia base doesn’t add up to that – domestic appliances that wouldn’t have been available then. So I went back and reread the description: “It was nineteen forty-five, or similar enough.” The Militia movement has been going on since then, when Hitler apparently surrendered and WWIII started. So this war has been fighting for all those decades up until the modern era. The USA is in ruins, with the President firmly in charge of the Militia, who control everything. Except the Refugees. But they try. But this is the thing that gets me most: if they’re stuck in this time warp, how on Earth do they have mobile phones, modern appliances, etc.? They have antibiotics, modern medicines, sonograph. It’s extremely confusing. Yet they still apparently dress like it’s 1945, too.

The romance itself was great, but would have been so much better if it wasn’t for the distractions mentioned above. I was actually shocked by the domestic violence. Now I can cope with it if prewarned, but I don’t expect to be thrown into someone being abused. As I mentioned above, for those triggered by these sorts of scenes, there really needs to be some warnings.

Lizzie settles into domestic life quite easily, despite the fact that she used to train daily, keeping fit to a high level. But, of course, everything is far too easy…

Really, this needed a far more concrete background. All the scenes were descriptive, but those little niggles kept me from enjoying the story completely.

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

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

Secrets and Sorcery by Lori Whyte

When everything you believe in is wrong

Avery, a cat shifter, has grown up believing that her magic is rare and that she should hide it at any cost. When her brother is recruited by the so-called Dark Guards because of his strong gifted and inherited magic, Avery is forced out into the open, something which she’s always been terrified of. Can she keep her secrets, and her sanity?

Mike is initially drawn to Avery wanting to uncover what she’s hiding. But he doesn’t expect to be drawn to her in other ways, too. When Avery’s brother goes missing in a surprise attack, it takes some time for Avery to trust Mike, but before long, they’re not only sharing a mission, they’re sharing a bed.

The connection between Mike and Avery is sizzling! This story has a “Fated Mates” edge to it, which can be seen as the dynamic between the pair increases. Not that Avery really wants to believe, let alone have anything to do with that. She’s grown up as one of “Castor’s Kind”, aka “human”, and was always taught that she should never mingle with the rest of WaW (Witch and Warlock) society, as she would be caught and tortured.

But the true secrets come out, turning Avery’s world upside down. Because, as it turns out, she’s not the only shifter around…

What I also found great about this book was the glossary at the back. I bookmarked it, and referenced it several times. Even though the terms are explained as the story goes along, having a list of them all in one place definitely helps if you forget a little! The entire story is based in the modern world with elements of Greek mythology thrown in. Everyone in the WaW world is gifted a magic by one of the Greek gods, and inherits a second, weaker, magic from one of their parents. Quite an interesting concept!

Although I must admit the ending disappointed me. It was weaker than the rest of the story. I understood that it was a lead-in to the next book, but I wasn’t so enamoured on it. However, it will be interesting following the stories of the other characters, definitely, and this book was more than enough to want me to read further.

Final rating: ★★★★☆ – Really liked

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

The Time of Jacob’s Trouble by Donna VanLiere

Not what I was expecting

I would absolutely love to say that I wasn’t the intended audience for this book, but unfortunately I would be wrong. The author’s intent is that everyone reads it, no matter their background, to better understand Revelations and the end of times, and by so doing come to Christ…

As soon as I opened the first pages of the book, and saw which Bible each character was reading, I should have walked away right then. Seriously, being a non-Christian, I couldn’t care less! So it soon became obvious that it wasn’t what I hoped for – a literary exploration of some Biblical ideas. Why can’t someone write something like that without being religiously involved?!

I really tried to see the story amongst the pages, to appreciate the limited amount of actual storyline, trying to ignore the postscript telling you nearly every page to refer to the Biblical explanation of the events that were happening. Some of it did actually have me hooked, but some of the rest was droning, repetitive, and just uninteresting. For the rest, the truth is the overly pushy nature of all the Christian stuff just got to me.

Put it this way, the book actually ends at page 185/63%. The other 37% is entirely dedicated to explaining the Bible (and why am I nice enough to capitalise that word?!) and, oh, that’s where it’s revealed what the author’s true intentions were with this story. After the first couple of pages of the last part, I just skipped the rest. The story was done, there was a cliffhanger waiting for the next, and the rest was just uninteresting babble.

So, as I said, this book was entirely not for me. I’m not a Christian, I don’t want to be preached at. And for that reason, despite what could be good about this author’s works, their purely Evangelistic aim of this book has put me off reading anything else of theirs. Despite all that, well, I didn’t dislike it completely, which surprises me no end. Yet that is still not enough to encourage me to read the sequels. It would need to be far sturdier, and lose all the Biblical and preachy stuff, for me to even consider it.

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

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