Book Review: Before We Were Strangers – Renée Carlino

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From the USA TODAY bestselling author of Sweet Thing and Nowhere But Here comes a love story about a Craigslist “missed connection” post that gives two people a second chance at love fifteen years after they were separated in New York City.

To the Green-eyed Lovebird:

We met fifteen years ago, almost to the day, when I moved my stuff into the NYU dorm room next to yours at Senior House.

You called us fast friends. I like to think it was more.

We lived on nothing but the excitement of finding ourselves through music (you were obsessed with Jeff Buckley), photography (I couldn’t stop taking pictures of you), hanging out in Washington Square Park, and all the weird things we did to make money. I learned more about myself that year than any other.

Yet, somehow, it all fell apart. We lost touch the summer after graduation when I went to South America to work for National Geographic. When I came back, you were gone. A part of me still wonders if I pushed you too hard after the wedding…

I didn’t see you again until a month ago. It was a Wednesday. You were rocking back on your heels, balancing on that thick yellow line that runs along the subway platform, waiting for the F train. I didn’t know it was you until it was too late, and then you were gone. Again. You said my name; I saw it on your lips. I tried to will the train to stop, just so I could say hello.

After seeing you, all of the youthful feelings and memories came flooding back to me, and now I’ve spent the better part of a month wondering what your life is like. I might be totally out of my mind, but would you like to get a drink with me and catch up on the last decade and a half?

M


 

My Thoughts 2

 

From friends to lovebirds. From lovebirds to strangers. Then from strangers to “Wow, that went quick.”  And this is not me spoiling anything from the story.

I have to let out a loud sigh and throw my hands in defeat because I´m at a loss for the right words.

If I ask myself the same question three times in a row I can give three different answers.

Did I like this book?  T´was okay.

Did I like this book?  Meeh.

Did I like this book?  Maybe if I sleep another night over it.

 

My emotions are a tad scattered when thinking about `Before we were strangers` by Renée Carlino.before we were strangers

From reading the synopsis I could tell the story was exactly what I was looking for. A slow burn romance that starts off in college and ends with the characters in their mid 30´s. I was right. Wasn´t disappointed in that department.

I wasn´t prepared for the ( what felt like ) eternal slow burn, though.

Good grief, at times I thought I´d never see the end of the 303 pages.

But then things happened so fast. Before I knew it the story found it´s end.

You get a glimpse of an unhappy Hero in the present. His love life had not gone the way he had planned it. Then he sees her- The woman who stole his heart in college.

Then the flashbacks begin….

Before I go any further I´d like to say that this wasn´t a terrible read. I liked parts of it but some other parts…. I developed a love / hate relationship with everything. For example:

  • The characters. I loved their chemistry but I so disliked their journey.

 

  • The general vibe. I liked that this story wasn´t an in – your – face romance. I felt the there was a gray fog looming over the characters. This was a unique experience for me because I was able to feel the sadness. But then again this fog wasn´t lifted at the right time, making this feel like more of a depressed read even when it shouldn´t have been that way.

 

  • The threat. There always has to be something that jeopardizes a relationship. An evil villain on a mission. I liked the villain in this romance. The ex-wife from the Hero was truly a piece of work. Sadly, she wasn´t there enough for me to appreciate her cruelty.

 

  • The slow burn. This is something I usually appreciate because I like to see things develop. A fictional relationship feels more authentic when things move along at a slower pace. These characters took the term `slow burn` to a whole new level.  There were some moments when I felt like the kid who asks their parents when they´ll reach their destination, repeating “Are we there yet?” every 5 minutes.

 

  • The characters ages. Again, I love to see things develop. Being able to watch characters grow is something I enjoy. Only I didn´t get to watch anyone grow. It was college then mid 30´s. Achievements accomplished during their 20`s  were mentioned and that was it.
  • The end. I love me some good endings. Good. Not rushed. Nice, smooth gradual endings. Not so much the type of ending this book had.

 

If I had to sum this review up with a few lines I´d say: Decent romance with a hard focus on the extreme slow paced relationship development.

 


 

Would I recommend this book? Yes. I can see many readers falling in love with this read. It is romantic. It´s filled with love and hope.

Would I reread this book? I don´t believe I will.


 

The Cover – 3 Stars:    It definitely fits the story and the image is actually linked to the story, which I approve of. It´s not my prefered style, though.

The Story – 3 Stars:    Decent. I would have liked a little more spark.

The Characters – 3 Stars:    The mid 30´s versions felt like the college versions of the characters.

My emotional state after finishing this read:   I have mixed feelings.

3 stars


 

You can purchase `Before We Were Strangers` by Renée Carlino on Amazon.com


 

Thank you for reading. I hope you enjoyed.

Much love,

Banner name

 

 

 

Book Review ( Before & After ): Dirty Angels ( #1 ) – Karina Halle

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For Luisa Chavez, a twenty-three year old former beauty queen, a better life has always been just out of her reach. Sure, she’s had men at her feet since she was a young teenager but she’s never had the one thing she’s craved – security. Having grown up in near poverty, her waitressing job in Cabo San Lucas can barely let her take care of herself, let alone her ailing parents. Every day is another unwanted advance, every day is a struggle to survive.

When Salvador Reyes, the depraved leader of a major Mexican cartel, takes an interest in her, Luisa is presented with an opportunity she can’t afford to pass up. She’ll become Salvador’s wife and exchange her freedom and body for a life of riches – riches she can bestow upon her deserving parents. But Luisa quickly finds out that even the finest wines and jewels can’t undo the ugliness in her marriage, nor the never-ending violence that threatens her every move.

Soon, Luisa is looking for an escape, a way out of the carefully controlled life she’s leading. She finally gets her wish in the worst way possible.

As it is, being the wife of Salvador makes her an ideal target for rival cartels and there’s one particular man who needs Luisa as part of his cartel’s expansion. One particular man whose quest for power has destroyed lives, slit throats and gotten him out of an American prison. One particular man who will stop at nothing until he gets what he wants.

That man is Javier Bernal. And he wants Luisa. He wants to take her, keep her, ruin her.

Unless she ruins him first.


 

***WARNING***

This book deals with drug cartels and as such it contains a lot of sex and violence and some violent sex. It can get pretty ugly, pretty dark and pretty crazy. There is drug use, abuse, a bit of torture and dubious consent. The hero is not a hero and the villains…well, they’re even worse. If this sort of thing bothers you, PLEASE DO NOT READ IT. This ain’t no cupcake farting unicorn kind of book. If you are even a bit squeamish about violence, brutality and rape, this is your warning to stay away from a book that you certainly will not like (and why read books that you know you won’t like?)

 

Copied from the `Dirty Angels`( Dirty Angels #1) book description on Goodreads

 


 

before and after

 

It´s been close to 5 years when I first laid my hands on this gem. Back in 2014 I was all hot and bothered to read this promising and much talked about dark romance.

Word had it ( back then ) that `Dirty Angels`was the latest shocker. Dirty, filthy, brutal and just one of those reads where you get riled up, all while falling helplessly in love with the romantic clusterfuck. dirty angels

Love / hate. Despise / adore. Exciting / shocking. `Dirty Angels` was that all that and so much more.

I´ve always been a sucker for gritty romances. The more triggers dark romances had the more intrigued I was. Did I get my money´s worth? Did my fellow book bloggers promise too much when they said this book should be approached with caution? Yes. YES. Y. E. S!

32 year old me loved this read. I remember the overnighter I pulled because I couldn´t put the book down. I remember suffering a week long book hangover after I finished the book. I remember calling my husband at work, telling him I needed to find more books like `Dirty Angels`.

I even found my 2014 review on my old blog! You´re welcome.

 

review old
Please excuse the review. It´s old and orange. Don´t know what was wrong with me back then. 

 

See? Literally the slow motion train wreck you couldn´t pull your eyes away from.

Back in 2014 I gave `Dirty Angels`( Dirty Angels #1 ) by author Karina Halle 5 out of 5 stars champagne glasses.

 

5 years later…. 

 

37 year old me decided it was time to do some `Dirty Angel`rereading. It´s been a while and I wanted to know if I still felt the same.

In a way- I do. My general feelings for the story haven´t changed. I still believe the story is just as great as it was back in 2014. For me, this book is a timeless dark romance because it still tugs at all the “right” emotional strings. Even 5 years later I still feel very strong for the characters and what they´ve been put through.

 

Do I think this book is worth the warning label? The answer to that is complicated.

2014 was the year for dark romances. Authors were testing new waters and began publishing the “mind fuck” stories. Didn´t bother me one bit. But in 2014 there weren´t many offended readers. The triggered groups were smaller. Also, in 2014 reviews looked a little different. You either enjoyed the brutal romance or you didn´t. You either accepted the warning and felt warned or you didn´t.

These days, a book can´t have enough warning labels because there are far too many reviewers who are easily offended by the slightest event.

 

I can say, without a shred of doubt, that `Dirty Angels` by Karina Halle is still a fucking awesome twisted dark romance. One readers should treat as a work of fiction.

 


Would I recommend this read? 32 year old me would have. 37 year old me still would. I still think it would be wise to trust the warning label, though. Not everyone treats certain topics as casually as I do.

Would I reread this book? Already have.


 

The Cover – 3 Stars:     I can´t remember what I thought of the cover back in the day but now… I don´t really think it´s mind blowing. Fitting for the story, sure.

The Story – 5 Stars:     This is what I enjoy. This is how I expect my dark romances to be like. Shocking, graphic and full of “Oh hell no!”

The Characters – 5 Stars:   Nothing has changed. Javier is still a bastard I appreciate and Luisa is, by far, one of the strongest characters ever created. Bad ass all the way!

My emotional state after finishing this read- 2014: Impressed. 2019: Entertained.

 

5 stars

 


 

`Dirty Angels`can be purchased on  Amazon.com

dirty angels

 

Book Review: Lucian Divine – Renée Carlino

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“My guardian angel is a drunk.”

Evelyn Casey’s life is at a standstill. She’s in her mid-twenties, struggling with the dating scene in San Francisco. Nothing seems to be working out, and she’s starting to think that she’ll live out her days in her crummy apartment with her overbearing roommate, Brooklyn. It’s absurd, but sometimes Evey longs for a guardian angel to show up and save the day.

And then he does. Seriously. His name is Lucian and he’s a guardian angel, been on the job for two thousand years. His sudden presence in her life is both good—he’s brilliant, witty, and warm—and bad—he’s brilliant, witty, warm, and hot as —-. But as perfect as Lucian seems, he’s got problems of his own. He’s taken up drinking and he’s brazenly inserted himself into Evey’s life, going against the greatest cosmic law ever created.

For Evey, the rules are simple: You are not allowed to hook up with your guardian angel. But sometimes fulfilling your destiny requires a leap of faith, a confrontation with God. 

Yes, God as in God.

 


 

My Thoughts 2

 

`Lucian Divine` by author Renée Carlino is what I like to call an unsure read.

The beginning is cute and interesting. You get sucked in to the story pretty quick and can´t wait to read more until you reach the point where you´ve read more and start asking yourself questions. Lucian Divine

I´m not a stranger to Renée Carlino´s work so I was familiar with her writing. But this one? I´m not sure I can consider `Lucian Divine` a favorite.

The story concept is great: A young woman falls in love with her guardian angel. Only that angel has luggage. They fall in love and together they create and carry their special brand of luggage.

Not bad when seeing it from that point.

 

And all was well until the speed picked up. 

The main reason that kept me from giving this book all my shiny 5 stars was the pacing of the story. There were parts that felt rushed. Then there were parts that really sped up. I wasn´t confronted with this issue from the previous book I read from the author and it slightly bugged me.

 

With a story idea like that there could have been more. 

This is not to say I was completely unsatisfied with everything. As I´ve said, the concept is great. Even the characters were good, but good is never enough. A reader gets some character info but sadly not enough to actually know a character. Kind of like:

“Here´s a bit. There´s a bit. That should be enough. Now you can work out the rest.” 

If I´m not offered enough character detail then I can´t really form a bond with said figures.

 

Maybe not standalone material.

It would be rude of me to say the author could have turned this standalone in to a trilogy… Meeh, I´ll say it anyways: `Lucian Divine` could have easily been a great trilogy.  Because I felt I was missing big chunks of the story.  Big chunks that would have beautifully stretched the story. Instead I felt like I received a chopped off version of something grand. Granted, this isn´t necessarily a reason to give a book a lesser rating, yet I couldn´t shake the nagging feeling of needing more pages to appreciate this type of read.

 

One of those endings.

The ending wasn´t shocking or surprising. I´d say it was your typical “this is what happens to characters when they make secret deals with “God”. Mind you- A reader isn´t in the know about what goes down, and never will be. This makes the ending feel extra rushed. I´m not really a  fan of these semi happy endings but it worked for the story.


 

Would I recommend this book? Sure. `Lucian Divine` is a quick and light read that offers topics about faith, love and life. A nice romance for in between.

Would I reread this book? I wouldn´t, no.

 


 

The Cover – 3 Stars:    It´s okay.

The Story – 4 Stars:    Great story but too fast paced.

The Characters – 3 Stars:  I thought both were okay. They would have been better if a reader got more insight on them.

My emotional state after finishing this read – Not blown away.

 

3 stars



 

You can purchase `Lucian Divine` on Amazon.comLucian Divine


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Book Review: The Kiss Thief – L.J Shen

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They say your first kiss should be earned. 

Mine was stolen by a devil in a masquerade mask under the black Chicago sky. 

They say the vows you take on your wedding day are sacred. 

Mine were broken before we left church. 

They say your heart only beats for one man. 

Mine split and bled for two rivals who fought for it until the bitter end. 

I was promised to Angelo Bandini, the heir to one of the most powerful families in the Chicago Outfit. 

Then taken by Senator Wolfe Keaton, who held my father’s sins over his head to force me into marriage. 

They say that all great love stories have a happy ending. 

I, Francesca Rossi, found myself erasing and rewriting mine until the very last chapter. 

One kiss. 
Two men. 
Three lives. 
Entwined together. 

And somewhere between these two men, I had to find my forever.

 



 

My Thoughts 2

 

Oh, my expectations were set high for this one. I´m talking sky high. And because this book has been so hyped and praised I was also terrified of being disappointed.

Beautiful cover and a decent synopsis? I just had to give it a go.

To make a long story short: I wasn´t as disappointed as I thought I´d be. I´m truly not mad at this one because the story almost has everything I want in a contemporary romance novel.

Personally, I thought the story was a tiny bit less dramatic than the synopsis suggested. I was thinking there would be an open Chicago love triangle war in `The Kiss Thief` by L. J. Shen. I didn´t have the impression there was one at all.

The Kiss Thief

That´s not to say this book didn´t have other qualities. `The Kiss Thief` had many things I usually appreciate when reading romances.

 

What I Appreciated Most

  • Character depth. For me, there´s nothing worse than having to read about characters who don´t offer something that makes them special. Wolfe Keaton and Francesca Rossi are powerful main characters who are entertaining from start to finish.
  • Unpredictable actions. I´d be lying if I said the book was unpredictable, because… Well, the ending was sort of a given. But some of the events were actually unpredictable. I certainly never saw certain scenes happening but I´m really glad they did.
  • The dialogue. Very intelligent and quick. I like when characters have something to say to each other rather than having them repeat their thoughts.
  • Enemies to lovers romance. I´m a sucker for this trope.

 

What I Would Have Liked

  • It says in the book description

“… mine split and bled for two rivals who fought for it until the bitter end.”

“One kiss. Two men. Three lives.”

This is not entirely misleading but I did feel like it suggested there would be an actual love triangle going on. There wasn´t. Yes, there were two men involved in Francesca´s life but one of those men wasn´t present enough to be considered as a third party.

  • A more powerful ending. After so much that went down in this book I did expect a little more CRASH BOOM BANG in the end. There was a really fantastic build up and at some point there was a constant and stable peak. Then the nose dive.
  • More graphic scenes. This isn´t, by any means, a necessity but for a mafia romance I would have appreciated more mafia brutality.

 

All in all I can´t really complain, though. `The Kiss Thief` is a mafia romance that has lots of angst, a decent amount of sex, and drama.


 

Would I reread this book? Sure. Why not? The parts I loved are definitely worth a reread.

Would I recommend this book? I would. `The Kiss Thief` is well written and the story is full of surprises.


 

The Cover – 5 Stars:   Hands down- I´m a fan.

The Story – 4  Stars:   Not too shabby. It´s ruthless, unforgiving and also romantic.

The Characters – 4 Stars:  While I did love Wolfe´s ruthless side and Francesca´s strength I missed a little of Angelo and would have liked to have seen some more engagement from the sub characters.

My emotional state after finishing this read:  Happy.

 

4 stars


 

This book can be purchased on Amazon.com

 

Book Review: The Book Of Love – Fionnuala Kearney

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One love. Two people. Twenty Years.

From the moment they met, Erin and Dom loved each other too much, too quickly. Everyone said it wouldn’t last. But they knew differently.

A wedding present, a notebook, brings them together through the good times and the bad. On the blank pages of their love story, they write down everything they can’t always say – the secrets, the heartbreak, the highs and lows. It’s where they see the best and worst of each other.

Falling in love is easy but staying in love is where the story begins…

This is the Book of Love


 

 

My Thoughts 2

I´ve read many books in my life. Many that were entertaining, gripping.. and overall just fantastic reads. I´ve had the pleasure of reading & reviewing great romances in my book blogging career but none have come close to this book.

`The Book Of Love` by Fionnuala Kearney….. The Book Of Love

The hardest part of reviewing a book you love is trying to find the right words. Because whatever I say will never describe what I felt after I finished / what I still feel for `The Book Of Love`.

A few weeks back I saw a review post from a blog I follow on Facebook for this book that stated that they´ve never read such a beautiful story in their lives. A bold statement to make, if you ask me. Don´t all book bloggers make that claim every now and then?

I was cautious. Because I´m a burnt child when it comes to recommendations from fellow book bloggers. If it weren´t for the cover, the title and the tagline I think I would have skipped the masterpiece recommendation.

 

“A story for everyone who has loved and lost.” 

 

You can imagine how that line captured my attention. I was like

” I´d like to be the judge of that.” 

The title was something I haven´t seen in a long while. `The Book Of Love`- That could have meant many things. A quick synopsis scan on Goodreads and I was sold.

It´s the first time in my professional reading history that a recommendation was right. This book is a masterpiece. One I will forever cherish.

 

It´s simple but not easy. It´s gentle and raw. Innocent and powerful. It´s painful and soothing. It´s beautiful. It´s emotional. It´s the best book I´ve read in years.

 

There are many things I loved about this book but the things I appreciated most were:

  • The story comes with warts and all! A reader accompanies a young couple through the hardships of marriage and life. I just loved the opening scene because it´s relatable and I adored how their journey was not full of fluff. They live life with its ups and downs and find ways to cope with the negative sides of life.

 

  • The simple characters. I say simple because neither are exaggerated. Erin is just a simple woman and Dom is a simple man. Individually, they´re plain but together they´re the definition of love. How these characters move forward with all they go through is incredible.

 

  • The writing. I cannot preach about this enough: Great writing is half the rent. The author has the uncanny ability to draw a reader in with her words.

 

  • The pacing. Usually, I find myself often bored between scenes. This didn´t happen with this story. Because I wanted to find out what would happen next. I was dying to know who would do what and why and when.

 

To make a long review short: This book destroyed me. I rooted for Erin and Dom. I cheered for their love. I literally sat on the edge of my seat from start to finish and couldn´t keep my feelings in check the whole time. I cried and smiled. I felt the heartache and the love even if it pained me. I fell into the worst book funk in the history of book funks.

” So, my fear is more that if we try and take things apart too much to see how they work, that maybe they won´t fit back together again.”

 

 

`The Book Of Love` is truly a story about the enduring power of love.

 


 

Would I recommend this book? Yes! Although this is definitely one of those tough romances I still believe every romance reader should have this in their collection.

Would I re-read this book? Definitely. Sooner rather than later.

 


 

The Cover – 5 stars:  I love the simplicity of it. Light colors and a large title. A book cover doesn´t really need more.

 

The Story – 5 stars:     Fascinating and breathtaking.

 

The Characters – 5 stars:     I have so much love for these characters because they´re you and me and everyone else.

 

My emotional state after finishing this read:    Ruined. Destroyed. Done with the world. Shattered. All in the best way possible.

 

5 stars


 

`The Book Of Love` by Fionnuala Kearney can be purchased on Amazon.com


 

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