ARC Review: Violet Grenade by Victoria Scott

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DOMINO: A girl with blue hair and a demon in her mind.

CAIN: A stone giant on the brink of exploding.

MADAM KARINA: A woman who demands obedience.

WILSON: The one who will destroy them all.

When Madam Karina discovers Domino in an alleyway, she offers her a position inside her home for entertainers in secluded West Texas. Left with few alternatives and an agenda of her own, Domino accepts. It isn’t long before she is fighting her way up the ranks to gain the madam’s approval. But after suffering weeks of bullying and unearthing the madam’s secrets, Domino decides to leave. It’ll be harder than she thinks, though, because the madam doesn’t like to lose inventory. But then, Madam Karina doesn’t know about the person living inside Domino’s mind. Madam Karina doesn’t know about Wilson.

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3.5/5 Stars

***I received this eARC as a gift in exchange for an honest review via NetGalley & Entangled.

+++Some scenes might be triggers for assault and/or violence

Violet Grenade is unexpected. It’s dark and twisted, sinister and honest and raw. There’s so much going on in here, so much pain and torment, so much that is unfair. 

THINGS I LIKED:

  • Domino believes she’s a monster. She has a past that will make your skin crawl and you’ll feel more than a little sick to your stomach when the truth comes out. There’s just enough to keep you on edge. Throughout the book, there are hints, little flashes of information that are gripping, blunt, and brutal. The need to know becomes a compulsion. I HAD TO KNOW. The scars on her arms, why Wilson manifested, the foreboding and constant allusions to an ugly and unforgivable past. Victoria Scott is an expert at building anticipation. It gets under your skin. 
  • A different portrayal of trafficking and extortion. Many times we think of trafficking as young girls or boys being abducted and forced into servitude/usually sexual in nature. What doesn’t get talked about enough is how people of specific walks of life are targeted and manipulated, they’re sold on an idea of a better life and before they know it, they can’t escape. Domino, like many of the other flowers, was homeless. She was vulnerable and a target. It’s not hard to persuade someone who rarely has a roof over their head or food to eat to go with someone at the prospect of safety, making money, a home, or even love. Madam Karina is the worst kind of villain because she’s real. She’s walking the streets right now. Her, and others like her, are predators. While Madam Karina has her own demons that make her the psychologically messed up person she is, she’s smart, she’s vindictive, and calculated. She makes these decisions, she knows what she’s doing, and that is inexcusable. 
  • The romance. Domino and Cain are beautifully broken but complete each other. They both had monstrous demons like guilt and fear that eat away at their souls, but inside, they’re good people who want nothing more than to be loved. Their romance is a slow-building realization. It’s imperfect and complicated. It’s right for them. 

THINGS I DISLIKED:

  • The pacing. This book felt a good hundred pages longer than it actually was because of how slow it read. It took time to really get into. The introduction to Domino and her life on the streets was intriguing, but kind of dull. The only things that save this section are the potential love interest with Dizzy and the hints at her past, that this horrible life is so much better than the one she escaped from. Then the shift happens. After Domino enters Madam Karina’s household, despite all of Domino’s plans, ambitions, and woes, it drags. Not much is going on. Each shift to the next flower level felt pretty much the same despite different dynamics and different girls. 
  • The lack of back story. Here’s the thing: the back story is there, sure. You get bare bones glimpses of what Domino’s life was like as a child and sure, it’s understandable because Wilson has blocked those memories from her so that she can live her life without constantly being haunted by the guilt and gore. That’s fine. When things are revealed about the seriously twisted and disgusting actions that Domino was coerced into doing, I mean, wow. MESSED UP. However, why her mother went off the handle, what her relationship was like with her mother that made the manipulation work so well, any moments with her father…it’s missing. There’s like this gaping black hole of stuff that the reader can fill in or guess about but it’s not enough to 100% embrace the emotions Domino felt towards her mother or even the anger. She blames herself, but what about her mother? What happened? There are so many unanswered questions. 

THINGS I’M TORN OVER:

  • How dissociative identity disorder was presented. Domino’s other identity-Wilson-is the result of PTSD and a coping mechanism for all of the horrific (truly, messed up scary stuff) she was forced to participate in as a child. Wilson is a protector, he’s loving and defensive, and flips out, goes off the handle and is way prone to violence. Domino is scared of him. She tries to keep him under lock and key because when he comes out, bad things happen and sometimes he takes total control. At the same time, Wilson is a friend. He’s been there for her, he never leaves like everyone else has in her life, and at the end, there’s a bittersweet moment that really makes you feel torn about Wilson. Ultimately for me, despite the insane and sadistic choices he makes, he’s a sort of savior for Domino that helps her realize that she is enough, that she can get through anything on her own. I wasn’t necessarily happy with this relationship between the two, but I didn’t hate it either. Wilson grows on you. And when he takes over, well, it’s definitely memorable and a little sickening. 

If you like any of the following, you’ll enjoy this:

Keep reading, 

Jordan

Review: The Cruelty by Scott Bergstrom

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When her diplomat father is kidnapped and the U.S. Government is unable to help, 17 year-old Gwendolyn Bloom sets off across the sordid underbelly of Europe to rescue him. Following the only lead she has—the name of a Palestinian informer living in France—she plunges into a brutal world of arms smuggling and human trafficking. As she journeys from the slums of Paris, to the nightclubs of Berlin, to the heart of the most feared crime family in Prague, Gwendolyn discovers that to survive in this new world she must become every bit as cruel as the men she’s hunting.

review4/5 Stars 

Unpopular opinion time. It turns out that there’s a ton of controversy surrounding this book because of some dismissive and rude comments made by the author about the YA genre. Here’s the thing, I did not read anything about this book or any of the Goodreads comments before my rating. This is a 100% unbiased, non-influenced rating on the story alone. While I do not agree with the author’s perception of dystopia YA or some off the offhand comments made by Gwen within the story, authors and characters do not always share beliefs. Sometimes it’s hard to separate the author’s opinions from the character’s and vice versa. I thought I would preface this review by saying that whether or not I like the author has absolutely nothing to do with this review because so many of the Goodreads reviews are attacks on the author not the book. 

Now that that’s out of the way, I loved this book. This is exactly what I’ve been searching for in YA. A thriller. Spies, lies, cover ups, danger, it’s like Bourne Identity for teens. And there are so many important and eye-opening topics discussed within the story about crime, human trafficking, and other terrifying and unsavory aspects of society. While the story wasn’t perfect, it definitely kept me engaged and enthralled with Gwen and her quest to save her father. I kept asking myself how far I’d go to save my loved ones.

Gwen is made of reckoning and a hunger for vengeance. I adore her. She’s of Jewish heritage, thick-waisted, opinionated, speaks multiple languages, and likes jazz. I mean, come on, that alone is enough to keep you interested. When Gwen embraces her new identity at Sofia, we see her transformation and wow, what a switch. The girl she started as is still there, but her alias is a fighter. Sofia is a vixen. She’s manipulative, calculating, more like an agent. She has a huge heart. She will go to the ends of the earth for her father and then some, sacrificing herself in the process. She knows she might die, she might get assaulted or scarred, but she is willing as long as she gets her father back. That’s insane and incredibly brave. Gwen has to shut off her emotions or she’ll break and sometimes it’s truly hard and devastating for her. In several scenes, I almost had to look away because I was so scared for her. But she puts on cruelty like armor and is surprisingly successful for such a small amount of training. 

There are so made shades of women within this story and they’re all powerful in their own ways. From prostitutes to the women who serve the crime bosses, from the trafficked girls to the bully at the introduction of the story, all of these women are fighters and wise to the ways of the world. They accept that sometimes life is dirty and hard and terrible, that horrific things happen but they can’t collapse, they rise and rebuild and take everything for what it is. Every character was memorable, even the fleeting ones and others that I abhorred. They were developed, multidimensional, and made me ask questions. 

Yael. OMG this woman. She’s fierce, hardened, cruel when she needs to be and lives by a do whatever it takes attitude. Suck it up and do what needs to be done. Yael is at times heartless and cold, others she’s mildly concerned. You can tell she feels a little motherly towards Gwen. Yael is the kind of woman, Mossad, who would take her child who can’t swim, throw him in a lake and tell him to find his way out; he’d learn pretty quick. I loveddddd her. She’s an epic badass of a character. 

The story itself is layered and developed. It’s cross multiple countries and gets right into the seedy underbelly of the cities. I have not been to most of the countries mentioned, so I can’t say how accurate the portrayal was, but there wasn’t much in way of description anyway. Scott Bergstrom appears to be more about the character than the setting. I loved the cyphers and the danger. Every edge of your seat moment was a new rush and there are so many. 

What I did not like was the random romance between Gwen and Terrance. He’s barely there, there’s no building, hardly any foundation, and while he is functional, the emotions are severely lacking and then suddenly it’s supposed to be like fireworks for the reader-yeah, no. I was not the biggest fan of the way Gwen was introduced at Danton Academy. While it did function to present her place in the social hierarchy, establish her race and figure, it felt clichéd and predictable. In fact, I don’t really know why it was there at all. School is nothing in this story. It’s gone in like 2 days of book time. 

Sometimes the pacing was slow. When you think of a thriller/suspense, you expect fast, but spy work and investigating is sometimes just pushing paper and waiting for leads, so in that respect, it was accurate. 

That ending. YES.

If you like any of the following, you’ll enjoy this:

Suspenseful reading, 

Jordan

Review: RoseBlood by A.G. Howard

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In this modern day spin on Leroux’s gothic tale of unrequited love turned to madness, seventeen-year-old Rune Germain has a mysterious affliction linked to her operatic talent, and a horrifying mistake she’s trying to hide. Hoping creative direction will help her, Rune’s mother sends her to a French arts conservatory for her senior year, located in an opera house rumored to have ties to The Phantom of the Opera.

At RoseBlood, Rune secretly befriends the masked Thorn—an elusive violinist who not only guides her musical transformation through dreams that seem more real than reality itself, but somehow knows who she is behind her own masks. As the two discover an otherworldly connection and a soul-deep romance blossoms, Thorn’s dark agenda comes to light and he’s forced to make a deadly choice: lead Rune to her destruction, or face the wrath of the phantom who has haunted the opera house for a century, and is the only father he’s ever known.

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3/5 Stars

***Potential triggers for human trafficking, abuse, animal cruelty, violence, death

It pains me to write this review because I was so looking forward to this book-it was at the top of my highly anticipated list for 2017. I mean, The Phantom of the Opera??? As a theater kid, this is my personal form of euphoria. Unfortunately, my feelings on this rendering are mixed. 

PROS:

  • Thorn’s story is almost as tragic and heartbreaking as the Phantom’s and yet so full of beauty. No matter the darkness and fear he experienced as a child captured by traffickers and tormented beyond measure, his heart is pure and OMG is he swoonworthy. Some of the stuff he says to Rune, I mean, my heart swelled with joy. He’s like a part-time poet and the way he plays that violin. He’s the definition of dreamy. That dark hair and those coppery eyes, and that jaw. Smokin’ hot. I loved the way his past evolved and changed him and his starry-eyed devotion to the Phantom. Plus the way he looks at Rune…it’s like she’s his world at first sight. Now, let me warn, this does read like instalove on Thorn’s part, but there are reasons so hold out. 
  • This twist on the Phantom is super weird and complex. It can be hard to wrap your head around and accept, but there are enough history and allusions to the original Leroux story. The Phantoms’s story is somehow even more depressing and horrific than in the original. When you read about the love he felt for Christine, the hope he held for a happy ending, it will crush you and hit you right in the feels.
  • There’s a ton of seriously disturbing elements to this story-from creepy, crawly animals that don’t belong in nature, to taxidermy, to cryogenics. It’s a mix and match of sci-fi meets paranormal. And when you find out the truth about Rune’s heritage and how she relates to the Phantom…well, whether or not you’re a fan is up to you, but for me, I was torn. It felt like the author didn’t stay entirely true to the mythology (and that’s all I can say without spoilers). 
  • One of my favorite characters was the cat, Diable. He’s not particularly cute, but he has so much attitude in his mannerisms and he’s so clever. A sassy cat, what’s not to love?

CONS:

  • This book is at least a hundred pages too long. Let me explain. There were so many parts that seemed unnecessary, dragged, and pulled down the whole sense of foreboding that should have wrapped around the reader. The pacing was in line with a Gothic novel, but because it is set in contemporary time, it didn’t fit well with the story, despite the setting. There were whole sections of sprawling description that could have been trimmed, but went on for pages. While these sections certainly painted a picture, the length didn’t really build the emotions, but distracted from them with painstaking details. Scenes that would have benefited from being shortened by heightening the anxiety and fear got lost in a sort of step-by-step, piece-by-piece map of the setting. It became more about setting the scene than the story/scene itself. 
  • There’s so much going on that it became overwhelming. After you get used to the shock factor and adjust to the bizarre twist on the traditional Phantom story, the shifts in POV, the flashbacks to the past, and the absolutely strange quirks of every character (which was a bit much to begin with) don’t fall into place but feel strung together and random. There’s not a feeling of cohesion and planning, it hits like chaos and stays that way. Told in a more measured way, these pieces are all elements that explain the characters and their personalities. I guess what I’m saying is that I would have liked more build up. 
  • So much time was placed on carefully crafting the back stories for the Phantom and Thorn, even for Jipetto and Audrey, so that you know their hearts, their motivations, how they became who they are. And yet, despite the tragedy of her past with her father and the terrible situations she had with her grandmother, and even the history of the family name, Rune’s character felt undeveloped in comparison. While there are tidbits, like her joy of gardening, her knitting, her personality was kind of bland for such a strong story arc. Honestly, she was much better, much more interesting when she was interacting with other characters than by herself. 

If you like any of the following, you’ll enjoy this:

Cryptic reading, 

Jordan

Release Day Blitz: Unbreakable by Liz Long

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synTrue heroes refuse to be broken.

Nova started the fight against Fortune for simple revenge, but now it’s turned into something much bigger. Arcania’s criminals are at each other’s throats, putting the city right in the middle of a warzone. She’ll have to work with a few unlikely allies to end Fortune’s games once and for all. Nova thought she understood what it meant to be a superhero, but will she have to lose herself to truly defeat Fortune?

Fortune has given Cole a choice, one with unbearable consequences. When Cole takes matters into his own hands to save his sister Penelope, he realizes too late he’s another pawn in Fortune’s games. Fortune will use Cole’s gift against his enemies…including Nova. Cole will have to become the hero he always wanted to be if he’s going to protect the love of his life.

Nova and Cole could finally save Arcania from Fortune’s deadly games, but are they willing to sacrifice each other?

Haven’t Started the Series Yet?HoA Trilogy Release Sale

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Liz Long is a proud graduate of Longwood University. Her inspiration comes from action and thriller genres and she spends entirely too much time watching superhero movies. Her day job includes writing for a magazine publisher in Roanoke, VA.

The Donovan Circus series has best been described as “X-Men meets the circus.” Adult horror story Witch Hearts tells the tale of a serial killer hunting witches for their powers. New Adult PNR A Reaper Made is about a teen Reaper who gets caught between falling in love or saving her sister’s soul. All titles are available for paperback or ebook on Amazon.

To learn more about Liz (including more information on her books, plus writing, marketing, and social media tips), visit her website: http://lizclong.com.

Want to Meet Liz?

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Happy reading, 

Jordan

Review: Hatred Day by T.S. Pettibone

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In the year 2052, it’s not love but hate that unites the world.

Humanity is unified against the Inborns, an extraterrestrial species with godlike intelligence and abilities whose arrival on earth caused an environmental and biological crisis.

Enslaved and despised even by her own Inbornkind, 18-year-old Snofrid Yagami reawakens to the world after having her memories stolen and is certain of only one thing: she will do anything to ensure her freedom. But her resolution is soon tested when the son of a high-ranking human official is murdered and her home city becomes the center of the interspecies war, one that might see the Inborns purged. Desperate to find a way out of the city for herself and her family, Snofrid risks making a deal with the manipulative Inborn Commander, Hadrian, and his brutal cadre of soldiers. Her task is simple: take part in a historic hunt that will bring wealth and fame to all who survive. Unfortunately, Snofrid’s role is one in which survival is rarely seen—the bait.

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3.5/5 Stars

***I received this ebook as a gift in exchange for an honest review via the author 

The world building is fantastic. It’s rich and complex, a wonderful blending of gritty and dark dystopia with a magical alien twist. There are many layers with epic technology and hierarchies. There are slums, and gangs, and shady traffickers, and all sorts of twisted, despicable characters that will haunt your nightmares. The price of magic is grotesque and horrifying. Seriously. This imagery will chill and sicken you. Graphic murders, gore, mutilation. It’s all there in its horrific splendor. 

Like with any extensive world building, it’s easy to get overwhelmed and a little lost as story takes over. The story of the extraterrestrials before Hatred Day is barely there. There are so many questions about the before that are never answered. Why the Inborns are so loathed and must keep hidden is another thing. There’s more back story in the blurb it feels like than the actual novel. There wasn’t enough for me to feel confident in the politics and to firmly state why the prejudice and anger were so strong. 

The introduction to characters is epic and strong. Immediately you’re drawn into this world. An urgent quest to find a love one who may or may not have been tortured, held captive, and potential sold into slavery? Is your heart pounding just thinking about it? A thrilling adrenaline rush from the first page. 

Some characters who seemed as though they should or would have a huge part fell out of the plot. Their parts were memorable while they lasted but fleeting and nowhere near enough. It came as a shock to the system and in some instances didn’t make sense. A big section of Snofrid’s past had to deal with the gangs from the slums and her particular relationship with one of the leaders. There’s a major threat. Terrifying, gruesome, bloody, the type of queasy anticipation that transcends foreboding. You can feel the nightmare becoming reality as one psychotic thing happens right after the other. AND THE NOTHING. POOF GONE. I feel like there should have been some sort of final confrontation or something.

Snofrid’s missing memory is another blank space that didn’t have enough back up.

Snofrid is likable and a little badass. She’s had a life full of pain, heartache, and all sorts of trials that no one should have to suffer through. She has prevailed and adapted well to every situation. Snofrid embraces her fears, so lets them consume her and then works through them. She makes hard choices, takes risks, and the past she’s forgotten only enhances the woman she’s become without it. 

The romance. When those memories come back. Holy emotional turmoil. Be still my heart. Those memories. A huge contrast from the current situation but the LOVE. When it hits, it’s like a tsunami. It knocks you off your feet. 

Secondary stories are just as interesting. Snofrid’s brother. WOW. What drama and heart. 

Some subplots I wish there was more of: Hadrian and his minions, the monster and why it is being hunted (the past, the creation, the vile woman…read and you’ll see) and the brutally militaristic way that Lycidius was trained as a child. GIVE ME MORE PLEASE. 

If you like any of the following, you’ll enjoy this:

Epic reading, 

Jordan

 

ARC Review: Girl in Pieces by Kathleen Glasgow

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Release Date: September 6, 2016

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Charlotte Davis is in pieces. At seventeen she’s already lost more than most people lose in a lifetime. But she’s learned how to forget. The thick glass of a mason jar cuts deep, and the pain washes away the sorrow until there is nothing but calm. You don’t have to think about your father and the river. Your best friend, who is gone forever. Or your mother, who has nothing left to give you.

Every new scar hardens Charlie’s heart just a little more, yet it still hurts so much. It hurts enough to not care anymore, which is sometimes what has to happen before you can find your way back from the edge.

review

4/5 Stars

***I received this eARC as a gift in exchange for an honest review via NetGalley & Random House Children’s Delacorte Press

+++Triggers: Self harm, violence, assault, sexual situations, graphic scenes

From the first few pages, I knew that this book would be something special. At 10% on my Goodreads update my status was: “This book. That voice.” I haven’t read such an emotionally gripping and poignant book in a long time. Charlie’s voice is rich, broken, and beautifully tragic. She bares her soul to the reader and has overcome so much that you’ll want to weep for her pain.

This book is intense and not for the faint of heart. The subjects are raw and gritty and graphic. There are times when, if you’re even remotely queasy when it comes to blood, that you might feel a little sick. Self mutilation/harm plays a major role in this story and the psychological reasoning behind it is dark, honest, and could be dangerous or cathartic to some readers. 

Sometimes contemporary books can feel contrived, this is seedy, and twisted, and full of anguish and suffering that many young people, unfortunately go through. It feels absolutely real and honest. Heartbreaking and yes, it will make you angry and maybe even open your eyes to all of the hurt around you that you overlook everyday. 

The writing style. Holy sinful writing gods. Beautiful. Potent. Full of soul. It’s imperfect. There’s some poetry thrown in here and there, but that voice. It reads like a diary. 

Girl in Pieces reads like two books. The time that Charlie spent during her recovery and the life she builds after. There are flashbacks sporadically as well. The first half of the book is like therapy. You’re introduced to everything that got Charlie into the position she’s in. You meet other girls who also self harm for whatever reasons. Each character is unique and memorable. You’ll want to know them, to get to the heart of why they feel the way they do. 

The second half was not my favorite. It slows down considerably. Charlie is building a new life for herself and everyday is a struggle not to cut. The memories of her past haunt her, but so is oh so strong. She’s a fighter, through every negative thought, every memory, she battles herself. You see the struggle and wonder how she copes, but there’s hope for a future where she’s better, where she can be and love herself. 

There’s a stunning plot twist. I was so surprised and disgusted. Just wow. You never know people. 

The romance is messed up. Toxic in some instances and good for her in others. Through love, Charlie begins to see a new side of herself, a beautiful side. She begins to truly look at herself, but the risks and decisions she makes, the way she puts herself in danger is most definitely not okay. She sees it, but doesn’t feel worthy or secure in herself enough to say no. THIS is so important. An examination of why people stay in bad situations and how to rediscover your worth. 

Side note: I strongly dislike this cover.

If you like any of the following, you’ll enjoy this:

Keep reading, 

Jordan

ARC Review: Break Me Like a Promise by Tiffany Schmidt

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No one is unbreakable.

All Magnolia Vickers has ever wanted was to follow father’s path as head of the Family Business. But new legislation is poised to destroy the Family’s operations in the black-market organ trade and Maggie’s recent behavior has wrecked the business-savvy reputation she’s worked her whole life to build.

She’s given an ultimatum: shape up or step aside.

Then Maggie messes up: she downloads a virus onto her father’s computer, and must sneak it off-estate for repair. When Alex, a tech whiz, uncovers the type of information on the machine, he offers Maggie a choice: her Family can give him a kidney, or he’ll irreparably scramble the data. Maggie agrees, but has no intention of keeping her promise or every seeing him again. That night Alex shows up at her Family estate with copies of confidential Family files and a shocking revelation—the kidney is for him.

The Vickers aren’t willing to let Alex out of their sight, so he moves onto their estate and Maggie is assigned to be his keeper. A task she resents and he enjoys making as challenging as possible. But procuring black market organs is becoming increasingly difficult, and as Alex’s health declines, she’s surprised to find herself falling for him.

Like it or not, Maggie must accept that if she wants to save Alex’s life and carve out a place in the new legalized organ business, she’s going to have to fight for both.

review

3/5 Stars

***I received this eARC as a gift in exchange for an honest review via NetGalley & Bloomsbury USA Childrens

PROS:

  • The banter between Alex and Magnolia is perfect. It’s a fiery mess of insult and teasing that forces Magnolia to really look at the kind of person she is and how she can make herself better. The tension is palpable. The attraction is fierce. The heat is slow building and feisty. 
  • The interplay between both of their unique cultures is cool on many levels. Alex comes from a hispanic family and Magnolia full on Southern privilege. The accents, the expectations, the views of what a lady should be doing, and what’s proper, it’s a delight. The phrases, the sweet twang, the food, everything. Perfect. The characterization is on point. 
  • Insight into the organ black market, the laws, the processes for finding organ matches, everything seemed well researching and so interesting. The political platforms and  reasoning behind legalizing organ sale and incentives is complex and intriguing and so, so relevant. It will make you think, maybe about things you’ve never considered before. 

CONS:

  • There’s a huge underlying threat to the Family dealing with cyber security and outsiders trying to steal critical information. It’s there, simmering under all the drama and angst. It seems insanely important, like it should have been a huge deal, I mean someone trying to steal client lists from a black market organ business, seems pretty crucial to iron out. BUT no. NO. This got lost in everything else. It became more romance than mob, and things were ignored that shouldn’t have been. Focus was scattered and by the end no resolution, only more questions and threats. 
  • Initially, Magnolia (Maggie) is every bit of the spoiled princessa that Alex labels her. She’s pretty selfish, rude, and careless with everyone’s feelings. It’s a little difficult to like her and though she’s mourning, it doesn’t make up for her attitude. 
  • Secondary characters don’t have a huge part. There’s more insight from Maggie’s mom than James or even her best friend Lupe. More interaction might have shown more sides of Magnolia’s character, adding more dimension to who she was before her heart was ripped out. 

If you like any of the following, you’ll enjoy this:

Thrilling reading, 

Jordan