Best Dark Romance of the Summer: Pepper Winters The Girl and Her Ren
The Girl and Her Ren by Pepper Winters
My rating: 5 of 5 stars
I'm always hesitant about a sequel because I always worry it won't stand up to the first book. Pepper Winters' The Girl and Her Ren not only stood up to the first book but enhanced it. I loved book one even more thanks to this second book.
This book picks up where book one left off, and I was so happy to see the story continue because I was definitely left wanting more from book one. This series is so unique because it really does explore how love is multi-faceted and really doesn't care about rules. There is a constant back and forth to the plot and the emotions in book one; this continues in book two. I found myself weaving in and out of emotions, from anger to joy to sorrow and back again. Pepper Winters really makes you invest in the characters and their love story in a way few other authors can manage.
The formatting of the book is also unique in that it is told not only from the male and female perspective but also from the format of a manuscript. As a writer, I enjoyed that tie-in and loved how Pepper Winters tied up the series.
I really can't say anything negative about the series. I don't have any critiques. It wrapped up the series in a satisfying way, leaving an impression on me about Della and Ren like no other romance couple. I also love that in the book, Winters highlights that this was never intended to be a romance story, necessarily, but a life story. She accomplishes just that by showcasing how life is a winding, unpredictable journey of pain, sorrow, loss, regret, and guilt. However, through Ren and Della's story, she shows us that love always makes it worth it.
There is certainly a unique aspect to Ren and Della's love story. If you read book one, you understand that their history is very different. Some may even get a bit of a taboo vibe from their union. However, I thought Winters did a great job at acknowledging how their relationship is different but also at not backing down from the love story. Love doesn't follow the rules. It doesn't even follow our own rules. The heart wants what it wants, and it was satisfying to watch Ren and Della experience that very sentiment.
I applaud Pepper Winters for her candid writing, her unabashed look at some darker themes, and the ability to weave such a heartbreaking and beautiful tale about a couple I won't soon forget.
View all my reviews
Check out the links to the books below (I get a small fee from Amazon if you use my links). Also, my video review is posted below!
Honest review of the must-read "Night Circus"
The Night Circus by Erin Morgenstern
My rating: 4 of 5 stars
"The circus arrives without warning."
To review and explain the magnificence of this book is a difficult task. Morgenstern weaves a dreamlike tale of a dreamlike circus in such a fantastical way that it is almost impossible to put into words what the book is about, and, more significantly, what it actually means.
Essentially, this book is a romance about two people, Marco and Celia, who are fated to compete against each other in a competition of magical possibilities. Both illusionists are pitted against each other in a competition with few explanations, obtuse roles, and abstract concepts. For this reason, it is somewhat jarring for the reader to partake in this journey. This is a book where you never 100% understand what is happening.
I enjoyed the layers to the book and the different perspectives. There are many characters in this book, but Morgenstern weaves them together in exciting ways. Part of the attraction to this book is the fact that you never quite know whose story you are really reading. Who is actually important? What is the main purpose? Who is really going to rise as the central figure? There are so many swirls and whirls in the narrative that it begins to feel like the dreamlike circus she writes about.
The circus itself essentially becomes a character in this book. This circus is very different than the one you are probably imagining, however. It is a place where magic is real and the impossible really is possible. The illusions aren't really illusions, although the cover of night makes patrons of the circus understand that reality is perhaps the biggest illusion.
The narrative voice in this book does give it a bit of a distant feel from the reader at times. I have read critiques of this book where readers are not a fan because they couldn't connect. I can understand where that comes from. There are certain points where the narrative voice is second-person narration and you feel utterly connected. Then, there are parts where it is difficult to even understand what's going on or who is who, so it can be difficult to hang onto the connection.
I think the brilliance of this tale, though, is the fact that Morgenstern was able to create the dreamlike feel in which the reader can question what reality really means. I also loved the layering of tales and story lines. I cannot begin to imagine the process of coming up with this story and writing it. I think it is a testament to the creativity of Morgenstern and her writing skill that she pulled off this book.
I do wish the romance element had been more thoroughly established. I felt there was a disconnect between Marco and Celia at times, which is understandable but also frustrating. The love story could have been more clearly developed to provide more satisfaction to the reader.
The ending was superb. It was perfect and everything a reader could hope for in a book like this.
Overall, this is a unique read that is like nothing you've ever read. It will stand out in your mind for a long time after you're done reading. Most of all, it will make you realize that you should never be constrained by expectations or realities in your own life.
View all my reviews
Whips and chains. Thrusting bodies. Hot, spicy encounters.
Certainly, passion has a place in love and in romance novels. Most of us enjoy some escapism from time to time--and sexy abs aren't a bad thing, for sure.
However, some of the most common questions I get are: Why sweet romance? Where's the hot sex in your books?
In fact, some of the harshest criticism I've received has been about the lack of explicit sex in my books.
Let me say this: My characters do have hot sex. It's just that most of it happens off the page, behind the scenes. Some of my book characters share some spicy foreplay and some sexually tense moments. However, I leave "the act" up to the reader's interpretation. Why, you may ask? I think it boils down to three reasons.
1. I blame Nicholas Sparks
Nicholas Sparks has always been my writing inspiration. I've been a fan since junior high. I think he proves that love stories don't have to have explicit sex to be memorable, emotional, and effective. I think that subconsciously, when I started writing, he impacted the style of my romance.
2. I'm a teacher
I think it's always been a consideration that whatever I write may end up in students' hands. I teach high school, so the maturity level is higher. However, I still don't know that I'd want to look out to a sea of my book knowing there are some racy, racy parts in them.
3. (The most important reason) Love isn't all about sex
Over 17 years of knowing my husband and 7 years of marriage, I've come to learn that love is definitely not all about sex. No way.
Love is soooo much more complicated than the carnal needs we have. Sure, sexual chemistry is a huge part of our search for a partner. However, love is about so much more. Love is this powerfully complex, emotional journey. It's about identity and sacrifice. It's about struggle and triumph. It's about finding someone who builds you up even at your worst. It's about finding someone who not only accepts your baggage but embraces it.
For me, that's where the story has always been. I want to chase the complexity. I want to reveal the harder side of love, the more trying side of the emotion. I want to embrace the deep, emotional side of my characters and who they are together.
Sex plays a role in that, but for me, the more difficult and, thus, more engaging part of the story doesn't usually happen in the bedroom. It happens in a truck in the middle of a blizzard when sex is so far from even being a possibility. It happens in an assisted living center where an 80-year-old woman has completely given up on connecting with anyone. It happens in a small town where a couple who is just too stubborn to admit they're perfect for each other flirts with the possibility of who they could've been.
So there are many reasons my romance falls on the sweeter side of the genre. I hope this helps you understand why I write what I write.
What do you think? Do you like your romance on the sweeter side, or do you like more physical connection in your stories? I'd love to chat with you, so hit reply and tell me what you think.
Author Lindsay Detwiler
An Honest Review of Book 2 in the Arc of a Scythe Series
Thunderhead by Neal Shusterman
My rating: 5 of 5 stars
I was nervous going into this one because I LOVED Scythe so much, and sequels usually fall short for me. This was the exception.
I really didn't know if Shusterman would be able to up the game in the second book in this awesome young adult series... but he did. Thunderhead follows our beloved characters from book one, Citra and Rowan. They have gone very different paths in this book; however, as the book progresses, you realize that there is still a deep connection between them in more ways than one. I loved watching both of their journeys to identity and finding their place in this odd world.
Shusterman further develops the world of scythes in this sequel, adding details and dimensions that weren't fully explored in part one. Mainly, this book (as the name suggests) delves much deeper into the concept of the Thunderhead. Diary entries from the Thunderhead give a unique glimpse into this futuristic technology and allows the reader to understand the purpose of it, the benefits, and of course, the downfalls.
This book ends with a huge cliffhanger that left me wanting more. I cannot wait until 2019 to read book 3 in this series. New heroes are named in this book, and I can't wait to explore their story. Also, major shifts have happened by the end of this book, and I know book 3 is going to be epic.
Kudos to Shusterman for again delivering an imaginative, fully-developed world that really makes readers think about technology, what it means to be alive, and what the purpose of this thing called life really is.
View all my reviews
The Boy and His Ribbon by Pepper Winters
My rating: 4 of 5 stars
The Boy and His Ribbon is a dark, winding tale of abuse, survival, and forbidden love. This book is definitely not a traditional romance and has elements that are somewhat taboo. Nonetheless, I found this book to be very well written, intriguing, and emotional.
The story follows Della and Ren, two children on the run after escaping from an abusive house of terrors. Della is the McClary’s biological daughter, while Ren is not. He was being held hostage and forced to do labor for them. When Ren, who is much older than Della, escapes, he takes her with him and their saga of survival begins.
As Ren tries to learn how to survive in a world away from the horrendous farm, he takes on a caregiver role for Della. The two grow up and grow together, both each other’s world entire. Nonetheless, when decades pass and the two are grown, those feelings of love will get more complex and confusing.
I will say that some people may find this book a bit taboo. Nonetheless, Pepper Winters handles the topic in a respectable, understandable manner. She manages to make the somewhat taboo topic the central conflict and also something the reader can fathom and even accept. The characters were well-crafted, and the plot was so intriguing. Nothing about this story is cliché or overdone—it truly is a piece that stands out in a crowd of stories.
I loved the back and forth feel of the book thanks to the alternating point of view. It really helped me understand both characters and their reasoning for their actions. In a dark world full of violence and abuse, Ren and Della find hope in each other, which is a beautiful thing.
I cannot wait to read the next book, The Girl and Her Ren, which releases this June. Thank you, Pepper Winters, for a uniquely engaging storyline that really had me thinking about the lines in love, survival, and what it means to truly love someone unconditionally.
View all my reviews
The Lying Game by Ruth Ware
My rating: 5 of 5 stars
"I have spent so long running from the memories, pushing them away, drowning them in drink and routine and everyday life."
Ruth Ware's The Lying Game is a psychological journey through secrets, lies, and relationships.
The book follows Isa and her former classmates through a journey of horrible memories, lies, and secrets. As they uncover truths they'd tried to overlook, they will learn that sometimes the lying game comes back to haunt you.
I loved that this book truly kept me on the edge of my seat. Just when I felt confident I had figured it out, I changed my mind. The suspense is well-built and keeps you on edge. I also liked Isa's character's imperfections and struggles. She felt very realistic and was easy to like. I found myself rooting for her.
The ending was very well done. The last page, especially, really brought everything full circle.
Overall, this book had a feel of In a dark, dark wood. The concepts were somewhat similar, and Ruth Ware's detailed style didn't disappoint. Overall, this was an engaging story about how dangerous lies can be and how they can haunt us well beyond what we ever thought possible.
I highly recommend this book and will definitely be reading the next Ruth Ware book released.
View all my reviews
Everything, Everything Movie Review: Sweet Love Story For Teens
As a high school English teacher and romance writer, I rarely commit the "sin" of watching a movie before reading the book. This weekend, however, I couldn't help myself when I was scrolling through HBO and found Everything, Everything.
I've seen reviews of the young adult novel all over bookstagram and have had it on my tbr list. I've also been wanting to see the movie, so I jumped in over the weekend. I wasn't disappointed.
The story follows Maddy, a teenager diagnosed with a rare illness that won't let her leave the house. Essentially, any virus or bacteria can kill her, so she's spent her entire life under the careful watch of her mother and nurse. Locked in a house where everything is sanitized, Maddy feels isolated and like she's missing out on life. When Olly moves in next door, though, her world opens up. Even though they are physically separated, their relationship grows as the somewhat wild neighbor boy steals Maddy's heart. Will she be willing to risk it all for just one real life moment with him?
Overall, the premise of the movie was very intriguing. I empathized with Maddy and couldn't help but feel sorry for her situation. The isolation and loneliness created a real problem, and the added romantic interest certainly pulled on the heart strings. I also loved how Olly brought an edge to Maddy's life. He was the typical "bad boy" who showed his sweet side for Maddy, and an endearing relationship developed. I loved how the two show the true emotional side of romance. The love story was sweet and well-developed.
Overall, the movie was a sweet watch perfect for anyone looking for a sweet romance or any teens looking for a cute love story.
I would give this movie a four out of five. The star deduction is mostly for the ending (SPOILERS BELOW: STOP READING NOW IF YOU DON"T WANT TO SEE SPOILERS)
Okay, so here is where my issue with the movie comes in.
The entire movie, I was really curious as to how the author would wrap up this love story. Could Olly sacrifice his whole life to be with Maddy? Would she be okay with it? How can you be in a relationship with someone who has such a limited opportunity to see the world, especially when your'e a bit of a wild child?
I also couldn't bear the thought of Olly and Maddy going their separate ways, especially after how much Olly brought to Maddy's world. I realized early on this presented a difficult problem for the writer and was curious as to how it would end.
But then.... I felt like there was an easy way out. Suddenly, Maddy's mom lied about the whole disease (for 17 years!). I understand the reason was plausible and did appreciate the twist. However, I couldn't shake the feeling that the author wrote herself into a corner with the love story and, to give a satisfying ending, had to "heal" Maddy.
Don't get me wrong... the happy ending was endearing and left you in a feel-good place. I would, however, have appreciated a less-than-cheerful ending if it meant the author had tackled the really tough situation head-on.
What did you think? Did you read the book? Is it different? Let me know in the comments!
Free Excerpt of Book 2 in Lines in the Sand by Lindsay Detwiler
Hi! I hope you’re having a great week. Scroll down for another free excerpt from Wild Hearts. This is one of my favorite scenes in the book because it just makes me laugh.
Will a chance and very uncomfortable run-in be the scene to finally bring Jodie and Levi together? Read on to find out why Jodie got to see a whole lot more of Levi’s gorgeous boy than she bargained for...
“Are you sure you should’ve let Gemma handle this? From what you’ve told me, she just isn’t the most trustworthy,” Avery says. We’re sitting at the kitchen island sipping coffees she brought. Avery’s forehead is dripping with sweat, and she’s trying to create airflow by pulling on the front of her shirt.
I’m wearing the skimpiest tank top and shortest shorts I could possibly find in my dresser this morning, but there’s still sweat beading on my forehead, too, and dripping down all sorts of places I don’t want to think about. I’m a hot mess, and I mean that quite literally.
It figures that on the hottest day of the year, our main air conditioner in the living room would break. Just figures.
Gemma’s out at the local Home Depot getting a new one—after swiping my half of the money for it, of course. Apparently, when she was at the bar last week, some hot guy was there who works at the Home Depot in town. I wouldn’t put her past breaking the unit on purpose for an excuse to go there.
Regardless, it’s quiet without her, and Avery doesn’t have to be at her new painting spot for a couple of hours. I’ve suggested we catch up on Teen Mom or The Bachelor. Avery has other ideas, insistent I lure the cowboy out of his apartment so she can get a look. I’ve shot the idea down. We’ve both considered having some real fun and letting Sebastian into Gemma’s room. I can just imagine the horror in Gemma’s perfectly lined eyes at the sight of the cat on his back right in the middle of her pillow.
“Hey,” Avery says after taking another sip. “Speaking of Sebastian, where is my buddy? I haven’t seen him, and come to think of it, he didn’t greet me.”
I freeze, looking at Avery before glancing around. I think back on the morning, realizing I haven’t seen Sebastian, not since I got up and noticed it was hotter than hell in here. I remember feeding him his canned cat food bright and early, but after that….
We both leap to our feet and investigate, checking Sebastian’s favorite napping spots. I find nothing but clumps of gray hair where Sebastian should be.
I start calling out his name, wondering where the big lug of a cat ended up. Avery dashes room to room.
And that’s when I see it. The window. The wide-open window, the screen that was there this morning gone.
“Dammit,” I yell, dashing toward the open window, hoping the fat cat didn’t get very far. But I don’t see him anywhere. Avery rushes to my side.
“Oh, shit,” she says.
We wordlessly dash outside, frantically peeking around the apartment lawn.
And it’s then I hear some wild parrot squawking above the country music blasting in Levi’s apartment—so much for heeding my neighborly request to keep it down.
That’s when I notice his window is, as usual, wide, wide open. He says real men believe in natural air conditioning.
“Is this the cowboy’s home?” Avery says, her eyes glimmering despite the situation.
“You know damn well it is,” I say. “But looks like he’s not home.”
I creep over to his window, peeping in to see Sebastian, all twenty pounds of him, climbing up Johnny Cash’s cage, his claws fiddling with the door, the parrot screaming. Apparently he didn’t get very far after his great escape. I can’t even begin to imagine how he got his fat body through Levi’s window and onto the parrot cage. Regardless, this is the predicament we’re in now, and I have no idea how to get us out of it.
“Oh shit,” I yell, waiting for Levi to come bolting to Johnny Cash’s rescue. But he does nothing of the sort. He truly must not be home, despite the music blaring.
Thus, I do what any sensible woman would do. I try the doorknob, find it locked, and pound furiously on the door. We wait a moment, but detect no Levi movement. I kick the door in frustration.
Avery yells at Sebastian, hands on her face. “Jo, he’s going to get the parrot. You need to get in there.”
“And how do you suppose I do that?” I scream, in panic mode.
Avery looks at me and then peeks at the window. “Here, I’ll give you a boost. You can just shimmy through there.”
“I can’t just climb through his window. Are you crazy?”
“You need to save the bird!” She is insistent, the take-charge Avery emerging in our time of crisis. I sigh and obey. She’s right. Levi might drive me crazy, but I can’t risk Sebastian hurting his bird—although if Johnny Cash bit the dust, it would be much quieter. Still, it wouldn’t be the neighborly thing or the humanly thing to do.
Avery awkwardly makes a step for me out of her hands. “Apparently neither of us were cheerleaders,” I say as we struggle and fumble on the front lawn. Finally, Avery practically tosses me to the ledge of the window, and I pull and strain to get myself through. The cat is hanging on the cage. At least he hasn’t burst it open yet.
I finally slide through the window, and Avery claps behind me, apparently proud we’ve pulled off this James Bond—hardly—move.
I yell at Sebastian, flapping my hands at him, as I cross the living room floor. I’m almost at the cage when a door flies open inside, and footsteps come running toward me, probably to see what the commotion is.
The real Johnny Cash’s “Folsom Prison Blues” is blaring as Sebastian meows at me, Johnny Cash the parrot screaming and flapping. Avery shrieks from the window, and says “Oh, my.” I turn slightly to see Levi staring back at me wide-eyed.
But it’s me who lets out the next scream, backing toward the window, because Levi is standing a few feet away from me, completely and utterly naked.
Like completely. Everything, everything, everything is hanging out for all to see.
And see it all we do.
It is only after a long, confusing moment he realizes what’s happening and covers himself with cupped hands, but it’s too late.
I’ve seen things I can’t unsee, and maybe don’t want to.
What did you think of Levi and Jodie’s awkward run-in? Hit Reply and let me know if this scene made you laugh. I’d love to hear from you.
P.S: Want more of Wild Hearts? Join my VIP Fan Club For your chance to get more Free excerpts of Wild Hearts. I want you to get to try it out before you buy it... I only want you to add it to your TBR pile if it's your type of romance.
5 Must-See and Must-Read Pieces to Cure Royal Wedding Fever
"I want to be a princess."
It's a line so many of us uttered as a child--and maybe some of us are still saying now. Becoming a princess is just the thing of childhood dreams. The dresses, the castle, the lovely teas and handsome prince. It's the thing of dreams, far away dreams for many of us.
So it's no wonder that when Kate Middleton and Meghan Markle live out our childhood fantasies in real life, we all get a little obsessed. There's just something magical about a royal wedding. From the clothes to the venue to the dress, it seems like the thing fairy tales are made of.
I can remember watching Kate Middleton's wedding, mesmerized by the beauty and extravagance of it all. I know for a fact I'll be tuned into Prince Harry and Meghan Markle's wedding on May 19th, taking in all the magical beauty of the scene.
But, if you're like me, May 19th seems so far away. Other than a few cute engagement photos and the engagement interview, there's not a lot to keep the momentum going. So, I've come up with this list of top five books, movies, and shows for those of you also suffering from royal wedding fever. Feel free to comment with any additions to the list.
1. The Crown
I'll be the first to say I find The Crown to be a little bit dry. However, it does give you a deep look at the royal family and all of the crises they survived. The dresses are stunning, and the actors and actresses do an amazing job at portraying daily life for the family. It is insightful and gives you the glimpse into the lifestyle few are actually privy to.
If you're obsessed with all things royalty, this is an amazing series from the CW. It follows a very fictionalized story line of Mary Queen of Scots. Adelaide Kane does an amazing job at portraying the beautiful, young ruler. The love story between Mary and Frances is truly swoonworthy.
Although a different royal family and not historically accurate, this is sure to satisfy anyone who loves everything royalty. The costumes are to die for, the scenery and castle is magical, and the secrets and lies keep the plot engaging. This is my favorite "royalty" series of all time. I highly recommend you check out the five seasons of the show.
3. The Prince and Me
An oldie but goodie for anyone who loves the "average girl marries prince" idea. Julia Stiles does an amazing job at portraying the average, girl-next-door who unknowingly falls for a prince. It's a magical movie that gives hope to all of us that our princess dreams can come true. Check out The Prince and Me to hold you over until the royal wedding... and maybe pretend that your dreams of being a princess are still possible.
4. A Christmas Prince
This is the holiday movie that took the internet by storm. A Netflix Original, A Christmas Prince touts some cheesy acting and plot... yet is somehow irresistible. It has a similar plot to The Prince and Me, where an average girl ends up falling in love with a prince. A reporter is sent to cover a story on the prince, but accidentally ends up closer to him than she plans. As her lies snowball, she must decide whether or not to confess the truth or to follow her career passions.
It's a holiday movie, but I recommend it for anyone who can't wait for the royal wedding and wants to watch the lives of princes and princesses.
5. Tegan Wren's Inconceivable
This book is a 5-star read. It again follows the idea of an average woman (a reporter) who falls in love with a prince. However, this book actually goes into their marriage and their struggles as a couple. This book gives a realistic look at how becoming a royal could change you. For those of us who won't get to live out our princess fantasy, it makes you realize that even being royalty doesn't shield you from heavy life issues. It maybe dulls the pain of the fact that Prince Harry and Prince William are off the market.
I highly recommend this read. Check out my Goodreads review here.
Sleeping Beauties by Stephen King
My rating: 4 of 5 stars
I was intrigued by the premise of Sleeping Beauties before I ever picked it up. The idea of all of the women falling asleep and getting a sickness from which they could not awake was super interesting to me. From page one, this book truly did the plot justice.
This book is not really horror, despite the King name. I found it to be more psychological/suspense/fantasy. I really enjoyed the writing style, which was poetic at points. The description and character development is out of this world. There are so many characters in this book, but I didn't feel confused. The development is so good that I was able to keep all of the characters distinct in my mind.
I enjoyed seeing so many characters' perspectives in this book. It keeps it engaging because there are so many sub-plots happening at once. I found the premise to be interesting. I was constantly looking at the deeper meaning of the book. If you're looking, I really think the book has a lot to offer in terms of gender roles, life's meaning, and the power of secrets. I like that there is so much depth to a very different, engaging story.
The book has a very apocalyptic feel. I also felt like it had similarities with The Handmaid's Tale, which is one of my favorite books. I like the commentary on gender roles and felt that this book did a job at illuminating interesting talking points without being over-the-top or "preaching."
My only dislike came near the end of the book. I had a hard time getting through the last 100 pages because I felt like the book really slowed down. The book was exciting up through about page 600. For me, it slacked off at that point and lost my interest. I felt like the ending was way too long and lost its intensity.
I also would have liked a deeper ending. It felt like a little bit of a letdown.
This book is certainly a time investment due to its length. However, if you're looking for a very different read that deals with gender roles in an apocalyptic background, grab this book.
View all my reviews
*As an Amazon Affiliate, I get a small fee for any books purchased through the links below.