Cirque: Acts 1 & 2 by Ashleigh Giannoccaro

These books really have to be reviewed together. Both are fairly short and create a perfectly written piece of art. I read each one in one sitting, unable to put them down. A huge warning for all readers out there: this series takes dark to a new level. I’ve read dark romance and dark suspense. This is first person perspective of broken and twisted minds that make you feel emotions you may not be comfortable with. I loved every minute of it, even the ones that made my skin crawl.

From the very get-go, you know it is not going to be an easy ride. It is disturbing and I had to force my way through that brief intro, but I was desperate to know where it was going and who all the characters really were. I knew they had to tie together in some manner and I’m happy to say that it took me a while to figure it out. Most books give it away in some form early on; this book kept me guessing.

It starts with Sivan, a man with a clown in his closet. Instead of a skeleton, his secret is his desire and desperate need to be a clown. This clown in his mind is like an infection that he tries to control, to appease, but when Imogene comes along, he no longer has the upper hand. For some reason, both Sivan and the clown have an intense need to be with her and/or own her. The situation spirals out of control in ways I never saw coming and I was constantly dreading the moment his clown would be exposed. Book one deals more with this, but each one left me crying for more.

Sivan is kind and gentle. He has created a facade that he believes he wants to be, someone he thinks others want him to be. He has lived the Sivan front for so long, he’s not sure where he begins and the clown ends. The clown side of him takes creepy to a whole new level. People who are afraid of clowns might want to steer clear of this one. Aside from Stephen King’s It, I’ve never felt one way or the other, but this set has changed how I think of clowns for the rest of my life, both good and bad.

While I warmed up to Sivan immediately, Imogene had to grow on me. She has the circus in her soul and that part of her calls to Sivan’s, but she is incredibly broken, which leads to instances where I didn’t care much for her. Her backstory is so painful, that it is no surprise that she becomes who she is or why she is just as obsessed with Sivan as he is with her. When bad stuff goes down, she becomes a mix of her inner tormented child and the adult who tries so hard to survive. It wasn’t until the second book that I felt more emotion for her.

There are a few side characters who play important parts, but are not paid much attention and I often forgot they were even there. Their roles might be vital, but the lack of detail concerning them took away from the story, which was focused mainly on the couple. Imogene’s devastating past is given a lot of detail that I had to force my self through. Often, it was painful to read, but important to understand where she was coming from and why she found comfort in her box, both physically and mentally. Sivan’s own devastating upbrining is referenced, but I wish it had been given much more detail. His clown did not appear overnight; there was a definite reason for his need to become the clown. It was explained, but in my opinion, it just wasn’t quite satisfying.

Even with the weaknesses, I loved this story. It had true love, true fear, real torture, and fractured souls. It has the mixings for an incredible story, and it is. It passes quickly and the pace never slows, making you eager to find out what happens next. I was slightly disappointed by the semi-ambiguous ending, but I think of it as Inception; the real ending is left to the reader’s imagination and that is part of its strength. There was an annoyingly high amount of typos that would normally put me off entirely, but the story was so riveting that I took mental note and quickly moved on. Prepare yourself for a lot of double-checking as you progress, though.

For the rating:

  • Genre and general reading age – it’s a super dark romance and even I had trouble reading some of the scenes. It’s safe to say that only adults who are prepped for a disturbing read to take this on.
  • The level of sexuality – was very high and left me cringing on more than one occasion.
  • Was there graphic language? There was some, but it was not overwhelming. In fact, it was quite low-key considering the content.
  • Did I cry? I got choked up repeatedly over the hardships that each character had endured and continued to struggle with.
  • Is this part of a series? Acts 1 & 2 are it. They create a seamless story.
  • Did I laugh? Not at all.
  • Level of character development – Sivan and Imogene were very well-done and easy to relate to. His mother, her father, his best friend, and his sister, were all pivotal characters, but they lacked any development. They were there simply to drive the story forward.

I’m so glad I read this series. I will never forget it and will be anxiously waiting for more from this author. I cannot recommend it more for individuals who want something very dark to read. If it had developed the side characters more and spent more time discussing Sivan’s abusive childhood and how it led to his clown, it would be a solid five stars. As it stands, I gladly give them a collective  ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️ stars.

Act 1 Available here on Amazon    Act 1 Available here on Barnes & Noble

Act 2 Available here on Amazon

Project Killer by J.L. Beck

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I’m honestly not sure how to describe this book. I’m not even sure how I feel about it. I read it in one sitting, so that says a lot. I was hooked from the very beginning, dying to know what the outcome would be.

First off, half the story is told in flashbacks. I understand the need for them in this particular book, but they are not something that I relish. Due to the main character’s loss of memory, it was important to have memories pop up that would clarify some of the actions of the characters. The fact is, there was hardly any action, though. Girl loses the teenage love of her life to cancer, she becomes obsessed with his memory and trying to find a cure at an evil corporation, PGI, she then finds out that he is, in fact, alive! So far, not surprising, and it is followed by a whole lot of memories before a quick dash of suspense at the very, very end.

Here’s where it gets interesting: Killer, aka Maggie’s great love, formerly known as Diesel, (yes, apparently his real name is as cool as the name he earns) is part of the evil corporation who claimed to be curing his cancer. Instead, they faked his death, cured him, and turned him into an uncontrollable killer, hence the name. It’s not told how, but a bunch of these men who were tortured in the name of science, escape and hunker down in some enormous building. I was confused throughout, because they seem to be free of PGI, yet there are little bits of PGI still in their lives, such as nurses and drugs. Perhaps, I was so busy rushing through in my excitement that I missed what exactly their bunker was and how they got there, but I doubt it. The second book’s blurb alludes to many secrets and blurring of the truth, so I just accept the fact that I am confused and everything will be resolved later in another book.

The predictable moment when these teen lovers meet again would be typical and boring, except he doesn’t remember her and tries to kill her. The leader of their so-called band of violent, abused men, Gauge, decides to bring her back with them to their hideout. Since he doesn’t know that she works for PGI, I assume he was able to see that she recognized Killer, otherwise, there is no explanation as to why they would drag her along. After all, Killer leaves dead bodies in his wake everywhere he goes. What is one unconscious woman in a club?

Gauge decides that he is going to use Maggie to try to force Killer to face the memories that keep trying to break through the barrier, and to get back in touch with his emotions. Currently, Killer feels rage and want-to-rip-your-heart-out-through-your-rib-cage rage. He’s just one ball of murderous anger. Putting them together does spark memories, so it turns out to be a solid plan.

The flashbacks are a mishmash of Diesel and Maggie being brutalized by evil Roger, who coincidently takes over for his father at PGI and makes Maggie’s life hell, and Diesel continually telling her to leave him alone. He claims that Maggie only brings Roger’s wrath down on them both. There are many instances given in the book that make me choke up a bit; there wasn’t an easy moment. Even when they “made love” the first time, after she was almost raped at the prom, it was far from sweet or romantic. I came to the conclusion that I only liked Diesel for the few times he was able to protect her before dying and that I only liked Maggie for loving Diesel enough to endure his adamant, unkind rebuffs of her affections. Both were trying to protect each other, but they did a crap job. As adults, Killer is no longer Diesel and Maggie is still a doormat.

The story is quick and written with a low-level of details. Surroundings and physical characteristics are basically skipped. She’s beautiful, he’s hot, the compound (whatever you want to call it) is immense, and there are a ton of buff, deadly guys. Details would have been a welcome break from the intense emotions that bombard the reader from one page to the next. Instead, it’s one bumpy ride without reprieve. I’m not even sure how to categorize this, because it has elements of love, but they are mostly past tense and what she clings to. There is a bit of action, some of it through flashbacks, and the majority of the book is the two of them sitting together while he remembers. It’s dark, not steamy, not action-packed, creates uncomfortable sensations, and has more than a touch of “What the cuss is going on?”

For the rating:

  • Genre and general reading age – I’m not sure. Like I said, it has a touch of romance, action, violence, mystery. It’s almost in a genre of its own. This is definitely for adults only. I’m a grown woman and there were scenes that made my skin crawl, so teenagers are definitely out.
  • Level of sexuality – they think about it and there is one memory of actual sex that is not joyful at all. In fact, the scene made me grimace, but I don’t think that was the intention. There were a few references to sex that left women bleeding and begging for these monsters to stop, which increased the “eww” factor and those were done on purpose.
  • Was there graphic language? He kills almost indiscriminately and was abused horrifically. It’s a given that there’s some swearing.
  • Did I cry? My throat tightened a few times during her memories of losing him to cancer and his memories of torture. I was able to suck the tears back up into my tear ducts before they could fall, though.
  • Is this part of a series? This is book one in the Project Series.
  • Level of character development – I feel that Killer and Maggie are written fairly well. The lack of details took away from the overall sense of who they are, but the memories are enough to get a good feel for them as people. Roger is just evil, in every way possible, from teenager to adult. He’s one-sided, but it’s doubtful that he’s anything other than nefarious. Every single other character was like a ghost who appeared when needed and then vanished. I basically forgot they were even there, until the need arose.

This book has a lot of strengths. It also has some drawbacks that could have made this a really solid story. It’s dark, it’s disturbing, it’s addicting. I give it  ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️ stars. For anyone who wants a book that is a very quick, intriguing read that is a bit disturbing, this is the perfect book.

Available here on Barnes & Noble

Available here on Amazon