Saturday, February 8, 2014

Review: Sempre by J.M. Darhower

Saturday, February 8, 2014 with 10 comments
Title: Sempre
Author: J.M. Darhower
Series: Forever Series, book #1
Publisher: Gallery Books
Publication Date: February 25, 2014
Source: received from publisher via Edelweiss
Purchase: Amazon | Barnes & Noble

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A sexy novel about two seventeen-year-olds—one a victim of human trafficking; the other the son of the man who enslaved her—who fall in love and question everything they ever believed…

Haven Antonelli and Carmine DeMarco grew up under vastly different circumstances. Haven, a second-generation slave, was isolated in the middle of the desert, her days full of hard work and terrifying abuse. Carmine, born into a wealthy Mafia family, lived a life of privilege and excess.

Now, a twist of fate causes their worlds to collide. Entangled in a web of secrets and lies, they learn that while different on the surface, they have more in common than anyone would think.

In a world full of chaos, where money and power rule, Haven and Carmine yearn to break free, but a string of events that began before either of them were born threatens to destroy them instead. Murder and betrayal are a way of life, and nothing comes without a price—especially not freedom. But how much will they have to sacrifice? Can they escape their pasts? And, most of all, what does it mean to be free?

Wow.  If Sara's love for this novel hadn't come through loud and clear in her review, I might not have ever given this book a chance, and that's a shame.  But I did read it, and I kinda sorta loved it.  And I trust Sara's judgment, but that still comes as a surprise to me because this book is really out of my comfort zone.  Sure, I like books featuring crime and the mob in one fashion or another, like the Curse Workers series by Holly Black, but with the human-trafficking aspect and all the violence, this book seemed too real and not at all like something I'd typically enjoy.

Boy, was I wrong.  Because one of the things I like to read about best is a morally ambiguous character, and Sempre is chock-full of them.  The characters in this book are malicious, vindictive and all around horrible human beings.  Most of them, anyway.  And yet...and yet, I couldn't make myself hate them.  Not all of them, anyway.  The point I'm trying to make is that no matter how much I wanted to be disgusted with their actions, with their behavior, wanted to judge them as reprehensible and be done with them, I just couldn't bring myself to do it.  Because deep down, I wanted to believe that they had it in their hearts to do the right thing, when it all came down to it.  Most especially Dr. DeMarco.

The writing in this story was realistic.  It felt legitimate, not that I'd really know what legitimate was when it came to a mafia family, but it read as genuine.  Less like the BS you'd find in a crime drama on TV and more like the dialogue you'd see between family members who care about each other but never really quite understand one another and their position. Without all the gun-toting and violence, this could be a typical family, still grieving over the loss of their matriarch, years after her death.

I read this book several weeks ago, but it has really stuck with me.  Aside from the issue of human slavery, I think the romance was the focal point, but it was handled in a way that didn't overshadow the other issues at large.  When you meet Carmine, he's a bit of a prick.  But love can change people, and that's just what happens when he allows himself to know Haven.  Haven, due in part to the life she's lived up to this point, is unbelievably naïve, but Carmine sort of takes her under his wing, as does his older brother Dom.  They can't save her from her past, but the DeMarcos just might ensure she has a future.

I wouldn't exactly call this novel a foray into new adult because the main characters are still high school age, but there are definitely situations that are not suitable for a younger audience.  There is a lot of language that some might find offensive (I'm not one of them), there are sexual encounters, there is an unbelievable amount of violence (some that leads to death), but worst of all is the human trafficking.  I think that subject was explored at length and in-depth, and though it's not something that anyone will ever be comfortable with, I applaud the author for being so open and honest about it and the repercussions, the fact that slavery is still a very real issue today, decades and decades after it was officially abolished.

This novel started out as a self-published piece, which was later picked up by Gallery Books for distribution, but you'd never know it.  It doesn't suffer from a lack of editing.  It doesn't suffer from over-used tropes or poor characterization. Sempre is just a beautifully sad story of expectations, longing, and loss, infused with gorgeous Italian phrases, and heartbreakingly told through the eyes of several of the characters.  If you enjoy stories that open your eyes to the horrors of the world, or if you're willing to step out of your comfort zone in order to experience one that will, I highly recommend this novel.

GIF it to me straight:

Sempre (Forever, #1)Sempre: Redemption (Forever, #2)

About the author:

JM Darhower is the author of the New Adult Sempre series (Sempre & Sempre: Redemption), andthe paranormal romance novella, Extinguish. She lives in a tiny town in the Carolinas with her family, where she churns out more words than will ever see the light of day. She has a deep passion for politics and human rights, and when she isn’t writing she’s usually ranting about those things. Chronic crimper with a vulgar mouth, she admits to having a Twitter addiction. You can find her there.

Find Jessica:

Website | TwitterFacebookGoodreads | Tumblr


  1. I've been eyeing this one since it went on sale, but I just wasn't sure. If you say it's good, Jen, well...just bought it. :) Thanks for the great review - glad you enjoyed!

  2. I've had several friends try to push this on me but I'm not into the trafficking aspect. I loved your review though!

  3. Wow. This story sounds powerful; I'm definitely curious after reading your thoughtful review, Jen. But I'd have to be mentally prepared before going into a story like this. Then again, how could anyone be prepared for a topic as heavy as human trafficking? Still, this story deserves to be read, because as you put it, human trafficking is still a current issue. If we stop exposing it for what it is, then we're just condoning the exploitation. Thanks for sharing your thoughts!

    Marlene @ The Flyleaf Review

  4. AHHHHHHHH! I've been waiting for this review!! I'm so very glad you gave this book a chance and enjoyed it!

    The sequel takes a bit of a departure from the romance and focuses on character growth. I hope you get to read it someday and love it too!

  5. I skimmed because I'll be reviewing this one too. Glad you liked it even though it gets into some intense stuff.

  6. I'm so so thrilled that you ended up enjoying this one, Jen! I'm with Sara in LOVING this story. I've read it several times in fact, and it holds a special place in my heart. I love the complexity of the characters and situations, and the way it highlights the realities of human trafficking. The love story melts me every time, andI ALWAYS hate Dr. DeMarco, only to learn to understand him by the end. I also agree that it has a new adult, or at least a mature YA feel.

  7. Huh. I've never even heard of this one. It doesn't sound like something I would normally pick up, either, but I'll have to keep my eyes out. I love that the author doesn't fall for tropes you might expect when looking at a crime family, but instead keeps them realistic to how actual families behave. Great review!


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