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You’re not supposed to want the one who torments you.

When my stepbrother, Elec, came to live with us my senior year, I wasn’t prepared for how much of a jerk he’d be.

I hated that he took it out on me because he didn’t want to be here. I hated that he brought girls from our high school back to his room. But what I hated the most was the unwanted way my body reacted to him.

At first, I thought all he had going for him were his rock-hard tattooed abs and chiseled face. Then, things started changing between us, and it all came to a head one night.

Just as quickly as he’d come into my life, he was gone back to California.

It had been years since I’d seen Elec.

When tragedy struck our family, I’d have to face him again.

And holy hell, the teenager who made me crazy was now a man that drove me insane.

I had a feeling my heart was about to get broken again.

BOOK REVIEW: Stepbrother Dearest

Penelope Ward

Book Series: 


“You were the best thing that ever happened to me. I hope someday I can say you were one of the best, but for now, it’s only you.”

You know those books that pull you in like a riptide, taking over all your senses and making you completely oblivious to the fact that there is a real life outside those pages waiting for you to live it? Well, this is one of those books. From the moment I read the title, something inside me started screaming, I want, the mere idea of a forbidden romance of this type making my skin tingle. However, nothing about this story is what I expected to find, and everything about it has been a wonderful surprise—from the confident prose, to the dynamic characters, this is a love story that I immersed myself into fully and wholeheartedly, and loved every single minute of it.

“Physically, he was my dream and in every other way, my nightmare.”

We meet Greta and Elec as teenagers on the very day they first meet, when Elec comes to live temporarily with his estranged dad and his new family. Even though they have technically been stepsiblings for a few years at that stage, they are complete strangers to one another, and while we see Greta looking forward to getting to know her new stepbrother, from the first moment Elec enters his new home, he does so with an air of disapproval and rebellion. And his main target seems to be the very person who is most enthusiastic about his arrival—Greta. The more young Greta tries to make him feel welcome in his new home, the more scorn and rejection she suffers at the hands of her new stepbrother. And yet, she never gives up, her innate kind-heartedness successfully bringing down Elec’s defensive walls, one brick at a time.

“The meaner he was to me, the more I wanted to make him like me.”

Elec is a contradiction at first. Smug, defiant, even apathetic at times, he is the kind of teenager you want to dislike. And yet his every cantankerous and hurtful action indicates a deeper, more serious cause at the root of it all. We see snippets of his problematic relationship with his father, leaving us suspecting that everything about Elec’s negative attitude is a protective shield, and nothing about him is as he wishes the world around him to think. He is complicated, difficult to warm up to, but his faults make him a truly three-dimensional character in our eyes.

“… nothing felt worse than when you stopped looking at me, Greta.”

Greta is his antithesis—innocent and somewhat naïve, she is the kind of girl who feels freely, openly, unreservedly because that is the way she has been loved all her life, and she is also the kind of heroine we cannot help but love from the start. As much as she fights it, her body’s reaction to Elec and his bad-boy appearance is something she is unable to hide, leaving her open to his mockery and fickle behaviour. He irks her, winds her up, embarrasses her, but she remains incapable of controlling his effect on her.

“Holy hell… his tip was pierced. What a way to be introduced to my first live one.”

As Greta’s quiet persistence eventually pays off and they start building a shaky friendship, her growing protectiveness and unwavering kindness towards him become the foundations of his first true human connection. But the closer they get, the harder it becomes to fight their mutual attraction, and they keep slipping, failing at every turn, their bodies desperately craving one another, while their hearts ache to connect on a deeper level. One night in each other’s arms, however, is all they get, one night of uninhibited passion, indulging their every secret fantasy and heart’s desire, and then it all suddenly ends. They part ways. And they don’t see each other again for seven long years during which Greta’s heartbreak never subsides.

“I’d rather have one night with you than nothing at all.”

When life finally forces their paths to cross again, they are no longer the same people they once were. Greta has grown into a confident, strong young woman whose heart might have never recovered from losing the only man she has ever truly loved, but she has moved on from her heartbreak, adjusted, learned to live with it. Seeing Elec after all those years, and given the tragic circumstances of their unexpected meeting, brings a lot of her childhood insecurities to the surface, one look at him alone reminding her of what they once shared and everything she has desperately tried to forget over the years. But she remains strong, bottling up her feelings the best she can.

“He was hers. I was his. It. Was. F*cked. Up.”

And this is where this story turns from heartbreakingly angsty to outright agonising. Greta’s silent pain from seeing that Elec has moved on with his life and perhaps never shared the same feelings as hers is as acute as it is compelling. Hearing her every thought, seeing her every vulnerability being tested, watching her heart break before our eyes all over again is something that made every protective bone in my body come to life. I was enraged, inconsolable, almost hysterical in my reactions to Greta’s inner turmoil, her every emotion becoming my own.

“The “one that got away” was supposed to stay away, not come back and leave you all over again.”

But, as it happens so often in life, there is another side to every story. And this story is no exception. Ms Ward stuns us into silence with a unique twist, a rare chance to hear what we were only left speculating about, and what we get to discover went beyond my wildest dreams. I adored that aspect of the story, even when I felt it was given in too much detail and could have been offered to the reader in broader strokes with fewer repetitions. It added so much colour to the story, so many extra layers for us to ponder upon, making Greta and Elec two well-rounded, almost real characters popping out from these pages. This is a story that made me feel beginning to end—from heartbroken to hot and bothered, from angry to utterly elated—and it was one of those reading experiences that only got better the more time I spent analysing the characters. I most certainly did not expect to find this many layers in a story of this type, but every last one of them has left me gobsmacked. This was an addictive ‘angst-fest’ cover to cover, sexy and emotional all at the same time, and one I highly recommend.

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“We just have tonight. Please…don’t hold back.”

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Stepbrother Dearest - Recommended Reading Order

(standalone stories with interconnected characters)

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