Sordid by Nikki Sloane

Sordid is the newest dark romance that I have read and a surprisingly good addition to my library. The premise relies on the traditional older man overwhelms younger female virgin trope, but it is well-done, IMHO. The anti-hero protagonist is Luka, the eldest son of a Mafia Captain, and his very reluctant heir. Luka is brilliant and wants to go legit as a businessman, but can’t break out of the role he was born into.

sloane

** Warning: Moderate spoiler alert here in terms of a trigger warning.

Luka rapes the heroine, Addison. It happens at the beginning of the book, when they are both drunk at a frat party. He isn’t excessively violent (ie; no hitting or punching her, and he tries to protect her from his mafia connections afterwards) but at the end of the day she says no and he doesn’t stop. That is rape. It IS the darkest part of the book, but if that’s a trigger for you, don’t bother reading Sordid.

So when Luka fails to cover up his crime by drugging Addison (in the hopes that she would forget it happened), he takes her prisoner and decides to make her his forever. To be fair, he intended to do that all along but hoped to woo her more gently if he could manage to make her forget the rape… and his relatives were all in favour of killing her to avoid police attention, so in “keeping” her, he does save her life. I guess there was no letting her go at that point.

But I transgress ….

Lately, I have been heavily into the captive romance sub-genre, no doubt brought on by the fantastic series Twist Me by Anna Zaires. While I hate reading about a man hitting his girl in anger, there’s no denying I like books that push the envelope far further than genteel society would prefer. I like my stories to rip me open, tear out my guts and heart and then stuff everything back inside and close up, a little different for having the experience. Sordid succeeded on this account.

It wasn’t my favourite captive romance but I enjoyed it and would highly recommend. The drawbacks were that the ending was a little too tidy and easy, the betrayals too few, and Addison adapted with too little introspection. She obviously resists at first, and then tries to play along to gain an attempt at escape, but ultimately settles in and learns to enjoy Luka’s rougher preferences and ownership without too many qualms. I’d rather have seen her struggle with it more.

The takeaway: I liked the story and would definitely read more from Nikki Sloane. I’ll have to see if she has anything else out there. Sordid read like a stand-alone, not a series.

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xx

Captured Miracle – a book review

The Captured Miracle series is a captive romance story where the “hero” is actually an anti-hero who kidnaps the heroine from her bed in the dead of night.

I should say that it is a dark romance; however, after reading the first novel in the trilogy, I don’t really think it is all that dark. I’ve read books that are a heck of a lot darker. Can we create a new category of books that are grey? Things that have dark content but don’t really read that dark compared to others? Because right now I feel like that “dark romance” category is a little too broad to actually give appropriate meaning.

Alas, I digress.

captured miracle

Blurb:

Sometimes the darkest of hearts are the most blinding. Not because of their light, but because of their suffocating endlessness. The dark abyss of their possession claims you before you’re even aware of the capture. Love is not linear. There is no timeline in which the emotion blooms. Sometimes it is a slow succession of events where one soul learns another and sometimes it’s quick. Sometimes it’s like lightning. Possessive.
That’s what Calix was to me. He infused himself within my life – my mind – my body – and my heart. Until he possessed my soul. And then he shattered it all. The worst part of it all was that he owned me. Completely. And it only took him four days.
What started out as an act of revenge quickly becomes so much more. After years of plotting and two years of watching Nova, Calix takes her. In the dead of the night, three strange men in her room, tugging her from her bed, wake Nova. Terrified of forcing the men to act on their threats to harm her mother and sisters, Nova agrees to allow them to cart her from the safety of her home.
She never expected they would lead her to Calix. A dark and captivating man determined to have her as his wife – and every other way. As Nova tries to keep Calix from pushing his way past her barriers, his determination to capture her heart in the same way he captured her body grows. In his quest for her heart, Calix pushes her past her barriers and tests her every limit.

—                          —                        —

I liked this book but I couldn’t help but continue to flash towards that other capture-romance, the Twist Me series by Anna Zaires, while reading. I suspect it will be a long time before I read another series in this subgenre that matches that series, and Captured Miracle didn’t quite live up to Twist Me.  Zaires understood the emotional depth of both her main characters and the incredibly complex feelings her captive was experiencing, something that would be hard for even a professional shrink to help sort out in real life. So far, Carbonneau just hasn’t gotten that deep.

That being said, one of my main criticisms of CM got taken right out from under me because the author points it out herself in the description. Hard to argue with a dialogue that is self-aware enough to point holes in its own story.

Of course, I’m talking about the fact that the poor kidnapped girl falls in love with her captor in FOUR days. In Twist Me, it took the heroine weeks or months to reach that point, and the book itself takes place over a year and a half. But I wonder if this four days point is going to have further significance to the plot or character development in the sequential books, because as I says, the author notes it in the description and the female lead, Nova, acknowledges to herself that it is just plain weird to fall in love that quickly, especially given the circumstances. She wonders if it is even possible to establish a case of Stockholm Syndrome that quickly.

(minor spoiler ahead)

The other criticism that I have of the author in this novel is that the 21yo Nova has zero idea that her Dad is a Navy SEAL. Okay, firstly, if he has a 21 year old, he’s getting a little long in the tooth to be an active duty SEAL, and secondly, I got the impression early on in the book that her family and her father were estranged, or that he had abandoned them years before, after the birth of her youngest sibling. But at the end of Captured Miracle you realize that he comes home twice a year, making it sound like he lives with the family during those visits and is married to her Mother….

But then, why did Nova doubt that he even knew of her disappearance when she had been missing for days???

Perhaps I’m missing some key information and it will all make perfect sense in the next book. But it feels as if the author left some plot holes unplugged.

Now, I get that it totally sounds as if I am ragging on this book. I did like it and plan to read the next two, but it was the type of book where it was simpler to point out the problems I noticed. The plot is fairly straight-forward and it would have been difficult to comment on other things without reiterating the story and negating the necessity for you to read it for yourself.

Hopefully the next two pull things together a little bit and get deeper. So far, the story is enjoyable but a little flat, thus the rating I left.

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xx

Keep Me by Anna Zaires – book review

This is a series of three books, the second of which is Keep Me, and I’m reviewing it in this post. I will post reviews of the third book shortly. This review WILL contain SPOILERS for the first book, Twist Me.

Anna Zaire writes a couple of series. The one that I am going to review is a modern, new adult, (very) dark romance. The male protagonist (Julian) is an anti-hero, a very successful international weapons dealer. In the first novel, he kidnapped 18yo Nora and took her to his extremely remote private island in the South Pacific where he held her captive, a victim for his violent erotic urges, bending her mind to his will.

After rescuing her from his enemies at the end of book one, Keep Me picks up a couple of months later when Julian shows up in her hometown of Chicago, where she is again living. Willing to take her by force, Nora is happy that Julian is alive and well and agrees to leave with him, travelling to his native country of Colombia, where the story takes place.

book 2

Book Blurb:

Abducted at eighteen. Held captive for 15 months.

It reads like one of those headlines. And yes, I did it. I stole her. Nora, with her long dark hair and silky skin. She’s my weakness, my obsession.

I’m not a good man. I never pretended to be one. She can love me, but she can’t change me.

I can, however, change her.

My name is Julian Esguerra, and Nora is mine to keep.

***Keep Me is the sequel to Twist Me, told from both Nora & Julian’s POV.***

—                    —                    —

Nora undergoes a lot of character development between the first novel and the second. She is still completely overwhelmed by the forcefulness of Julian’s personality and cannot find equal ground with him in their relationship, but she handles challenges with more maturity and grace than you see her exhibit in the beginning of their story. As Julian remarks, his little kitten has learned she has claws and is starting to figure out how to use them. This leads to slight changes in the dynamic of their relationship. Julian becomes more honest with her and share more about his work and past, so that their relationship no longer exists in a bubble. Nora begins to make requests of him, and assumes authority over domestic staff in their household. This authority is something that she never experienced with Beth and exemplifies the evolution of her role as a pampered wife from the abducted girl who shares the Master’s bed.

Nora learns to stand up for herself a little bit more and gains more of a sense of personal self in Keep Me, between her painting and studies. These activities are one of the positive changes from the first book that I loved. On the island Nora essentially just existed. She read, she watched movies, ran and swam and sunbathed, enjoying everything the island had to offer her. But her only interactions for 15 months were with Beth and Julian, her captors. She struggled to create a new self-identity in captivity and had little freedom to experience new things. The one saving grace was her ability to paint, something she had never had time to devote to in ‘the real world’. In Keep Me, she enrolls online at Standford University and makes great strides towards world art domination with her painting. Her life gains purpose besides serving Julian and merely existing.

There is great development from the first to second novel. By nature of holding a kidnap victim on a private island, there is a dearth of characters and plot development for much of the first book. While it works for Twist Me, it wouldn’t have worked a second time and I am glad that the author did not just seek to recreate her success with the first novel.

Rather, she continued to build this world and added numerous secondary characters, while allowing both Nora and Julian to grow in themselves, and in their relationships with each other. It was especially gratifying to see the role Nora’s parents play, finding their daughter after 15 months, just to hear her announce she is willingly moving to another continent with the man who kidnapped her. It is also interesting to read Julian’s POV, as this book is written from both perspectives.

My favourite scene I can’t remark on without major spoilers so I will end the review here, but I really hope you take my recommendation and read this book. The third one is called Hold Me and I will post my review of it in a few days.

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xx

Twist Me by Anna Zaires – book review

Anna Zaire writes a couple of series. The one that I am going to review is a modern, new adult, (very) dark romance. The male protagonist is an anti-hero (Julian), a very successful international weapons dealer. He kidnaps 18yo Nora and takes her to his extremely remote private island in the South Pacific where he holds her captive, a victim for his violent erotic urges and bending her mind to his will.

This is a series of three books, the first of which is Twist Me, and I’m reviewing it in this post. I will post reviews of the second and third books shortly.

book 1

Blurb:

Kidnapped. Taken to a private island.

I never thought this could happen to me. I never imagined one chance meeting on the eve of my eighteenth birthday could change my life so completely.

Now I belong to him. To Julian. To a man who is as ruthless as he is beautiful – a man whose touch makes me burn. A man whose tenderness I find more devastating than his cruelty.

My captor is an enigma. I don’t know who he is or why he took me. There is a darkness inside him – a darkness that scares me even as it draws me in.

My name is Nora Leston, and this is my story.

WARNING: This is NOT a traditional romance. It contains disturbing subject matter, including themes of questionable consent and Stockholm Syndrome, as well as graphic sexual content. This is a work of fiction intended for a mature, 18+ audience only. The author neither endorses nor condones this type of behavior.

—                  —                   —

I love this book! I found it online while searching for a dark romance and am so thankful I stumbled across it. There was the right amount of character development for Nora and it was refreshing to see her go through the psychological effects of her kidnapping in stages. I would imagine that the grief, anger and anxiety of being a victim would come in waves as it did for her.

Nora goes through her initial time on the island with schemes and escape attempts, testing the limits of her new world and trying to find a way to get back home to her parents. Then she goes through a period of relative peace, attempting to get along and not escape, consciously accepting this as her new life as a way to survive and protect her mental state. But in the unconscious recesses of her mind, Nora still fights against her captor and has not acclimated at all, a state that violently erupts from her during the evening of her birthday, her first since arriving on the island.

My favourite part of the book though, was Zaires’ writing of Julian. I imagine that he was a hard character to balance. Too evil and he is irredeemable and you lose your audience. But he has to stay bad and somewhat removed, because the reader is identifying with Nora, not him, and you want the reader to experience her emotional journey. I thought Zaires managed this balance very well.

Julian is undeniably a bad guy, from his actions with Nora to his occupation. But that doesn’t make him all bad, all the time. No one is. His relationship with Beth proves that he has a softer side, and so does his relationship with Nora.

(minor spoilers ahead, pertaining to Julian’s treatment of Nora)

Julian beats her in the sense that he is a sexual dominant, with some aspects of sadism in his personality, but he never harms her to the point where she needs medical attention, or leaves permanent marks. Welts and bruises fade in a couple of days and he is easily capable of doing far worse, proving that even while acting out his fantasies or punishing an escape attempt, he remains firmly in control of his desires and strengths, to avoid doing her damage.

Julian protects her from his enemies and “frenemies” in the weapons dealing industry. He controls her behavior not by beating her silly, or through sexual abuse or sensory deprivation, withholding of food, locking her in a dungeon or chemical substances, but with the health and well-being of a boy from home. Devious and sinister undoubtedly, that poor boy takes a few beatings for Nora’s actions, and this is a form of psychological torment for Nora.

But with all that, it is a relatively minor punishment considering all that he could do to this girl who is completely under his control and utterly defenseless. Not only did he not take out his rage on her body, but he refrained from even threatening her beloved parents or best friend, choosing instead a boy she had an adolescent crush on. He wants her love, not just her submission, and this creates a line he chooses not to cross, in his dealings with Nora.

In the next few days, I will post a review of the second book in the series, Keep Me. It will contain spoilers from book one, so if you are interested, check out the book before reading my next two reviews.

According to the author’s website, she is currently working on a side-quel to this series, that will take place after the conclusion of the third book, Hold Me. This side-quel will feature characters introduced in the second and third novels. I will eagerly be watching for a pre-order link to be posted for it.

* * * * * and highly recommended!

xx