Bound by Temptation – a review

Bound by Temptation is the fourth book in the Born in Blood Mafia Chronicles series by Cora Reilly. I have previously reviewed the first three books in the series on this blog, all of which I gave positive reviews to ( here ).

temptation

So it is with heavy heart that I admit I did not like this one.

It must be very hard to write a series, in many ways harder than standalone books, because your readers get to know characters for several books before they get to the book where those previously supporting characters are now the headliners. This means that your reader has preestablished ideas of who these characters are, and a good idea of the plot line going in based on the characters’ backstories and the set up in previous books. This means that your audience has formed conclusions in their minds about the way things will be or how characters will react before they read the book.

Bound by Temptation is a departure from the previous books in the series in the sense that it does not feature a young girl in her late teens/early 20s being married to a scary mafia pseudo-stranger against her will. We also didn’t get to see the main characters, Romero and Liliana, get to really settle down as a couple until the epilogue. This story took place while they lived in opposite states and during brief occasions that they were together, such as when Lily goes to visit her sisters in New York. I felt like this couple didn’t had that on-screen bonding time that the other characters did, because the only time they were alone was when they were having sex.

There are some scenes that were in Bound by Honour and Bound by Hatred that were briefly glanced over in this book, mainly the invasion by Russian mobsters and the dungeon scene with Gianna, Lily, Romero, Luca, and Matteo. I was really excited to see that conflict from Lily’s point of view because it was one of my favourite parts of Bound by Hatred. Unfortunately, it was glossed over a little bit, which makes sense because Lily was in shock. But we didn’t get to see the follow up. One moment she still is deathly afraid of Romero, Luca, and Matteo, after watching them torture people and the next she’s perfectly comfortable around them. That is a defining moment in this teenagers life and in the story for the reader, but we didn’t get to explore it the way I wanted to.

One of the things that sets the stories in this series apart from something in a happier romance subgenre is the idea of the protagonists being the bad guys and when does that line become blurred. The author points out how her anti-heroes are very bad man who do evil things, but are still good husbands. Especially considering they don’t marry for love most of the time, each of these men treats his wife with love and acceptance which grows over the course of their relationship.

So when does that good guy-bad guy split personality blur? When you’re talking about your sister-in-law for example… Matteo and Luka were very not happy that Gianna and Lily stumbled into the basement while the Russians were getting interrogated. I had wished there was more interaction with sincere emotional tangles between Luka and Gianna in Bound by Hatred and I felt the same way in Bound by Temptation.

As I said, this novel did not hit the right note with me which is really disappointing because I look forward to it for a long time. That having been said, before it was released in August, the book blurb and cover were released for the fifth book in the series which is supposed to be released in the end of 2015. Right from that point I was more excited about book 5 then I was about book 4, based on the cover blurb so hopefully Bound by Vengeance turns out to be much better.

vengeance

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Dark Places – book review

Gillian Flynn seems to be the darling of bookclubs and studios all over Canada and the United States. Everyone loved Gone Girl and 2015 is the year of Dark Places.

dark plaecs

Libby Day was just seven years old when her evidence put her fifteen-year-old brother behind bars. Since then, she has been drifting. But when she is contacted by a group who are convinced of Ben’s innocence, Libby starts to ask questions she never dared to before. Was the voice she heard her brother’s? Ben was a misfit in their small town, but was he capable of murder? Are there secrets to uncover at the family farm or is Libby deluding herself because she wants her brother back? She begins to realize that everyone in her family had something to hide that day… especially Ben. Now, twenty-four years later, the truth is going to be even harder to find. Who did massacre the Day family?

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If you are a regular reader of my blog (sidenote: do I have any of those yet???), then you will know that this is a deviation from the normal romance and erotica genres that I usually stick to. I’ve been trying to push my boundaries a little bit this year and I read some other books that have been hanging out on my goodreads TBR list for a long time. It’s good to expand your horizons and since I went back to uni full-time in February, I’ve kept my distance from my usual non-fic reads. I get enough of that with text books!

Hence, Still Alice and now Dark Places.

I listened to Dark Places on my Audible account this month and definitely recommend that you read this book. I will have to pick up some more by Gillian Flynn – she has a natural talent for writing twisted stories with multi-faceted characters, and keeping readers on the edge of their seats.

I hate to read a “mystery” where you know who the murderer is from several chapters out. I kept changing my mind as to who killed the Day family throughout Dark Places, marking it in my mind as an excellent murder mystery.

The performance by voice actors on the audiobook were great as well.

I didn’t realize it when I was reading … err, listening … but the movie that is based on this book will be released in theatres in North America on August 7, 2015.

dark places movie cover

Can’t wait to see it. If there are significant deviations from the book, I will probably review it as well and edit this post to leave in a link.

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Craving Absolution by Nicole Jacquelyn – a review

Nicole Jacquelyn writes an outlaw MC series that is full of strong-willed, dominant bikers with out-spoken alpha females at their sides.

The third book in the series is Craving Absolution. It features Casper, who was introduced in book 1 as a prospect to the Aces MC, and is now a full-patch member. His heroine is Farrah Miller, the main supporting character in book two and the daughter of the Club President.

craving absolution

Book Blurb:

Farrah Miller and Cody “Casper” Butler have a longstanding relationship that both refuse to discuss.

It isn’t romantic.

It may not even be classified as a friendship.

Casper’s been saving Farrah from herself for longer than he’d care to admit, watching silently as she drowned herself in alcohol. Then, when she finally got her act together, he left. He told himself he was giving her time to sort herself out. He tried to give her space.

But getting shot in the chest can change a man’s perspective, and Casper’s done waiting.

When he shows up on her doorstep one night, everything changes.

He’s the man who’s seen her at her very worst.

She’s his weakness.

He runs when things get hard.

She never lets anyone see below the surface and is terrified of being abandoned.

He knows it’s a long shot, that there’s a good chance she’ll never drop her guard for him—but he has to try. Because a life with Farrah is exactly what he wants—even if he has to fight her for it.

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I really liked Farrah’s character, she was my favourite part of this book. She is a strong chick and is an example of how someone who suffers from panic attacks and anxiety and is completely unsure of herself in relationships, can still be strong and opinionated. Having panic attacks doesn’t make her weak, and it isn’t a character flaw.

IMHO, Jacquelyn is excellent at adding depth and development to her characters, allowing them to change and mature through the events of the story. Often, this is a recurring failure in romance novels so character growth is one of my favourite aspects of the Aces MC books.

Farrah moves on from barely acknowledging her father’s existence after meeting him in book 2, to reaching out to him and Vera (her stepmother), trying to establish some sort of emotional connection to them and including them in her family. She also embraces a maternal, nurturing role as she takes on being a parent to two children, despite never having a childhood herself and certainly lacking responsible parents growing up.

Although romance novels typically feature a couple as dual main characters, I definitely felt that this one was ‘the Farrah story’. The reader spends most of the pages in her perspective and Casper has little character development in comparison to the vast amount that Farrah experiences. Casper is more the companion piece to her character and a way to move the plot forward. I would have liked to see him grow up a little more and be more in control of himself and his destiny.

I really liked this installment in the series and cannot wait to read the next.

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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.***

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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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Crow’s Row – a review

Crow’s Row, by Julie Hockley, is a coming of age story told from the perspective of its heroine, second year university student Emily Sheppard. The series takes its name from the first book, with the second called Scare Crow.

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Emily is living in the ghetto, near to where the older brother she idolized died several years earlier, and is completely cut off from any real emotional connection to friends, family or a significant other. Abandoned by her room-mates for the summer, she witnesses a murder in the cemetery during one of her daily runs, is kidnapped by said thugs, and taken to a remote farm out of state while they decide what to do with her.

Ultimately, this series is about Emily coming to understand the various connections she unknowingly has to her kidnappers and to the city she has moved to for school.

I found this series by googling for NA (new adult) books related to the bratva or mafia, and this came up. It isn’t exactly what I was looking for that day (deets below) but I read it anyway. It is still an excellent start by rookie author Hockley.

These books are a blend of the young adult and new adult categories in my opinion. The characters’ ages and some subject matter are certainly more appropriate for the new adult tag, but there is very little sex in the series, none of it explicit, which is far more commonly found in young adult novels. If you are starting to read up as a young person, or are just uncomfortable reading erotic scenes, this would be a great recommendation for you, certainly far safer than my usual review material.

During her months spent with her kidnappers, Emily gets to know them on a more personal level and the reader discovers that there is more going on than initially presented. Although these men – and woman – are certainly very dangerous people, you don’t see much of that side of them, because they treat Emily well after her initial kidnapping, and everything is written in her perspective.

My main criticism of these books draws from this. Cameron, the leader of this motley crew, turns out to be a Big Bad, the sole leader of an organized crime syndicate for the North Eastern United States, presiding over a council comprised of mafia types, outlaw bikers, gangs, etc.

I had two problems with this: firstly, as I stated, we get Emily’s perspective and even though she is scared of him at times, they are sweet on each other and have a longer connection than she realizes. Plus, he is a dog lover. When the reader only gets glimpses of his darker side, it is hard to imagine him being powerful enough or dark enough to control all those other criminal groups. Secondly, he wasn’t born into this life – he made his own way from highschool drug dealer up – and late twenties seems way too young to be in that powerful of a position, able to strong-arm the mafia and established 1% biker clubs into submission.

I hope that Hockley adds a lot darker material into the third novel, to validate her characters’ claims. So far the violence is restrained to kidnapping (and treating their “guest” very well) and murder (of very bad dudes who were trying to kill our protagonists). I need Spider et al (and maybe even Emily) to do some seriously evil shit in the next book because right now, it feels like Hockley is on the edge, trying to write R-rated characters in a PG-13 novel.

Oddly enough, the main criticism I saw online of this book was that Emily fell in love with Cameron. But I had no trouble with that plot-line at all. She does fall for the guy responsible for her kidnapping true, but other than that initial confrontation, Cameron does nothing at all to hurt her and actually protects her. There isn’t any Stockholm Syndrome at play here. It doesn’t take long for Emily to decide that the farm isn’t a bad place to stay, and she doesn’t seem particularly anxious to leave. In fact, I think she would have quite happily stayed forever if she wasn’t nervous about why there were so many armed guards protecting the property. (Minor spoilers ahead)

Once she realizes that Cameron and her brother had been good friends and business partners, she wants to get as close as possible to the group and find out what she can. She never believed the reports of how her brother Bill died via an overdose and has been seeking a connection to him since his death six years previously. After realizing that Cameron has been looking out for her from afar for so long, in honour of Bill, the connection between them just deepens.

I can’t speak too much to the plot-line in the sequel without completing spoiling the ending of the first, but I highly encourage anyone here to keep reading.

After reading Crow’s Row, pick up Scare Crow, and eventually the untitled third book which has already been announced.

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Positively Mine – a review

mineFrom the cover:

It is four weeks into her freshman year of college, and Laurel’s first test was unexpected. Discovering she’s pregnant isn’t exactly what she had planned for her first semester, and while she intends to tell her emotionally-distant father, being away at school makes it all too easy to hide.

An imperfect heroine plagued by bad choices and isolated during what should be the best time of her life, readers are sure to identify with Laurel as she confronts teen pregnancy, in secret.

Positively Mine is the first – and so far only – book by author Christine Duval. I had never heard of the author beforehand but having read this book, I have started following her online to keep up with future releases. Her book was excellent!

Duval’s first book reads as anything but. I am floored by her debut, even more so due to the fact that the ‘young woman has baby while still in highschool/uni and tries to keep it a secret’ idea isn’t exactly original, and yet, this is likely the best book I have read in the subgenre. Her pacing throughout was exceptional and there was back-story to frame the main character’s state of mind. Even if I, as the reader, didn’t agree with her decisions, she didn’t annoy me.  I generally find that you want to leap into the pages and shake the main character for continuing to follow a path that will go nowhere, but I thoroughly enjoyed her journey, without losing patience.  Pacing I tell ya, it makes all the difference.

It was easy to put myself into Laurel’s position and understand her decisions, whether you have ever found yourself in that position or not. Whether due to a coincidence of personality traits between myself and Laurel, or to the exceptional writing of Duval, I related to the character and found myself believing that in many ways, I would act the same way. I don’t want to expand on this point too much because of spoilers, but I will say that Laurel’s tendency to keep quiet, to keep her head down and work on a specific path almost with blinders on, not looking too far ahead because its overwhelming and feeling that if I can just survive this course of action and finish it I’ll deal with ‘come what may’ afterward … well, that’s is generally my coping mechanism for similar situations.  I’m doing it now, in my own way. This really allowed me to mentally jump into the story and feel as if it was happening to me.

This book has been on my to-read shelf on goodreads for awhile, I added it sometime in 2014. I can’t remember exactly how I found it, but I think I was searching genres and lists on the website looking for books and added to my shelf a whole bunch which sounded good, but didn’t quite fit my mood that day. So last Friday evening when I was home sick and looking for a way to pass the evening, I rediscovered this book and found a new series to love. I’m almost thankful for that monster headache that cancelled my plans.

After finishing Positively Mine, I did some research and found out that a sequel is expected sometime in Autumn 2015, but no title has been announced yet. If this sounds like its up your alley, you could also try searching for the Freshman Forty series. The author seems active in responding to questions on the book’s goodreads page, so I started following her there and hopefully will get a reminder closer to about the sequel.

I highly recommend this book for any teen or young adult!

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