Firestorm by Anne Malcom

Firestorm is the second book in the Sons of Templar series. You can read my blog post about book one here.

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Amy Abrams doesn’t do love. Nor does she do emotional attachments, unless you count the connection she has with designer handbags. She grew up in an Upper East Side penthouse, which had about as much affection within its tastefully decorated walls as Castle Dracula. Her family is the precise reason why she points her red-soled heels firmly in the opposite direction of that dreaded four-letter word.

Then it happens. Love. It comes right out of the blue and knocks her off her six-inch heels. She learns that love comes with pesky side effects such as heartbreak, which seriously messes with the complexion. Amy promises herself that she’ll never open herself to that horrible feeling again. She doesn’t count on an infuriating, albeit drool-worthy biker to roar into her life and ruin the plans she had of locking up her heart. She keeps her distance, wary of the sinfully sexy biker whose tattoos should read Warning – dangerous alpha male, will screw up your life.

Amy may be an Upper East Side princess but she wasn’t looking for Prince Charming. She wouldn’t mind the name of his hair stylist, though. Brock certainly isn’t a knight in shining armour, but he consumes her, body and soul. Drama pulls them apart; danger will bring them back together. When Amy is threatened Brock is there ready to save her life. Her heart is another story.

—                —                —

Firestorm is the ultimate love triangle book. Amy previously fell in love with her best friend’s Spec Ops brother Ian- the first love of her life – but he broke it off to return to the theatre of war, not believing it was fair to keep her waiting. A year later she moves to Amber and starts falling in love with Brock, only to discover that Ian is leaving the military and coming home with the intentions of settling down with her.

Talk about being stuck between a rock and a hard place!

Please note that there is no cheating in this novel, for anyone who is concerned.

One of the biggest differences in Firestorm, compared to the first in the series, is that the book bounces around a lot in the timeline. Because the relationship between Ian and Amy began before the series, their story is told in flashbacks. So is much of Amy’s back-story with Brock; Malcom recaps the goings-on between Amy and Brock in the first book, giving an insider look to issues that were only hinted at in Making the Cut. At the same time, obviously there is a present day, where Amy is try to dealing with the fallout of book 1.

MAJOR spoiler alert for book 1

Ian dies in book one, remember. He was killed in action and Amy feels a lot of grief and guilt around his death and her life going forward. It would have been much easier I think, for her to accept a second love in Brock and make a new life if she had met him after Ian’s death. But she didn’t, and can’t allow herself to be happy for the longest time.

And of course, it wouldn’t be a Sons of Templar novel without some drama and kidnapping : )

I love the longer style of book Malcom has perfected and that we get updates on Cade and Gwen and their baby girl. The pacing of the story is a little different since the author doesn’t need to spend a lot of time introducing the characters and the world to the reader. I did find that the jumpy timeline slowed down my reading a little bit. Sometimes I needed a moment to reset myself after a jump, to remember where we had last left off. As long as you’ve read the first novel though you already know at least some of what is transpiring, so it helps to not be trying to learn who the characters are as well.

I loved learning about how absolutely shitty Amy’s family members are. It would have been neat to also learn more about Brock though. I find that 99% of the books are about the women and their history. Considering each is written from the perspective of the heroine, this partially makes sense, but I still wish we had gotten more backstory on the hero.

One of my favourite parts of Amy is her forced optimism, bravery and sheer mouthiness. Happiness doesn’t shine from her soul, she has to work for it and sometimes gets dealt a pretty shitty hand, but she perseveres through humour, which is a valuable quality to have. She inspired me to try to remember to use humour more frequently through the bad times. My go-to is to try not to acknowledge a lot of the bad, because I figure the world is dark enough and I don’t need to invite more into my life, but sometimes there is no helping it, and then, humour can be invaluable.

I highly recommend you pick up Firestorm asap. This is one where you probably need to read book one first to enjoy it though.

* * * * *

xx

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Making the Cut by Anne Malcom

Okay, so Making the Cut is the first book in a Cali-based outlaw motorcycle club romance series (the series is called Sons of Templar). It is more “pop-culture” than the other MC books I have been reading so it is a good choice if you prefer less explicit romances that still have sex and bad boys.

Malcom’s books have an interesting dynamic, because she is a New Zealander, as is her main character Gwen in Making the Cut. Most of the authors flooding this market are American, and whether it is because of her nationality or her writing style, Malcom’s are different from anything else I have read in a while.

I blitzed through the entire series in a week and these books are awesome! Here are the deets on the first novel in the series.

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Gwen Alexandra does not need a man in her life. Especially not a man who looks like Chris Hemsworth and Joe Manganiello’s love child. One wearing leather, riding a Harley, and covered in tattoos.

Gwen can bet every pair of her Manolos that Cade Fletcher is trouble. From the moment she meets him, the attraction sizzles between them. Gwen has a problem when it comes to attractive men in motorcycle clubs. The last one she got involved with almost killed her.

After healing physically, Gwen decides to get a new start in a small town, half a country away from the man who nearly cost her her life. She isn’t in town five minutes when she runs into Cade, a man that is too sexy and dangerous for his own good.

She tries to keep away from him, to ignore the attraction between them. But the biker has other ideas, soon she is in way over her head. Her heart, and her life are in danger once again.

—                    —                    —

Have you read the Shopaholic series by Sophie Kinsella? The start of Sons of Templar reminds me of that because the first two books feature Manhattanite fashionistas who have a serious eye for clothing. I don’t really care about clothing much at all, so I skimmed over their outfit details, but that is a point that would add a lot of detail to the book for some ladies out there. In any sense, I didn’t feel like it took me away from the story at all.

For example …

“Don’t you think we’re a bit too dressed up?” I questioned Amy, looking down at my outfit self-consciously. I had a tight printed Prada skirt on with a white blouse that showed way too much cleavage and Amy’s black strappy Manolos.

“Bite your tongue, Gwen Alexandra,” Amy scolded. “There is no such thing as being overdressed. Ever. You are not changing who you are just because we’re not on our little island anymore, now let’s go.”

She swatted my bum, strutting past me to the door. Her outfit made me look like a nun. Her little black Gucci dress, a halter neck displaying her ample assets, was skin tight and had an open back which dipped almost to her butt. With red lipstick, red shoes and her red hair tumbling past her shoulders, she looked amazing. If I swung that way I would totally hit that. Alas, my taste appeared to be sexy sociopaths.

Malcom, Anne. Making the Cut (The Sons of Templar MC Book 1) (Kindle Locations 461-469). Kindle Edition.

The dudes in Making the Cut are smokin’ hot examples of sex on a stick. Throughout the book, we are introduced fairly extensively to Gwen’s circle and somewhat into Cade’s. With Cade’s belonging to an MC, there are a lot of “cast members” to write in, and Malcom decided to focus on a handful instead of someone new popping up in every chapter. This gives the reader a chance to get to know these background characters in-depth and forge an emotional connection to them, without taking away from the focus of the story, which is Gwen and Cade.

One of the best things about these books are their length! (they are super long, compared to a lot of romances). This is how the author is able to take the pages necessary to involve the supporting characters in a meaningful way, and invoke emotion so easily in her audience. While the main action happens over the course of about four months, I figure the book covers the timespan of about a year. For me, it is easier to buy the reality of Gwen and Cade like this, because it isn’t such a contrived work of fiction, fitting an epic romance into an unrealistically short time-frame. It flows naturally.

It also allows for the comedic breaks – usually Gwen and Amy’s banter – and a plot lasting months rather than days or weeks.

Gwen, I think I may like it here. I just went to grab us coffees from next door,” she said, gesturing with the two takeaway cups in her hands, “and there was the most fuckable looking men sitting having coffee. I swear I almost came. What I would do to be those coffee cups…” She trailed off, sounding breathy.

“I’m glad there’s something in this town that is to your liking, Amy,” I stated sarcastically.

Malcom, Anne. Making the Cut (The Sons of Templar MC Book 1) (Kindle Locations 451-454). . Kindle Edition.

There were many points in the second half of the novel where we reached the pinnacle of a big moment the author had been building up to and I thought to myself, ‘okay, this is where it probably ends’. Except there were always more pages still to go. I usually feel that authors end their books prematurely; you know the type, a chapter or two after the big climatic moment and the whole show is over. I like to have more book to ease me down from the emotional high so I loved how Malcom finished hers off.

Malcom’s stories have a HEA. But there are gut-wrenching moments of agony along the way. I will warn you now, Making the Cut had me bawling my eyes out at some points. The violence wasn’t difficult to read about, it doesn’t go into too graphic of details, but not all the supporting characters will achieve the happily-ever-after that the main couple does and Malcom’s writing is certainly strong enough to make you suffer loss alongside her characters.

* * * * *

xx

Exquisite Redemption – a review

Exquisite Redemption is the third book in Ann Mayburn’s Iron Horse MC series. They feature a Texas-based 1% motorcycle club and the hardcore bombshells the members fall for… and they fall hard.

I’m not sure if this will continue throughout the series, but the first couple introduced have two books to tell their stories and the current couple are also in a two-parter. Beach and Sarah’s story begins in Exquisite Redemption and concludes in Exquisite Karma, which will probably be out around February 2016. I was lucky enough to score an e-arc from one of my fave authors, so here is my review!

redemption

Blurb:

Sarah

In my wild, reckless past Carlos ‘Beach’ Rodriguez would have been my ideal man. He’s handsome, experienced, rich, kind, and in complete control of his destiny. Unfortunately he’s also a criminal, the President of an outlaw motorcycle club, and I’ve sworn off bad boys in my efforts to live my dream of being normal. It would be so much easier to resist him if he hadn’t saved my life more than once and didn’t treat me like his queen.

Beach

Gorgeous, smart, and deadly, Sarah is my ideal woman, even if she is almost young enough to be my daughter. On the surface she’s one of the toughest females I’ve ever met, but underneath all that hard beauty and menace lies an incredibly tender heart that’s been damaged in the past. Winning her love is gonna be a challenge, but I’m determined to have her as my old lady and I’ll do whatever I have to in order to make that happen. That would be a hell of a lot easier to do if people weren’t trying to kill us all the time.

**Author’s note- This is part ONE of TWO for Beach and Sarah’s story and ends on a Happy For Now. Book TWO of Beach and Sarah’s story will be available February 4th, 2016.**

—                   —                  —

** Side-note: Although this book is the third in the series, it is a pre-quel. It takes place about two years before book one. If you’ve read the series, you know why. If you haven’t I don’t think it really matters which way you start, but book four will take place in current time so either read them as they were written (1, 2, 3, 4) or chronologically (3, 1, 2, 4). That is all. **

It was really interesting to see things from Sarah and Beachs’ points of view. You meet both characters in the first two novels but see very little of either so you form an impression based off of other characters’ takes on who they are, which turn out to be rather narrow. Not inaccurate mind you, but the reader definitely gets to see more of the real person behind the facade with “Redemption”.

I liked the book and seeing more characters from other perspectives (Smoke is a prick before he meets the love of his life!) is cool, but Exquisite Redemption wasn’t a hit for me. Too much of the story was repetitive and followed the exact same path as Trouble and Danger did. The driving motivation behind the plot is the machinations of the “unknown” traitor within the IH MC and if you have read the earlier (later?) books, you know who it is. Personally, I hate when the reader knows and the characters don’t because it is so frustrating and I always feel like the characters are the biggest idiots in the world for not putting it together…. kinda takes away from the badassery of a 1%er outlaw.

I wish that we had gotten more time with these characters and been able to see them interact with each other and the people surrounding them a little bit more. They are such interesting individuals and so much more could have been developed! We barely scraped the surface of the daddy/lg relationship  that forms between Beach and Sarah, which would have been fascinating to see (I trust the author can do it in a totally non-incesty way). It seemed like Beach and Sarah went from one plot point to another with guns blazing, but there was so much action that there wasn’t any character development, and relationships don’t build as much as I would have wanted.

I also want to learn more about Sledge, the club VP and Beach’s best friend. Three books in and we have had one scene with him. Based off of the author’s pinterest account he sounds really fun and yummy, I hope he has more scenes in Karma!

Overall this book felt rushed to me. I believe it is shorter than the first two books in the series and was originally intended to be one novel, but it became too large for the romance genre as one novel, so the author was encouraged to split it up into two. That’s so trendy these days. Unfortunately, there wasn’t enough meat on the bones of this book.

Also, I continue to follow authors on social media to be able to get chances like this, to review an e-arc and help publicize their work, but it means you get little tidbits and teasers of their works in progress as well. It is great at the time but you start to form an impression of what you think the book will be like and when that impression is completely off, it throws you. For example, Ann posted several times that the way in which Sarah and Beach met was super dark compared to the watered down version they tell Sarah’s twin in book one, but it wasn’t dark at all. I think that Smoke and Swan have a much darker beginning. I beg to differ with the claim that “Beach practically kidnaps her [Sarah]” but I was expecting this book to be really dark and sinister at times and I didn’t find that it happened at all! To me, it was actually more light-hearted than either of the two previous novels which was disappointing to me, personally.

I hope I still get the chance to review Exquisite Karma in February and that it is more fulfilling to me. Dark and sinister and full of evil things happening to a certain traitor!

* * *

xx

Breaking Love – a review

I’m a happy girl 🙂 I received an e-arc copy of Breaking Love from the amazing and talented B.B. Reid! The following is my honest and unbiased review.

If you aren’t familiar with this series, “BL” is the fourth book in the Broken Love series. The first two novels are about the first couple and are very dark. The other two couples each have just one book since their back stories are well-established through the series openers and are also not as dark. If you are sensitive to dark themes, you might want to start with this book as a test-run. While I always prefer to read in order, I think the author does enough catch-up that a new reader could jump in here and not feel confused.

Okay, here’s the good stuff.

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Blurb:

She’s the girl who got away, but now she’s back…

Four years was all it took.

I told myself I didn’t need friends. I didn’t need family. I sure as fuck didn’t need him.

And you know what?

I was right.

He had been inside of me, coursing through my veins.

So I cut and bled Dash Chambers until I was free.

But the day I returned to Six Forks and was thrown at his feet, I realized I would never forget how it felt to have every inch of him inside me.

…and he’s waiting.

Angel thought if she ran far enough, she’d be free.

What’s mine will always be mine.

This time I do things my way.

* * *

DISCLAIMER: While Breaking Love isn’t dark, the first of the series contains sensitive themes many people aren’t able to swallow.

—                —                —

This was the come-back book in my opinion. The third really rubbed me the wrong way for various reasons, but Breaking Love was more true to the author’s writing in the first two novels, albeit lighter in content.

I liked how the story unfolded for Dash and Willow and that you could see how they had grown from their teenage selves we were first introduced to. Dash is less likely to lash out and seems to be the most stable man in this series. Considering the parenting that they all had, it is remarkable that the characters weren’t institutionalized, actually.

Willow on the other hand is much more vulnerable than in the past. I felt a lot of empathy for her. She has never really had someone who loved her unconditionally without demanding anything of her. It seems that every time she starts to feel something and take a chance on someone, that person lets her down or makes demands alien to her personality, even her parents. I’m glad that she starts to really connect with the people around her by the end of the novel, people she’d been around for years but never actually connected with before.

I would have preferred the plot to be refined a little more because I did feel like there was a lot going on at times. Despite this, the story was such a vast improvement over the third book, that “BL” was a miraculous joy to read and review in comparison.

I do wish that the author had removed some of the superficial plots to stream line the book. I found it confusing for her to reveal that Willow had been making secret trips home every month for years while in hiding (between book 2 and the start of this one) and never got caught, when she is estranged from her abusive mother and stepfather, and her beloved brother was away at university. What exactly was the point of taking huge chances to go home and visit people she detested when she had run away from everything and everyone in her old life?? This was never explained to my liking and I wish a beta-reader had pointed it out.

By taking out minor things like this, the story could have been made less confusing and opened up word count for the areas where there was VAST room for expansion: Willow’s relationships with the old gang and especially, between her and Keiran. I loved the couple of scenes between these two, about 85% in, and wish that BB Reid had further explored their relationship. I think Keiran was a huge part of why Willow was so hurt and disappeared for years, possibly as responsible as Dash was, so seeing this interaction was hugely important to me. I really like to see main characters interact with characters other than their romantic partner, because you get a much fuller sense of who they are in that way.

I hope you take a chance on this new author, she is doing a great job with very complicated material for a rookie. And she left a little bonus present for her dedicated fans at the end of the book 🙂

* * * (and a half)

xx

Fear Us – a review

** I received a free advanced reading copy of this book in exchange for an honest review.

Fear Us is the third book in the Broken Love series.  The first two books were about Kieran and Lake, and this book picks up four years after the events of Fear You to tell the story of Keenan and Sheldon.

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KEENAN
It’s been four years since I ran away—from home, my brother, and my maybe father. I created a life free of expectations while pretending I wasn’t being hunted by all of the above. I managed to stay under the radar all this time… or so I thought. When big brother shows up and saves my ass, I’m forced to face everything I left behind, including her.

SHELDON
It’s been four years since I became another statistic. I made a lot of mistakes when it came to Keenan Masters. The first was loving him at all. He took something from me the night he left, and when I told him I still loved him, he told me he’d always hate me. After that, I learned how to be okay… until he came back. Gone was the boy who always knew how to make me laugh, and in his place was a cold, arrogant monster.


I’m sorry to say, but I didn’t love this book. I know. Disappointing.

I loved the first two. They are deliciously dark, the hero on the edge of being unredeemable. Keenan stepped over that line for me though. There really wasn’t anything wrong with this book per se, and you might love it. I don’t want to hate on a new author, especially after the first two books were so much fun, but Fear Us did not work for me.

Here’s why.

The plot of this book makes it take a very different turn form the first two. If you remember, back then all the characters were in the twelfth grade. Four years have passed without anyone having contact with Keenan. They are only 22 or so but each of the characters seems really jaded and bitter about life and still as immature as their high school selves.

*** minor spoilers ahead ***

This plot begins with Sheldon having raised her and Kieran’s 3yo daughter alone (gotta love that breakup sex). He doesn’t know she even exists because they couldn’t find him after he took off.  Right before he comes back to town to make peace with the past, the little girl is kidnapped. Now this is the main crux of my beef with the story.

I didn’t love the whole kidnapped child plot. It just didn’t do it for me. I didn’t feel like it was advancing the story, just the opposite in fact, and in terms of locating her, there’s no news no news no news, oh look we found her! (there’s that minor spoiler). But there isn’t any narrowing down of the suspects or clues leading into that, they pretty much just stumble across her and she is perfectly fine and not scarred at all from her experience.

Um Hello?!?! Not believable at all.

Unfortunately, that was a large part of the tale. At the time I was reading this story, another little girl the same age had been kidnapped in real life and it was all over the news. Unfortunately, she and her family did not have a happy reunion. It was pretty much the worst outcome possible. So as I was reading Fear Us I kept seeing that little girl’s face, and imagining her family. Definitely took the pleasure out of the romance.

Keenan and Sheldon couldn’t draw me in. Their scenes didn’t keep me entertained. So much so that I had to go back and look up their names to write this review, even though it’s been less than a fortnight since I finished reading it. The drama was overdone and unrealistic.

The interactions between the characters didn’t feel sincere or legitimate. I detest the way that the little girl was characterized (see, I have to write “the little girl” because I can’t remember her name and don’t want to go back and look another name up). She isn’t at all scared of this strange man she has never met and instinctively knows that he is her Dad. Even when she witnesses him treating her mother poorly, she is Daddy’s Little Girl. This kid just survived a traumatic kidnapping! I’m pretty sure she would be clinging to her mom for quite a while, not too trusting of strangers (especially big scary male strangers) and wouldn’t cheerfully stay with a series of babysitters.

Sorry, B.B. Reid. I just didn’t like this one. I’m still read Willow and Dash’s story and hope I fall back in love with this series. But Fear Us was Save Us in my opinion.

* *

xx

Girl, Stolen by April Henry – a book review

girl stolen

Sixteen-year-old Cheyenne Wilder is sleeping in the back of the car while her stepmom fills a prescription for antibiotics. Before Cheyenne realizes what’s happening, the car is being stolen.

Griffin hadn’t meant to kidnap Cheyenne and once he finds out that not only does she have pneumonia, but that she’s blind, he really doesn’t know what to do. When his dad finds out that Cheyenne’s father is the president of a powerful corporation, everything changes–now there’s a reason to keep her.

How will Cheyenne survive this nightmare?

—                        —                        —

I seem to be making a habit lately of unknowingly choosing young adult novels to read, whether they are marketed as such or not.

Girl, Stolen is another example.

It is a wonderful abduction/crime story – for tweens and teens. For that age group, I would rate it an excellent story. Friendship develops between Cheyenne and her reluctant abductor, Griffin, and the story has some twists and turns that are unexpected.

The fact that Cheyenne is blind is the most interesting aspect of the novel. I kept imaging what I would do if I had been the one kidnapped, and then realizing – oh, that doesn’t work because she is blind, she couldn’t follow that plan.

Listening to everything from her perspective really helps the reader to imagine their life as a person with a physical limitation, especially in an extreme situations when you can no longer rely on your usual aids and loved ones for assistance.

For me, Girl, Stolen was a little too tame and the characters predictable. I like tortured souls and dramatic confrontation in my books, and R-rated sex or violence goes along with that. Other than the PG-13 rating though, this book was very good, and there are lots of people who don’t share my preference for R-rated material.

I listened to Girl, Stolen on Audible. I’d recommend reading it instead, the voice performer was not very good. She did a great job of performing Cheyenne, but terrible at the multitude of male characters. Hopefully the author opts for dual narration next time.

* * * *

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.

* * * *

xx

Hold Me by Anna Zaires – book review

This is a series of three books, the third of which is Hold Me, and I’m reviewing it in this post. I have already posted reviews of the first two books (Twist Me; Hold Me) and this review WILL contain SPOILERS for them.

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. In the second, they marry, somewhat against her will, and start to build a new life together before their old enemies kidnap Julian and torture him for information. Nora has realized that she loves him and convinces his security to allow her to risk her life to save them both, something she ultimately succeeds at, but not without some consequences.

book 3

Book Blurb:

Captor and captive. Lovers. Soulmates.

We’re all that and more.

We thought we were past the worst of it. We thought we finally had a chance.

We thought wrong.

We’re Nora and Julian, and this is our story.

***Hold Me is the conclusion of the Twist Me trilogy, told from Nora & Julian’s point of view.***

—                    —                    —

Hold Me continues to follow the evolution of Julian and Nora’s relationship, which began in Twist Me. Now a (mostly) united front, Nora has admitted her true feelings for Julian, acknowledging her love for him and accepting the nature of their relationship. She decides it doesn’t matter how their relationship started and gives up on wondering if it can all be boiled down to psychological programming and stockholm syndrome. She wants to be with him, even though their relationship is unequal, and now accepts the dominance and submission aspects of their relationship and the power exchanges that occur. Her only remaining desire is to see Julian also admit his love for her, loving her as the person she has become rather than an object under this thumb.

Hold me is still an excellent read, but I didn’t like it as much as either of the preceding books, for a couple of reasons which will be the focus of my review.

Firstly, Nora’s parents were introduced in a limited capacity in the second installment during the webcam wedding scene, but their presence in this book is greatly expanded. I liked how the Mum and Dad had different attitudes and abilities to manage Julian and what they regard as their daughter’s brainwashed ramblings about her husband. But I would have liked to have seen Zaires expand upon the interactions between Julian and Nora’s parents, particularly without Nora present. He kidnapped their daughter, twice!, married her hastily and moved her to another continent permanently, where she now resides with him, despondent and abused (or so her parents believe). They understandably bit their tongues around Nora to keep from alienating her, but I felt that the book built to an explosive confrontation between the parents and Julian, one that never occurred.

The second thing that took away from the book in my opinion, was the high octane, overly dramatic car chase between Julian’s troops and the Irish-Chicago Mafia. Between the three books, Julian has lost well over 100 men, all of whom are supposedly highly trained and many are former Spec-Ops. So far, they only seem to be good at their chauffeuring services, and beating up unarmed teenagers. Seriously, is he not scraping the bottom of the barrel yet for men to put on assignment? He really shouldn’t have lost Peter’s services so easily. He needs the tough Russian bruiser on his side at this point.

At the end of the day, the three books have built up Julian as this unstoppable force – even with the torture by the Middle East group in book 2, he didn’t break – but the local mob and cops just about had them with one car chase. It would have been better to not have the cops and mob team up (an unbelievable plot-point in my opinion) and have Julian take care of them without losing half the men he did. The scene just made him seem like less of a badass, which is exactly how you don’t want this series to end.

Despite three paragraphs of complaints, I did love Hold Me and gave it a very good rating. It starts out differently than the others, with Julian using a much gentler approach with Nora. He will never change, but he does learn to embrace different aspects of his personality to manage her that, thus far, he only expressed while she was in hospital.

After the horrors of the second book, both characters are in need of healing, and Nora requires a gentle touch. She is badly traumatized, suffering from panic attacks and night terrors. She has always had Julian’s protection, but this development lends her the emotional protection and support that was missing from their relationship, bringing them closer together. Julian even brings a psychologist to their compound to work with Nora.

It takes some brass balls for her kidnapper to move a professional mental health expert in with them to work with the abductee and be secure in the knowledge that his own programming of Nora will not be affected!! While he may not be able to admit it yet, he has fallen in love with her.

I loved the pregnancy that Zaires wrote in. She did it differently than authors usually do, and it helped to re-establish the relationship parametres between Nora and Julian. She wonders if he impregnated her on purpose, deceiving her with the implantation of a fake birth control device in her arm, and is able to take him for his word when he assures her otherwise, because if he had wanted her pregnant, he would have made it happen regardless of her wishes and wouldn’t have hidden it, something she knows. After seeing a softer side of Julian for much of the book, this scene helps to ground them in the roles that were established in Twist Me, and that Nora has just accepted will never change.

* * * *

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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!

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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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* * * * (for both books)

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