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.

* * * *

xx

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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.***

—                    —                    —

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.

* * * * *

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