Breaking Free (Shadowlands book #3)

The Shadowlands series should be read in order. The first book is called Club Shadowlands and the kindle version can be acquired for free from Amazon : )

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A sadistic husband left Beth scarred, inside and out. Only at the Shadowlands BDSM club does she feel like a woman. But her fears limit her to Doms who won’t overwhelm her–the very ones who cannot arouse her. The Master of the Shadowlands gives her an ultimatum: accept the Dom he assigns or lose her membership. The last thing Beth wants is a ruthless, powerful Dom, but that’s just what she gets.

Asked to take on a problem sub, Nolan sees the issue immediately–although truly submissive, the little redhead is too scared to relinquish control and her Doms have let her get away with it. That will change right now.

As Master Nolan takes Beth under command, compelling her submission, she’s terrified, but the experienced Dom brings her pleasure, not pain. His only demand is that she never lie to him. Under his capable hands, her body comes alive, and she begins to heal. As he pushes her limits, she learns to trust…and then to love. And she realizes he is beginning to care for her in return.

But now her cruel husband has found her, and Master Nolan discovers she’s been lying and lying and lying.

—                         —                         —

I love Master Nolan. He is my very favourite Dom so far, and that’s saying something because every Dom in the Shadowlands is hot, attentive and genuine!

Breaking Free is about Beth’s overcoming past abuse but I LOVE that this isn’t a simple hero-rescues-heroine story. Beth escaped her powerful and influential abusive husband before the book begins, going into a self-styled witness protection plan. She started and built up her own landscaping company to make a new life for herself – a far cry from the financially-privileged house wife role she played before.

Even more impressive, she joins a private BDSM club in this new life, trying to overcome the physical, emotional and sexual abuse to regain her control over intimacy and engage on an interpersonal level with another kinkster. Although this is something she is seriously struggling with, I am so thankful that the author didn’t paint Beth as a wilting flower, afraid to try again.

“She’s a good person. Honest, full of enthusiasm. But when she gets here, she turns into a mouse. She’s not just submissive; she’s terrified. She comes to the club because she requires more than the vanilla world can offer, but we’re not meeting those needs.”

Nolan studied the scene some more. Pretty obvious what the problem was. She was too scared to give up control, but she needed to give up control to get her needs as a submissive met.

“She wouldn’t be an easy sub to top.”

“Exactly.” Z tilted his head. “You up to the challenge?”

Sinclair, Cherise. Breaking Free (Masters of the Shadowlands Series Book 3) (p. 5). VanScoy Publishing Group. Kindle Edition.

Breaking Free is another short novel, like the first two in the Shadowlands series, but it is self-contained. I am super thankful that the author evolved into writing longer novels after this one, and also that she later wrote a novella that follows Nolan and Beth, updating up on their future life and relationship. I look forward to reviewing it soon!

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The Dom’s Dungeon

cherise sinclair

Foster child. Teenage whore. Now a veterinarian, MacKensie’s turned her life around, but the scars remain. She saves her affection for the animals who never judge or scorn her, but it’s time to get out, move on from her past in Iowa. So, she arranges a vacation exchange to job hunt in Seattle.

Although the house is lovely, one room is locked. Her years in foster care have given her two ‘gifts’: a neurosis about locked doors and the ability to open them. After she gets into the room, she’s appalled…and intrigued. Chains and manacles, whips and paddles, odd benches with straps…

When Alex returns home days early and finds MacKensie draped over the spanking bench in his locked dungeon, he’s furious. But her wariness arouses his protective nature and curiosity, so he strikes a deal to keep her close—she’ll act as his submissive in exchange for a place to stay and help finding a job.

He’d planned to use the veterinarian to deter an ex-girlfriend, not replace her, but with MacKensie’s compelling mixture of strength and vulnerability, the little sub slides right into his well-defended heart.

—                         —                         —

Cherise Sinclair is one of favourite authors (possibly my ACTUAL favourite) and I have been reading her for years now. I started in early when she had only published five books or so and never got off the crazy train to sexy-ville.

One of those stories that has always stuck with me was a standalone, set in the Seattle bdsm club “Chains”. The Dom’s Dungeon tells the story of Mackensie, a young veterinarian with serious trust issues who house swaps for two weeks with a wealthy, sexym dominant beast who is travelling to her hometown for a conference. Alas, he misses his flight and walks back into his house to find Mac in an *ahem* compromising position.

This is a shorter story than I usually prefer, coming in around 250 pages, which is characteristic of this author’s earlier writing. However the steamy sex (spanking anyone?!), and strong character development make up for the shorter length. One of the things that I really liked about the Dom’s Dungeon is that the story focuses on the heroine, Mackensie, and her story. Normally I like balance between the couple, but it works in this case and the author doesn’t resort to “hero does something goofy and learns from his mistake” trope to add to his arc just because.

The Dom’s Dungeon is an excellent book to read if you are looking for steamy scenes in a well thought-out plot that actually makes sense and doesn’t have any flowery prose such as “thrusting members” and “womanly petals”.

I have long hoped that Ms. Sinclair would turn The Dom’s Dungeon into a series like she has with the Shadowlands. Steel and Drake have stories that need to be told!!! And although everything is SSC, the vibe I got from Chains is that its a little scarier than the Shadowlands. Maybe because of the extremely negative experience that Mac runs into in the story, or because her nemesis Cynthia got a much more extreme (though just) punishment than I think she would have gotten in the other series. I have commented on the author’s social media a couple of times this year, hoping for a book for Drake or Steel, so who knows, maybe I have put the bug in her ear and she is as ready for a change of pace as I am!

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Dirty Ugly Toy

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Her time is over.
Things are looking up.

She’s dirty and ugly.
He’s wicked but handsome. 

Six months to toy with her.
Six months of vacation and a ton of money.

I’ll hurt her beyond repair.
I’ve been through much worse.

She’s difficult to control and doesn’t obey.
I’m done submitting to anyone or anything in this life.

I should hate her.
I should hate him.

The game has changed.
I will win.

Dirty Ugly Toy is a novel that blurs the lines of right and wrong, deals with abuse, contains dubious consent, and adult subject matter. If you are sensitive to violent sexual situations, the book may not be suitable for you. Some parts of this book are not easy to read and are not intended for everyone. However, those that keep an open mind and stick with it will not be disappointed.

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I ordered Dirty Ugly Toy on a whim the other night, because it was recommended by two authors I read and follow on facebook. It was marketed as a dark romance containing dubious consent, a sub-genre that I have had a difficult time finding books that are worth recommending lately.

*** SPOILER ALERT ***

I don’t feel like this book was worthy of the dark romance tag. It is a contemporary romance, with possible dark scenes… another one of those books that I would classify as “grey romance” if there is such a thing.

The beginning of the story definitely sets itself up to be a dark romance. The hero is initially portrayed as a serial killer – he’s not – and it seems the author is setting up a dark psychological thriller / dark romance. However, that quickly fizzles out.

Brax is a devoted son. His mother, who was a drug addict when he was a child, left a deep mark on him. Brax is a successful, billionaire business owner who abducts drug-addicted women from the streets and keeps each for a period of about six months, before returning them to their home city. During those six months, he helps them to detox with medical professionals, uncovers their backstories, the reasons they started using in the first place, and their aspirations for life. He wants to change them for the better.

During this time he also indoctrinates them into his brand of sexual relationship, one between a sadist and a masochist. The heroine who features in this story is a natural masochist however, and she has the emotional upper-hand in their relationship from the beginning. She’s different.

Jessica was addicted to heroine against her will by sexual traffickers and is deep into the throes of addiction until Brax picks her up. However, she is also extremely well educated. Before her kidnapping, Jessica was a trophy wife to a wealthy politician who is currently running for President of the United States. Of course, this husband is cruel, sadistic and very abusive, which is why she never attempted to get back home or contact him after ending up on the streets.

This is why I don’t feel like the dark romance tag is applicable. Brax and Jessica have consensual sex and play in S/m scenes. Jessica’s detox is admittedly against her will, but she is more than thankful after the fact and it is medically supervised the entire time – as safe as something like that can be. Brax saves her from her ex-husband who they inevitably run into and helps take the creep down. Jessica has the ability to leave Brax during their six months together, after she is physically healthy, and has access to a therapist specializing in D/s and S/m relationships the entire time. She also is able to leave Brax after the six months – she is not tied to him.

So how in the heck is this considered to be dark romance or dubious consent?!

I understand that some of the subject matter is dark, and it could be disturbing for people who do not want to read about prostitution, drug addition, etc. But for me, the essence of a dark romance is that the romance is dark. 

The story isn’t terrible although events all fall into place rather conveniently. At the end of the day though, I finished reading this book less than a week ago and still had to reopen my kindle to look up the hero/heroines’ names. So I wouldn’t say it is very memorable or that I would read it again.

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Still Waters

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There’s a phrase: Still waters run deep.

But there’s more to it than that.

Because “still” doesn’t denote peace. Nor calm. Nor happiness.

It’s an illusion. It’s chaos.

The only way to handle chaos is to become it.

That’s what Lucy did. She created stillness out of the chaos tumbling inside her and called the most chaotic motorcycle club in the United States her family.

The Sons of Templar gave her chaos, friendship, family, danger and death.

But she wouldn’t want it any other way.

Then he came. The one who showed her that her handle on chaos was tumultuous at best.

Showed her how to stand still.

And how good it could be.

And how drowning in those waters comes as easy as breathing.

—                         —                          —

I’ve been a fan of Malcom’s MC series for a while and have recently gotten into her paranormal books as well, but for some reason, I one-clicked this book way back in March and never got around to reading it.

The hero Keltan is the owner of a hot new security company in L.A. And he is a dream-boat. He’s attractive, muscular, Kiwi (New Zealander), tattooed, well-spoken, kind and a good ol’ country boy.

I have to ask, do guys like this really exist? Guys who say things like “where I come from, a woman doesn’t pay for a thing when a man is around”. Guys who aren’t turned off by the outwardly prickly nature of a wary woman AND aren’t just trying to “get the prize”.

Lucy and Keltan’s love story takes place over approximately two years. Although they fall for each other at first glance, both have issues to work through that they refuse to dump on another person, and Lucy in particular is scarred by her previous relationship. This negated the insta-love eye-rolling on my part, because even though they experienced lust at first sight, they got to know each other before jumping into a serious relationship.

Still Waters is the first book in a new series by Malcom entitled Greenstone Security. It appears to be a series that should be read in order – not all plot points are resolved by the end of this book and it is clear that there will be a “baddie” plot point that arcs across two or more books. However, this is the only book about this particular couple, the rest will focus on different people within Keltan’s security company.

Malcom’s writing style is wordy, filled with lots of flowery phrases that make great teasers but “chunk up” the story too much in my opinion. I do however like that all of her heroines are different from one another, and that Keltan isn’t your typical grunting alpha male. He is just as good of a conversationalist as Lucy!

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xx

 

Brighter Than The Sun by Maya Banks

Brighter Than The Sun is the 11th book in the contemporary romance series KGI.

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As the last unattached member of the Kelly clan, Joe is more than ready to risk life and limb on any mission he’s assigned to, but when it comes to love, he’ll keep his distance. He’s content to watch his brothers become thoroughly domesticated.

Zoe’s had nothing but heartbreak in her life, and she’s determined to start over with a completely new identity, thanks to her college friend, Rusty Kelly. But it’s the gorgeous smile and tender words of Joe Kelly that begin to weaken her resolve to never risk her heart again. And Joe will have to put everything on the line to save Zoe, when secrets of her past resurface—and threaten to tear them apart…

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This book reads quite a bit differently than most of the others in the series, in my opinion.  Earlier books in the series were intensely-action based, and usually revolved around the missions that KGI members make, whether it is a hostage rescue, investigation or taking out a crime lord. The characters themselves poke fun at how many members met their spouse on an op!

In comparison, the romance in this story has nothing to do with a KGI mission. And although their skills are used briefly for an action scene near the end of the book, it is certainly much more of a background subplot that merely serves to identify some character traits for the hero and his family.

Brighter Than The Sun has a sweeter tone to its romance. Joe is gentle with and sensitive to his beau, realizing that she has been abused and is a complete flight risk. He is careful not to scare her away and really takes the time to sweet her off her feet with wholesome, country experiences that she has never had. They go fishing, and boating and play in the creek. It really is the perfect country romance! Many of the previous heroes had multiple moments where they acted overbearing and I like that in my story. So it is good that the author takes this story in another direction, it just wasn’t one that worked for me as well.

Probably due to the lack of action, BTTS is pretty wordy. It is uncharacteristic for a KGI novel, but many of the characters make long speeches – basically a soliloquy – throughout the book. I mostly skipped over these, because the story would start to lose my interest. And it is overwhelming for a paragraph to take up an entire page. The author would have been wiser to break up the text, even if the speaker isn’t interrupted by another character, just by adding descriptors such as, ‘she shifted restlessly’.

One thing that I did love in the background of this story was learning more about the relationship between Rusty and Sean now that Rusty is an adult. She has grown up from a troublesome runaway teenager taken in by the Kelly family to an intellectual, highly educated young woman. But despite her academic accomplishments, she still doesn’t feel fully accepted by the KGI family (other than by her adopted parents) and lacks confidence in herself within the family unit.

A large part of this is due to Rusty’s complicated and difficult relationship with Sean. Clearly they are meant to be together, and it seems like the next book in this series will finally be the one where they find their HEA!

My heart broke for her by the end this story though, so I hope it is not too long of a wait!

In some ways, BTTS read like a reunion novel. There was a heavy focus on the background characters and catching the reader up on where they are now. In particular, there are a lot of updates on Rusty/Sean, Sam/Sophie and Nathan/Shea.

I haven’t been too fond of several of the more recent novels in the KGI series. Brighter Than The Sun was more entertaining than those, but I don’t think any book will reach the same level as the first three in the series did, at least in my opinion.

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Dauntless – a Sons of Templar MC novel

dauntless

From Goodreads:

This isn’t a fairy tale. I’ll save you the trouble by telling you that now.

This is the tale of a girl who spent her life bouncing around foster homes, who had her innocence stolen in the darkness before she knew it was something that could be lost. Her demons followed her everywhere, after that night. They chased her to the medical school she dropped out of, to the strip club she sold herself in, and finally caught her in a river of sin where they tried to drown her.

My name is Bex and this is my story.

I’m paddling, barely keeping my head above water. And even though I’m submerged, I’ll never be clean. The layer of dirt that has clung to me since birth is a tattoo I’ll wear for life.
He can’t see it, though.
Even when I’m torn and tattered, and left in pieces, he wades into the filth to try to put those pieces back together.
He doesn’t seem to understand there’s nothing left to repair. To love. Just sullied fragments of a damned soul.
He’s willing to damn himself in order to exact revenge on those who sent me to the pit.
Problem is, my name is at the top of that list, since I not only damned my own soul, but his too.

*Contains dark subject matter and potential triggers
**Can be read as a standalone

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Okay, yes this can be read as a standalone. But I REALLY would not recommend it. The Sons of Templar MC is stellar and you would get so much more from the book if you read the others first. At least read Beyond the Horizon, which is the fourth book in the series and the one where Bex and Lucky meet.

Also, if you have read the series, note that this one is the darkest yet, IMHO. Trigger warnings include child abuse (in the heroine’s backstory), drug use, rape and mental illness. The heroine feels like she is worthless trash due to her experiences. Please note that none of the violence and abuse occurs between the hero and heroine.

Now we have that established…

I absolutely loved Dauntless. It totally made up for my last (disappointing) review. Bex and Lucky have a dark and twisted love story and I love that Bex is not your typical helpless heroine, waiting for the boys to come rescue her and help her deal emotionally. She is a kickass, strong, mentally-tough woman.

But she’s not perfect. The author, Anne Malcom, wrote a strong female lead who struggles with mental illness and with addiction. She has a horrific upbringing, from being dumped into the system at birth and being “raised” in a series of shitty foster homes, to her rape by one of those so-called “Dads” when she was just 12 years old. Those experiences have left some pretty extensive emotional scarring.

The story picks up when Bex is 23, a college dropout stripping to try to make rent every month and using drugs to cope with the she life she’s been handed. I love that Malcom doesn’t pretend a person who is mentally strong does not have any issues. Sometimes, the strongest have the most horrific life experiences. THAT is what makes them so strong.

Lucky and Bex appear to have been made for each other. The amount of patience and self-discipline Lucky demonstrates while waiting for Bex to pull herself together is incredible. I truly don’t think that I would have been able to do that for anyone. He knows that she is the one for him and is willing to do whatever, wait however long, in order to be with her and respect her boundaries. Repeatedly he steps back and lets her do things he doesn’t approve of because he understand her, understands that need to control her body and her life after control was taken from her so brutally in the past.

He also takes a lot of emotional abuse, understanding that the bitchiness is protecting a soft, extremely delicate core that cannot handle any more abuse. Lucky has always been the funny guy of the group, always with a joke and a smile. You sure see another side of him in Dauntless, but there is also a lot of humour and banter between him and Bex that helps to counter the dark content.

I felt that Dauntless was a more balanced story between the hero and the heroine than previous books in the series. It is still told almost entirely from Bex’s POV, but we learn a lot more of Lucky’s viewpoint and backstory than we did for previous male leads. This is a huge improvement in my opinion. I also loved that Malcom wrote them as an inter-racial couple and it was so not a big deal that I almost missed that point. This is how it should be! I’m tired of reading books where the author describes the hero/ine’s skin tone as chocolate or coffee a million and one times.

The earlier books in this series also had a slightly different pacing and style. Partially, I think the author is adapting her writing style, but also, her changes really fit with the dark tone of this book. There is a lot less jumping around in timeline – Dauntless mostly reads chronologically – and the supporting cast have far less importance and “page-time” than in other books, except for Rosie… who I seriously hope is the star of book six!

Malcom has started two other series, one a spin-off from the Sons of Templar MC and another completely separate, so I am guessing the books are not going to be coming as swiftly as I am used to. Too bad because I am very interested in reading all about Rosie and Luke, the hunky deputy!

I absolutely recommend this book for anyone who doesn’t mind a little dark in their romance!

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xx

 

Outside the Lines review

Outside the lines is a novella in the Sons of Templar series. It should be read in between books two and three. It is about the New Mexico chapter that the Cali boys visited in Firestorm, so we get to see the sexy doc Hansen fall in love with club girl Macy.

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My life’s not easy. I’ll tell you that now. It’s not neat. I don’t fit into society the way most people expect me to and I don’t color studiously between the lines, outside the lines is where I reside. The fringes of society is where I found my place, with the Sons of Templar MC. The life they lived gave me everything I wanted, and everything I needed. Most importantly, it gave me something I’d been lacking for over a decade—family. A place to belong.

Club girl—that was my title. There were other words for what I was, but I preferred the less derogatory version. Sure, I’d love to be an Old Lady. It’s the dream. But, as someone who escaped into fantasy worlds when life got too much, I knew the difference between dreams and reality. I had resigned myself to the fact, I’d always belong to the club. It didn’t mean I didn’t crave one man in particular to claim me. To put me on the back of his bike and ride off into the sunset with the man who’d captured my heart the first day I saw him—Hansen. The dream where he’d finally see me and make me his, existed strictly in Macy’s world of wonder. Until now. Until somehow my fantasy world and reality world collided and he looks at me in the way I’d dreamt of for a year.

Fairy tales usually had neat and happy endings once the hero and heroine got together. This wasn’t a fairy tale. Hansen wasn’t your traditional hero and I was the furthest you could get from a heroine. I feared my past might dictate my future. That my world outside the lines would go from messy to complete disaster.

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This book is very different from the previous ones in so many ways! I like when an author doesn’t just replicate a winning formula over and over, instead choosing to grow as a writer and take chances with the direction she takers her audience. Outside the lines is a novella, so it is much shorter and less detailed than the first two in the series, but there was still that sense of “club”, or community, despite having fewer pages devoted to establishing those background characters and relationships.

Macy is also the exact opposite of earlier heroines. Instead of a wealthy, sophisticated fashionista, Macy is a complete nerd who quotes LOTR all the time. She doesn’t do her hair in the morning, is perfectly happy in jeans and a tee and has no problem with her status as a club girl. She is the epitome of a quirky, fun-loving, low key geek and I love her! It was nice to have the change after Gwen and Amy who were so alike.

I do think that it would have been nice to read a full length novel about these characters, and to expand upon Hansen’s military career and medical training, but I still loved this sweet, short story. Unlike the Amber chapter, which has gone legit by this point, the New Mexico chapter is still happily outlaw and that does present a slightly different tone to the novel. Not all the characters are as sweet to women as we have seen previously, but still, abuse isn’t tolerated. It is also a unique aspect to witness Macy’s transition from club girl to Old Lady. She has trouble overcoming her previous status as a whore (her words, not mine) and this is an ongoing issue in her and Hansen’s relationship.

Normally, I don’t give too much though to titles, but this one is especially apt. Hansen and Macy live completely outside the lines of what society has deemed acceptable and she is also way outside the lives of what we have so far established to the the norm for an Old Lady. She transcended the barriers between the women who belong to the club as a whole, and the women who belong to the club because they belong to a patched member.

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