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…

—                        —                         —

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.

* * *

xx

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Dauntless – a Sons of Templar MC novel

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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

—      —       —

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!

* * * * *

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.

—              —               —

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.

* * * *

xx

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

Winter of the Wolf – Cherise Sinclair

Winter of the Wolf is the second book in the Wild Hunt Legacy series by Cherise Sinclair.

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Blurb:

After years in foster care, Breanne Gallagher has the stable life she’s always wanted, living with her foster-sister, working as a chef, enjoying her comfortable routines. Then one devastating night, a hellish creature invades her apartment and shatters her fragile existence. Shifting between monster and man, it slaughters her foster sister and assaults Bree. Alone, wounded, her beloved home tainted by gruesome memories, Bree flees to a tiny wilderness town, following her only clue to her past.

Shapeshifting warriors, Zeb and Shay move from one pack to another, hunting the hellhounds which prey on their kind. Assigned to Cold Creek, they take over management of a decrepit fishing lodge for their “human” cover. Their first renter is a pretty human female who trembles at the sight of them—yet stands her ground. Furious at the hurt they see in her eyes, the protective nomads are drawn into helping her. Although no shapeshifter is ever attracted to a human, her scent is oddly compelling, and her ferocious determination to conquer her fears ignites longings neither loner ever expected to face.

Bree is healing, learning to shoot the biggest pistol she can find, and overcoming her fears, especially of the two deadly, disconcertingly attractive hunters. Her life is getting back on track…until she tries to save a little girl from a hellhound and discovers that everything she knows about herself is false.

—                 —                   —

It isn’t often that you see a second novel build so incredibly from the first in a series. Often, the story revolves around new characters in the same format and world.

Well, the world might be the same. And the initial premise too, of an adult woman discovering that she is a shapeshifter and trying to find her footing on new ground. But Bree is such an incredibly different character from the heroine of book one, almost her opposite in many ways, that it feels like a completely different story. Her male companions too are different, friends and partners in the field instead of littermates.

While I loved the original story, I also loved the differences that made this one unique. Bree is vulnerable and emotionally fragile throughout much of the book, with a difficult foster care background and abuse suffered both as a youth and an adult. Yet she grabs hold to a new existence in Cold Creek, forging personal relationships and business ties, and just generally establishing a life for herself.

I love books where the heroine does this. I find that … gumption? determination? pizzazz? something … to be an extremely admirable quality. It is something that I have many doubts I could do but wish I could. One day maybe I will pack up and move somewhere completely foreign to me and start again. Lord knows I wish I could, and Bree gives me the encouragement that maybe it would be possible for me as well.

Another difference from the first novel is that the protagonists are werewolves rather than were-cats, which means that in addition to belonging to the territory, they also have a pack that all the wolves in their territory belong to. The were-cats and bears don’t have this second community so it was an interesting development that added depth to the Wild Hunt series. I wanted to tear the pack leader limb from limb, but hey – that’s just a sign of a great author if they can make you care so much.

Ms. Sinclair adds enough humour into her novels to make them light, even when there is dark content, and that is a rare and lovely addition to erotic romance. Here is a brief excerpt from Winter of the Wolf, a scene that shows both Breanne and Zeb’s true natures, and is humorous as well.

A sweet voice caught his attention. Carrying a small tray she could use one-handed, Bree was taking drink orders. As she wove her way around the tables, her sunny hair gleamed in the light from the wall sconces. The wavy tangle stopped just above her waist, drawing attention to the way her jeans cupped her round ass. An inch or two taller than Vicki, she was even curvier and totally appealing.

Fuck.

Others had noticed, as well. She was collecting interested looks from the entire male population of the bar, even Daonain. But, true to form, humans started the trouble. Drunk, human, and male spelled pain in the ass, and the centre table held four PITAs.

One latched onto Bree’s arm tightly enough she couldn’t jerk away without spilling the drinks. Another had the effrontery to grab her ass.  Taller than everyone in the room, Zeb had a clear view. He started to push his way through the crowd.

She scowled and snapped something, but the human males only laughed. And then, she pivoted and planted her foot into the ass-toucher’s stomach. Man and chair went over backwards, skidding a few feet until coming to rest against the adjacent table.

She hadn’t even spilled a drink.

She turned toward the other male. He snatched his hand from her arm. With a swing of her blonde hair, she moved away as if she’d never been stopped. Fucking amazing. Zeb adjusted his jeans around a disconcerting hard-on and returned to the bar.

Calum was waiting for him. “Could you do me the favor of taking out the trash? Just the two. Politeness is not required. The others may stay.”

Sinclair, Cherise (2012-03-23). Winter of the Wolf (The Wild Hunt Legacy Book 2) (Kindle Locations 1144-1148). VanScoy Publishing Group. Kindle Edition.

Winter of the Wolf is certainly a romance novel, but you won’t find gratuitous sex scenes in the first couple of chapters. It is a menage relationship between two male “cahirs” and one little female, and they take their time getting to know each other before jumping beneath the sheets. Sometimes this gets boring, but it works for this series and the plot moves quickly without the spicy scenes.

I highly recommend this series, it is currently my favourite in the fantasy-romance genre!

* * * * *

xx

Hidden Away – a review

KGI 3

Blurb:

A man who shoots first and asks questions later…

Most people would take an all-expenses-paid trip to the beach in a heartbeat. Garrett Kelly only accepts to keep tabs on Sarah Daniels, who’s in hiding after witnessing a murder by Marcus Lattimer, her half-brother—and a personal enemy of KGI. This gig may be beneath a disciplined soldier like Garrett, but if he gets a shot at Lattimer, it will all be worth it…

…and the ultimate moving target.

But Garrett hadn’t counted on falling for Sarah. He’d considered seduction as a tactical maneuver, but when he glimpses Sarah’s dark past, he feels an urgent desire to keep her safe—even after she disappears on him. Garrett doesn’t know exactly who, or what, Sarah’s running from, but whatever it is, she’s running for her life…

—                   —                    —

One of the things that I really admire about Maya Banks’ first three KGI novels is that each of them has a very different tone. Ethan and Rachel’s novel is more emotional and intimate. You see the family dynamics strongly at play and the softer side of everyone. It tugs at your heart strings just a little bit. Sam and Sophie have lots more action. So much of the story is told from Sophie’s perspective that even though the reader has already met the Kelly brothers, they seem a little cold and harsh, a lot intimidating and powerful. In particular, I loved seeing the very different sides of Garrett, from lovey with Rachel to suspicious of (and frightening to) Sophie.

Which leads us to Hidden Away, featuring the enigmatic Garrett and fragile, forgiving Sarah.

I loved the beachy tone of this book, and the time that this allowed for Garrett to break down Sarah’s defences. I don’t think that their relationship would have worked in any other environment, because he wouldn’t have gotten through those barriers without completely breaking her down as a person. I felt a lot of empathy for their situation. And now I feel a strong need to escape my life and move to a sleepy little Caribbean island.

There were a couple of things that bothered me a slightly about this book. Sarah is so emotionally fragile – understandably so from her character’s backstory – but she seemed to get over it a little too easily when she and Garrett became intimate. I would have really loved to see the back-end of their story extended at least five chapters to see how they work through some of those problems, and also to demonstrate how they stay together and overcome the fallout at the end of the plot …..

* * * Minor Spoiler Alert * * *

You know it isn’t going to end completely happy because Sarah is inevitably going to lose either Garrett or her brother … and it’s a romance … so you can probably guess who she loses from her life. That was well-written and I enjoyed how it played out on the page but was another thing that I wish Banks had teased out a little more. Without giving everything away, I have no idea how Sarah and Garrett were able to overcome the hardships and emotional entanglements that became embedded in their relationship due to his mission and her circumstances. It would be so natural for this to break them apart and their reunion is little more than that. A reunion. You have about a half chapter where he apologizes and they get back together to sail off into the sunset.

I don’t like that the book ended this way. It left out all the hard stuff and it’s super lazy when authors do that. I suspect Banks was concerned that the novel was going to be too long, but there was other stuff I would have much preferred she remove, especially the whole Alaska plot-line. It would have saved a few pages without affecting the story at all.

It would have been awesome to see Sarah slowly make her way into the Kelly family and overcome what I’m sure would be initial fear – intimidation, at least – of the KGI group as she and Garrett made a life together. You do get to see glimpses in later books, but it is very understated because this couple is not the focus of those instalments.

Despite my criticisms, I do really like Hidden Away, I just wish the tough bits had been more flushed out.

This is the last KGI book that I am going to review – for now at least. There are seven more after Hidden Away, but I like the first three the best so I don’t want to re-read the others for a review. If you really like these ones though, you might want to continue.

* * * *

xx

The Darkest Hour – a review

I love the first few books in Maya Banks’ KGI series. They feature a post-military career family of 6 boys who start their own consulting business together, covering everything from outsourced government jobs, to private hostage rescues and corporate security.

What sets these books apart from other contemporary military/LEO series is the strong sense of family and the supporting cast that shows up in every book. Because the author starts with such a large family and immediately introduces supporting characters, you don’t get the sense that she is merely adding characters to pair up, in order to continue the series. They are a part of the story from the beginning.

I also love how the heroes are sensitive and gentle to the woman in their lives, without losing any of that badassery. You get to see characters like Rachel experience meaningful relationships outside of the romantic lead in novel, which is something many romances lack.

Speaking of Rachel … here’s the blurb and cover to book 1.

KGI 1

Blurb:

It’s been one year since ex-Navy SEAL Ethan Kelly last saw his wife Rachel alive. Overwhelmed by grief and guilt over his failures as a husband, Ethan shuts himself off from everything and everyone.

His brothers have tried to bring Ethan into the KGI fold, tried to break through the barriers he’s built around himself, but Ethan refuses to respond… until he receives anonymous information claiming Rachel is alive.

To save her, Ethan will have to dodge bullets, cross a jungle, and risk falling captive to a deadly drug cartel that threatens his own demise. And even if he succeeds, he’ll have to force Rachel to recover memories she can’t and doesn’t want to relive—the minute by minute terror of her darkest hour—for their love, and their lives, may depend on it.

—                        —                        —

The Darkest Hour is a stand-out first book in the KGI series. I love Ethan and Rachel together and how the whole Kelly clan came together to support them and help Rachel reintegrate back into her old life. If you are looking for a book full of action and explosions, some of the later books in the series might be more to your taste. While The Darkest Hours definitely has action, more of the book is dedicated to Rachel’s overcoming of the abuse she suffered during her year as a captive, and the journey she and Ethan have to take to find their ways back to each other.

The KGI books have less sex and steamy scenes in them than many of the author’s other books, if you are familiar with her writing. There are no bdsm or kinky scenes, making it a good choice for someone who prefers “sweet romance”.

The relationship that Ethan’s brother Garret and Rachel share is incredibly special, and one I’m a little jealous of. The second and third KGI books are about Sam and Garret and I look forward to reviewing them shortly.

* * * *

Edit: I just noticed that the first 1.5 chapters are on the book’s amazon page if you want to try this book out before purchasing.

xx

Bound by Temptation – a review

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

temptation

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

vengeance

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Deliverance by AJ Adams – a review

Deliverance is the “third” book in a series, but it is written as a standalone. There is very little plot from the previous two books and the characters from them turn up for about a half a chapter, only. So I’m calling it a side-quel, and if you haven’t already read The Bonus or Songbird, don’t feel you need to to read Deliverance.

3

Blurb:

“I’m sending you a girl.”
“What?”
“She needs sorting out. I’m talking Exit Strategy.”
Exit Strategy. That’s what we call deprogramming these days. You might call it brainwashing. It’s one of my skills. Give me a man whose idea of heaven is a suicide vest, and I can turn him into a peace loving hippy wannabe.
“She’s a white widow?”
“No. Human trafficking victim turned sex slave and mule. She’s a fucking mess.”
Christ, poor little bint. Now I knew why Suarez was calling me.

Mac is all set for an undercover job when an old friend lands him with Pepper, a human trafficking victim of a Moroccan-Turkish crime syndicate. Unable to turn her away, Mac now has two missions: to infiltrate a terrorist training camp in the Sahara and to be a Master for Pepper.

Warning: contains graphic violence and sex.
Standalone novel, no cliffhangers

—                     —                      —

Ok, I’m going to be honest from the get-go, this book was a bit of a flop for me. I really liked the first two in the series, but Deliverance was a major departure. To begin with, all those characters we met in the first two novels were not in this one, which takes place in England and Algeria. Chloe and Kyle make very brief appearances, but I was expecting the main characters, Mac and Pepper, to go to Mexico at some point and reconnect with them; especially since Mac and Kyle are close and Chloe and Pepper are close. But they didn’t, and although I can understand what the author was trying to do, I feel like she spent two books developing a community only to completely depart from it.

I hope she writes another novel, and returns to Mexico, but I don’t know who would be the main characters. Generally in romance series, there is an obvious next choice or two, and this time there isn’t.

Another reason that I had trouble with Deliverance is because it repeats a lot of the psychological stuff from The Bonus. Chloe and Pepper were both “Raj’s girls”; they came from the same hellhole, although experiencing different “paths” after they were too old for his pedophile tastes. While Chloe got to escape to a limited degree, as a mule for the organization, Pepper was sold into sexual slavery. She was taken so young by her first owner (seriously wish I could use another word that would work but I can’t) that she cannot remember anything before that. I did like some of the new psychology ideas that the author includes. For example, the development of personality and how some aspects of it are just who we are from birth, but mostly, it is shaped by our experiences, circumstances, and models of behaviour around us. Her discussions of multiple personalities, and how we all have them was very intriguing. If you think about it, it’s true. We all act differently between time spent with co-workers, an employer, casual friends, best friends, different family members … it isn’t an act – at least I hope you don’t feel you have to act – but we are a different self with each different group.

What I didn’t enjoy was the repetitious aspects of trying to break the poor girls out of these learned habits. For example, the personas they adopted to please their “Master” and escape brutality for a bit, like Chloe’s kitten and Pepper’s rodeo-girl. In the bonus it was a good addition to the plot and character development. In Deliverance, it just became too much. I didn’t want to read it, and for that long.

I greatly admire Mac for allowing the poor girl to develop herself within the parameters that he set for her, to protect her. I can see how some might argue that he was abusive himself, but I disagree. It is unusual to find a romance novel that is written almost entirely from the man’s point of view. I don’t really think that that is why I had trouble connecting with this book, I think it was just the lack of major plot points and too much space devoted to character development.

Unfortunately, at the end of the day, there wasn’t enough action for me. I wanted some big dramatic moments and more appearances by past characters. I have to admit, I got bored and skimmed the last third of the book because I just lost interested and didn’t want to DNF this book, especially after loving the first two books so much.

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Songbird by AJ Adams – a review

Songbird is the second novel in the Zetas series that I have reviewed. They are about young women emerging from the hardest of lives imaginable, and men who are the ultimate baddies. Songbird is the sequel  to The Bonus.

Gorgeous model held captive behind bars

Blurb:

When cartel boss Arturo Vazquez discovers his girlfriend Gina is a DEA rat and his deputy Escamilla is staging a take-over, Arturo fixes his problems by killing everyone – except for Solitaire, Escamilla’s unwilling mistress. Solitaire is intelligent, tough, and shares Arturo’s interest in BDSM. Arturo falls head over heels but someone is leaking information – and the evidence point at Solitaire.

Songbird is a complete and self standing novel. Warning: This book contains explicit scenes of dubious consent, graphic violence and sex.

—                    —                   —

I am impressed with how Adams was able to redeem Arturo after his actions in the first book. Talking so cavalierly about the murder of a four year old child to further business, and his ordering of Chloe’s torture at the beginning of The Bonus, made me feel like there was no way Arturo could possibly be a protagonist in his own novel.

I was wrong.

I liked how he took a chance on Solitaire. He could have easily killed her or ordered Kyle to, and not dealt with the hassle and risk of letting her out of that house alive. I think Kyle’s (admittedly limited) morals have rubbed off on good old Arturo a bit!

This book was great because it wasn’t just a repeat of the first novel. Although Solitaire and Chloe both have some serious mental issues to deal with following their pasts, they have very different personalities and coping mechanisms, which keeps the material interesting.

There was a lot more mystery and subterfuge in Songbird, compared to the first book where it felt like the reader just watched events unfold.

One thing that I didn’t like though, is that it was obvious (to me at least) who “Songbird” was from the get-go. The mystery sections of the novel should definitely have been written better.

I also would have preferred to see Solitaire have some problems adapting to her new life in Mexico! She just seemed to soar into this whole new world like it was nothing new, and that is unrealistic. She doesn’t have to struggle pathetically the whole way through, but it just seemed all a little too easy.

* * possible spoiler * *

My favourite scene by far was Kyle’s interrogation of Solitaire in the hotel. Going into that scene, knowing his usual methods of interrogation, I had chills! I wish that the book had of stayed like that all the way through.

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