Master of the Dark Side

Master of the Dark Side is the fourth book in the Mountain Masters / Doms of Dark Haven series by Cherise Sinclair. It is a novella that was originally published in an anthology.

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Real Doms terrify her, so Summer plays with lightweights only. And only in the safety of her club, Dark Haven. But on Western Night, the tough cop who wins her in a sub-roping game is as powerful as they come.

Virgil’s first taste of BDSM was disturbingly enticing. Hoping to burn out his interest, he visits an infamous San Francisco club, where he wins himself the prettiest little submissive he’s ever seen. He’s in a quandary. A man shouldn’t render a woman helpless, let alone spank her ass. But the nervous little submissive clearly loves being in his ropes. Her need to be controlled is as powerful as his need to control. So he indulges himself, and her.

That one night could be the beginning, but instead it’s the end. She won’t play outside the club and he lives too far to visit often. He’ll just have to find a way to forget her…or get her in his ropes to stay.

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Master of the Dark Side is the second novella in this series so far. Normally I don’t like novellas because I feel like too much of the story is missing, and the relationship doesn’t progress as naturally as it should because of the contracted timeline, but I have yet to dislike any book by Cherise Sinclair! She is that good.

My favourite thing about this story is that the dominant, Virgil, is completely new and his submissive Summer, while not exactly an expert, has been in the scene for a couple of years. Most of the D/s stories I come across feature a female submissive who is obnoxiously clueless about the lifestyle, many even believing that it is something imagined by romance authors to sell book, rather than a practice that actually happens in real life.

*face palm*

In the modern world of high-speed internet and sky-high erotica sales, I find it difficult to believe that most people are THAT naive.

So it is completely refreshing to watch as Virgil explores his dominant side, discover what he is comfortable with, and learns the art of bdsm. Virgil is a cop with strong protective instincts, especially for women, and he has to reconcile those instincts with his need to dominate, to control, to push.

Summer had a traumatic and abusive “scene” in Simon Says Mine when a shoddy Dom did not respect her safeword and literally beat her bloody. Thankfully she was rescued by Simon and Rona, but she hasn’t recovered emotionally from the scars. This creates a minefield for Virgil to navigate in their relationship, especially since bdsm scenes require trust and vulnerability – both physical and emotional.

I loved this short story and am glad that the author writes updates on previous couples into all her books, so we will get to see some more from Virgil and Summer sometime soon!

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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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