Crime Lord Series (Books 1-3)

Three years ago, Lyla fled from her ex, Gavin Pyre. She created a new identity and began a relationship with a man who knows nothing about her past. The normal life she built for herself is shattered when Gavin blackmails her into returning to Las Vegas where he rules the criminal underworld. As Lyla navigates through the dark secrets of her past she’s forced to face a man who refuses to let her live without him.

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I read all three of these books in one day. They are just slightly addictive.

Crime Lord is a series of mafia romance books. The first three tell the story of Gavin and Lyla. Gavin is the King of the Underground in Las Vegas.

I felt that these books got better as they went on. The first one was a little over-dramatic at times, and I kept waiting for Lyla to overcome her fear enough to show Gavin how she has changed in their three years apart, but she seems to just slide into her old role of silly, spoiled airhead. Despite her misery, she goes shopping, and has spa days and wears her old styles instead of updating her wardrobe to reflect the person she is now. I also expected her to pick up volunteering – since Gavin won’t let her work and she purports to miss it – but this doesn’t happen until the third book.

I don’t feel that these books are the best of the Mafia or dark romance genre, but they are still delicious reads that I greatly enjoyed. They certainly hit the spot and I will be reading more from this author as books are released. I’m glad that Ms. Knight has started to expand the series by giving background characters like Blade expanded roles, and also introducing more dark anti-heroes, like the Roman brothers and Lucifer.

The heat level of this series is a solid “romance” level but doesn’t pass into erotica, IMHO.

The author has announced that she is working on the fourth book in this series, but is finished with this couple for now. The next books will feature different anti-heroes/heroines and there are lots of yummy folks to choose from!

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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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Ethan Frost series by Tracy Wolff- a review

The Ethan Frost series is very similiar to the Crossfire series by Sylvia Day, which I read a couple of years ago and liked.

The first two books, which I’ll review in this post, are written from the perspective of the heroine, Chloe.

Background info: Chloe is a university student, pre-law, who scores her dream summer internship working in intellectual property law for a big, reputable company. She runs into billionaire CEO on her first day without realizing who he is and they hit it off.  He pursues her relentlessly, trying to start a relationship but she has some serious past scars preventing her from jumping at the chance to be with someone who makes her heart-rate quicken.

Book 1

ethan 1

Blurb:

Ethan Frost is a visionary, a genius, every woman’s deepest, darkest fantasy—even mine. And, somehow, I am his.

He stole into my life like a dream. Turned my reality upside down and made my every desire come true—especially those I never knew I had. He demanded everything I had to give and gave me everything of himself in return.

But dreams don’t last forever, and ours is no exception. Because my nightmares are darker, and my wounds deeper, than I could ever reveal. And as much as Ethan wants to protect me, the secrets we share will only tear us apart.

Book 2

Ethan 2

Blurb:

Ethan Frost is everything a woman could want in a man. He’s rich, gorgeous, powerful, one of the most eligible bachelors in the world.

But that’s not why I’m with him.

I love Ethan for all the things no one else gets to see: his innate kindness, his reckless spontaneity, his unwavering determination to use his brilliance for good. I love the way he looks at me, the way he touches me. The way he makes me forget the wreckage of my past and the twisted fear that still lives inside me.

But sometimes it terrifies me how much I crave him, how much I need him just to breathe. I always thought it would be my past that ruined us, but there’s a darkness in Ethan I never dreamed existed. Can we survive as his secrets surface—threatening to unravel us both?

—                  —                    —

I liked both of these books, a lot more than I had expected to. Wolff writes about very complicated relationships and characters, which is always something that I am looking for in a book. I like depth.

I also liked that there were some complications that I didn’t see coming in their relationship, that develop around the end of the first novel. Can’t talk about it without major spoilers, but you know I mean if you’ve read the book.

Their back and forth over the blender was hilarious but it also had meaning. That stupid blender represented something far more complicated and important, that was affecting their relationship. Chloe is extremely uncomfortable with Ethan’s billionaire status. She doesn’t trust people with money, having had many awful experiences with “the other half” in her short life.

There are a few things that I would have picked up on though, if I had been beta reading for Tracy.

Firstly, I question how Chloe didn’t recognize Ethan the first time that they met. Granted, their chance meeting placed him completely out of context, but if she has supposedly done all this research on him and his company and looks up to him as an ethical CEO, you’d think she has a pretty good idea what he looks like. Even more so because he is a billionaire bachelor who is always in and out of the society pages and gossip magazines.

The other things are more minor, mostly personal preference. The first book was too long in the ‘getting to know you-should we have a relationship’ stage. I was getting bored, but thankfully lots of good stuff happened to bring me back.

In the second book, Ethan and Chloe get torn apart and then find their ways back together several times. Even though Chloe had A LOT that she was dealing with, I didn’t like how she ran away from their relationship so many times. I wanted him to call her out on that and remind her that it isn’t a relationship when one party runs out every time things get difficult. You can leave for awhile to think and get perspective, but that isn’t the same as running out and breaking up.

There is a third book out in this series, and a fourth due to be released in 2016. They are both written mostly from Ethan’s perspective however and I am not a fan of authors who switch halfway through a series. Not sure if I will be reading either of those.

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Bound Series – a review

The Bound series is written by Cora Reilly. They are fictional accounts of the New York and Chicago Italian-American mafia families and their attempts to put to rest decades of violence between them in order to solidify their power. Russian and Taiwanese crime syndicates have been gaining power along the Northeastern coast of the U.S. Each book features a couple that have been matched in an arranged marriage to strengthen their families’ positions in The Outfit (Chi-town) or The Cosa Nostra (NY).

Bound by Hono[u]r: book one features Luca, the heir to the NY criminal throne and Aria Scuderi, the 18yo daughter of Bigshot #2 in Chicago.

Bound by Duty: book two features the new Chicago Capo (Dante) as he  ascends following his Father’s retirement and 24yo bride, Valentina, also from Chicago.

Bound by Hatred: book three features Aria’s younger sister Gianna and Luca’s younger brother Matteo. With the passing of time in book world, Gianna is also 18 when she marries. No child brides here.

honor duty

hatred

I discovered these books by searching for recommendations on goodreads and google and read all three over two days. The stories really attracted me and were exactly what I felt like reading last week. All three follow the same basic principle of big bad Alpha mafioso male protagonist (I can’t bring myself to say hero, they’re definitely anti-heroes) and a younger, virgin bride. Despite these similarities, so far the characters have all had very different personalities. Reilly isn’t just duplicating a successful debut novel.

That fact that she is a relatively new author, within the last year or so is astonishing, because she is pumping these babies out! I admire her story-telling, and while I’m sure that there are people in the life who would say that they aren’t remotely accurate, to me they are, and what’s more, they are entertaining. My only major criticism is that this lady needs an editor and quick. I suspect that she is self-publishing the books on Amazon, and more power to her, but there cannot be any third party editor reviewing. The grammatical mistakes are endless, irritating, and ultimately distracting for the reader. Little words that give sense to a sentence like “to” or “for” will be missing. Or miscalculating how many inches taller Luca is than Aria; you specifically said that he is 6″5 and she is 5″4, that makes him 13 inches taller (there are 12 inches in a foot), not 10 as specified in the wedding kiss scene. Ms. Reilly, please find a passionate and detailed editor! If you are reading this, I will gladly fill the role for you. Nothing is a bigger pet peeve for me than stupid little ‘housekeeping’ mistakes ruining an otherwise well-told story.

Since I read the Bound books so quickly and they are part of a series, I am mostly reviewing them as a set, but I do have a few individualized comments.

The first book (Aria and Luca) was probably my favourite in the series. I liked the evolution of Luca and Aria’s relationship and although Luca was a lot more patient with their wedding night than I think he would have been as a real-life Capo, his sweetness towards his wife was redeeming. Secondary characters pop up regularly throughout the series, and I found it to be a little annoying in this one. Aria was such a sweetheart that she didn’t stand up to her out-spoken sister Gianna … which made me want to tell G to just shut the hell up at times. I get that she was protective of her sister and Gianna gets mouthy when scared. Given the lifestyle they were born into, that’s just about all the time, but there was too much going on in that respect. I really wanted Aria to turn around and tell her “Gianna, you are making this harder on me” but they never had that adult to adult conversation. It’s too bad, it would have cut down on tedious arguing between Luca and Gianna and allowed for more character development in both girls.

Bound by Duty is Dante and Valentina’s book. This was my least favourite but that has more to do with my personality clashing with the hero and heroines’ than poor story-telling. An emotionally closed-off male character is a complete turnoff for me, just as it would be in real life. Valentina had a strong personality, but she wasn’t super confrontational, she backed down before a situation went too far. That is probably what worked for their relationship but I refuse to live through intermittent “cold wars” so I felt disconnected from them. I did like the subplots with Bibiana though, and at the end when Dante has absolute faith in his wife, it was heart-warming to see how his love for her had grown.

The last book in the series thus far is that of Matteo and Gianna. I love these two together! I suppose my main criticism is the same as I had of Gianna in the first book: that she is so incredibly bratty and mouthy when scared, which is most of the time, and she never really overcomes that satisfactorily. As a result, she is extremely emotionally dishonest and I wanted to shake her. I would have liked to have seen her mature more throughout the book and be braver, more willing to share how she feels with Matteo and Luca rather than reacting and attempting to cover her true feelings. Hopefully we will see her evolve in the next novel, otherwise I don’t know how good a life she will have.

Still speaking on Bound by Hatred, although this book was only my second favourite in the series, it had my favourite scene! I love see the Russian interrogation was which glossed over in book one, and the interactions between Matteo, Gianna, Luca, Lily and Romero that occurred here. The book started off with action! But BbH didn’t top my list because I would have emphasized different scenes in the book than Reilly chose to. I felt that (minor spoiler ahead) Matteo taking G’s virginity was a much bigger deal, because of how their marriage came into being. It was such an opportunity to foster honest emotions and grown-up relationship conversations between them and it didn’t happen. The same at the end of the book…. how to say this with minimal spoilage. Hmm. I expected the confrontation that occurs between Luca and Gianna to be much bigger and more explosive. I actually expected it to by physical on Gianna’s part, with the way he stayed in her way and refused her entrance. I was disappointed that there wasn’t one big blowout before they make peace in the epilogue. That last bit showed a huge amount of character growth on Gianna’s part, and though we didn’t see as much of “real Luca” in there as I would have liked, hopefully we get glimpses in book four.

Speaking on book four…

Bound by Temptation will be released in June 2015 and it will feature familiar characters, the youngest Scuderi girl, Liliana, and NYC ‘made man’, Romero.

temptation

From goodreads …

Liliana Scuderi has been in love with Romero from the moment she first saw him. After her sisters were married off for tactical reasons, she hopes she might be allowed to choose a husband for herself, but when her father promises her to a man more than twice her age that hope is crushed. No begging can make him change his mind.

Romero has always ignored Lily’s flirting. Her age and status made her off-limits but even someone as dutiful as him has only so much control. Wanting her when she’s supposed to marry another man could mean war between New York and the Chicago Outfit, and Romero has always put the Cosa Nostra first.

Lily suspects her sisters and Romero would risk everything for her, but is her happiness worth that much? Is love worth a war between the Cosa Nostra and the Outfit?

I can’t wait until the next book is out! I already pre-ordered it for my kindle, hope someone else out there falls in love with this new author as well.

Edit: Since I wrote this post, the author has also released the cover and blurb for the fifth book, due out Fall 2015!!!

vengeance

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