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Beyond Ruin by Kit Rocha

Beyondruin-400Beyond Ruin is the seventh book in the gritty and erotic post-apocalyptic romance series by Kit Rocha. I have an unapologetic love for this series, and I loved this book but you won't love it as much as I did  if you haven't invested in reading the previous books in the series. Luckily Bree Bridges and Donna Herren, the writing duo known as Kit Rocha have made it easy to catch up by offering discounted book bundles and fantastic website with a great character directory.

In Beyond Ruin all the seeds of conflict between Eden and the sectors that have been planted from the very beginning are bearing fruit. The tensions that rock  the central romance between Mad, Doc, Jade & Scarlet is inseparable from this conflict.

Mad, Adrian Maddox Rios, is the grandson of Prophet who built a powerful religious dynasty in Sector One.  He is somewhat estranged from his family, having fled to Sector Four and joined the O'Kanes, rather than taking up leadership there and face the suffocating love the of Prophet's followers, who would gladly give their lives for him, and wear his sainted mother's image on their bodies.  

Dylan "Doc" is a self-destructive pain-pill addict, who once was a sought after physician in Eden before he learned too many secrets and found himself a captive forced to oversee torture sessions. Dylan's family had sacrificed everything so he could get an education, but he became nothing but a tool to masters of Eden. He lost them and the position they had wanted for him and now he feels he has nothing left to lose. Once reckless and rootless, he has found some solace and comfort in Mad's embrace.

While Dylan and Mad are together they long for Jade and Scarlet, dreaming and fantasizing about them but unable to figure out how to approach them. They are caught in a tug of war of desire and fear, wanting and wishing but never quite acting on the flirtation, dancing frustrated circles around each other. 

Jade came to Sector 4, fragile and strung-out, after being betrayed by the Cerys the head of Sector Two.  She once used her training as an Orchid-trained prostitute to be serve as a spy, pleasing and manipulating powerful men in Eden with sex and submission.  When her patron discovered the truth, he nearly killed through drugs and abuse.  She has found comfort and love in Scarlet's arms but has not yet lowered the walls around her own heart enough to truly give and accept that love.

Scarlet is orphaned singer from the bombed-out Sector Three. She feels keenly out-classed by her lovers, never having lived in anything like the luxury and privilege they have all come from. They all adore her open-hearted embrace of life and sensation.

Beyond Ruin is probably the most plot heavy book Kit Rocha have ever written. A hell of a lot stuff happens, both to the central quartet and to Eden and the sectors. There are attacks, rescue missions, assassinations and the steady build-up toward war, all while Jade, Scarlet, Mad and Dylan try to figure out if their coming together as foursome can be maintained. There are a lot of moving parts to their relationship and they have to figure out how they can be there for each other beyond wrecking themselves with pleasure in bed.  Kit Rocha excels at building toward some seriously dark wrenching relationship moments that are 100% earned and consistent to who the characters are.  The push and pull of their ambitions, self-protection and instinctual drives, come up against the desire to truly accept, trust and belong to each other.

The stars of the book for me where Jade and Mad because they both struggle so much and respond so differently to very similar situations.  I was fascinated by Jade's internal struggle to let herself be truly seen by her lovers and her agonizing sense of responsibility over all the girls from the pleasure houses in Sector Two. Raised from childhood to feign desire and pleasure, to mimic affection and care in order to manipulate and control, she constantly questions her reactions and responses, as she works to reclaim her authentic self.  I felt Mad's anxiety and claustrophobia in Sector One, and his desire for and fear of wielding power over others.  He is a true prophet in how clearly he saw his grandfather's corruption and is struggling with untangling his desire to protect, save from his grand-father's power-hungry appetites. His struggle is how to love and care without controlling and self-martyr-ship.

The sex in these books continues to be inventive, hot but most importantly emotionally meaningful. The storyline continues to build with great payoff for longtime readers and I am on the edge of my seat waiting  to see what the future holds for the O'Kanes as their world is shaken once more.

I received a review copy for Beyond Ruin from one of its authors and was happily immersed into it.


Mini-Reviews: Reaper's Fall, Glory in Death, Fool Me Twice and A Midnight Clear

24582414Reaper's Fall (Reapers MC #5) by Joanna Wylde:  Levi "Painter" Brooks, is the king of mixed messages. While he undeniably lusts after her, he pushes Mel Tucker away at every opportunity. Their romances becomes a complicated  on-but-never-quite-off five year plus slog, as these two dance around each other, failing to trust or communicate. She fears being abandoned, and Painter is a master at being wishy-washy.  I think I am pretty much over these books.  There were really good moments in this, but I skimmed the long involved biker politics plot, I didn't like the sexual dynamics between Mel and Painter (he continues to sleep with who ever he wants while claiming to be with Mel, and trying to interfere in her dating life).   It honestly read more like a cautionary tale, "don't sleep with possessive but wishy-washy bikers"

268601Glory in Death (In Death #2) by JD Robb  Eve faces off against a serial killer targeting prominent and powerful women, while questioning her increasingly serious relationship with Roarke and her fear of learning more about her past.  Once again I figured out who the murder was very early on, and I once again didn't care. I am here for the romance and watching Eve struggle with figuring out how to let herself have normal emotions and relationships while continuing to be good at her job. There were some odd and uncomfortable depictions of people of color and racial dynamics in this one.  I wasn't sure what Robb was going for but it made me uncomfortable and sad.

18143986Fool Me Twice (Rules for the Reckless #2) by Meredith Duran  Olivia Mather goes undercover in the recently-widowed and reclusive Duke of Marwick's house in order to steal some incriminating information the Duke has on a man that has been threatening her life for almost a decade.  Her plans are complicated when she discovers that the household is in utter disarray with the Duke refuses to leave his room. I hate listened to the first half of this book. I really couldn't stand how Olivia became infatuated with the dangerously gaunt Alistair. The book didn't begin to click for me till around chapter 10, when Alistair discovers why Olivia has been in his house.   The book really picked up steam for me at that point, and I really found the second half very very strong, with great conflict and characterization.

27505814A Midnight Clear by Emma Barry and Genevieve Turner: This novella is set in Annapolis in 1949, a dozen years before Star Dust and is the story of Joe Reynolds (another Perseid astronaut) and Frances Dumfries.    Frances is an Admiral's daughter, who constantly must fend of the attentions of ambitious midshipmen who want to rub shoulders with her father.  Joe, while ambitious and dedicated only has eyes for Frances.  The novella is sweet and romantic, as Joe sets out to impress Frances with his desire to seek her happiness above his own.  The conflict and resolutions both seemed real and believable. Barry and Turner did a wonderful job developing a great supporting cast without stealing any time from the young lovers.


RT Review Round up

I reviewed a ton (4) of books for RT last month.

One of the most interesting things about my RT reviewing is that I read a lot more books by a lot of new-to-me authors.  Some I quite enjoy like Seressia Glass's Sugar  others I leave me conflicted like  Virma DePaul's Billionaire boss romance Filthy Rich and others I simply struggle with like Meg Adams's In From the Cold, a Christmas/nanny romance.

I did get to read a book from Jill Sorenson, whose work I have read and enjoyed in the past. I enjoyed Shooting Dirty   as much as I enjoyed the first book in her Dirty Eleven series, Riding Dirty which I had reviewed last year when it was first released.

 


Ride Me Hard by Shari Slade (The Devil's Host MC, Book 1)

RideMeHard-200x300Star is waitress at dead-end diner. She hates her job and is close to losing her apartment. Star has no one good in her life, her boss is awful, her cousin a low-life and the local cop keeps his eye on her not because he wants to protect her but because he wants to feel her up.  In walks Noah, big, bad bruiser and enforcer for the Devil's Host MC. Everything about him signals danger and destruction but Star is fascinated even as she comes close to being paralyzed with fear. He is not there for Star, but for her cousin who owes debts to his club. When her cousin runs out the backdoor, Star is left behind alone.

Ride Me Hard is first of a projected five installment biker-romance serial following the same couple with a HEA at the end. The first story was short but action packed. Slade uses many familiar biker tropes to good effect and introduces a heroine that is believable even as she makes extremely risky choices. 

Star's lack of self-preservation instinct is convincingly presented as being fueled by having nothing to lose and her desire & attraction to Noah.  Noah is  harder to pin down. Protective but undeniably dangerous, the king of mixed messages,  reassuring her one minute, saying something scary to his club brother the next and Star doesn't know if she can trust him. Whether Star has misread Noah, and what he plans to do with her beyond continuing to sex her up are questions left to be resolved in the next installments.

I thought it this was great start, interesting and hot, establishing the stakes and the characters well and I liked what I read enough that I will return for more.

I received a review copy of Ride me Hard from the author Shari Slade.

Ride Me Hard will be available at all the usual places on May 1st.


Back on the Bike: Reviewing Motorcycle Club Romances by Joanna Wylde and Jill Sorenson

Download (5)Riding Dirty ( Dirty Eleven MC series):

This is Jill Sorenson’s first foray into Motorcycle Club Romance, and it was a natural fit for the Romantic Suspense expert. Mia Richards (formerly Michelle Ruiz) is psychologist, who entered the Witness Protection system after Phillip, her husband was murdered and she was left for dead during a home invasion perpetrated by bikers connected to the White Lightning MC. Three years have passed and Mia, thirsty for revenge, jumps at the opportunity offered by shady DA investigator Damon Vargas to take part a mostly-off the books operation against the Dirty Eleven MC. Mia is to monitor the psychological health of their informant Cole “Shank” Shepherd. After the death of his brother and with prison life turning too dangerous after retaliating against the Aryan Brotherhood who killed him, Cole has agreed to provide information on his uncle’s criminal activities as head of the Dirty Eleven Motorcycle Club. In Cole, Mia sees the perfect instrument of revenge but as she plots to seduce Cole, she finds that after three years of numbness, he has sparked both her body and her feelings and believes she can’t callously use him as she intended. Cole has come back from prison changed. The deaths of his brother and cousin have reinforced a sense of his mortality, and made him increasingly uneasy with the criminal partnerships his uncle has made. He is wary of old friends, he is thinking too hard, noticing too much and knows from the start Mia wants something from him. Cole and Mia’s relationship was complicated enough when she was trying to seduce him into being her instrument of revenge, but simply trying to be together nearly destroys them both.

Sorenson did a wonderful job combining MC elements with her excellent romantic suspense plots. Sorenson doesn’t sugarcoat the machismo & violence of the MC life but is still able to exploit the erotic potential Cole’s possessiveness & crudeness holds for Mia. Cole deeper interest in Mia was also realistically developed. While they both develop intense attraction from the beginning, their relationship is given time to build, through multiple therapy sessions, & then in furtive and conflicted encounters. The tension of Cole is seeking intimacy beyond sex for the first time in his life, and Mia struggling with the reality of giving him anything other than her body (such a her true identity) will endanger them both.The external and internal obstacles Mia and Cole face were so realistic and intense I had a hard time imagining how Sorenson could bring it a believable resolution but she did. I am eager to read more of the Dirty Eleven series.

Side-note: I really liked how Sorenson depicted Mia’s Mexican-American heritage. I liked how it was introduced and how it then lent a playful note to Mia and Cole’s otherwise heavy and secretive dates.

4.5 out of 5 stars 

I received a review copy of Riding Dirty from its author, Jill Sorenson.

 

Cover51377-mediumReaper's Stand (Reaper's Motorcycle Club series, book 4) by Joanna Wylde:

Reaper’s Stand is the fourth book in Joanna Wylde’s popular Reapers Motorcycle Club series. Throughout the series Reese “Picnic” Hayes has a been recurring and imposing figure. Picnic is the long-time president of the Reaper’s, and father of Emme, heroine in the Devil’s Game. In previous books he has been established as a tough, very protective of his daughters, and very promiscuous since the death of his beloved wife.

In his early 40's, Picnic only ever seems to have young women in his bed, not because he doesn't find older women attractive but because the young club groupies won’t stand up to him, or put up a fuss when he doesn’t call them up the next day. He can get plenty of sex without developing relationships.

London is in her late-thirties,a serious and hard-working small business owner. She is foster mother to her impulsive and troubled cousin, a hard and thankless role that ended her marriage. She is not a biker groupie or hanger-on, she just cleans after them, having landed a lucrative contract cleaning the Reaper’s two legitimate business, their pawn shop and strip club.

The book opens with London putting together a plate of food for Reese and preparing and failing to shoot him in the back. Wylde then jumps us back in time to the first time Reese ever laid eyes on London,  and declared her off limits to himself and all other club members and then forward again another 6 months to the event that brought London to Reese’s door. Her troubled cousin has disappeared into the Reaper’s clubhouse for one of their wild parties. While Jessica is legally of age, she has awful decision making skills along with other health issues due to her mother’s drug abuse while pregnant.  After exhausting all other options London finds herself knocking on Reese’s office door to ask him for help. Reese is in the midst of receiving a very enthusiastic birthday blow-job from one of the club groupies and is initially thrilled to see London turn up thinking she is part of his birthday celebration. Instead London uncomfortably but persistently persuades Picnic to interrupt his private party to help her find her cousin but doing so leaves her in his debt. To full-fill her obligations to Picnic, London agrees to become his part-time housekeeper, making meals and cleaning house for him.  London’s constant presence in his house but not in his bed are a challenge and frustration for Reese.

Wylde pulls the readers in two different directions as she develops Picnic in this novel.  In previous novels we have read many references to his first wife, and the solid and loving relationship they had and how he hasn't quite let go of  her. Since his wife’s death, Picnic has been having conversations of a sort with her his head. Picnic is still angry at her for abandoning him and their daughters when she died, and she wants him settled with a strong woman who will be his equal partner (she is rooting for London), while he doesn’t want to risk the vulnerability losing someone again.  Despite revealing the feelings of abandonment that are the root of his behavior, I found Wylde's made Picnic less charming, more threatening and juvenile when he interacted with London than he had been in the previous books. Justifying Picnic’s childish antics as resulting from experiencing emotions he hasn’t felt for a woman since his teenage years when fell in love with his first wife, was less than convincing.  I felt Picnic doesn't realize till much too late the horrible mixed messages he is sending London, trying to pressuring her into a casual sexual relationship and then getting mad at her when she doesn't turn to him for more. I found myself liking him less and less through the course of the novel as he  blackmails, incites and eventually attacks London.

In nearly all the Reaper’s books the heroine is sexually menaced or kidnapped by the hero at some point in the story. And this book is not exception. Although both London and Reese feel the violence of that encounter is justified, I felt it went too far, and I had a hard time embracing the resolution, despite having liked  the idea of them up to that point. It was no comfort to learn that Picnic and his first wife has similarly fraught and complicated relationship history. The compatibility of London and Reese’s devotion to their children, their fierceness in fighting for them and their sacrificial love for them, while one of the strongest threads in the book, was not enough to overcome the violence of the encounter for me as I felt it diminished Picnic beyond redemption.

3.5 out 5 stars.

I am thankful for the review copy provided by Berkley via NetGalley.


Lay it Down by Cara McKenna


20556056I’m a big fan of Cara McKenna’s books and I’ve been following her on twitter for a couple of years. I first heard of Lay it Down after she signed the contract Signet Eclipse for the series and announced that she was going to be writing a biker book series. At the time I had just started reading Joanne Wylde’s Reapers MC series and had just finished Kristen Ashley’s Chaos books but was struggling to finding any other biker/Motorcycle Club books I could stomach. The idea that McKenna was going to tackle this niche really excited me. She writes great gritty men, who are more than they seem, so it went on my auto-buy list. Then in May Cara McKenna received a box of paper ARCs from her publisher and gave some away on twitter. I was thrilled to get one. I loved After Hours, Unbound and Hard Time so much that I put down my kindle long enough to read Lay in Down the old-fashioned way.

It really wasn’t what I expected. I expected Cara McKenna twisting up Motorcycle Club conventions, while delivering a hard-edged gritty hero with a sweet core. But that not what this book is. It is not a Motorcycle Club romance.  Instead it is a gritty, small-town mystery/romance, that centers on a group of friends who are seeing their dusty small-town be taken over by a huge casino. When one of their best buddies dies, Vince Grossier, McKenna’s tattooed, motorcycle riding ex-con hero suspects that he has been killed because of something he saw. Vince becomes obsessed with figuring it out what really happened, and ends up enlisting a motley crew of allies, who rightly question Vince’s certainty that Alex has been killed.

One of the unlikely allies (but not the unlikeliest) is Kim Padget. Kim is a freelance photographer working for the Eclipse Casino corporation. She has come to town to take publicity shots but really is looking to get away from home. Kim’s boyfriend has just proposed to her and it only made her realize that she doesn’t want to be with him, and how much she wants to experience life out of the safe bubble she has always lived in. When she looks at Vince she sees a rough and ready man, perfect for wild-side  rebound fling. In Kim, Vince sees convenient ally and a good-girl to dirty up to their mutual enjoyment. Of course both of them will come to realize that they can mean much more to each other.

“ Unbidden, his fingers twined with Kim’s, a little taste of what it might feel to get wrapped up with a woman out of desire, not obligation. Out of pleasure and affection. He could sample that with her. This was was safe. She had a life to return to, once this mystery was settled, once the danger was snuffed, and a man like him didn’t stand a chance at changing that. There would be no for-keeps with Kim, only for-now. Because why would a woman like her want a man like him long-term?”

 

Photo (3)The book took an unexpected turn for me with the introduction of Vince’s prophetic mother, whose visions in too many ways killed one of the major conflicts in the plot up to that point and I wasn’t thrilled by this paranormal twist. A new conflict arises, but I felt we lost valuable tension. However some of the other supporting characters stole and saved the book for me. Vince’s old friend Raina, the jaded barkeep who broke their mutual friend Miah’s heart, and Duncan the Casino corporation’s corporate fixer, who is also pill-addict and is in over his head with Raina were fascinating and I can’t wait to read their book.

This is a very hard book to pin down, at points it pops with zany energy, at others it smolders but the central mystery is not nearly as interesting as it could have been and it takes a back seat to developing and exploring the town. Still I will come back to read the next of the Desert Dogs books for Raina, Duncan and Miah. If you like small-town contemporaries, and want one with with a gritty mystery twist, Lay it Down is for you.

 

 

 


Salvation: A Defiance Novel by Stephanie Tyler

Salvation is the 3rd novel in the Defiance Series by Stephanie Tyler. I read the second book in the series, Redemption based on the recommendation of several folks in twitter.

The Defiance series is essentially a post-apocalyptic Motorcycle Club/New Adult novel. I enjoyed Redemption despite having the skipped the first book where I suspect most of the world-building for occurred.

Luna and Bishop were supporting characters in Redemption and I was eager for their story. Bishop and Mathias are blood brothers, who survived brutal childhoods together, escaped the military after the Chaos and are finding a place and maybe a home in Defiance.

In Redemption Bishop was also Mathias’s voice, speaking for him, since he only communicates through sign language forming a close relationship with Jessa. At the end of Redemption Bishop took Mattias place as a hostage in Keller’s compound. Keller is a mafioso, trading partner and occasional threat and rival to the Defiance MC. Luna is a legacy member of the Defiance MC who is scarred by the abuse and violence that was common there under the previous leaders. She had been ready to leave Defiance and take her chances in the outside world when Bishop arrived, so after waiting four months for his return she decides to follows Bishop to Keller's.

At Keller’s Luna finally lets Bishop claim her as his or have them both suffer the consequences of her impulsive and unsanctioned arrival. Keller’s compound is alluring mirage: freedom and excess on the surface and desperation and fear underneath. Bishop and Luna have to navigate treacherous relationships to stay alive, doubting every word they hear while projecting strength. I was disappointed by how little time Tyler spent deepening or building a romance for Bishop and Luna, with most of the story dedicated to the precarious political situation at Keller’s and reacting to outside threats by the LoV and the Government. Their relationship seemed to stall after a few chapters and boiled down to a lot of Bishop bossing her around and Luna liking it.

Declan one of Keller’s top men and Bishop’s assassination partner and Rebel, Luna’s best-friend and protector in Defiance however have a much more interesting relationship. Drawn together after Rebel traces Luna to Keller’s their relationship deepens beyond their initial intentions. They both live closeted lives, as their sexual orientation and S/M preferences are not acceptable to most the members in their rival organizations. Their relationship and growing attachment could be fascinating to read. I might give the next book a try to see if they can balance their conflicting loyalties to try unite their compounds survive the Government’s stepped up efforts at eradicating America’s undesirables.

The Defiance's politics are complex and well developed but I wish there had been less focus on the external conflicts.

3 out 5

 

A digital ARC of this novel was provided by the publisher, Carina Press in exchange for a fair and honest review.