Once Beloved by Amara Royce
Cotillion by Georgette Heyer

Comfort Crack, a conversation about Kristen Ashley's books and joint review of Walk Through Fire

Ana: Reading Kristen Ashley’s books is intimately tied up with discussing them on Twitter with Michele, Gisele and Kaetrin. I’ve been chatting about KA books with them for almost as long as I have known them on Twitter. Several years ago I stumbled across a series of tweets in which Kaetrin and Michele had convinced Alexis Hall to try one of KA’s books. The conversation was hilarious. The conversation convinced me to try one for myself.   They have become my KA support group.

While we all love reading Kristen Ashley’s books, we don’t do so uncritically. Different things attract us to her books, and what works for one of us might not for the other. I love hearing how they respond to these books and listening to them helps me process my feelings for KA’s sometime problematic choices.  We tend to informally co-read the KA’s books when they are released and Kristen Ashley’s Walk Through Fire is no exception.

Michele Mills: Hahaha! Ana, I’d completely forgotten about that KA book club on twitter with Alexis Hall. I have a feeling that was the one where there were food jokes incorporated around the name of the hero. Yeah, good times. This shows you how we roll. I adore Kristen Ashley. She creates emotional page turners that keep me on the edge of my seat, at the same time I see all the faults and enjoy dissecting them. Is that odd? In a way though, I feel I am the only one who is allowed to crit her work, because I know I do it from a position of care and respect. I read pretty much all of her new releases, and I’ve read almost her entire backlist with the exception of Mathilda the Super Witch.

 Ana: I have only read her Rock Chick, Dream Man, Colorado Mountain and Chaos series fully. I haven’t ever tried her fantasy books and have decided to skip the Unfinished Heroes series. I did read Knight and it was a not a good choice for me.

Michele Mills: Oh funny, see how different we all are within our love for KA? Knight is one of my favorite KA books, I reread it routinely. It’s basically the only “Daddy” book I enjoy. Also I really like her fantasy books. But, her RC, DM, CM, and Chaos are probably my favorite. This is definitely one of Kristen Ashley’s strengths- she has such a vast and varied backlist with something for everyone to enjoy.


Kaetrin: I did read Knight eventually - I got it on special and I wanted the complete set for my “collection”. I didn’t love it anywhere near as much as I’ve enjoyed the Dream Man, Colorado Mountains, Chaos and Rock Chick series. What surprises me most about KA’s books is that I tend to like things about them that I don’t ordinarily like or read for. For instance, the female friendships and the “just living happily together” stuff.

Ana: I totally understand that feeling. Sometimes as I read, I think to myself “Why am I enjoying this so much...I normally hate this.”  I do love female friendships and angsty conflicts and KA does that well.

Kaetrin: I usually read for hero/heroine interaction and get annoyed by sections which take me away from them.  Maybe it’s because KA books tend to have so much of everything in them that I’m not bothered? I don’t know but the female friendships are fabulous in KA books and they don’t really interest me in most other books.

 Michele Mills: Oh, I love her female friendships too. It’s wonderful how she shows how important friendships are to women. I got hooked on that with the Rock Chick Series. What is also fun about a KA book is that feeling that you’re hanging out with a lively group of people. You get to sit in with them and join the party. I really enjoy the secondary characters she creates.

Gisele: My first KA book was Mystery Man and it was love at first read. Even though sometimes I get frustrated with her heros/heroines she’s one of the only authors that catches my attention completely.

 Michele Mills: My first KA was Mystery Man, too. Oh, Hawk. *dreamy sigh*

 Ana:  Her books have a immersive quality don’t they? While I am sometimes driven crazy by the super-detailed descriptions of everything, I think that is part of the world-building that sucks you in.

Gisele: That’s true. I remember that when I finished Mystery Man, I searched her back list and read everything she had released to the date. I couldn’t stop myself. I love that she gives us a bit of the HEA before the end of the book. I love reading their routine together. I think that was what attracted me at first.

Michele Mills: I’ve gotten to a place where I now skim the descriptions. I read just enough to get an idea of place setting, but I skip the pages of detail. I guess it could be said that I’ve taught myself how to read a KA with an eye for the parts I like best. I know her way of writing, her patterns so well now, it’s second nature. I don’t mind doing this, the reward is worth it.

Kaetrin: I read it all!

Ana:  Michele, I think you have a great point about how selectively read parts of her books.  I suspect we all do that to some extent in all our reading but I know that giving myself permission to skim some parts have greatly increased my enjoyment.   I do love that little bit of extended HEAs.

 Michele Mills: She is the master of the epilogue.

 Kaetrin: My first KA was Motorcycle Man and I loved loved loved it. I’m usually a bit of a grammar nerd and her sentence structure confounded me a little - it is so different to what I’m used to reading. I call it “Kristen Ashley-ese”. But her style is so immediate and immersive for me that any concerns I had with technicalities just fell by the wayside. I was just too invested in what was going on in the story, once I found the rhythm of it. And yes, I’m all about the HEA so when there is lots of it, I’m generally a happy camper. For some reason I don’t get bored by it in KA books whereas I may do in books by other authors.

Ana: Yes, I can agree with that. My first was Law Man, smack dab in the middle of a series...I am not sure how I survived it. Syncing to her rhythm is key.

Michele Mills: I think it’s her voice, simple as that. It drags you in and never lets go. This is the essence of the “crack” everyone speaks of when they read her books and are instantly addicted. You start reading her books and it’s like you have to read your way out of it, going on and on, only stopping because there simply isn’t more to read.

Kaetrin: Her books don’t work for everyone but for those they do work for, well, she tends to attract a passionate following!

Michele Mills: I love how Sarah Wendell from SBTB always says concerning KA- “I can see the crack, I know that it’s there,  but I’m immune to it.” I think that sums up how some people feel about KA and why they can’t read her books.

Gisele: Her followers are passionate indeed, but sometimes I think they tend to overlook some of her flaws. Everything is very good, every time, and along the years she had a couple of bad books, like Jagged, but even that one is above average compared with some other authors.

Ana:  I kind of liked Jagged.

Kaetrin: Me too! LOL

Gisele: Jagged was boring and the hero liked Feb more than his heroine! haha. He called Feb “Gorgeous” and his lady “Cookie”. Enough said.

Kaetrin: I read Jagged before For You so I never thought Ham (ugh that name!) was still in love with Feb. But, I do have a habit (hopefully only in reading romance!) of seeing what I want to see in that kind of situation.

Michele Mills: Jagged was the one with all the food jokes centered around the hero’s name!

Kaetrin:  Why, oh why, did she not call him Reece???

Michele Mills: I remember Gisele and I read that last KA PNR. No one else was reading it but us, right? I remember you figured out there was a formula to reading it--make it to 52% for the secondary romance to kick in and then the book was gold. LOL It worked perfectly. Thanks.

Gisele: Yes, Michelle. Aurora and Yuri forever! They saved the book.

Michele Mills: Cutest secondary romance evah!

Ana:  I am going to end up reading those eventually...

Michele Mills: Sigh. We have such a great time reading KA, don’t we? :)

Kaetrin: We do! :D


Walk Through Fire Discussion:


Kaetrin:  I think I had a slightly different reaction to Walk Through Fire than the rest of you if our Twitter catch ups were anything to go by. I loved the last half and was frustrated by the first part. Once the big secret was out, that’s when the book really came together for me and I just settled in and enjoyed their domesticity and (mostly) their everyday kind of problems.

 Ana:  I was stressed out for most of the first half of WTF, (Heh).  I was really loving the current day storyline, while skimming furiously through the flashbacks.  While I didn’t love the threat in the second half, I wasn’t skimming any longer.

Michele Mills: I thought the first half of WTF (I’m cracking up at this acronym) was terrific and the second half was a bit of a slog. In fact, to be truthful I dnf’d at 96% out of boredom. I know, shocking. The first half, though THE CONFLICT- oh wow, the conflict, I was on the edge of my seat. I read that first half in one night! I stayed up late even though I had to be at work the next day and put up with bloodshot eyes in order to get to that middle. Wow. That was classic KA, exactly why I love her.

Gisele: The tension and angst of the first half was awesome. Yes, I skimmed the flashbacks too, but the building to their encounter and the big revelation of why she left him was very engaging.

 Kaetrin: I hate not knowing stuff and I felt like I was being teased about the reason they broke up 20 years earlier. It was the crux of the whole story and not knowing but it constantly being referenced just annoyed me. Once I knew, while I wasn’t 100% behind the reason, at least I could settle in. Up until then I was mostly just frustrated.

Michele Mills: It was me, I admit it. Kaetrin forced me to tell her the real reason Millie left High! She DM’d me at knife point!

Kaetrin: Note that Michele wouldn’t tell me until I’d guessed. Meanie.

Ana:  I was annoyed by the flashbacks because I knew the truth wasn’t going to show up in there, or it wouldn’t make sense, till the current day. Which is what happened.

Kaetrin: I guessed from the flashbacks.(Yes, I read them all).

Michele Mills: I skimmed all the flashbacks too. I was having a hard time understanding their purpose...

Ana: So what about the reason? I frequently run into problematic stuff in KA books and this storyline was killing me! For me, I could see how KA tried to make it work (she was young, there was the one line about the test...etc), but man I didn’t like it one bit.

 Gisele: She was young, fine, but I think she didn’t stop to think at all. That annoyed me. When the secret was revealed I was like, WTF?! I could see 300 other options to solve her problem, but that’s a common feature with KA heroines, they are very impulsive.

Ana:  Good point on the impulsivity.

Kaetrin: I needed way more information. What was this “one simple test”?  As someone who had problems in that area, I think it’s far more complicated than that. Unless maybe you’re a guy. Maybe.  

And, there was no real consideration of other alternatives. Then again, those alternatives were fewer 20 years ago I suppose. But I got hung up on how she was so positive that the “one simple test” was completely accurate. So I didn’t give the rest loads of thought.

 Michele Mills: I couldn’t believe how adoption wasn’t even mentioned until toward the end and only in passing. I didn’t like the connotation that High was a Dad only because he had biological children. Also, she didn’t have sex with anyone, ever again? She saved herself, like in a time capsule, for 20 years? I thought that was sad. Next book, I want to see a hero who waits 20 years, without sex, for the heroine!

Gisele: Michele, I don’t think we’re ever gonna see something like that! KA heros have to have lots of experience, otherwise how they’re gonna rock the heroine’s world? LOL. But serious, she could have moved on with her life too, that kind of “sacrifice” was unnecessary.

 Ana: I hated how it essentially turned Deb into their surrogate (the kids look like High), which I thought was all kinds of shitty. KA tried to balance that out by making Deb such a good mom, but it made me real mad when she would say things like “I gave them to you.”  Um, no you didn’t.

Michele Mills: Good point Ana!

Kaetrin: I understood what she meant when she said it. High never would have left if Millie hadn’t forced the situation. In that sense she paved the way. But yes, Deb was an integral part of that equation!!

 Gisele: They so crazy and intense that if you try to look at things through their eyes, you can actually understand what they did. The thing with “I gave them to you” is that her love for him was so big that she was willing to let him go so he could have his dreams come true. I can understand that.

 Ana: That is a KA strength.  Her characters might make crazy decisions but they tend to be internally consistent decisions.

 Kaetrin: At least High said he thought that decision was wrong, with the hindsight of 20 years.

 Michele Mills: I kept reminding myself that Millie was only twenty-one when she made that fatal decision...

 Ana: So we have talked about a couple things that drove us crazy...what did you love in WTF?

 Kaetrin: Is it bad that I’m kind of snickering at the acronym for the book?

 Ana: It is fabulous...did no-one notice it at editorial?

 Gisele: LOLOL. Now I got it. Duh, Gisele!

 Ana: hehe

 Ana:  One thing I love in most KA books and I enjoyed in WTF is how KA is able to check-in with so many former heroes and heroines without having them take over the whole book.

 Kaetrin: Yes I love this too. And the little bit of Tack and Tyra in WTF was great.

 Michele Mills: She really is amazing with that, and crossing over with her characters from all her series that are based in Denver. That’s always fun.  

 Gisele: She got better at that after Rock Chick Revolution and The Promise. I loved seeing Hawk and the girls back.

 Ana: Is that the last Rock Chick book? I haven’t read that yet.

 Kaetrin: Me neither.

 Ana:  I am waiting for it to go on sale, because  I heard such negative things.

 Gisele: Yes, is the last one. That book was disappointment. The hero disappeared and he could have saved the book. *sighs*

 Michele Mills: I can’t remember if I read it or not, I assume I did, but that tells you how much it stuck with me.

 Gisele: So, a thing I loved in WTF is that even with some problems, the ex was not portrayed as an evil person. That’s a good change.

 Michele Mills: Yes!!! I agree. I was so relieved she wasn’t eeeevil. That storyline is getting old.

 Ana:  Yes I have noticed that in the last few books she has been redeeming the exes rather than just killing them off or making them fully awful.  Even the bad exes are getting some sort of good resolution, like learning to be good fathers, even if they failed at being a husband.

 Kaetrin: I liked how Deb was portrayed here. I know you didn’t like some aspects Ana, but I know someone like that - kids essential, husband optional - so it rang true to me. And Deb and Millie got along great. Which was awesome.

 Ana:  I really liked Deb, I just didn’t High’s opinion about her. Like you I know several women who are like Deb and there is nothing wrong with that.

 Gisele: I like how she writes kids in her books too.  

 Ana:  Yes, many of the  kids are flawed and normal, but I have major issues with most of the parenting choices made by characters.  Some of the young dudes in the series set in Indiana drive me crazy.

 Gisele: Yes, yes. I absolutely hated what High said to Zadie after the cat incident. I hated. He practically said that he was going to walk away from her if she didn’t accept his girlfriend. No, you don’t say that  to your kid. Never.

 Ana: Yes, that was beyond ludicrous.

 Kaetrin: I didn’t read it the same way. I was pretty pissed off with Zadie at that point. I thought High was making the point that Zadie was putting him in an impossible position. And Zadie’s behaviour needed a massive correction.  

 Gisele: Kaetrin, my sister told me the same thing, but I still think he could have said another thing. It just made things worse for Millie.

 Michele Mills: I thought that was weird too. I especially didn’t like how Millie let Zadie off the hook and didn’t say anything when she was kicking her under the table and bruising her leg.

 Kaetrin: I wondered how High didn’t appear to notice the bruises on Mille’s legs!

 Gisele: Yes, I wondered that too!

 Ana: Zadie needed the riot act read to her, but it didn’t sit well with me.

 Kaetrin: Did anyone, other than me, think that Zadie’s turnaround was super sudden (and therefore a bit unbelievable)?

 Gisele: I don’t think so.  The scare was too big and deep down I think Zadie knew Millie was a good person. She just wanted her dad for herself.

 Kaetrin: I just thought she had been such a brat, that the complete turnaround with gift cards was unreal. I get why the other thing scared her but she’d turned around before then, mostly.

 Ana: Like you I didn’t believe it at the giftcards/shopping spree. I honestly wanted that to blow up in Millie’s face. But having someone save you from kidnappers and throw themselves in for you can make quite an impression.  I don’t think Zadie was fully on board with Millie till that moment.

Kaetrin: Maybe not, but she’d stopped being a complete brat. In my experience, kids are smarter than that. They’d still take the gift cards, but it wouldn’t change the behaviour. (At least, this was true for me after my parents split up - not that mum’s boyfriend bribed me with anything so good as gift cards. It was mainly donuts.)

 Ana:  Yeah, no kidding.  I would have lost all respect for a bribing adult.

 Kaetrin: I also liked that Zadie’s bad behaviour was directly related to High indulging her for so long. It was his fault, not Deb’s! And, High admitted it for extra bonus points.

 Gisele: The kidnapping was disappointing. I was hoping for more drama. She was pretty safe through the whole thing.

 Michele Mills: I felt the same way, like it was a fake kidnapping. Nothing really happened. It was just an excuse to get a lot of hot guys to RIDE and act tough. Not that that’s bad...

 Ana:  That was all build-up for the next few books, which was surprising. Most of the time I feel like KA throws everything but the kitchen sink into the final conflict, but there was no payoff for a lot of it.

 Michele Mills: This was part of the reason why I felt the second half of the book was a slog. Also, it mainly comprised of “I love you” “No, I love your more.”  

 Gisele: She’s going to drag the Valenzuela thing until the last book, I think. His parts were so very boring.

 Kaetrin: I wasn’t too bothered by the Valenzuela subplot. I was reading for the romance between High and Millie so that bit, while I agree it was anti-climactic, didn’t really factor into my overall reading experience.

 I loved Millie and High together once the truth came out. I didn’t like High’s behaviour at all at the beginning. No matter what, it’s not okay to treat women that way. Some of it bordered (or maybe more than) on non-consensual.  But he won me over once he knew the truth (I tend to be far more forgiving in fiction than I would be in real life!)

 Gisele: Ooo, he treated her like trash! Didn’t like that, but it fits his persona and all the resentment he had buried inside him.

 Ana: I actually loved how wrong and dark Chaos went.  They really screwed up. I liked seeing them make such a bad mistake. It really showed the dark side of the brotherhood.

 Kaetrin: I don’t like it when the heroes act unheroic. And High was a real dick at the start.

 Ana:  That was almost un-redeemable but it reminded me of how dickish Tack was at the beginning of Motorcycle Man to Tyra.

 Michele Mills: Yes, Tack was dickish to Tyra. LOL But, I enjoy almost unredeemable heroes (Knight?) and dark rom, and I like exploring non/dub con, so I really liked the journey between the h/h during the first half of Walk Through Fire. I loved how dark it was, how it brought out so many emotions, and how they were able to get past it to a believable HEA.

 Kaetrin: Speak no evil of Tack!! LOL  He (Tack)  tried to get Tyra to quit but he didn’t have sex with her and treat her like a whore. So I could more easily excuse his behaviour in MM.

 But I did like how KA redeemed High from the dickishness of his attitude when Tack was taking over Chaos. I never really expected to see High as a hero at all.

 Gisele: I didn’t like that Millie “accepted” him in her bed so quickly after the way her treated her. I wanted more backbone. She was like: “Oh, he treated me bad, but I can’t resist him”. Yes, you can!

 Ana:  I did love that she finally cracked and went off to Paris without him, because damn.

 Michele Mills: In the end, I’d give Walk Through Fire a B-. The first half was terrific, the second half not so much, but the KA magic was still there. I’m definitely reading the next book in the series - and hopefully we can book club it again on Twitter, the only way to go!

 Kaetrin: I gave it a B. What about you Ana and Gisele?

 Ana: I think it was a B for me too. It was a comfort to read, and overall a great ride but the reason for their original split bothered me greatly.

 Gisele: It was a B- for me. Not my favorite, but still had most of the things I love about KA, I just needed more action on the second half.

Kaetrin has her own blog, Kaetrin’s Musings, where she reviews both print and audiobooks, as well as contributing reviews Dear Author and AudioGals.  Kaetrin reads and listens across the romance genre – the only thing that is mandatory is a happy ending. :)


Gisele is a travel agent who loves travels - of course - food, music and is addicted to books. She has a blog, My books My stuffs - which needs serious attention - but you can always find her on twitter talking about everything and anything.


Michele Mills teaches High School English to unruly teenagers and enjoys cooking for her husband and two sons. DIE FOR YOU, the first book in her new post apocalyptic series from Samhain releases spring 2016. You can find her pretending to be professional on both Twitter and Facebook.

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