Beards and Baggage Binge: Under Her Skin & By Her Touch by Adriana Anders and Haven by Rebekah Weatherspoon
This weekend I indulged in a mini-binge of books that can be summed up as beards and emotional baggage.
First off I read Adriana Anders, Under Her Skin (Blank Canvas 1).
It is a story about finding a safe harbor, working toward self-acceptance, and starting over. There really great depictions of female friendships, a richly drawn small town community and little femdom kink to spice things up.
Uma has been on the run for months, hiding from her abusive ex. She has comes to Blackwood, VA, because the small town has a clinic that offers free laser tattoo removal treatments to domestic violence victims. Her gas gauge is on empty literally and metaphorically when she answers a very odd ad for a living-in-helper to a cantankerous old lady.
Ivan is the ex-con next-door, a gentle giant, that helps teaches self-defense courses along with his sister at the local gym and makes his living as iron-worker/blacksmith. He carries a lot of emotional baggage of his own, but works very hard to make sure he is someone Uma can trust with her body and her heart.
I really liked that while Ivan suffers from white-knight syndrome, in his desire to fix up Uma, he isn't the one that saves her and that he realizes that he can't do that work for her. In the end Uma saves herself and Ivan.
I really enjoyed this and immediately picked up the 2nd book. Under Her Skin is currently on sale for 99 cents, and it includes a seven chapter preview of book 2, so don't be alarmed when Under Her Skin start wrapping up around the 67% mark.
(Uma is a white, despite her Indian name, her mom is a hippie who lives in India at a Ashram).
By Her Touch by Adriana Anders
This book revisits a lot of the same themes present in the first book, self-forgiveness, finding a community and people who see past the marks of violence to see the person underneath.
I don't think this book will work for everyone as it is a Doctor/Patient romance, where ethical boundaries are certainly crossed. There were definitely many moments where my eyebrows almost flew off my face. I
Clay Navarro, is an undercover ATF agent who comes to Blackwood to to hide out and get some tattoos removed while he waits for a big court date against the big biker gang he had infiltrated. He has serious PTSD issues, that he is self-medicating with vodka and is not sure whether his worries about mole in his office are PTSD-related paranoia or a legitimate concern. He has cut himself off his team and is struggling to figure out who he is anymore.
Dr. Georgette Hadley is pumping herself full of hormones as she prepares to be artificially inseminated with her late husband's sperm. She questions her instincts and feelings when she agrees to start treating Clay, off the book and after-hours. Her attraction to Clay, despite his undisclosed but certainly dangerous background, makes her recall her reckless youth, and how her life almost derailed once.
I don't think this book was completely successful at untangling consent issues but I did like that while both George and Clay are fucked up emotionally, they are still worthy of love. They are not over their pains or issues at the end of the book but they have made a commitment to figuring those things out together rather than rejecting each other because they see themselves as too broken.
I am a little disappointed that book three is not about Jessie (Ivan's sister and George's neighbor). She is begging for a HEA.
(Clay is of Peruvian decent and he faces a lot racial and ethnic-based abuse as part of his undercover work in criminal biker gangs)
Haven (Beards and Bondage 1) by Rebekah Weatherspoon.
Haven was a great book to end this mini-binge with. Haven was an emotionally intense and surprisingly fun story about finding an unlikely but deep connection in traumatic circumstances. The pacing through out was fantastic but particularly in the pulse-pounding early chapters. The dynamics of Claudia and Shep's relationship are complex, as they are hyper-aware of how wary everyone is of intensity & of the limited nature of their acquaintance. They honestly wrestle with how fraught it can be to untangle their actual experience of each other from what they have both built up about each other in their heads. They struggle to give each other what they need and things don't go smoothly in vividly believable ways. They are both unabashedly kinky, but that it isn't a cure or a reaction, but still a complication as they try to figure out if they can fit into each other's lives. I wish there had been just a little more grovel at the end, but the reactions were completely within character.
Shepherd Olsen's quiet and solitary life is dramatically disrupted when a bloody and shrieking black woman runs up to his isolated cabin near Federal park lands in Northern California. He springs into action, rescuing her and making sure she gets the help she needs, even as they are separated by the intense investigation.
Not only did Claudia Cade lose her brother Miles on the mountain, she also lost her way. She thought getting back to her job and her home in NYC would help but she can't quite fit back into her old life. Things that were comfortable before chafe, and fail to satisfy. She is disconnected from herself and her friends and her mind keeps going back to the mountain man, who held her and kept her safe on the worst day of her life.
Shep's life has not gone back to normal. Maybe because Claudia was gone before he could say good-bye, his mind frequently goes back to her and the life he hopes she has been able to return to. He is shocked and confused when she shows back up on the mountain needing something from him that is she is scared to articulate.
Claudia and Shep are not perfect people, they fail, struggle and nearly give up. They need help from more than just each other but they find something in each other worth working for.
Rebekah Weatherspoon continues to succeed in crafting stories that are emotionally layered and full of humor. I loved the whole cast, even when they don't love each other.
(Claudia is black woman from the Caribbean, she immigrated from Grenada as a child. I though Weatherspoon did a fantastic job in weaving this into her story.)
I received an ARC of Haven via Netgalley from the author. Haven will be released April 25th, 2017 and is available for pre-order at all the usual places.