It is unlikely that in all of Berkeley there is someone less interested in the good opinion of a spoiled billionaire’s son as Tina Chen. She has absolutely no time for him. She is not some fluffy co-ed happily paying her bar-tab with her daddy’s money. Her life is dangerous financial balancing act. She is methodically and determinedly counting each cent, saving every dollar to make sure she has enough to finish school, so she can get a good job, and comfortably provide for her family. But until that day she has to count out the rice left in the bag, and hope it is enough for her to make till her next paycheck. Her mind is constantly filled with worry, whether her sister will have her attention medication this month; will her mother’s over-generosity with her time and money working to help other with immigration issues, mean they won’t have money for their utility bills; will her father, a torture survivor be able to keep a job. With all of this and regular college concerns like tests and papers due, she simply has no time for boy billionaires. Certainly no time for Blake, who nearly runs her over with his Tesla on his way to parking in chancellor’s spot. Blake is walking blind privileged.
But Blake wants to make time for Tina. He want to prove to her that he has been “seeing” her for a long time, that her life is not insignificant to him. He also wants to take her up on her empty offer to trade lives. He latches on to her idea, and turns it into a challenge/dare/distraction from the problems he doesn’t want to face.
And Blake does have problems. His problems are rooted in his loving dad’s suffocating pressure to abandon school and take over running their company “temporarily” and their shared grief for Peter , Cyclone Industries's dynamic CFO who died suddenly the year before. Fixated on Peter's death, Blake can only see himself disappearing under the demands of the company or die trying. He doesn’t want to fail his father or admit why he can’t do it. His despair and anxiety is manifesting in ways he doesn’t want to admit to. Coerced into a compromise of taking over the writing the launch script for their newest product, he recruits Tina to secretly take his place. He will live in her crappy garage apartment, he will work her minimum wage hours, and she can work on the script, while receiving a generous allowance and living in his palatial home.
This is an offer Tina wishes she could refuse, but she can’t walk away from that kind of money. Money that is only drop in the bucket to Blake, can make all the difference in her life and for her family. But Tina can’t take the money and run, she ends up spending time with Blake trying to understand the why of it all. The more she gets to know Blake the more she realizes things are far from right in Blake’s life even if he can throw money at his problems.
I loved Loved LOVED Tina from the very beginning. She is strong & proud even if she is terrified inside of failing and letting everyone down. I loved the genuine friendship she has forged with Maria (the Latina & Trans heroine of the next book in the series). I loved her uncompromising honesty and brilliant wit.
I was impressed by Milan’s ability to breakdown and humanize Blake. Milans is able to create real challenges, without ignoring his wealth. She created a character that is not simply “poor little rich boy”. I liked how he surprises Tina and himself throughout the book with his feelings and dreams. He might be able to be charming and confident, but also despairing, fearful & needy.
I cried a lot reading this book, (I am a crier) but there were so many moments of genuine emotion, as they learned each others secret hurts and joys. I loved how their relationship slowly developed over text messages, weekly script review meetings and long car trips.
I also loved the family relationships portrayed in book. I deeply identified with Tina’s conflicted feelings about her family, who she loves but who exhaust her. Blake’s relationship with his dad is more complex, sometimes funny and sometimes incredibly sad.
After easing us slowly into a friendship and relationship, the book takes a jarring turn in the last quarter. Tina and Blake are caught up in situation that shows how little they do have in common, despite how much they value each other. The crisis is a have a huge reminder of how differently the world treats them, and how easily they can be wedged apart. While I believed the resolution and Blake's action throughout, it is a departure from the book's pacing up to that point. I am glad that Milan is planning on returning to explore Blake and Tina's relationship in book three, for although they have HFN at the of this novel, and they feel confident that they have survived a huge hurdle, it still felt fragile to me.
I received a review copy of Trade Me from Ms. Milan via NetGalley
Winter Rain is the second anthology of short stories published by Pink Kayak press benefiting RAINN. I read and reviewed Summer Rain earlier this year. Like most anthologies this collection showcased a lot of variety in terms of style, tone & setting. My favorite stories in this collection, Suleikha Snyder's Spice and Sand & Tamsen Parker's Needs were very different from each other but stood out from the rest by packing strong emotion, character growth & romance into small packages.
Dream by Delphine Dryden -- Robin's best days are the first Tuesday of every month when she takes time off work to visit her therapist George and her voice coach, Celia. When rains from a storm trap Robin in Celia's house, they finally truly see each other. It is a story of connection and how powerful it can be to have someone see through our veneer of competence, to our imperfect selves and accept those flaws, hurts & baggage. Both Celia and Robin have a lot of mental health issue to resolve, but they are full of hope they can figure things out together.
Sales Tax Not Included by Inara Scott -- Nash Hanover tried to runaway from the mess his father made but after near fatal bout of malaria he is right back in the small town he grew up in. He has become obsessed with catching the attention of Chloe the cashier at dollar store down the block from his apartment. Chloe is determined to ignore him because she can't see one good thing coming from his attention. This story moved a bit too fast for me and would been better served by a longer word count. The story was too compressed for me to quite believe in the couple at the end, even as an HFN.
Exposure by Serena Bell: Jenny was publicly embarrassed and romantically disappointed after sending an inappropriate tweet from her boss's account and ran away to work as temporary caretaker at campground deep in the woods. Six months of licking her wounds later, Beck her childhood friend & crush has been commissioned by her parents to try to bring her back. This story was working really well for me, till the first sex scene where the Bell does some distracting handwaving to justify the characters having unprotected sex. It kicked me out of the story in a major way, and I couldn't recover to enjoy the end.
Sand Dollar Cinderella by Amber Lin-- When Jaime was a teen a private picture of herself circulated around her high school and pretty much killed her dating life. It is years later and she is ready to leave that behind and move on with the rest of her life. First thing in her agenda is to rid herself of her virginity. When her original plan is foiled by a well meaning friend, she decides to pick up her brother's old friend who just came back to town and doesn't recognize her. She doesn't know however how much he wants to leave his one-night stand days behind him. I liked that he figured out pretty quickly that she wasn't being honest with him, and that he didn't let things drag on. Overall the story felt like it was setting up a series, or at the very least a sequel featuring Jamie's brother and her best friend Mirabelle.
Behind the Mask by Alexis Hall -- Pretty standard super-villain origin story premise with a m/m romance twist. Masquerade created his persona to give Justin a purpose after he returned from war still grieving his closeted quarterback boyfriend . As a longtime superhero comic fan the premise didn't seem new or interesting nor the resolution satisfying.
Spice and Sand by Suleikha Snyder -- I don't know a lot of Hindu mythology but that didn't stop me from greatly enjoying this story. Rambha is nymph whose dancing can shake the earth. She has been cruelly separated from her husband, Nalakuvara, for centuries. Even though she lives pleasure-filled heaven, she longs to be reunited with him. She risks displeasing her demon king Indra by refusing to dance and challenges him for an opportunity to claim her husband. He lets her have the opportunity but when she finds him, Nalakuvara is living as composer for Bollywood films, Nicky Kohli . He has no memory of Rambha, although he is hugely attracted to her. Rambha however knows she can not be satisfied with only his desire, it would be torture and cruel substitution to have him with him knowing who she is so she flees, hoping he will seek her and come to know her. Snyder did a great job weaving the mystical and the fantastical with the earthy and the modern. Rambha is proud, bold and sensual, and deeply devoted to her husband. Their relationship has weathered violence & separation, and she will not let it die. Nicky moves through feelings of fascination, incredulity and desperation as he starts to see who she had been to him and once again risks all to have her. This is one of the highlights of this collection.
Remembering Yesterday by Stacy Reid -- This was a plot straight from soap opera, complete with cartoonishly conniving family. Ava survived a serious car accident that left her with partial amnesia. With her memories fractured, Ava feels broken, unable to move on with her life even if she is going through the motions for the sake of her parents. When Devlin walks past her something clicks into place, and soon fragmented context-less memories are flooding her. Confused but determined, Ava confronts Devlin, to find out what he used to mean to her, and why he isn't in her life. Ava will learn more about herself than she bargained for. This is not a trope I enjoy and this story did not impress me enough to overcome that. I found Ava to be incredibly immature and not simply because she is only 23. Devlin remains largely a blank slate, even as Ava starts to remember him. I had too many questions for the plot to work for me.
Sometimes it Storms by Cole McCade I couldn't finish this story so I won't give it a rating. Ethan is a survivor of childhood sexual abuse and the story chronicles his struggle with sexual intimacy, and Aurelie's patient love through the painful process. The backstory, presented in vivid flashbacks was so dark I just couldn't make it all the way through.
Needs by Tamsen Parker -- As soon as she could Ryn left the family farm in rural Iowa for the lights of the city and never wants to go back. Ryn is a city planner with a long list of exes, when she meets Sam, handsome, cultured & interesting. Rather than fall into another boring conversation about their careers, they playfully choose to make the topics of their professions off-limits. One date leads to another, and soon Ryn is falling hard for him till she learns something about him that stops her in her tracks. I loved this story. Sam is sexy, patient & a true grownup. Ryn had to grow up in a couple of ways and I loved her grovel and the HEA.
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.
Summer Rain: Love in the Rain Series's nine story collection is the first of two short story collections edited by Sarah Frantz. The proceeds from the sales of this anthology will got to the Rape, Abuse, and Incest National Network (RAINN).
This was a strong collection and I enjoyed the wonderful variety of style, setting and types of stories. I came to this collection already knowing the work of Ruthie Knox, Mary Ann Rivers, Charlotte Stein and Audra North but I loved having the opportunity to read stories by both newer authors like Amy Jo Cousins, Shari Slade and Alexandra Haughton and new-to-me authors like Cecilia Tan and Molly O’Keefe, whose work I had not yet enjoyed. While not every story worked for me, I thought the anthology as whole deserved 4 out 5 stars. I look forward to reading the next volume Winter Rain when it comes out in November.
Redemption by Ruthie Knox: Mike Kaminsky a divorced Green Bay handy-man and former roofer and Jessie Bellin,a owner of a failing cheese shop have a very limited relationship. Both know the rules and limitation of it and all they ask from each other is sex. Sex that takes them away from their troubles, distracts them just a little and gives them enough pleasure to get through the hardest days. This was a sad story about making a go at relationships even when everything else has fallen apart. The story is about potential and expectations and how we can fail to put our trust in the right things and how the choice to stay and chance something might be the most important you can make. While I admire how truly weighed down these two are and the message of the story I wish we had just a little more resolution as the ending barely qualifies as a HFN but instead is simply the possibility of one .
3.5 out of 5
The Heart of It by Molly O’Keefe: Outwardly a successful author Gabe Peterson is not at home in his own skin and is unable to have a satisfying sexual encounter without being drunk. Sober he is petrified of being touched in a sexual way due to childhood sexual abuse. Elena is a very expensive escort hired by Peterson to try to help him find a way to enjoy sex without getting drunk. After several failed attempts Elena has grown invested in Gabe’s struggle. She won’t let him give up and pushes him past his panic to help him confront his hidden anger and shame to a breakthrough. However the person most affected by their encounter is Elena, who is unsettled enough by the truths she disclosed to Gabe and her own dark memories dreged up in their conversations to start making changes in her life. This was the first Molly O’Keefe story to capture my attention as I have tried several of her novels, but not been able to get past the first few chapters. Elena and Gabe’s conversations felt genuine, as did the decisions they've made along the way. There was also a marked lack of self-pity which was refreshing. I enjoyed this story enough that I will probably give O’Keefe's novels another try.
4 out 5 stars
Sacrifice by Cecilia Tan: A demigod in ancient Greece is trapped by the bargain he struck with the residents of his valley. When they deliver him a virgin sacrifice he must work magic that guarantees the fertility and fecundity for their crops. Over the years he come to hate this bargain, traumatized by the toll his bargain has taken on the young women brought to him as sacrifice. He now wishes for nothing more than to be left alone and forgotten. His solitude is interrupted when a young Chinese woman sold into slavery by her trader father is presented to him as sacrifice. He is torn by the duty to his bargain, and his need for her to be capable of consent so that she might come to want him without him without it destroying her. I was very skeptical coming into this story, not sure it could provide a satisfying romantic resolution to the conflicts in it, but the alternating POV chapters allowed the attraction to believably develop while not glossing over their fears and motivations.
4 out of 5 stars
Real Feelings by Charlotte Stein: A woman orders AI companion made to her specifications, meant to fulfill all aspects of her relationship needs without any of the risks (a walking-talking sex toy). When faced with him, in his nearly life-like glory she is unable to surrender to the fantasy of having a lover made to order, interested in pleasing her in every way. She feels shamed by her desires, her fears and loneliness and is horrified by the realization of how much it matters to her that he can’t choose whether he wants to fulfill her desires or not. Told exclusively from Moira’s point of view, I loved how much uncertainty and tension remains for the reader as Moira falls for her AI lover Michael, especially as Moira questions her sanity whenever she sees sparks of awareness, consciousness, and wanting in him. Another gem from Charlotte Stein.
5 out 5 stars.
Rainy Season by Mary Ann Rivers: Lisa Shirek is a barista who can sense the clouds of sadness and hurts enveloping her customers, and thrives on giving the comfort that they need but can’t ask for. Mark is a regular at the cafe, his presence is so bright and dazzling that Lisa can only admire him from out of the corner of her eye. I was so distracted by the high-concept atmospheric imagery and mathematical/metaphorical banter I didn’t really connect to the story till about half-way through when the descriptions became more grounded in the physical world focusing in on the textures of the lovers exploring of each other. Rivers was still able to move me tears however just not over the main couple.
3 out of 5 stars
The Rain in Spain by Amy Jo Cousins: Javi and Magda met in India, and married on impulse after spending only a sun-kissed week together, before Magda headed off to another travel assigment. It has been of year of tentative reunions and short times together at home in Chicago, and now on their belated honeymoon trip to Spain Magda is questioning if they have anything to hold them together. I really believed in Javier and Magda, with their unvoiced insecurities and their fear of speaking of them. As someone who has traveled a lot, I know how the tensions and small irritations of travel can reveal the fractures in a relationship.
4 out of 5 stars
Fitting In by Audra North: Stas Petrovich has a lot riding on the results of the upcoming college election. Son of poor gay immigrant parents, he has never known easy social acceptance, and want nothing more than to have the confirmation that he finally fits in by being elected class president. Leila dos Santos, doesn’t fit in, and doesn’t seem to care. When she is the only person to show up to Stas’s rained out paintball excursion, she rattles Stas. His certainty that he was right to change himself to be accepted is shaken as they get to know each other over beers at her apartment. I really liked Leila, particularly her bravery in reaching out to Stas, letting herself being vulnerable when it has cost her so much.
4 out 5 stars.
Private Study by Shari Slade: After years of doing and studying only what her father wanted her to, Tess has escaped to a college far from home. She relishing the opportunity to study what she wants and is trying to define who she is and what she likes. What she wants to learn more than anything else is sex. When a classmate find her sex vlog, and makes lewd entitled comments she realizes just how much she has exposed herself in her quest to learn more about herself. Seeing how upset she is Jameson , another classmate intervenes. Tess is torn between being grateful and embarrassed by his intervention. Tess is full of righteous indignation and inexperience and doesn’t really know what to do about Jameson’s interest in her and whether they can or should explore things together. Tess is at times unfair and jumps to conclusions too quickly and Jameson is all at once curious, tentative and wary which made them both feel authentically young and inexperienced. I thought Slade did a great job capturing the the uncertainty, curiosity of young men and women just starting to figure themselves out.
4 out 5 stars
Storm Warning by Alexandra Haughton: Amy Collier had known Tom Wilson all her life. Seemingly inseparable, their friendship fell apart when Amy chose to go off to L.A. after college to become an event planner. After five years in LA, coming home with only the what she could stuff in her car, a pile of debt and broken dreams, the last person Amy wants to see is Tom. Tom isn’t waiting to kick her while she is down, but wants give her a job, and to find a way convince her to let him back into her life. I liked a lot of this story, particularly how Amy and Tom struggle to reconnect, and acknowledge the sexual tension that wedged them apart. However one of the other conflicts they have to overcome is Amy’s debt and her feelings of failure and desire to dig herself out it on her own. While interesting it seemed like one conflict too many in a story that already had plenty of internal conflict.
4 out 5 stars
A review digital ARC of Summer Rain was provided by Audra North one of the writers and organizers of the anthology.
Summer Rain will be available starting June 9, 2014
The very first Charlotte Stein novel I read was Curveball, recommended by Sarah Wendell of Smart Bitches/Trashy Books. Curveball completely charmed me with its self-conscious, completely incredulous heroine who is baffled, astounded and even a bit frightened by the unexpected advances of her brother’s best-friend and long-time crush when they are thrust together during Mediterranean sailing vacation. Charlotte’s voice is incredibly distinctive, urgent and insistent. I absolutely loved it. I ran to check out her other stories via the NYPL and end up reading Deep Desires, a story of voyeurism, risk and connection, which was jaw-droopingly different in tone than Curveball, while remaining completely recognizable as a Charlotte Stein story.
I was honestly hooked, she blew my little mind with her tales. Since then I have started collecting her stories, and have about a half-dozen in my TBR, waiting like little treasures. The stories I have read just make me so happy because however dark, unloved and undesired her characters feel, there is always this transforming hope that breaks through the darkness, when they make a serendipitous connection. The sex in these stories is often frantic, messy, clumsy and awe-inspiring, but no one is magically fixed simply by sex.
A couple of weeks ago Charlotte Stein who I frequently interact with on twitter (she is incredibly funny and wacky, and just a great deal of fun to chat with) made available the final version of her newest novel to those willing to review. I jumped at the chance. I have always wanted to review one of her stories here.
Beyond Repair is a New Adult romance about a reclusive young woman who finds movie star, sprawled out and unconscious in the living room of her beachfront home. Alice recognizes that he isn’t simply drunk but quite possibly suffering from an intentional overdose because she has gone through it. Alice is anything but alright with this intrusion but she awkwardly and nervously sets out save the movie star, Holden Stark. She ends up offering him the oddest of refuges, letting him stay, accepting him, comforting him, and most all just trying ever so hard not creep on him, even though she has a massive crush on him.
“She was trying to revive Holden Stark.
Holden Stark, who she would now have to speak to using her actual words and her real mouth.”
Alice is not daunted simply because he is gorgeous movie star, she is daunted because she is lame, scarred, agoraphobic and more than a little rusty at interacting with people. The novel is just fantastic, filled with hilarious slightly surreal conversations, where Alice is working so incredibly hard not to embarrass herself, push any wrong buttons, or reveal too much of her own past and pain.
“Don’t be sorry about anything in this conversation. It’s probably the most amazing one I’ve ever had”
I just loved Alice, her vulnerability, doubt, sense of inadequacy, her lust and embarrassment.
“She was just starting to smile when he suddenly swerved the conversation into oncoming traffic.”
Holden Stark, outwardly an impressive movie star, but really a sad lonely geek inside, was wonderful. I loved his hurt, tentativeness, and his utter appreciation of Alice. I only had the briefest of frustration with him allowing Alice to so obviously distract him from noticing her pain and secrets, when he is only just starting to recover. But I loved how hard he worked at respecting her boundaries, and understanding her as she evaded and distracted. If she brought him into her home to give him refuge, he gave her a refuge from her insecurities in his admiration.
“Just ignore my voice. There’s a frightened nun living in my throat.”
He went to answer and had to stop to make room for the most awesome laugh. It was all surprised and full of joy, and it followed through into his words.
“Who are you? I must be dreaming you. Did I die, and this is my reward?”
“If your idea of being rewarded after death is a five-foot-five-inch hermit who makes you run right off a bed, you probably need to rethink your priorities.”
I loved Beyond Repair, and I continue to love the manifesto (to steal Ruthie Knox’s term) in so many of Charlotte’s novels: You don’t have to perfect or whole to be worthy of love. I love her broken people reaching for love despite, their haunting senses of unworthiness.
“One of the biggest lies out there is the one that says you have to be whole to be loved — that if you’re not it’s a miracle anyone would. But my love for you is not some flimsy miracle based on whether you’re okay or not. Love is something you deserve. You deserve it so much I sometimes ache to give it to you.”
I recommend Beyond Repair, and prepare yourself to snort-laugh at the outrageous embarrassments and mortification Alice and Holden endure as they flail, cry, surprise and fall for each other.
A copy of Beyond Repair was provided by the author Charlotte Stein for review purposes.
I spent time a lot time in the past few months thinking about Motorcycle Club Romances which I thought I was resisting for a long time, but as I thought about this post I realized that I have read way more MC romances than I thought and enjoyed more than expected. Despite my conflicted feeling about Tack in Motorcycle Man, I ended up reading and enjoying Ashley's follow up Chaos series books. I devoured the Kit Rocha's incredibly filthy Beyond series, with its gang of post-apocalyptic whiskey producing, cage-fighting, orgy-having tattooed outlaws. So while I have not watched a single episode of Sons of Anarchy, or long own a set of leathers, and I would never describe my ideal romance hero to be raw, vulgar, tattooed Harley rider, I certainly read a lot of them in the last six months but I am by no means a expert on this Romance niche.
After reading Kaetrin's review of Reaper's Legacy by Joanna Wylde at Dear Author, I decided to invest in both Reaper's Property and Reaper's Legacy. The series follows members of the Reapers Motorcycle club. The Reapers unlike Tack's Chaos MC are not simply involved in grayish-area enterprises but are unapologetically involved in actual criminal enterprises.
In Reaper's Property Marie has left her unfaithful husband after he got violent with her. She is crashing with her brother Jeff in his run-down trailer while she gets back on her feet again. It is soon obvious that her brother is involved in some sketchy stuff, and associating with some dangerous individuals. Horse is not just sketchy but out-right dangerous. Horse is one of the financial officers and top men in the Reaper's organization, born and raised in the biker lifestyle.
“Do you have to be so crude?” I snapped. “Have you met me?”
When Horse takes an interest in Marie is not sure what it entails but a series of miscommunications about intentions ends their relationship almost before it gets started. When Jeff, a computer hacker who is supposed to be helping launder the club's sizable drug profits but instead steals and gambles away the money, the club needs to send a message, they have to choose between killing Jeff or ensuring he makes restitution. Horse claims her to ensure her brother's good behavior and return of the missing funds. But not everything is what it seems. Why does Horse want Marie? How much say does Marie have? The story centers on the status and autonomy within a MC, and what means to belong to a biker.
“I want you to be my old lady, babe. That’s all I have to offer. I’m a Reaper, and this is my world. You wear my patch, you be my woman, and I’ll be your man. We take the good times together and fight through the bad times. No games.
Reaper's Legacy, stars Ruger the promiscuous enforcer for the Reapers and Sophie a hard working, struggling single-mom. Sophie used to be married to Ruger's loser step-brother. When Sophie's son Noah ends up in a dangerous situation while being babysat by neighbor, Ruger storms back into Sophie's life. Like an angry wave, Ruger sweeps in, takes vengeance on those who tried to hurt Noah, and take Sophie and Noah back into his home. As the book unfolds we learn just how horrible Sophie's ex-husband Zach was, and how long Sophie's and Ruger's lives have intersected. The story is one of combustible attraction, unrequited longing, trust-seeking and demanding what you need.
“ But I’ll tell you one thing, Ruger — I deserve to be with someone who gives a shit about me, as a person. Someone who values me enough not to fuck other women. I’d rather be alone the rest of my life, than settle for what you’re offering.”
One thing that appealed to me in both Wylde's Reaper's and Rocha's Beyond series is the world-building. While Rocha’s books are set in a futuristic dystopia, Wylde’s biker Idaho is just as alternate/fantasy world to me as Rocha’s Eden and its sectors. In order to enjoy these books I had to enjoy getting to know their norms, customs, & language. The culture and sexual mores of Wylde’s Reapers seemed to share some of the same commonalities to those common in medieval historical romances. The Reapers live by their own code, modern day knight errants, macho warriors, that thrive on conquest, geographical, sexual and metaphorical.
Reaper’s Property and Reaper's Legacy are engrossing reads and underneath the gruff and raw sexuality of the books there was a solid romantic core. The people in these books while making life choices radically different from my own, sounded and acted like real people. And the closet anthropologist in me enjoyed seeing her heroines navigate the complicated sexual politics of her Biker world , where women are objectified, commodified but surprisingly empowered.
I impulsively decided to buy a MC-themed boxed set called "Ride or Die Kind of Love" that was anchored by Kit Rocha's fantastic Beyond Shame, which I had previously read. I gambled that the romances included would be similar in quality and philosophy. I was however sadly disappointed. After a unexpectedly smooth ride into MC-land, I hit some major bumps with the books included in the boxed set.
The first book, One Ride by Chelsea Camaron hit several of my triggers, not only does the hero have sex with other women after meeting the heroine, he has sex with other women after hooking up the heroine. The hero slut-shames the women he has sex with including the heroine, and the heroine has some serious daddy issues. The romantic suspense element of the book is what kept me interested but in the end the threats were handled off-the-page which made it so anti-climatic I barely finished it. If you like controlling Alpha-holes this a book for you. 2 out 5 stars
I failed to finish Deadly Seduction by Selene Chardou, due to the exposition, name-dropping heavy initial chapters. I felt I was going to need giant graph to keep track of the various family/gang relationships casually referenced in the first 20 pages. I was soon bored and skipped ahead to see if it got better but it didn't so I stopped reading. DNF -- no stars
Craving Constellations by Nicole Jacquelyn, I actually enjoyed this one more than most in this boxed-set. This is a secret baby biker story. The college co-ed daughter of the President of the Biker club comes home for a weekend, and end us hooking up with one the new bikers, who didn’t realize who she is. Rather than risk getting him in trouble, she sneaks out and back to college. When she discovers she pregnant, she marries a guy she knew from school and basically ignores her Dad and her biker upbringing for five years. But College Husband is abusive dirt-bag and when she can’t take it anymore, she runs away to take refuge. The rest is a secret baby story with a biker twist. I just don’t care for secret baby stories. 3 out 5 stars
Hell’s Knights by Bella Jewel I struggled to get through this book because the heroine established herself early on as TSTL. Long-estranged daughter of a club president tracks him down after her mother dies. She has a huge chip on her shoulder and her mother’s pimp and her ex-molester and rapist on her tail, a fact she fails to mention to anyone, and after they find out and try to keep her safe, she sneaks out just to spite them, to prove that no one can tell her what to do. I did like how Biker Dad and Daughter eventually untangle dead-mom’s lies and come to terms with their complicated history together. 2 out 5 stars
Saving Dallas by Kim Jones Dallas Knox a real-estate mogul goes slumming at honky-tonk bar looking for a one-night stand to help her get over a past relationship. She is jerked around by some guys and hot biker Luke steps in. They end up going home together and they have a great time, but she can’t deal with Biker culture when he brings her to an event with him. There is a romantic suspense subplot that draws them back together, complicated by the fact that Luke failed to mention that he had been hired to protect her. 3 out 5 stars
Beyond Shame by Kit Rocha: ALL THE STARS Seriously these books are great. Filthy, Filthy but just fantastic emotional stories. In Beyond Shame Noelle, daughter of powerful councilman in Eden has been cast out. She finds herself alone in Sector 4, O’Kane territory, and comes under the protection of Jasper, Dallas O’Kane’s right-hand man. Noelle has to learn about herself, her wants, her needs before she can commit to Jas.
Undeniable by Madeline Sheehan The set-up for this story made me deeply uncomfortable. Little girl in prison visiting room befriends adult biker, recognizing him as hers in some way. Both are there to visit their biker dad’s. Biker hero is there to curse out his dad and let him know he is going to call a hit on him. The story then fast-forward up in time to various points in their lives where they meet up and have at first tender if still inappropriate encounters till they are banging each into walls despite the fact that he is very married and she knows it. The story honestly just got unreadable for me at that point. I skipped ahead to see if it got better, but instead it just seemed worst. I know ugly stuff happens, but the characters ends up in enmeshed in a big drama-filled saga of non-stop adultery, jealousy, obsession and extortion and it was just too grim for me to continue. DNF -- no stars
Mirage by Ashley Suzanne. Mira and Danny are young couple in love when their life together is cut tragically short when Danny dies in a motorcycle accident that almost costs Mira her life. After months of depression Mira’s friends Skylar and Kylee conspire to get her to attend grief counseling. Mira there realizes that Skylar misses his best-friend as much as Mira misses her fiancee. When she ends up needing a roomate, Skylar (who has been secretly in love with Mira all along) volunteers, and they end up falling into bed together, but when Mira calls him Danny, Skylar lashes out and their friendship is broken. Flash-forward to months later where Skylar had dropped everything to become a biker but neither one is over the other. A series of eye-rolling events later, the story culminates with Mira waking back in the hospital and is completely unsatisfactory and out of left field. 2 out 5 stars
So this boxed set failed to connect with me. It won’t stop me from reading the rest of Joanna Wylde’s and Kit Rocha’s books, and it didn’t even stop me from purchasing another .99 cent boxed set anchored by a Kit Rocha story as I just purchased Alphas After Dark. This box set seems much more promising as I already fell in love with Vivian Arend’s Copper King and I loved Kit Rocha’s Beyond Solitude novella. I also can’t wait for Cara Mckenna’s biker series coming out later this year.
What I have learned out of this experience is that for a Biker/Motorcycle Club Romance to work for me the tough, ultra macho hero needs falls hard for the heroine. He can fight it, deny it, mess it up, even be a royal-jerk about it, but he can’t be wishy washy about it. I’ll accept uneven power relationships and skewed sexual politics, as long as I see the heroine as honestly choosing to accept those dynamics in part of her life because she has power in some other way. If I can’t see choice or alternatives, it is not going to work for me. This is where the old-lady posses, or girlfriend network needs to be well established in the book. The heroine might feel trapped at times in a situation as long as at some point it is clear that she can actually get out this if she truly wanted to. If I am going to embrace this as fantasy, this non-negotiable for me. And honestly I have a very low tolerance cheating, I don’t care if actually happens in real life. That stuff has repercussions and just because the characters is biker, I am not giving the character a pass on that.
So if anyone has recommendations of Biker Romances I might enjoy, I would love to hear them.
NA or New Adult is the hot genre right now in romance. This is not a genre that really appeals to me. I read YA for a living, and the kids in NA, are still kids to me so it is often hard for me to immerse myself in their love stories, despite the fact that I fell in love at 18 and was married by 21! Despite this I decided to read Deeper because Robin York is also Ruthie Knox, one of my favorite contemporary romance novelists. Ruthie has earned my trust over this year, so I am willing to try new things for her. Last fall I read her novel Truly as she serialized it on WattPad and this winter I let myself be sucked into Caro and West's lives.
Deeper is the first half of Caroline and West's story. Caro is college student in a smallish liberal arts university in Iowa. The youngest of three daughters of a widowed attorney, Caro is planning on doing big things. She has ambitions. She also had boyfriend she brought with her from high school. When she breaks up with him in what she thinks is amicable way he retaliates by posting intimate pictures of her online. Caro's is completely side-swiped by this. She is ashamed, angry, isolated and frustrated. She has stopped sleeping, hasn't told her father what happened, is tracking and trying to stomp out the images online while is trying to brazen it out the comments, stares and snickers in person. She has good friends who are trying to help her survive this, but the person she ends up turning to is West.
West is bad news. Everyone knows this, he knows this. He is troubled trailer park trash, partly financing his way through school selling pot. He is also the person that finally smashed a fist through Caro's old boyfriend's face. Every night when Caro can't sleep she drives circles around campus, and one night ends up at the bakery West works at. For a while she just parks in the parking lot and doesn't come in. But when she does he teaches her how to bake bread, they talk sometimes, but mostly they are just working side by side.
West is conflicted, he tried to scare Caro away the first day he met her, he doesn't need the distractions. He has secrets he won't share, topics he won't elaborate. Caroline is everything West would want if he let himself reach for her, but West is determined to get through school, so he can rescue his sister from his mom's self-sabotaging ways. His sister is counting on him, He can't let himself be dragged into someone drama, he can't let himself forget that he has another life, and is from another place. But also can't stay away from Caro.
I actually had to read Deeper in small doses, because of the how Caro and West story affected me, going so far as to jump to the last chapter and work my way back due to the amount of sympathetic anxiety I developed for them. Both Caro and West were very well drawn, and I understood them even when they didn't quite understand themselves. I love where Caroline is emotionally at the end of the book, standing up, determined, planning again. No longer defining herself by what happend to her. I can't wait to see where Caro and West can go from here in Harder.