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Kaetrin started reading romance as a teen and then took a long break, detouring into fantasy and thrillers. She returned to romance in 2008 and has been blogging since 2010. She reads contemporary, historical, a little paranormal, urban fantasy and romantic suspense, as well as erotic romance and more recently, new adult. She loves angsty books, funny books, long books and short books. The only thing mandatory is the HEA. Favourite authors include Mary Balogh, Susanna Kearsley, Joanna Bourne, Tammara Webber, Kristen Ashley, Shannon Stacey, Sarah Mayberry, JD Robb/Nora Roberts, KA Mitchell, Marie Sexton, Patricia Briggs, Ilona Andrews, just to name a few. You can find her on Twitter: @kaetrin67.

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REVIEW:  Riding Dirty by Jill Sorenson

REVIEW: Riding Dirty by Jill Sorenson

Riding-Dirty

Dear Ms. Sorenson,

I remember you mentioning on Twitter or a maybe in a blog post that you decided to write an erotic MC (Motorcycle Club) book at least in part because of the popularity of the genre. It is somewhat out of the usual way for you.  It is darker and definitely hotter than your previous books.  That said, it still holds true to what I know of you from chatting with you on social media.  This isn’t a book which lionises MC culture or crime. It doesn’t camouflage the criminal element of an outlaw MC or romanticise it. Because of that I think it will appeal even to readers who don’t normally like MC books.  I also think it stands as proof that a skilled author can write to a trend without sacrificing quality or voice.

Mia Russo (aka Mia Richards, aka Michelle Ruiz) barely survived a home invasion which resulted in the death of her husband three years earlier.  She entered the witness protection programme and has recently returned to California in order to be near her mother, her only living relative, who is in a nursing home at the end stages of Alzheimer’s.  The book explains how she came to be back in California and why and, if it’s not completely kosher in terms of how WITSEC  operates (and I don’t know if it is or not) it felt believable within the context of the book and I was prepared to go with it.

ADA Damon Vargas is the only person who knows her real identity.  He works in the gang crime area and has a real hard-on for putting MC members behind bars.   Damon has offered Cole “Shank” Shepherd a deal: become a criminal informant (CI) and get out of jail six months early (and alive – the Aryan Brotherhood has him in their sights and it’s not very likely he will survive until the end of his sentence).  Vargas poses as Cole’s “parole officer” and Mia is his “life coach”.  It is a little unclear why Mia needs to be involved – Vargas asked her to work pro bono so he could keep this assignment “off the books”, but perhaps it is standard for a newly released criminal to have coaching sessions with a psychologist to help them adjust to life outside of jail.  However, given that it is an off the books operation, it doesn’t seem likely that Vargas actually cares about Cole’s mental health. (We do find out later he has his reasons.)  In any event, Mia appears to take her role seriously and offers Cole  a safe space to relieve the stress of being a CI and also assists him with strategies to control his temper and hopefully, stay out of jail.

Mia has an ulterior motive (in this book, everybody does). WITSEC would never allow her to work with a member of an MC given the circumstances of the home invasion.  She does have experience counselling female inmates but this assignment is a different beast entirely.

Mia was able to identify one of her attackers as Gordon “Gonzo” Lowe, the president of the White Lightning MC.   There was insufficient evidence to arrest Lowe and so Mia was put into WITSEC and Vargas kept trying to identify the other attacker/uncover more evidence which would allow an arrest.  Mia’s plan is to use Cole as a weapon – she will seduce him and entice him to kill Lowe and the other (to be identified) attacker.   Which is kind of an odd juxtaposition with her apparent dedication to her professional role.  I read it that the dedication was Mia’s default and also that she had to play it straight with Cole at the beginning in order to get him to trust her. The therapy sessions had the ring of truth to them and also were not without humour.

She studied his clenched fists and his scarred, tattooed knuckles. T-I-C-K T-O-C-K. “Do you often give in to violent impulses?”

“Not as often as I’d like.”

“Have you tried to make healthier choices?”

His eyes narrowed in disbelief. “Is that a serious question?”

“Yes.”

“Do I look like I’ve made healthy choices?”

Mia is presented as someone who is stuck in her grief. She was very happily married and her life was completely blown apart by the home invasion. She does her work well but it doesn’t satisfy her. She feels nothing much more than her desire for retribution.  She knows what she is planning is morally wrong and professional suicide but she doesn’t care.  She counts the cost and decides it’s worth it.  I appreciated that the professional consequences of her actions weren’t diminished.  I also appreciated that pretty soon after meeting Cole, when he becomes a real person to her rather than just a blunt weapon to be used, she (minor spoiler alert) abandons her plan.

Almost immediately on meeting Cole, Mia starts feeling again. For the first time in three years, she feels attraction and desire.  She begins to care for Cole and think of him as a person with needs and desires of his own.  She goes from thinking that seducing him might not be so hard, to knowing she can’t go through with it, to being helplessly swept away by the heady feeling of having desire and passion again.

It’s not hard to see why Cole is attracted to Mia – she’s classy and beautiful and smart – not surprisingly, he feels she is out of his league but if she wants to go slumming, he’s happy to accommodate her.

Cole is conflicted by his role as CI and his love for his uncle, “Wild Bill” Shepherd, the president of the Dirty Eleven MC.   The Dirty Eleven run marijuana and some guns, but has a strict “no hurting women” policy.  Vargas wants the goods on the Dirty Eleven and Cole wants to find out what happened to his brother Rylan (who was a character in your earlier novel, Badlands I believe).  Bill and his wife, Shawnee, raised Cole and Rylan from adolescence when their parents got hooked on meth.  While their life wasn’t sunshine and roses, there is nevertheless a bond between them and this makes it hard for Cole to think of turning on Bill.  However, Cole was devastated by the death of his brother and if he finds out Bill had anything to do with it, that loyalty isn’t likely to withstand the pressure.

When Cole finds out that Dirty Eleven have been working with White Lightning, he is not happy.  White Lightning do hurt women and have a big meth business – neither of those two things fly with Cole.  Cole went to jail the first time after he beat a White Lightning member (Jesse “Jester” Arno) nearly to death after Jester raped Cole’s 15 year old cousin. I liked the way you expressed the ambiguity of Cole’s relationship with the Dirty Eleven.

Cole shrugged out of the leather garment and tossed it on a chair. His expression was a mixture of pride and contempt, as if the vest was a rowdy dog he loved that had nevertheless bitten a small child.

All of the players have ulterior motives and all of them are involved in shady dealings in one way or another.  Nevertheless, Cole and Mia’s attraction grows and pretty soon, Mia gives in to it and they start seeing each other outside of the therapy room.  The sex is off the charts hot and plentiful.  It is also a bit on the kinky side.  It’s much hotter than other books you’ve written but I must say I think you have a gift.

Mia is a different person to Michelle Ruiz.  While Michelle and her husband, Phillip, had a “better than good” sex life, the home invasion and its aftermath so changed Michelle that she became, in many ways, unrecognisable.  Michelle Ruiz would never have looked at Cole with desire or passion; Mia can’t help it. I thought you did a great job of explaining Mia’s attraction to Cole and I appreciated that Phillip wasn’t demonised (or sainted for that matter).

Cole feels stuck in the criminal world but would like to make changes. He does have a core of “honour” to him but he is not a “good” man in the usual hero type of way.  He is a man who has made mistakes, who has let his temper get the better of him to his detriment, and who doesn’t have a great deal of respect for the law.  While he wants things to be different, he’s never going to turn into a clean cut Mr. Nice Guy.   As it happens, Mia wouldn’t know what to do with a Mr. Nice Guy anymore and, even though things seem impossible, she does begin to wish they could have a future together.

I was really wondering how you were going to pull it all together by the end because things were indeed looking impossible for Mia and Cole.  I liked how, even in the romance genre where the HEA is guaranteed (or at least it better be or Kaetrin gets stabby), you kept me guessing.  While there was one element of the denouement I felt wasn’t set up quite as well as the rest, overall, the resolution felt believable and authentic and also delivered the romantic ending I was after.

It is clear that you are lovingly familiar with the areas in California where the book is set and it has a wonderful sense of place.  I also loved how you embedded Mia’s cultural heritage into the story. I’m not an expert but it didn’t feel fetishised, while at the same time, it clearly formed part of her. If one took those aspects of Mia away, she would have been a very different character.

The writing is mostly kind of spare, with short sentences that can sometimes seem choppy.  On the occasions when you let your adjectives out, they shone against the sparse backdrop and gave those passages extra punch and emotional authenticity.

I liked Dirty Eleven very much. You took the erotic MC storyline and gave it a Sorenson twist to create a story that is both different and entertaining.  Also, did I mention that the sex is scorching? I give it a B.

“You look like you’re having a bad day. Let’s combine your bad day and my bad idea, and be bad together.”

Regards,
Kaetrin

 

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REVIEW:  Taken by Tuesday by Catherine Bybee

REVIEW: Taken by Tuesday by Catherine Bybee

Traditional white dress with a bouquet of flowers

Dear Ms. Bybee,

I’ve listened to two of your previous novels. One of them was Single by Saturday, the previous book in the Weekday Brides series.  That book introduced me to Judy Gardner  (the sister of that book’s hero) and Rick Evans, former marine and current security expert. The series is loosely based around the elite matchmaking business, Alliance.  Alliance specialises in finding “temporary” wives and husbands for people (although to date, it’s all been wives so far as I can tell).  For example, in the previous book, Michael Wolfe, famous actor and romantic lead, needed a temporary wife to throw people off the scent he was gay.  Karen, his temporary wife, fell in love with Zach Gardner (Michael’s brother – Wolfe is a stage name) just before the scheduled divorce and that threw a spanner in the works.  During the course of Single by Saturday, Judy and Rick were paired up in the Gardner’s hometown of Hilton, Utah, trying to locate a kidnapped teen.

Sparks flew even then, but Judy has big plans and Rick represents danger to her achievement of those plans.  Judy would be happy enough to get married and have children eventually, but she wants to have a career and doesn’t want to get trapped in a relationship that might cast her in the role of housewife.  To be fair – Rick doesn’t know any of this.  It’s just that where Judy grew up, she saw many of her friends give up their dreams and settle down in their tiny town and never leave,  and Judy is determined this won’t happen to her.  Basically, when she looks at Rick, she’s worried she’ll lose her mind and lose herself in him.

When Taken by Tuesday begins, Judy is just about to graduate from college with a dual degree in business and architecture.  Given that Michael will be throwing her a graduation bash,  Rick, his US security advisor, comes to town to scope out the arrangements required.  He’s been keeping an eye on Judy from afar in a not-really-stalker-y way and biding his time before asking her out, figuring that her senior year of college is not great timing for her.  After graduation, Judy takes up an internship in LA at an architectural firm and at least at the beginning, her and her BFF and fellow business graduate, Meg, will be staying in Michael’s Beverly Hills house.  LA is Rick’s home base and he decides it’s time to make his romantic move. Eventually, Judy agrees to go on a date with him.  I say eventually because Judy is reluctant – but only because of the thing I mentioned in the second paragraph.  Rick is a nice guy and doesn’t do anything inappropriate.

I don’t think readers need to have read the earlier books to understand what’s going on, but be aware that the previous couples all turn up in one capacity or another.  I didn’t find it annoying – if anything it made me interested in reading the earlier books.

To be honest, the book had kind of a meh start for me.  At about 50 pages in I was thinking that it was okay but not grabbing me and it was going to be maybe a C read.  But then things got interesting and the grabbing I’d been missing happened and I was pretty much hooked right up until the end of the book. This is a stalker book and some readers will nope out right there.  Me, I love a rescue trope and I don’t mind the woman-in-jeopardy storyline.  There is no sexual assault but there is violence to women in the book.  My impression was that it was enough to be chilling and to convince the reader of Judy’s genuine danger but it did not fall into graphic detail or torture porn territory.   What balances out (for me at least) the woman-in-jeopardy tale (generally and specifically, here) is where the woman takes an active role in her own rescue and that’s what Judy does.  When she is attacked, she works with Rick (and others) to try and identify the attacker and takes sensible steps to keep herself safe.  She doesn’t act in a TSTL way and she takes every opportunity to use her skills and save herself.    So, while there is a bit of the white knight riding to the rescue, it wasn’t done in a way that made the heroine a helpless victim.  And, in true Pretty Woman style, Judy “rescues him [Rick] right back” but other than to say it’s not the emotional rescue which is most common in this trope, I won’t give  away here exactly what kind of rescue she effects.

The story did take a while to get going but I definitely think it’s worth bearing with. Once Rick and Judy get to that first date, the pacing picks up exponentially.   The writing style is engaging and reminded me, in flavour, of Virginia Kantra or Nora Roberts (maybe something like her Chesapeake Bay series).  I suppose in hindsight Rick’s and Judy’s relationship moves too fast and I would have liked a little more of them being happy together without the pressure of a stalker but I never thought Judy’s fears of losing herself were going to come true.  Rick is clearly very happy to support Judy’s career ambitions and makes it plain he would never ask her (or want her) to give up her dreams.

There was one little thing near the end which bothered me.  It was just a little phrase – maybe I misunderstood it.  At one point, Judy is talking to her famous actor big brother, Michael.  (She doesn’t know he’s gay. Some people within the family know but not everyone and he’s certainly not publicly out.)  Judy is thinking that he is more like a “big sister” than a big brother.  Judy has big sisters but she is more comfortable talking to Michael about deep feelings.  I didn’t know what to make of that because Michael isn’t anyone’s sister.  I don’t know if that was some kind of weird allusion to gay men being effeminate?  If so, that’s all kinds of wrong.  But, like I say, maybe I misunderstood.  All I know is that it made me uncomfortable, it wasn’t necessary for the plot and I wish it hadn’t been there.

As far as the main couple are concerned, I did like Rick and Judy very much and I thought they were good together.  There was a little artistic license in the final scenes as regards the involvement of Rick’s security team vs. law enforcement but it didn’t strain my credulity beyond breaking point. Other than that, the law enforcement and medical aspects of the story felt well researched and authentic to me.

While I thought the setup portion of the story was a bit long, I did end up enjoying Taken by Tuesday quite a bit.   I’ll definitely watch out for future books from you and I do plan on picking up the earlier books in the series at some point. Grade: B.

Regards,
Kaetrin

 

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