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REVIEW: Jagged by Kristen Ashley

Kristen Ashley Jagged

Dear Kristen Ashley:

We rock, paper, scissored it to see who would write this review because neither and Kati nor I wanted to. We love your books. We both lost weeks this year reading your extensive, wonderful backlist. But while written in the same spirit as the other Colorado Mountain Man series Jagged was disappointing for both of us. Given that Kati wrote the last two, I shouldered this task.

Graham Reece or Ham, as he is called throughout the book much to my dismay, isn’t ready to settle down. He’s had a difficult past with women and resolved to love them and leave them. A harrowing experience with an ax wielding madman sends Ham back to Zara Cinders, a woman who has loved him in the past and to whom he has regularly returned. There is really one emotional conflict in this story and that is whether you should settle for someone even if you might love another.

As I ruminated about this book for a few weeks, I wondered if part of the challenge I had with this book is that the primary premise of previous Ashley novels is the existence of untameable men who are collared, in some sense, by a woman who they fall in love with. Ham is cut from the standard Kristen Ashley cloth but it seemed he longed for February Owens (heroine of For You). When she was reunited with her high school sweetheart, Ham was cut loose.

Zara loved Ham since she first met him and accepted his itinerant movement in and out of her life but she wanted a family and a permanent partner. Knowing that wasn’t Ham’s thing, Zara decided to marry someone else. Ham admitted he didn’t do relationships, couldn’t give her a happy ending, and wished her luck. When her relationship with her husband deteriorated to the point of divorce, Ham returned.  Conveniently that was about the same time that Feb gave him the boot.

The moral of Zara’s story was that she waited it out and got the love of her life. Don’t settle, seemed to be her storyline. But Ham’s story was that if you can’t be with the one you love, love the one you’re with. Even though I was supposed to see that Zara was Ham’s choice, it seemed like he was settling. He called February “beautiful” and Zara “cookie”.  Maybe we were supposed to see that a guy called Ham preferred edibles over all else, but him whispering to Feb and calling her and making sure she was okay even when she, oh, had a new husband and all just didn’t fit.

And Greg, Zara’s ex, seemed to really love her so no one really got what they wanted. Zara got Ham but not his whole person. Ham got Zara but he seemed to want Feb. In the heat of anger said to Zara “Only one woman I know not filled with poison, knew her own goddamned mind, her shit was fucked up but she didn’t make it anyone’s problem but her own, and I let her walk away from me, too. The difference with her and you, babe, is that I regret lettin’ her do it.”

Worse, Ham had a type.  Feb was “older than me, probably closer to Ham’s age. But she looked a little like me. Blonde hair.  Brown eyes.” And he flirted up a small busty blonde one night at the bar where he and Zara worked together. So it seemed like the women were interchangeable to Ham and if he couldn’t have Feb, at least he had a younger lookalike.

The story is told primarily from Zara’s point of view and I liked her quite a bit. She suffered a lot in her life, including an abusive childhood. She tried hard to stand up for herself, provide for herself but often ended up making poor decisions. I felt like Graham Reece was one of those poor decisions.

Also, I got the jagged reference the first couple of times, but it was used far far far too much in the story.  According to my Kindle search, it was used twenty four times to describe his voice and because it is such an evocative term about the fourth or fifth time, it became redundant and every time thereafter it lost any emotional impact. Redundancy in characters was also a slight problem. You’d be hard pressed to distinguish Graham from several other Ashley heroes.

There was a lack of urgency in the story. I remember reading one Kristen Ashley after the other. I literally could not stop reading them but this one I found it easy to abandon, in part because I really found the romance lackluster.

I wanted to like this more but Graham was both too similar a character to other Kristen Ashley heroes but without the devotion that makes up for his sometimes hurtful comments. While I liked Zara, I wanted her to have a different romance, one with someone who put her first in his heart, not just with his words.  C

Best regards,

Jane

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Jane Litte is the founder of Dear Author, a lawyer, and a lover of pencil skirts. She spends her downtime reading romances and writing about them. Her TBR pile is much larger than the one shown in the picture and not as pretty. You can reach Jane by email at jane @ dearauthor dot com

28 Comments

  1. BeretBrenckman
    Nov 11, 2013 @ 12:18:19

    Thank you Jane for saying so eloquently what I felt about the book. I had a similar experience to KA books. I read “Motorcycle Man” and then glommed all the other books last Christmas. I’ve reread all her books and really didn’t like this one. I’ve noticed that the move to a traditional publisher changed KA’s last few books and not I believe for the better. Oh well.

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  2. Tabitha
    Nov 11, 2013 @ 12:22:45

    I devoured KA’s books when I first discovered her. But her last few new releases were difficult for me to start and even harder to finish. Case in point, I was so anxious for the final Rock Chick book and barely got a quarter of the way through when I had to abandon it. I’m really hoping Apollo’s story from her Fantasyland series, Broken Dove, and Frankie and Benny’s story from the ‘Burg series (untitled) wouldn’t be bummers either.

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  3. JoJo
    Nov 11, 2013 @ 12:41:38

    Great review Jane. Really, really wanted to like this book but, since she signed on with a publisher, the “KA crack” is gone. This book was slow, sad and forgettable.

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  4. pamelia
    Nov 11, 2013 @ 12:52:52

    I liked this one better than you did, Jane. I totally see where you could read Zara as 2nd choice based on some of the arguments they had and I think KA should have written more of what she did about how Reece felt, because it came through (to me at least) that Zara really wasn’t his second choice, but I think given the amount of angst Zara had over that issue, it needed a more solid/repetitive rebuttal rather than what was told. There were a couple places in the book where Ham said or thought about it that convinced me he really wasn’t pining for Feb.
    I liked the balance in this book between the descriptions and lack of descriptions — I think she gave just enough detail without bogging the story down in floor-plans and throw-pillow descriptions. I also liked the community/friendship support in this book a whole lot. Arlene and Cotton were two of my favorites from “The Gamble” and I was glad to see them again (along with Max and Nina).
    I HATED that they both had food nicknames. Ham and Cookie??!! REALLY??! It drove me bonkers (I would say “nuts”, but…)
    All in all I would rate this as a tier 2 KA book which isn’t bad at all. This one renewed my faith in KA a little bit after being not so blown away by the last few books.

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  5. Rachel at BacknGrooveMom
    Nov 11, 2013 @ 13:03:10

    @JoJo:

    For me, I just think since getting a publisher…the books lack whatever was unique to KA. I can’t even put my finger on it….I just want my crack pipe back.
    R

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  6. It's Me
    Nov 11, 2013 @ 13:38:44

    I feel the same as most of you guys. Her books written for the publisher are missing that special something that makes up a Kristen Ashley book.

    I’ve been trying to read Jagged for about 4 days now. I have stopped half way through and read 2 other books and still can’t pick Jagged back up.

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  7. Madeleine
    Nov 11, 2013 @ 13:53:05

    I was so disappointed for this book. I’d been excitedly waiting for it because the Colorado series is The Gamble and Sweet Dreams (two of my favourite Kristen Ashleys) and then I stopped reading this at 50% and read something else. THAT is unprecedented! I used to finish an endlessly long KA in a day or two! Stay up all night to finish! But this one I just felt no compulsion to keep reading because it was predictable and the story was going nowhere. Eventually I lagged to the end and was not satisfied or surprised.

    I agree with all of your problems. Ham was a long, long way from Tate in awesomeness and in devotion to the heroine, the issue of Feb was never really resolved either. Ugh. I want so much more from Kristen Ashley, I love her and the last few books really just haven’t done it.

    Apollo/Ilsa is one I’ve been most excited about because the conflict is set up to be super rewarding … or super disappointing if Kristen Ashley’s crack really is gone like the last few books are making it seem.

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  8. Linda B
    Nov 11, 2013 @ 14:02:40

    I too feel that, since getting a publisher, the KA books have really suffered. The last Rock Chick book, the latest Chaos book, and now Jagged, have left me dissatisfied and grumpy. The urgency with the suspense/bad guy/bad situation scenarios is gone. The hot romance/hot sex is fading. The really great secondary characters are mostly missing. I think the review is pretty accurate and, seriously, Ham??? Made me think of a pig every time I read that name. I started skipping over it. I give this book a C, also. Unfortunately, getting a publisher seems to have this sad effect on many indie authors.

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  9. Kati
    Nov 11, 2013 @ 14:26:23

    These comments are really interesting to me.

    As I read this book, my reaction was, “This is not a very good book.” not, “Man, the editors/publishers have really changed her voice/style.” It’s that it’s not a very good book. I don’t think that the fact that it was slowly paced, had a hero who was 95% douchebag and a heroine who was OK with it had to do with the editing or publisher. I think it had to do with every once in a while (although, the last three in a row for me) she writes a book that isn’t that great. This is a prime example of it.

    In my opinion, she needs to get herself some new beta readers. Some that aren’t total fan girls and who are willing to tell her when a book she’s writing isn’t great. Every author needs that. Either from a CP or from someone who isn’t afraid to say, “I think this book could be stronger.”

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  10. Jane
    Nov 11, 2013 @ 14:36:25

    @Kati: I’m not convinced it’s the publisher’s influence either because the last Rock Chick was self published. (And I appreciate that I understand every sentence now).

    I’m not sure what the issue is. You can’t necessarily she is writing too fast as she’s written fast before. The fact that she’s both self pubbed and trad pubbed since being picked up seems to point to a problem other than the new editing team at a trad pubbed house.

    I did notice that this book was more explicit sexually than all her previous ones. I don’t know if that is something that is affecting the storytelling.

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  11. JoJo
    Nov 11, 2013 @ 14:39:40

    @Kati: Excellent points Kati. A list could be made of “used” material: peep hole/door chain (Knight/Anya), Ham having “his way” with the apartment manager (Shy/Tabby), erotic dreams starting off the new chapter (Layne and Rocky), masturbation scene (Ty/Lexi)…and that’s just in the first 30% of the book. Yawn.

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  12. Linda B
    Nov 11, 2013 @ 15:14:46

    Kati – I think that is a really good point about the beta readers. I am so anxious for the Apollo/ Ilsa story. I truly hope it does not suffer from the same deficiencies as the last three books.

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  13. Jo
    Nov 11, 2013 @ 15:28:39

    I’m like every body else and glommed KA a while back. I didn’t enjoy the last Rock Chick book, had to force myself to finish which is never a good sign then I read the first chapter or excerpt (can’t remember) of Jagged and couldn’t summon up any interest at all so I don’t think I’ll bother.

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  14. Jamie Beck
    Nov 11, 2013 @ 15:57:18

    This is the second “underwhelming” review I’ve read, so I guess I’m going to steer clear. Of the several problems you note, the one I would not be able to get over is the fact that the hero is settling for the heroine instead of truly choosing her.

    I find the discussion about the quality of her self-published vs. traditionally published work interesting, too. Is this disparity a common problem with hybrid authors? I’ve not noticed, but that’s probably because I follow authors without paying attention to whether or not they (or specific books) are self or traditionally published.

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  15. JacquiC
    Nov 11, 2013 @ 16:12:56

    Maybe the issue has nothing to do with whether the books are self-pubbed or traditionally published. Maybe the issue is that few authors seem to be able to sustain “crack-tastic”-ness for many many books. At some point, the formula has to change or something has to happen, because otherwise things start sounding the same and the spark goes.

    Maybe I am overstating this, but it seems to be a common theme that comes up over and over again and to be the source of many posts, e.g posts about the point when readers “break up” with an author or a series. People say similar things about the Black Dagger brotherhood books (pointing to particular instalments in the series, particularly more recent ones, that no longer seem to live up to the spark that was in the earlier books). Depending on the author and the quality of the earlier work, readers may give the author the benefit of the doubt for a few books that seem to fall flat, and then conclude that the magic is gone.

    I don’t know if this is happening with KA or not, but I love many of her backlist books, and am noticing quite a few underwhelmed reactions to the recent ones. The reviews of Jagged make me want to go back and read earlier Colorado Mountain books, but make me want to skip this one…

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  16. Madeleine
    Nov 11, 2013 @ 17:20:21

    Well, but Kristen Ashley has such an extensive backlist that you’d think she can sustain the crack. Maybe the issue is her popularity? For many years she was writing for herself and writing things to please herself, suddenly she’s hugely popular and fan input has to some extent drive the kind of books you’re writing. Maybe that’s part of the problem?

    I found Ren and Allie dull- did not go back for a reread and I’ve read my have KA’s so many times I practically know them by heart. The Chaos books were okay but definitely nowhere near my favourites. I disliked Raid. The book she published before that was the werewolf one in The Three series (can’t remember the name) but that’s the last old school KA Crack publication and I believe it was the last of the books she had sitting on her computer that she had written over the years.

    Maybe it’s being published full stop- not self published or traditionally published- but just producing books for a market rather than for herself that has caused the changes.

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  17. Linda B
    Nov 11, 2013 @ 17:25:26

    The author that I noticed this happening to the most significantly is Lora Leigh with her Breed series although that was a matter of going from Ellora’s Cave to a mainstream publisher. I have noticed other authors losing their touch after numerous books in a series but seem to find their way back quickly. I hope Kristen Ashley gets back on track with the next book. I have everything else she has written and had never been disappointed until the last Rock Chick book.

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  18. Lori
    Nov 11, 2013 @ 20:15:41

    Wow, and this is one of the first KA books that didn’t make my feminist heart shrink.

    I have a love/hate relationship with KA’s heroes because they skirt the edge of being disrespectful to the heroines. And sometimes they go right over that edge. The constant conversations in past books where the heroine is trying to say something and the hero won’t let her speak…

    When they physically move the heroine or refuse to let her walk away or dominate her…

    When they simply don’t listen because they always know best and the heroine always agrees later that yes, they did know best…

    Ham lets Zara make decisions. He respects her decisions. He listens to her and he doesn’t talk over her. When they fight they both fight and they both fight dirty (which pleased me since I’m tired of bitchy heroines and the perfect heroes).

    I liked this book so much because I liked both Ham and Zara and respected the choices they made. And I liked the editing. It was nice that some of the KA stuff that drove me nuts was gone.

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  19. ruth
    Nov 11, 2013 @ 21:44:19

    I have not enjoyed the KA books as much since she was picked up by a publisher. I think that KA is a writer who needs lots of room to wonder around in her writing in ways that any good editor would try to curb. In order for her to get all her points across she needs to be let loose. Since this new publishing house has come on board, I think her work is more polished and not as good. The newer books have been lacking and I think that the publishing house should step back or they are going to mess up a good thing.

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  20. cnfrea
    Nov 11, 2013 @ 22:47:09

    I think this review is on point. Couldn’t have said it better myself. Let me preface by saying that I didn’t feel like I needed to have a book for Graham. It wasn’t like there was enough of him in “For You” for me to get excited about him having his own book. But because I’m a KA addict, I read “Jagged.” And what I got was exactly what I expected, which was not much. And I’m a firm believer that something has changed since working with GCP. It’s like someone is holding KA back. I go to her books because I like the world-setting she does. I like the relationships between the women in the series. I like the clothes for cripes sake! And, of course, I like the heroes. I feel like you can tell the difference between her GCP work and her self-published offerings. Others have written that it didn’t feel like Graham chose Zara. I agree. Graham felt like the poor man’s Joe Callahan to me. And Zara was forgettable.

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  21. Laurie
    Nov 11, 2013 @ 23:43:22

    I’ve been thinking about this, and I’ve seen it happen over and over. And I wonder if sometimes authors get so caught up in giving the readers what they want that they continue a series way past the time it should stop and they should move on to something new and fresh and challenging to them. I think that plus a new unbiased critique group would really help KA, and I’d really hate to think that spark is gone. And I’m sure it must be killer to walk away from something that had paid off monetarily for them for so long. But maybe she needs a “new town” and new characters to get all excited about writing again, and we need new stories to fall in love with her all over again. I think that’s what happened with Lora Leigh’s Breeds, the Black Dagger Boys, and so many others that have fizzled out. Just a thought.

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  22. Stephanie Doyle
    Nov 12, 2013 @ 08:34:31

    Admitted KA crack addict, but I’m someone who likes the traditionally published work better. (Haven’t read this book and might steer clear because I’m not a fan of this dynamic). But I think her TP books are tighter, better edited and the story is more compact and focused.

    That said I agree sustaining reader expectations every single time can be really hard. Which is why author’s probably shouldn’t “try”. They just need to write the book they want to write and accept that readers will either love it or hate.

    But if you’ve established enough trust with an author usually even if you don’t like one book, you’ll still go back for more. KA has written a lot of books. So a lot of the “crack” which was so new and different when you read it at first, is probably just starting to lose a little of it’s effect because of the many books out there.

    It’s always been that crazy paradox in writing… you write a book, readers love it, you give them more, you achieve great success, then eventually they say they want something different from you. You give them that… and they hate it.

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  23. Zoe York
    Nov 12, 2013 @ 09:44:47

    Stephanie, I agree on every point. I liked both Chaos books (and I’m one of the few who didn’t love MM). I was so looking forward to Jagged, but I truly dislike heroes who haven’t completely gotten over other women. It’s the one recurring trope that KA uses that I always wince at.

    Maybe I’ll save this for reading over the Christmas holidays, when I’ve got time to storm through it in one sitting.

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  24. Karen Harvey
    Nov 12, 2013 @ 15:22:00

    I am and admitted KA “crack addict” as well Stephanie and as such, all of these comments have depressed me! I haven’t started Rock Chick 8 or Jagged yet cause I thought I’d be so disappointed when I finished them that I have been leaving them for as long as I can. I can imagine that a mainstream publisher would put a kink in some of the writing style of KA, but not to the extent that she would lose her muse. I will obviously still read both cause I’m a big fan and love KA’s spirit and humour and will develop my own opinion…just hoping I’m not swayed one way or the other… :(

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  25. Lauren Smith
    Nov 12, 2013 @ 18:35:43

    Thank you for putting into words what I have been thinking! It was ok….It could have used an extra 50 pages and a little more drama at the end. I was waiting for the buildup….and was let down. Moving on to the next great book….Have you heard of, “A Thousand Years of Johnny Von” by author Edith M. Cortese? http://www.trumpetboypress.com/ It’s a fun, heartfelt story. A 10 in my book!

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  26. Kaetrin
    Nov 13, 2013 @ 00:26:44

    I haven’t read For You so maybe I’d think differently if that were the case, but I didn’t think Ham (!) ‘settled’ for Zara at all. I thought it was pretty clear in the book that she was his choice and while he had something special with February, she was never going to be a permament relationship and he knew it. I didn’t feel there was any ambiguity about it – for me, Ham was all about Zara. I thought the narrative made it clear that it was nearly getting killed by an ax murderer which made him re-evaluate his life.

    Yes, ‘jagged’ was way overused; Reece is a much better hero name than ‘Ham”; I thought the start was a bit clunky and the end shift to third person omniscient was a bit… odd but the middle bit was mostly a lot of fun for me.

    Maybe I was just in the right mood for this because I really liked it. I laughed and snorted at the various Ashley-isms all the way through the book and I ended up giving it a B.

    I am a reverse-outlier! LOL

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  27. Kristen
    Nov 15, 2013 @ 09:17:00

    I must say I picked up this book to read, realized the main character’s name was Ham and decided I just couldn’t do it based on that alone. What’s with the weird names? I don’t understand the need to have these off the wall names. Is it to make the character memorable? It doesn’t, by the way. It’s just annoying.

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  28. Erica Dyson
    Apr 03, 2014 @ 20:03:22

    Nothing I mean nothing beats motorcycle man. But I feel all her books are great some better than others, this was just missing that KA spark. Love her books, completely addicted!!!

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