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REVIEW:  It Ain’t Me, Babe by Tillie Cole

REVIEW: It Ain’t Me, Babe by Tillie Cole

IAMB

Dear Ms. Cole:

I bought your book because I’ve really enjoyed some MC-themed books. The problem for me is that with the success of a few authors, the market has been glutted by a lot of MC books that are really badly written, edited, and marketed. Yours falls somewhere in between. I remembered your name from Jane’s review of your book Sweet Home, which didn’t work for her. But I read a bit of the sample of It Ain’t Me, Babe, and found the book to be well edited and at least at the beginning, not as horrifyingly ridiculous as a lot of MC books that I read, so I bought it.

Sinning never felt so good…

A fortuitous encounter.

A meeting that should never have happened.

Many years ago, two children from completely different worlds forged a connection, a fateful connection, an unbreakable bond that would change their lives forever…

Salome knows only one way to live—under Prophet David’s rule. In the commune she calls home, Salome knows nothing of life beyond her strict faith, nor of life beyond the Fence—the fence that cages her, keeps her trapped in an endless cycle of misery. A life she believes she is destined to always lead, until a horrific event sets her free.

Fleeing the absolute safety of all she has ever known, Salome is thrust into the world outside, a frightening world full of uncertainty and sin; into the protective arms of a person she believed she would never see again.

River ‘Styx’ Nash knows one thing for certain in life—he was born and bred to wear a cut. Raised in a turbulent world of sex, Harleys, and drugs, Styx, unexpectedly has the heavy burden of the Hades Hangmen gavel thrust upon him, and all at the ripe old age of twenty-six—much to his rivals’ delight.

Haunted by a crushing speech impediment, Styx quickly learns to deal with his haters. Powerful fists, an iron jaw and the skillful use of his treasured German blade has earned him a fearsome reputation as a man not to be messed with in the shadowy world of outlaw MC’s. A reputation that successfully keeps most people far, far away.

Styx has one rule in life—never let anyone get too close. It’s a plan that he has stuck to for years, that is, until a young woman is found injured on his lot… a woman who looks uncannily familiar, a woman who clearly does not belong in his world, yet a woman he feels reluctant to let go…

 

Salome (or Mae, as we come to know her) has just escaped a secret compound where she’s been held as a sex slave/cult member since her birth. She is beautiful, with dark hair and crystal blue eyes that are routinely characterized as “wolf eyes”. She escapes after her birth sister is quite literally tortured and fucked to death. As she scoots out from under the perimeter fence, she’s badly bitten by one of the guard dogs. A kindly woman picks her up and offers to take her to the hospital, but Mae just wants to go to town. As the woman becomes a little inquisitive in the car, Mae asks to be dropped at a large brick compound outside of town. The woman protests, saying she doesn’t want to drop her there, it’s unsafe, but Mae insists.

Styx, the president of the Hades Hangmen, is known as the Hangmen’s Mute — a vicious killer and someone who took over the MC at a young age, when his father died. Styx uses ASL to communicate with most people, using his VP and best friend, Ky, to interpret. Although Styx is NOT mute or deaf, he’s uncomfortable speaking in public because of an acute stutter. Before he received his cut (was indoctrinated into the MC), he was known as River. At age 11, on a stop for his dad to conduct some club business, River runs off. He came upon a high barbed wire fence, and on the other side of it, a huddled, young girl rocking and crying to herself. He tentatively speaks, even though he’s stuttering. He tries to comfort her, and ends up awkwardly kissing her through the fence. Soon, she runs off and his father is hollering looking for him. The meeting never left his memory though, he pined for and looked for that girl again, but was never able to find the perimeter fence or compound again. Years later, his father is dead, he’s now the Prez of the MC, and he still can’t forget that girl.

Imagine his shock as he finds what he thinks is a dead body behind to dumpster outside the MC’s compound. But the dead body moves, and he and his brothers quickly realize that this dead body is in fact a badly injured young woman. They hustle her upstairs to doctor her up. They don’t need the Feds, who are already far too interested in what the Hangmen are doing, seeing anything suspicious leaving the compound. Once the young woman is cleaned and treated, Styx realized immediately that she is his wolf-eyed girl. He can’t believe it, he’d begun to believe she was a figment of his imagination. When she wakes, she is disoriented. He soon realizes that she’s been kept completely cut off from the rest of the world. She’s never seen a motorbike or vehicle. She’s never watched TV. She knows nothing at all. Styx understands that he needs to stay away from her. She’s pure and innocent and everything perfect and he’ll ruin her. He assigns the Club’s medic, Rider to take care of her.

As Mae heals, she comes out of her shell and adapts to her new surroundings quickly. She forms a close friendship with Rider, and yearns for Styx, who has been gone on “club business” for weeks. When he returns he’s more attracted than ever to Mae, and she feels the same. Soon they are embarking on a physical relationship, but Rider is also interested, and the Hangmen have many enemies who would take advantage of any weakness shown by their president. Plus, the cult that Mae ran from is looking for her.

Where to start with this book? I read it compulsively, almost unwillingly. It’s dark. Very, very dark. The atrocities done to Mae and her fellow sex slaves are awful. Their subjugation, including a detailed description of Mae’s deflowering at age 8 (which occurred on the day she met Styx at the fence) was among the most disturbing scenes I’ve ever read. The fact that these girls were tortured and raped repeatedly was never shied away from. That being said, Mae is about the most well adjusted cult survivor I’ve ever seen. She spends her entire life being told she’s a vessel for the men in her cult to “reach enlightenment” (while raping her) and is clothed only in white robes. But when she hits the MC, she’s just like a duck in water. She takes to skin tight clothes immediately, doesn’t mind the club whores, drinking, smoking, and serious violence that surrounds her. She’s never seen a TV or a motorbike before but neither holds any fear for her. I suppose that it’s possible that she could just bounce back from a lifetime of horrors, but you didn’t make it ring true for me. I figured she’d at least need some therapy or something. But I guess Styx’s magic wang saved her.

Speaking of horrors, at some point in the story, Styx realizes there is a mole among them. They decide who it is, and then torture and kill the guy. Another scene that was graphic in detail. Turns out, he wasn’t actually a mole (which he told them over and over and over again), which is probably why they got no information whatsoever from him. Doesn’t matter, now he’s dead. Then, once the real mole is discovered, the horror continues. I won’t say more about it, because it would ruin the story for readers.

Overall It Ain’t Me, Babe is a book that I read in the course of a few hours. It left me very unsettled and was not remotely a comfortable read. Alot of the story was hard for me to swallow, including a heroine who was a little too well-adjusted and sustained brutality towards women and innocents. While I don’t consider it to be as violent as Behold the Stars by Susan Fanetti, which Jane reviewed, I’d say this book has MAJOR trigger warnings for readers who are uncomfortable with the issues I’ve cited above. In the end, it’s a book that I read compulsively and don’t think I’d ever pick up again. But, your writing is very solid, and the editing is really good. For readers who enjoy a very dark MC book, it could work. For me, I don’t think I’ll be visiting the Hangmen again. Their world is just too violent for me. Final grade: C-.

Kind regards,

Kati

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REVIEW:  The Return of Brody McBride by Jennifer Ryan

REVIEW: The Return of Brody McBride by Jennifer Ryan

RBM

Dear Ms. Ryan:

I bought your book on impulse. Generally speaking men in cowboy hats on the cover of books are not a selling point for me. But I do like soldiers returning from the theater of war, so I thought I’d give your book a try. What I found was a mostly entertaining book with a hero who self flagellates excessively, and a slightly over the top story device, but also a book I read in two sittings.

Brody McBride is back in town after multiple tours in Iraq and Afghanistan. A now decorated war hero, Brody is determined to right the wrongs he did by leaving and win the heart of the girl he left behind. Rain Evans was devastated when Brody left town eight years ago. She was also pregnant. As if that wasn’t bad enough, Brody and Rain had fought badly before he left and they broke up. After which, Brody slept with Roxy, the town tramp and knocked her up too. Nice shootin’ Tex!

Of course, being right out of central casting, Roxy, evil bitch that she is, told everyone in town she was pregnant with Brody’s baby, and then threatened to terminate the pregnancy. Rain, needing every piece of Brody she could get, paid off Roxy to have the baby, and then paid her another lump sum to keep the baby (although never getting Roxy to sign over any papers – why, I don’t know). So Brody returns to town to the news that he has not one, but TWO secret babies. Although, Rain had been trying her best to track him down while he was gone, she’d never been successful, and finally gave up.

Brody is horrified to hear that he fathered two children and left Rain with them. She’s been raising them on her own, and doing a damn fine job of it. But she has no money, had to give up her dream of going to college to become a mother and is working as a mechanic at her dad’s autobody shop. Brody can’t seem to apologize enough (over and over and over). He’s sorry for everything: leaving Rain, sleeping with Roxy, he’s ashamed of the PTSD he is battling, he’s ashamed of the scars he bears from serving as an Army Ranger. He’s just so sorry. I know this, because almost every time he opens his mouth it’s to apologize. Amazingly though, the moment he sees his girls, Dawn and Autumn, he takes to fatherhood like a duck to water. He’s patient, he’s loving, he’s kind, he’s fun. They adore him, and he adores them. Even though Autumn, who is really Roxy’s daughter, is afraid that Roxy will come back and take her away from him and Rain. This would be because Roxy already kidnapped Autumn once for three days when she was three. And slapped her and locked her in a closet and gave her barely any food and water. So Autumn has issues. Brody has issues. Good thing for them Rain is the best person ever. She loves Autumn no matter what, and offers comfort and reassurance on a regular basis. When Brody “slips away” into a sort of fugue state from a flashback, she knows just how to bring him back. In fact, one time, she sexes him up to bring him back. Not what I’d do, but hey, this is a romance novel, so go with it, Kati.

As well as being a decorated service man, Brody also invested in a company that has netted him a ton of money. This means that it’s only a matter of time before Roxy comes after Autumn and after Brody’s money. The end of the story mostly focuses on how they outwit her (which didn’t really seem that hard to me, it’s not like Roxy was portrayed as nuanced or intelligent).

As you can tell, I had a number of issues with the book. First there was a lot going on in this book. I got to the point reading it where every new plot development cause me to say, “Because, of course.” It just seemed like too much. If the book had focused on the secret babies, OR Brody’s PTSD, OR battling Roxy for custody of Autumn, I’d have been good. But all of those plot points together really felt like you were trying to do too much. I also thought Rain was a Mary Sue. She was practically perfect in every way, which grated on my nerves. And I felt like Brody spent most of the book in an apologetic or desperate state. This was long after Rain had made it clear that she accepted his apologies and that they had a future together. It was tiresome for me to read him groveling over and over. I was already sold on Brody as a hero, I didn’t need him to self-flagellate to make me like him.

All of that being said, I like your writing voice. I think you introduced an interesting secondary character in Brody’s brother, Owen, who I am happy to see is getting a book. I think you develop a nice sense of place, and that your sex scenes were detailed and entertaining. Overall, I felt like you tried to do too much with the book, but somehow I enjoyed reading it anyway. The Return of Brody McBride is not without its issues, but I’ll most likely give your writing another shot. Final grade: C/C-

Kind regards,

Kati

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