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REVIEW:  Devil’s Game by Joanna Wylde

REVIEW: Devil’s Game by Joanna Wylde

Devil's Game Joanna Wylde

Dear Ms. Wylde:

One of the most feminist books I’ve read. This is the line I’ve used to describe Devil’s Game to any number of people who would listen. When the words “motorcycle club” are invoked images of overly misogynistic men telling their property how to act leaps to mind. But within the Reaper’s MC, I believe some of the most interesting power dynamic struggles are taking place.

In Devil’s Game, you have two young people in their early twenties who are struggling with their roles within their respective social groups. One is the daughter of a powerful man and the other is an orphan raised by a dangerous group of men to become a dangerous man himself. Between the two, they have to discover the limits of their willingness to sacrifice part of themselves and part of their vision of the future in order to be together.

I’ve read a ton of MC books and frankly most of them are pretty bad but I believe that the reason it is so popular right now is because of the tribe based culture of the club. Tribes have a long history in literature and romance. The first tribe based romance books I ever read were Scottish Highlander stories. The structure of a Highlander novel is not unlike an MC book.

Both include a militaristic hierarchy with a leader, several strong wingmen, and others that live within the confines of the primary property whether it is hold, fief, or armory. Both types of stories feature warring clans vying for power. Often the head of the tribe is a male with a patriarchal power structure.  The concept of loyalty along with external signage (whether it be plaids–although those came much later in history than depicted in many romances–or cuts) is vital. Scottish stories could (and sometimes did) feature a female clan leader. Medievals often followed the same structure.

After the decline in both those types of stories, we saw a rise in paranormals and in shapeshifters, particularly, you see a similar clan or tribal structure. There is one alpha often male, often involved in power struggles, and all living together for the betterment of the clan or tribe. It was author Moriah Jovan who first pointed out the similarities between werewolf packs and the motorcycle club.

Whenever there is a strong male lead, particularly in these patriarchal clan structures, my preference is for a strong female otherwise the romance seems imbalanced to me. In Devil’s Game, Em is the daughter of Reese “Picnic” Hayes who is the president of the Reaper’s MC–an outlaw one percent club that deals in unstated unsavory activities. Em and her sister were raised within a loving household. They would often see their mother and father lustily touching each other so Em knows what a loving, healthy relationship is. That’s what she wants. Moreover, she wants a man who will stand up to her father because her whole life has been full of men who defer to him.

There was a patch (aspiring member) who became a full fledged part of the club who had feelings for Em, but he never made a move on her without checking with Picnic first. This not only infuriated Em, but made her lose respect for him and she couldn’t be with someone she didn’t respect. Her father scared off all of her suitors and so Em sets out to create her own opportunities. She thinks she’s found someone in an internet connection with Liam Blake. What she doesn’t know is that Liam is “Hunter” and part of the Devil’s Jack MC, a rival of the Reapers, who has decided to take Em because holding her means having leverage against the Reapers. Plus he wants her.

In some ways this is a classic Romeo and Juliet story. Two young adults from rival factions seek to form their own unit yet their families strive to keep them apart. Gratefully this is a romance so we don’t get the tragic ending, but we do get fighting, bullets flying, betrayals and forgiveness.  There are the internal struggles between the two as Em has to learn to trust Hunter and vice versa. There are the external struggles with bringing accord between the rival gangs who are brought together to fight a common enemy. Both conflicts keep the book motoring at a super fast pace.

But it’s an emotional story as well. Em’s a bright young woman and she’s learning, through the book, how to move out of her father’s shadow and become an independent woman. Part of that development includes falling in love with someone who isn’t handpicked by her father and then standing against her father with Liam. The relationship dynamic between Em and Picnic is as important at times as the one between her and Hunter because despite Picnic’s desire to keep Em settled with the “right” man (as approved by Picnic) he raised her to think and act independently. She was level headed and calm in the face of intense stress. As Picnic said, she was one hell of an old lady and he was regretful about losing her to someone outside the Reaper’s because of her capableness.

Throughout the story, Em is saving herself and sometimes Liam. Her power isn’t just the emotional power she’s given because of Liam’s love for her; her power comes from her ability to react calmly in tough situations, to think of solutions, to take action when the opportunity presents itself. She’s proactive in the story rather than reactive.

While Hunter’s intentions in the beginning toward Em weren’t very honorable, he worked hard to earn her trust back. There were three overt acts by Hunter in which he demonstrates his remorse for past misdeeds. Two are fairly humorous but one is a pretty big deal. It occurs at the end and I don’t want to ruin it but there aren’t a lot of times in which the grand gesture means the hero gives up something that reduces the potential for increased status and money. And it doesn’t diminish Liam at all. Instead, it is a showing of someone who is sorting out his priorities and determining what is important to him, what will make him content and happy.

Em and Liam are perfectly matched and within the violent, sexy world of the MC both find equal footing. B+

Best regards,

Jane

 

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REVIEW:  Fat by Saranna DeWylde

REVIEW: Fat by Saranna DeWylde

fat dewyldeDear Saranna DeWylde:

You and I both know that I’m a fan of your work – from the “How to…” series to the Desperate Housewives – I love them all. I was both thrilled and curious to see that you were coming out with something a little bit different, something that might even be considered a touch controversial – body image. This divisive topic is one that can be amazing if handled well, or utterly disastrous. To pair that with a contemporary romance is a somewhat risky proposition. It’s my not so humble opinion that you not only handled it well, you blew it out of the water.

fat dewyldeMeet Claire, the healthy, beautiful fashionista entrepreneur who just so happens to be larger than the media says is acceptable. All of her life she’s heard the standards, from “you’ve got such a pretty face,” to “you’re pretty, for a fat girl.” If there’s been a way to draw attention to weight and body size, Claire’s heard it. While she’s happy sharing a dwelling and companionship with man-whore exotic dancer Kieran, it’s not the intimacy of a romantic relationship. It takes Kieran’s night with Claire’s best friend, April, to open Claire’s eyes to the fact that she’s got romantic feelings for her roommate. But is it too late? Kieran’s introduced Claire to his coworker, slightly vertically challenged nice guy, Brant – and he’s really not as bad as she’d imagined. April’s had a ride on the Kieran-pony, and she’s now the one with the bit in her mouth (metaphorically, I promise). Can there be a chance for love when two people who are certain they’re broken collide? Can Claire take a leap of the heart as she’s taking a leap with a new business?

Sometimes, the hardest thing we can do is take a good, long, hard look in the mirror at ourselves and our preconceived notions. It doesn’t matter the size or gender, people are bombarded daily with ideas of what they “should” look like – in the stores, on television, on the side of a passing bus. And even those who find themselves on the more extreme ends of “don’t fit the stereotype,” those who feel marginalized, can be just as guilty of falling into the generalization trap. “Fat” does a beautiful job of not only reflecting that back, but also applying the soothing balm to that decided discomfort afterward. If I had to distill the message down to something simple, it would be “be you.” That’s it – it’s that simple.

I adore the secondary characters and loved following their stories right along with Claire’s. Kieran is one of my favorites. Those who work in the adult entertainment industry, whether it be on the pole or on camera, tend to be sensationalized as the ideal, physically. They’re perfect. They’re desirable. They’re for sale to the highest bidder. Kieran doesn’t do anything at all to disprove these notions and serves as an almost perfect foil for Claire. Claire is the woman who hides her insecurities with laughter and a glorious, outrageous sense of fashion. Kieran is the man who hides his (feelings and … other things) in every woman he comes across. It’s as though, while he’s unashamed, he realizes that his behavior is a coping mechanism. Here is this supposedly perfect man – and he’s in pretty much the same boat as Claire. April is another character who seemed to have it all – beauty, brains, men falling at her feet. Yet she, too, was struggling. I looked at April and went “I know her!” There were some eerily familiar notes resonating throughout the book that had me putting it aside to do some serious thinking.

But, lest you think I’m going to focus just on the “hard” parts of the book – never fear! The thoughtful parts were well balanced with witty, snappy dialogue, glorious clothing descriptions (I’m in no way, shape or form fashion-conscious, and even *I* wanted to head to the Chubbalicious website to order clothes – I’m so sad it’s not real), and the sense of fun and wonder that comes with a journey of self-discovery. It wasn’t just Claire’s journey – it was mine, as well. You managed to drag me out of my own world and drop me squarely in Claire’s – you made me care.

And that, to me, is worth the price of admission anytime. A-

Your Devoted Reader and Critic,

Mary Kate

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