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REVIEW:  Lost by Laura K. Curtis

REVIEW: Lost by Laura K. Curtis

Lost

Dear Ms. Curtis,

My TBR pile is completely out of control.  It contains your first book, Twisted, reviewed here by Sunita.  When I had the opportunity to review Lost, I tweeted you to ask whether it could be read as a stand alone before I accepted.  You told me it could but that it contained mild spoilers for the first book. Lost does stand alone well but I would think it’d be a slightly richer reading experience having read Twisted first because it is clear that both Tara and Jake had fairly major roles in that first book.  I didn’t have any trouble understanding what was going on – enough was explained during the course of the story and it wasn’t done in an info-dump-y way so that was another bonus.

Having now read and enjoyed Lost, I am now plotting to bump Twisted up the reading list.  Wish me luck.

Tara Jean Dobbs, currently known as Tara Jean Black, left Dobbs Hollow after the events in Twisted.  She was formerly a police officer there but whatever happened has caused her to re-evaluate her life.  She quit her job, changed her name and drifted for a bit.  While working in a small diner in Twin Oaks, Texas, she met and befriended Andrea.  Andrea and she visited a commune/religious community nearby – the Chosen, where Andrea’s distant cousin John lived and worked.  After a while, Andrea decided to forego life in “the Outside” and become one of the Chosen.  Tara thought it was a fairly harmless community – very regimented but largely self-sufficient (they grow their own produce and make their own butter etc) and for people such as Andrea, who wanted relief from the pressure of money and work and the constant decisions required by independent living, it represented a safe haven.   People are free to leave the community and Tara had visited on a number of occasions.  However, when Andrea (renamed Pearl by the Leader of the Chosen) stopped writing, Tara became concerned and decided to join the Chosen in order to find out what happened to her.

When the book starts, Tara (renamed Serena) has been living with the Chosen for five weeks.  Her friends, Lucy and Ethan (the protagonists from Twisted) became worried about her being out of contact and send Jake Nolan to look for her.  Jake is a former FBI profiler who specialised in data analysis and computer programming… er, things.  “Jason Norman” (renamed Jacob) arrives at the commune with the story that Tara was his fiancee, they had fought and she’d run away. He had been searching for her to try and make things right.  Because of his contacts within law enforcement, he had planted a convincing cover online to back up his story.

While Jake’s mission is merely to get Tara out, Tara will not leave until she has discovered the fate of her friend.  Together they investigate under the increasingly watchful eyes of the Leader and his apostles, along the way, discovering there is much worse happening in the Chosen’s compound. The more they discover, the more determined they both become to take the bad guys down.

Jake and Tara have some history.  Both were immediately physically attracted to one another when they first met in Dobbs Hollow and because they had Lucy as a common friend, they knew a lot about each other.  For reasons which weren’t entirely clear to me (because I haven’t read the first book) Jake said things to Tara which were very hurtful and their attraction never went anywhere.   One of the first things Jake does when he meets up with Tara at the compound is to genuinely apologise for the things he said, which questioned her professional competence and her ability to be a good friend.  It was a genuine, heartfelt apology without excuses.

Jake’s and Tara’s “cover” is a romantic relationship – they need to spend time alone together to plan and debrief.  For much of the book the danger to them is not imminent and this means they are able to progress the romantic relationship without having to dodge any bullets while doing so.  The sex scenes are hot when they arrive, but Jake and Tara do take some time before they get physical.  Both think some of the things each says to the other are just part of their cover, and at one point (not without good cause and for reasons which are clear in the book), Jake questions whether Tara is actually in a position to give meaningful consent to sex.  It was a little disappointing that the thread didn’t go anywhere. He didn’t talk to her about it and it didn’t stop them from having more sex.   From a readerly standpoint, I never had the impression that Tara was acting from anything other than her free will when it came to sex with Jake so it wasn’t a big problem, but, having raised it in the story, I would have liked to have seen it played out.

There is reference to some sexual abuse in the story (not to Tara) but it is not detailed.  There is also some significant violence.  It is not “lovingly described” but there is enough of it to give a clear sense of what is happening and the violence might be too much for some readers.  While much of the personal violence is fade to black, it was enough to cause me to wince in sympathy and be very glad I was not in Tara’s shoes.  While there isn’t any “torture porn”, be aware that very bad things happen.

I remember Sunita appreciated the agency of the heroine in Twisted and the same holds true for Lost.  Tara is intelligent and, while it was perhaps not the wisest decision to embed herself with the Chosen (to be fair, initially she just wanted to check that Andrea was not being held against her will and things kind of spiralled from there), her actions afterward never went into the realm of TSTL.  The Chosen is set up in a very patriarchal way so Jake is able to move around more easily and get access to things Tara cannot.  In some ways I lamented this because it put Jake in charge.  However, he did have more relevant experience, having been involved with various task forces while with the FBI so it wasn’t unreasonable in the circumstances.  I liked that Jake always included Tara and they talked things through and made decisions together and he asked for her help with things he could not get near or which were not within his skill set.

There were a couple of continuity errors I picked up – I had an ARC so perhaps the final for sale version has fixed those things – and there was a rather extraordinary feat of physical athleticism which strained my credulity near the end of the book (driving two miles, leaving a false trail and jogging back those two miles with a heavy pack and a gun in something less than four minutes? Really?)   (ETA: The final version of the book has this taking place in ten minutes, not four. That’s much closer to believable for me.) but most of the book seemed alarmingly plausible. I did think the end became a little melodramatic but that maybe because things picked up in pace by a factor of 1000 and  I had been lulled into a false sense of security.

Some of the secondary characters were quite compelling even with only relatively short time on the page.  I admit to being curious as to what would happen with Kevin and Bea.

Tara’s experiences during the course of the book were not treated lightly and it was acknowledged that she would be forever changed by them, including that she would need therapy.  Because of the uncertainty of their future in terms of what they would do next and how things would go with Tara’s recovery, I think the ending could best be described as happy for now. But that suited the story and I was satisfied with it.  To have gone further would have felt wrong I think.  As Lucy and Ethan appeared in this book, I am hoping that Tara and Jake might also appear in future books and readers might get to check in on how that happy ending is working out. Future books I definitely plan on reading.

I’ve been a fan of romantic suspense for years but lately, I admit to being a bit jaded by outrageous plots which are too conveniently solved, sex when the bullets are flying, romance which is not romantic and suspense which is not suspenseful.  Lost succeeded for me both in terms of the romance and the suspense. Tara and Jake had chemistry and their love for one another was built on a solid layer of mutual respect, which was a plus. They came across as smart and mature and that is always a pleasure for me to read.  At about the 70% mark, the tension ratchets up and I was completely invested in the outcome and worried it wasn’t going to work out. (It does. It’s a romance. But in good romantic suspense, you should be worried, I think.)

I had a few niggles with the story but for the most part, this book was a win.  I give Lost a B.

Regards,
Kaetrin

 

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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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