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motorcycle club

REVIEW:  Lock & Key by Cat Porter

REVIEW: Lock & Key by Cat Porter

Lock & Key  by Cat Porter

Dear Ms. Porter:

I have a hard time rating this book. There are some lovely turns of phrase and the story is different than I expected which made for a pleasant surprise.

“The dart boards still dotted one wall as did the myriad of hunting trophies peering down at us from overhead—an eccentric variety of antlers, furry, glassy-eyed heads, and even a few stuffed fish, all mute, somber witnesses to the whirligig of flesh and alcohol below…A Miranda Lambert song flared up, and suddenly a rumble echoed over the old wood floors as a good number of eager couples, both young and old, scrambled to the dance floor.”

Plot holes and a sort of deflating ending brought the grade down for me. While the story focuses on Grace and the two loves of her lives, I’m not entirely convinced it’s a romance either. It’s more of a story about Grace, the choices she makes and the people she allows to influence her life.

Grace returns after fifteen years to South Dakota and the One-Eyed Jacks when her sister is suffering from cancer and needs a bone marrow transplant. Grace is not a match and so she seeks out her estranged father who is living not far away in Montana.

This brings her into the territory of a rival MC. Grace’s history is mixed up with both clubs, both her shrouded past and her present. Because both MCs are violent, there was a real sense of jeopardy for Grace on a day to day basis, particularly when she is asked by the club to place herself in danger.

Grace has intense loyalty to the club and I wish I had a better sense of why. At one point, she is asked to do something fairly objectionable. She acquiesces for the betterment of the club. She’s also described as this legendary Old Lady but I wasn’t sure how being the only surviving of a drug fight gone wrong made her into a legend. There were important details left out here and there which created discordance between the past and present.

This is a second chance at love story but the backstory romance between Grace and her dead husband was more gripping than the one she had with Lock, the present day hero. What was interesting, though, was that I felt that both romances felt authentic for Grace representing how she changed and what kind of person she was at the various points in her life.

When she was young, Dag, her first husband, was kind of an overwhelming alpha that she was intensely attracted to and to some extent he controlled the direction and pace of their relationship. Lock is not the same man and Grace meets him as an equal instead of a giddy eighteen year old. I thought that was not only intriguing but good storytelling.

However, one of the strange ways used to convince us of Lock’s interest in Grace was his emphasis on Grace as this past heralded Old Lady.  Was Lock in love with the idea of Grace or Grace herself?

“You can’t know how many times I’ve looked at that picture over the years and wanted to know who that woman is, who she really is.” Miller’s deep voice filled my ear, my eyes shut tight. “That gorgeous, deliriously happy woman in that sexy black bikini making her man feel on top of the world, both of them so full of life.” His finger tapped the photo.

“I’ve been fascinated with her since I got back from the army fifteen years ago, and I walked back into this clubhouse and saw this picture. Knowing that my brother Wreck loved you like a little sister, knowing Dig and the kind of man he was, and then to see him like this, took my fucking breath away. Still does.” …

“And then over two weeks ago, I came in here after being out of town on a run and see this photo again, and I practically doubled over. It clicked why I was immediately drawn to you…”

While I loved both young Grace and older Grace (a forty something woman) and felt that Lock was a good match for her, he wasn’t the wild improbable love of her youth that Dag was. It was a tad bittersweet in that respect. Additionally, there is a third man who Grace seeks out in the middle of the story. I didn’t feel that the interaction Grace had with him was cheating but others might, but you can read the spoiler below if you want more details.

The end twist was a crazy one and while that in and of itself fit the narrative, the wind down of the suspense was almost anticlimactic. I was deflated when I spent much of the book anticipating something only to be left with the feeling at the end that all my worry was for naught.

One element that I enjoyed was the clear love of motorcycles that was imbued into the story. I’m big on authenticity and from the dialogue to the setting, this book delivered on that (except at the end). While none of it might be accurate, the world building was well crafted enough to make me believe.

I can’t say that this is a romance. It is, but it isn’t. It’s not entirely a woman’s fiction novel either. If I had to categorize it, I would say that it’s a mild suspense with a heavy romance flavor. I’m giving it a C+ because I liked the voice of the author and I liked Grace. The deflating ending and the plot holes brought the grade down. Oh, and Grace’s nickname  of “Little Sister” or “Sister” was a tad awkward when being said by men who were having sex with her.

C+

Best regards,

Jane

I have to say that the hero is forty and the cover model doesn’t fit my image of him at all as a “over six feet tall with pronounced shoulders and a closely cropped head of dark hair peppered with some grey.”

Spoiler (some spoilers): Show

Grace has sex with another MC member at a different charter, at first because she wants to but then because she is supposed to keep tabs on him for her current MC. Lock not only goes along with this but kind of encourages her to do this even though the two of them had started a relationship. It’s this among reasons stated above that I felt Grace and Lock’s love was genuine but not as all consuming as her first love with Dag who would have never asked Grace to take that action and would’ve probably violently opposed it. I’m not sure which reaction would be better.

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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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