Tag Archives: contemporary romance

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Book Review: Underground Kings #1-3, by Jenika Snow

underground kings covers

I’ve had Cold Hearted Bastard, Reckless Heirand Corruption long enough that I’m no longer 100% sure where they all came from. Mostly, I’m uncertain where I got Cold-Hearted Bastard. Perhaps I purchased it at the same time I bought Reckless Heir and Corruption from the author. But I don’t know why I would have bought it as an ebook and the other one as a paperback. So, I suspect I already had the e-copy of Cold Hearted Bastard, and that’s why I chose to buy books two and three in The Underworld Kings series when I saw that Jenika Snow had signed books available in her shop and bought a couple.

Regardless, I’m trying to make a concerted effort to read some of the paperbacks that have such a tendency to get put on the shelf (out of sight, out of mind), which is why I’m reading these at long last.

cold hearted bastard photoAbout Cold Hearted Bastard:

He didn’t have a heart… but he wanted hers.

All I knew about life was anger and violence. Pain and suffering. Kill or be killed.

I was a “fixer” for the Ruin—a syndicate for the Bratva, Cosa Nostra, Cartel, and any other organized crime faction that dealt in the darker, crueler aspects of humanity.

I was a free agent who was called upon to do things weaker men didn’t have the stomach for.

And when you surround yourself with death for long enough, soon, you didn’t remember what it felt like to be alive.

And then I saw her. She was a fragile little thing who tried to be strong. But I could tell she’d seen too much horror in the world, too much of the ugly within people. I should have stayed away. I’d only bring her farther down into the darkness.

But for the first time in my life, I felt a stirring in my chest, this protectiveness and possessiveness toward another living person. And it was painful. It made me feel alive.

Lina tried to hide how broken she was, but I was an old friend of being ruined. She held secrets I’d find out. Because for the first time in my miserable life, I wanted something for myself. I felt something more than apathy and indifference.

I wanted to possess the innocence she clung to. I wanted to break it open and consume it for myself.

I could look into her too trusting blue eyes and knew I’d maim for her. I’d kill for her. And that became our truth when her past finally came back for her when my present tried to destroy her.

They thought they could take the one thing—the only thing—I’d ever wanted for myself. They were wrong.

When I looked at her, I felt some of the monster that made me who I retreated back to my black soul. He’d never leave… but he’d share the space.

For her.

my review
Meh. The writing and editing were fine. The spicy scenes were spicy, and the book isn’t lousy with them. But if you’ve read my reviews for a while, you’ve probably seen me call something the low-hanging fruit of plotting. That’s what I call books whose primary plot hinges on bad men sexually abusing women. It’s not that I’m screaming trigger warnings or feminism. There is no moral outrage here. I’m not saying such things shouldn’t get written. It’s just that it’s been written so often and regularly that it’s cliched by now. I read such books and basically visualize a lazy author not wanting to work too hard, so they reach for the low-hanging fruit, the story that is all but a cultural narrative by now. There’s no creativity, nothing original or new. It’s old, tired, overused, and boring at this point.

If you happen to like the kind of thing, good for you. You’ll probably love this book. I cannot express my disappointment that Snow didn’t stretch her creative muscles even a little bit to write this book. Personally, I’m tired of seeing our victimhood trotted out as entertainment with nothing more to accompany it in a book. As if he’s a rapist or a trafficker and she’s a rape survivor or escaping trafficking is character development and plot by itself. It is not. Do more.

Reckless heir photoAbout Reckless Heir:

My father sold me off to a ruthless killer in the Russian mafia, an alliance between the Bratva and the Cosa Nostra.

An arranged marriage where I’d be at the mercy of the man who’d no doubt see me as his property, where I was sure he’d be just as cruel and violent as every other Made Man I’d known in my life.

Nikolai Petrov, known to be a sociopath and for killing anyone for the smallest infraction. And I’d be forever tied to him, an accessory he could use or dispose of any way he saw fit.

And then I found myself painted red, my wedding dress stained in blood. A man dead by my husband’s hands for simply touching my hair.

I was terrified of the lengths Nikolai would go to get what he wanted… to keep me as his, but despite all of that I felt something far stronger, far more dangerous.

Need. Want. Dark and depraved desire. And it was all for the man who said I was his.

For better or worse.

my review

I think I am just going to have to accept that, as much as I want to get on the Jenika Snow bandwagon, her books are just not for me. It’s not a quality issue (though the editing in Reckless Heir was pretty shoddy, especially toward the end). It’s that every one of her books that I have read has an ick factor for me.

In this one, it was how often and strongly the fact that Amara was barely 18 was stressed. Nikolai, who is 29, must have said young and innocent (code for young and virginal) about a million times. And yeah, I get that this is a dark romance, and he’s a murderous anti-hero. But I still did not enjoy it. Paired with the fact that the reader is told what a savage his father was ‘to the fairer sex,’ but the things Nikolai wants to do to Amara sound just like the things his father was doing to women in the previous book. (Guess the apple didn’t fall far enough for me.) So, the man too focused on how young his bride is and having tastes just a little too close to his sexually abusive father’s (who we are made to believe was irredeemable) made for an ick factor I couldn’t quite let go of. Also, I’m not a huge fan of the humiliation and degradation kink. But I could have handled that if it hadn’t been in combination with the ick.

When I finished this book and put it back on the shelf, I realized that I also have book 3, Corruption. I’d forgotten that. I know I should read it now so that they all get reviewed together. But I just don’t think I can take a third of these books in a row. And that should tell you a whole heck of a lot about how I’m feeling about the series at the moment. All the power to those who enjoy it. But I think it’s just not for me.

corruption photoAbout Corruption:

Even the beast could get the beauty… he just had to take her.

Anastasia was a Russian mafia princess.

I was unworthy to even look at her.

But that didn’t stop a bond, a friendship to form between us. She was the only good and right thing in my painful, brutal life. She was the only one who could look at my bruises and wounds and see I wasn’t a total waste of space.

But I was ripped away from her, thrust into the underground world of violence and fighting, molded and shaped to be the ultimate killing machine for the Bratva.

And that’s who I was now.

Razoreniye. Ruin.

Now, ten years later all of humanity had been stripped from me, all the emotion and empathy that I’d once felt taken away until I was nothing more than the beast who craved blood and had far too many kills tallied up.

But they could never take her away from me. And so I followed her, watched her through her bedroom window, broke into her apartment, and held her as she slept.

I wasn’t a good man. I was carved out from the very devil himself, and although I would ever be good enough for Anastasia, that didn’t mean I’d ever let anyone else have her.

So when she was forced to marry another, I did the only thing that made sense.

I took her in the middle of the night and kept her locked up until she realized she was mine and mine alone.

my review

I hadn’t actually intended to read this book at this point in time. But I decided that if I didn’t read it with the rest of the series, I probably would never come back and do it. So, I muscled through. Oddly, I actually liked this one more than I did either of the previous books. Ruin is even more unhinged than the rest of the men in this series (which is saying something), and that moved the book a little further away from reality into fantasy land. Plus, the ick (because, like I said before, all of Snow’s books seem to have an ick factor for me) is a relatively shallow one. I’m just not down with all the spitting. But that’s an aesthetic ick, not a full-body flinch like I encountered in Reckless Heir. The plot is pretty thin, and this feels like a middle book. But I suspect whether you like it or not will come down to if you like the sort of thing or not.

Other Reviews

Cold Hearted Bastard by Jenika Snow Release and Review

The Abstract Books Blog: Review Reckless Heir


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Book Review: Hate & Liar, by Tate James

I purchased copies of Hate and Liar, by Tate James.
hate and liar covers

“Madison Kate Danvers was murdered tonight.”

Those words changed my life, and not for the better.

They were wrong, of course. I wasn’t dead. But I was set up.

After being charged with a string of offences–and made an example of by my political minded father–I’m eventually released back into Shadow Grove with one thing on my mind.


Someone is going to pay for derailing my carefully laid out future. Someone is going to catch the full force of my hate. How very convenient that someone just moved into the bedroom down the hall from me.

Archer D’Ath and his boys messed with the wrong chick and they’re about to learn just how cold Madison Kate’s hate can run.

my review

I did actually write two reviews for these books because after finishing Hate, I didn’t think I was going to read another. But on a whim, I decided to give Liar a chance. So if you really want, you can see them on Goodreads. But I’m going to combine them here for brevity’s sake.

The writing is fine. My issue is that I hated everyone in these books. I spent a full 80% of Hate, angry and indignant on Madison Kate’s behalf. But also not liking her either. She has the emotional range of a walnut, and, frankly, I have 2nd hand embarrassment for her. She talks smack constantly in situations of true life or death and then follows her threats with pranks of the swap the salt for sugar variety. *cringe*

I find that I can’t root for this romance because I hate the men involved. HATE. (They are all in their early 20s, but they act younger but really should be older for them to fit the roles the author is trying to give them.) They (Archer especially) are needlessly cruel to MK repeatedly and knowingly. They lash out to gleefully emotionally skewer her over and over and over again. Then, when she rationally gets upset, they dismiss her as throwing a princess tantrum. I hate them all. I can’t even get down with the hate-fucking because all I see is her giving them another win. I dislike everyone involved.

At the 80% mark, there is some minor improvement in two of the men and a cliffhanger hook to tempt me into thinking things might improve in the next book. People seem to love this series. So, I keep thinking there must be something somewhere, and maybe it’s just later in the series.

I get that this series is enemies to lovers. I do. But there is a point, as a reader, at which the enemies have done too much harm for me to forgive them and reassign them the lover role. And at the end of Hate, I suspected this series passed it. I like an anti-hero as much as the next woman. But there has to be some hero aspect to being an anti-hero. All I see are overbearing bullies who enjoy hurting the person James is trying to convince me they secretly love. It’s not working for me.

The problem is that the sunken cost fallacy is a powerful thing. So, I decided to chance reading Liar to see if the series improved. I didn’t hate all the characters quite as much as in book one. But it was only a minor improvement. I guessed the cliffhanger ‘twist’ about halfway through Hate. So, there was no surprise there for me. And the spice didn’t really alleviate my dislike. Honestly, I thought about half the scenes didn’t even make sense. James didn’t quite sell it well enough for me to believe Madison Kate would choose to sleep when the men at the moments that she did.

I’ll admit that having finished Liar, I find myself in the same predicament of wanting to give the next one a chance to finally turn things around. But fool me once, and all that…

hate liar photos

Other Reviews:

Madison Kate Series Review

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Book Review: Scars, by Dana Isaly

I picked up a copy of Scars (by Dana Isaly) as an Amazon freebie. Well, I picked up a copy of The Triad series.
Scars cover

My family hired someone to kill me. One day I was the sole inheritor of my family’s fortune. The next I was diving out my bedroom window, leaving everything behind. I’ve been hiding for years, successfully outrunning my demons. I was getting by, making a life of my own. Until the Triad came for me. Dangerous. Wealthy. Corrupt. The Triad run this city. And they think I’m the key to getting my family out of their way. The plan is to exchange me for a truce. But if I go back, I’m as good as dead. Convincing them to keep me is my only chance of survival. They have no clue just how valuable I can be. I am so much more than they bargained for.

my review

This book was not a winner for me. I think the fact that I own all three books in the series and am stopping after this first one should tell you a lot. I am not a person who likes to leave things unfinished, especially when confronted with a cliffhanger. But I’m just not invested enough to continue. There are a couple of reasons for this. Before I get to them, let me give a positive and say the mechanical writing seems fine. It’s perfectly readable.

Now, the reasons this didn’t work for me: to start with—and not entirely the fault of the book—have you ever accidentally picked up two books that were just too similar too closely together? I read Den of Vipers last week. So, when I started Scars, I very quickly realized that it is very, very, very similar. That timing isn’t Scars’ fault, but one does have to ask why it so so very, very, very similar.

What’s worse, when I went to investigate on Goodreads, I found allegations that this is a rip-off of not Den of Vipers but Sarah Bailey‘s Four Horsemen series (which I have not read). I don’t know which derivation came first (and I suspect this is all old news in the book world), but I do know it’s at least one too many.

Second, I don’t have a problem with PWP. But there being 3 books in this series suggests that it isn’t actually supposed to be porn without plot. Otherwise, what is carrying over into multiple books? But this moves so quickly, develops so little, and gives the characters so little depth that it felt like a waste of my time. (It felt like Isaly decided she didn’t need to give us any more than an outline because we’ve all read the story so many times already that the reader is expected to be able to just flesh it out on their own.)

Third, the sex. It wasn’t particularly enjoyable for me. I don’t want to kink shame anyone who is into such things, but I found the spitting and lack of respect very offputting. The spitting I will just let stand with ‘yuck.’ But the lack of respect I want a word about. I am well aware that humiliation kink is a thing, and it’s super common in this genre. But when characters have known each other less than a day, have had no conversation, and the reader is given no reason to believe the man involved knows the woman’s preferences, all it feels like is internalized misogyny served up with pick-me garnish. It’s not sexy.

Similarly, and maybe more importantly, the love is so instant that I couldn’t figure out how (as a reader) I was supposed to believe that Scarlet was anything more than any of the other dismissable women the men had shared in the past. How, after 48 or so hours, I’m supposed to believe she’s the one, based on…………….

Lastly, a list of more minor points; there just isn’t any finesse or nuance here. Isaly just tosses it all out on the table and expects us to be grateful for it. The Triad of the series title does not scars photorefer to the Chinese mafia but rather to the fact that there are three men. (The choice of name makes me wonder if Isaly simply didn’t do enough research to realize it already has real-world associations.) The book is supposed to be set in England (I think); one of the men has a Yorkshire accent, for example. But I got no sense of place from the book’s setting, speech patterns, etc.

All in all, I think the safest thing for me right now is simply to set this series aside and back away slowly.

Other Reviews: