I have a complicated and conflicted relationship with KA's books. I find them incredibly easy to read, and hard to put down, but I am often challenged, bothered and conflicted by the characterizations, descriptions and story-lines. KA has a distinctive voice and it not for everyone and I was warned that you either love or hate her books. But I am in the middle. I have read at this point 25 of her books (8 of 9 Rock Chick books, All of the Dream Man, Colorado Mountain and Chaos books and all but one The 'Burg books) and while there are textual or editing things in the books that consistently bother me it I am undeniably drawn to her stories of stubborn women in peril and the bossy men who love them.
I first decided to try KA after hearing Jane and Sarah of the DBSA's podcasts discuss how "crack" filled her books were and I found myself looking for contemporary romance with older protagonists. As I mentioned in my review of "Deeper", I tend to like love stories with older protagonists. Jane from Dear Author recommended I try KA's "Sweet Dreams" from her Colorado Mountain series. I ended up not buying "Sweet Dreams" but instead purchasing "Law Man" and "Motorcycle Man", books deep in KA's Dream Man series while browsing through KA's incredibly long backlist on Amazon with only a faint recollection of being told to try KA for good romances with older protagonists.
This was a huge mistake. First of all, "Law Man" and "Motorcycle Man" are books 3 and 4 in the Dream Man series and KA had built up a series of self-referencing motifs, recurring characters and lingo that I was completely unprepared for. When Elvira and her flashy cosmo-swilling posse of girlfriends show up I felt as run over by them as Mara was. However there was enough to love in the book, that I decided to keep reading with "Motorcycle Man". "Motorcycle Man" was the first book I ever read that featured a Motorcycle club. KA's men are bossy, big, and Macho and Tack was all of that, plus mean, crude and cruel. I nearly stopped reading in the first chapter, but I stuck with it because Tyra was so compelling. However when I was done I wasn't sure how I felt. Objectively I could see a lot of things I didn't like (the over-description of furnishings and luxury goods, the repetitive descriptions) but I also was really starting to appreciate the pacing, excitement and sense fun in her books. KA books's plots are wild, with lots of twisty turny action, with multiple climaxes building into even bigger ones. So before I gave up on KA for good, I decided to read the KA book that had actually recommended to me, "Sweet Dreams".
I absolutely loved "Sweet Dreams". One thing I love about KA's books are how much life her characters have lived. They have traveled, married, divorced, left and been left and they are carrying around the baggage. Lauren has left her old life behind after a painful divorce, leaving a her high-paying desk job in the suburbs for waitressing job at Bubba's a biker bar in the small Colorado town. Tate is bounty hunter, biker and part-owner of the bar and they get off to a truly horrendous start. Lauren is convinced Tate is completely dismissive of her, just as Tate realizes how much there is to Lauren than he first thought. There are some epic miscommunication, great secondary characters and a suspenseful story.
After reading "Sweet Dreams" I was hooked. I read the rest of Colorado Moutain series, letting myself go for a ride as serial killers, racists police chiefs and kidnappers were bested and Alpha-men domesticated. I was so invested in the Colorado Mountain Series, that I went on to read a third KA series, The 'Burg, set in a suburb of Indianapolis, because Jagged's leading man Graham Reece made his first appearance in that book. As much as liked Graham in his cameo in "For You", I deeply disliked him "Jagged". "Jagged" was the first of KA's Colorado Mountain series books that simply didn't work for me in anyway. The love story was unconvincing, less about two people giving love a second chance as one settling for second-best and and the suspense plot-line fell flat for me. It was the first KA book where I can say I was actually bored, so I thought I was finally done, I was KA-out.
Yet when "Kaleidoscope" was released last week, I was tempted. I paid special attention to the reviews coming out and I wavered. I went to Amazon and sent myself a sample and just like that I was sucked back in again. "Kaleidoscope" is the story of Jacob "Deck" Decker, a private investigator and police consultant who unexpectedly run-into a woman from his past. Not a former lover or girlfriend or wife, but a old friend. Emme Holmes was his ex-girlfriend's best friend, who he shared many long conversations and great times with before his relationship with his ex Elsbeth dramatically and traumatically ended. When Elsbeth left him, Deck lost touch with Emme and nine years later he find himself seeing her with new eyes. Back then, Deck and Emme didn't go there, he was the boyfriend and she the best-friend but none of that matters anymore, and Deck is determined to take them somewhere new. Emme is also unfortunately caught in the middle of his newest investigation, so Deck sets out to clear her from suspision and get her clear from her bad-news boyfriend.
Deck is cut from the standard KA's alpha-protector mold, with the twist that he is as we are frequently told, insanely smart. Their story proceeds initially in well-worn KA way with Deck once he has set his sights on Emme, setting out to protect her, take care of her and just generally swoop in, make sure she is in his bed and life for good, but where the book went from just another fun and suspenseful KA romance to something significantly better was in the twist, that when Emme and Deck finally get to the point to saying "I Love you", everything starts falling apart for internal rather than external reasons. In this book Emme is not kidnapped, assaulted or even truly endangered but instead has to confront and shatter her self-protective and relationship killing instincts of withdrawal and detachment, a legacy of traumatic event in her childhood. The crisis in this book in the end is emotional one.
I don't read KA for the "feels", I don't cry reading her books, I read them for fun, drama filled stories. Kaleidoscope captivated me and I can once again look forward to the next books in Colorado Mountain series.
Publication date for Jagged was Nov 5, 2013 and a Digital ARC provided for free by publisher via NetGalley.
Jagged 2 of 5 stars
Kaleidoscope 4.5 of 5 stars
Sweet Dreams 5 of 5 stars
Motorcycle Man 4 of 5 stars
Law Man 3.5 of 5 stars.