Reviewing Romantic Suspense: Against the Dark & Off the Edge (The Associates) by Carolyn Crane
Hard Time by Cara McKenna

Going for a Ride: Motorcycle Club Romances

I spent time a lot time in the past few months thinking about Motorcycle Club Romances which I thought I was resisting for a long time, but as I thought about this post I realized that I have read way more MC romances than I thought and enjoyed more than expected.  Despite my conflicted feeling about Tack in Motorcycle Man, I ended up reading and enjoying Ashley's follow up Chaos series books.  I devoured the Kit Rocha's incredibly filthy Beyond series,  with its gang of post-apocalyptic whiskey producing, cage-fighting, orgy-having tattooed outlaws. So while I have not watched a single episode of Sons of Anarchy, or long own a set of leathers,  and  I would never describe my ideal romance hero to be raw, vulgar, tattooed Harley rider, I certainly read a lot of them in the last six months but I am by no means a expert on this Romance niche.

After reading Kaetrin's review of Reaper's Legacy by Joanna Wylde at Dear Author, I decided to invest in both Reaper's Property and Reaper's Legacy.  The series follows members of  the Reapers Motorcycle club.  The Reapers unlike Tack's Chaos MC  are not simply involved in grayish-area enterprises but  are unapologetically involved in actual criminal enterprises.

In Reaper's Property Marie  has left her unfaithful husband after he got violent with her.  She is crashing with her brother Jeff in his run-down trailer while she gets back on her feet again.  It is soon obvious that her brother is involved in some sketchy stuff, and associating with some dangerous individuals.  Horse is not just sketchy but out-right dangerous. Horse is one of the financial officers and top men in the Reaper's organization, born and raised in the biker lifestyle.

“Do you have to be so crude?” I snapped. “Have you met me?”

When Horse takes an interest in Marie is not sure what it entails but a series of miscommunications about intentions ends their relationship almost before it gets started.  When  Jeff, a computer hacker who is supposed to be helping launder the club's sizable drug profits but instead steals and gambles away the money, the club needs to send a message, they have to choose between killing Jeff or ensuring he makes restitution.   Horse claims her to ensure her brother's good behavior and return of the missing funds.  But not everything is what it seems. Why does Horse want Marie? How much say does Marie have?  The story centers on the status and autonomy within a MC, and what means to belong to a biker.  

“I want you to be my old lady, babe. That’s all I have to offer. I’m a Reaper, and this is my world. You wear my patch, you be my woman, and I’ll be your man. We take the good times together and fight through the bad times. No games.

Reaper's Legacy, stars Ruger the promiscuous enforcer for the Reapers and Sophie a hard working, struggling single-mom.  Sophie used to be married to Ruger's loser step-brother. When Sophie's son Noah ends up in a dangerous situation while being babysat by neighbor, Ruger storms back into Sophie's life. Like an angry wave, Ruger sweeps in, takes vengeance on those who tried to hurt Noah, and take Sophie and  Noah back into his home.  As the book unfolds we learn just how horrible Sophie's ex-husband Zach was, and how long Sophie's and Ruger's lives have intersected.   The story is one of combustible attraction, unrequited longing, trust-seeking and demanding what you need.

“ But I’ll tell you one thing, Ruger — I deserve to be with someone who gives a shit about me, as a person. Someone who values me enough not to fuck other women. I’d rather be alone the rest of my life, than settle for what you’re offering.”

One thing that appealed to me in both  Wylde's Reaper's and Rocha's Beyond series is the world-building. While Rocha’s books are set in a futuristic dystopia, Wylde’s  biker Idaho is just as alternate/fantasy world to me as Rocha’s Eden and its sectors. In order to enjoy these books I had to enjoy getting to know their norms, customs, & language. The culture and sexual mores of Wylde’s Reapers seemed to share some of the same commonalities to those common in medieval historical romances.   The Reapers live by their own code, modern day knight errants, macho warriors, that thrive on conquest, geographical, sexual and metaphorical.

Reaper’s Property and Reaper's Legacy are engrossing reads and underneath the gruff and raw sexuality of the books there was a solid romantic core.  The people in these books while making life choices radically different from my own, sounded and acted like real people.  And the closet anthropologist in me enjoyed seeing her heroines navigate the complicated  sexual politics of her Biker world , where women are objectified, commodified but surprisingly empowered.

I impulsively decided to buy a MC-themed boxed set called "Ride or Die Kind of Love" that was anchored by Kit Rocha's fantastic Beyond Shame, which I had previously read. I gambled that the romances included would be similar in quality and philosophy.  I was however sadly disappointed. After a unexpectedly smooth ride into MC-land, I hit some major bumps with the books included in the boxed set.

The first book, One Ride by Chelsea Camaron hit several of my triggers,  not only does the hero have sex with other women after meeting the heroine, he has sex with other women after hooking up the heroine.  The hero slut-shames the women he has sex with including the heroine, and the heroine has some serious daddy issues. The romantic suspense element of the book is what kept me interested but in the end the threats were handled off-the-page which made it  so anti-climatic  I barely finished it.  If you like controlling Alpha-holes this a book for you.  2 out 5 stars

I failed to finish Deadly Seduction by Selene Chardou, due to the exposition, name-dropping heavy initial chapters. I felt I was going to need giant graph to keep track of the various family/gang relationships casually referenced in the first 20 pages.  I was soon bored and skipped ahead to see if it got better but it didn't so I stopped reading. DNF  -- no stars

Craving Constellations by Nicole Jacquelyn, I actually enjoyed this one more than most in this boxed-set. This is a secret baby biker story. The college co-ed daughter of the President of the Biker club comes home for a weekend, and end us hooking up with one the new bikers, who didn’t realize who she is. Rather than risk getting him in trouble, she sneaks out and back to college. When she discovers she pregnant, she marries a guy she knew from school and basically ignores her Dad and her biker upbringing for five years. But College Husband is abusive dirt-bag and when she can’t take it anymore, she runs away to take refuge. The rest is a secret baby story with a biker twist. I just don’t care for secret baby stories. 3 out 5 stars

Hell’s Knights by Bella Jewel I struggled to get through this book because the heroine established herself early on as TSTL. Long-estranged daughter of a club president tracks him down after her mother dies. She has a huge chip on her shoulder and her mother’s pimp and her ex-molester and rapist on her tail, a fact she fails to mention to anyone, and after they find out and try to keep her safe, she sneaks out just to spite them, to prove that no one can tell her what to do. I did like how Biker Dad and Daughter eventually untangle dead-mom’s lies and come to terms with their complicated history together. 2 out 5 stars

Saving Dallas by Kim Jones Dallas Knox a real-estate mogul goes slumming at honky-tonk bar looking for a one-night stand to help her get over a past relationship. She is jerked around by some guys and hot biker Luke steps in. They end up going home together and they have a great time, but she can’t deal with Biker culture when he brings her to an event with him. There is a romantic suspense subplot that draws them back together, complicated by the fact that Luke failed to mention that he had been hired to protect her. 3 out 5 stars

Beyond Shame by Kit Rocha: ALL THE STARS Seriously these books are great. Filthy, Filthy but just fantastic emotional stories. In Beyond Shame Noelle, daughter of powerful councilman in Eden has been cast out. She finds herself alone in Sector 4, O’Kane territory, and comes under the protection of Jasper, Dallas O’Kane’s right-hand man. Noelle has to learn about herself, her wants, her needs before she can commit to Jas.

Undeniable by Madeline Sheehan The set-up for this story made me deeply uncomfortable. Little girl in prison visiting room befriends adult biker, recognizing him as hers in some way. Both are there to visit their biker dad’s. Biker hero is there to curse out his dad and let him know he is going to call a hit on him. The story then fast-forward up in time to various points in their lives where they meet up and have at first tender if still inappropriate encounters till they are banging each into walls despite the fact that he is very married and she knows it. The story honestly just got unreadable for me at that point. I skipped ahead to see if it got better, but instead it just seemed worst. I know ugly stuff happens, but the characters ends up in enmeshed in a big drama-filled saga of non-stop adultery, jealousy, obsession and extortion and it was just too grim for me to continue. DNF -- no stars

Mirage by Ashley Suzanne. Mira and Danny are young couple in love when their life together is cut tragically short when Danny dies in a motorcycle accident that almost costs Mira her life. After months of depression Mira’s friends Skylar and Kylee conspire to get her to attend grief counseling. Mira there realizes that Skylar misses his best-friend as much as Mira misses her fiancee. When she ends up needing a roomate, Skylar (who has been secretly in love with Mira all along) volunteers, and they end up falling into bed together, but when Mira calls him Danny, Skylar lashes out and their friendship is broken. Flash-forward to months later where Skylar had dropped everything to become a biker but neither one is over the other. A series of eye-rolling events later, the story culminates with Mira waking back in the hospital and is completely unsatisfactory and out of left field. 2 out 5 stars

So this boxed set failed to connect with me. It won’t stop me from reading the rest of Joanna Wylde’s and Kit Rocha’s books, and it didn’t even stop me from purchasing another .99 cent boxed set anchored by a Kit Rocha story as I just purchased Alphas After Dark. This box set seems much more promising as I already fell in love with Vivian Arend’s Copper King and I loved Kit Rocha’s Beyond Solitude novella. I also can’t wait for Cara Mckenna’s biker series coming out later this year.

What I have learned out of this experience is that for a Biker/Motorcycle Club Romance to work for me the tough, ultra macho hero needs falls hard for the heroine. He can fight it, deny it, mess it up, even be a royal-jerk about it, but he can’t be wishy washy about it. I’ll accept uneven power relationships and skewed sexual politics, as long as I see the heroine as honestly choosing to accept those dynamics in part of her life because she has power in some other way. If I can’t see choice or alternatives, it is not going to work for me. This is where the old-lady posses, or girlfriend network needs to be well established in the book. The heroine might feel trapped at times in a situation as long as at some point it is clear that she can actually get out this if she truly wanted to. If I am going to embrace this as fantasy, this non-negotiable for me. And honestly I have a very low tolerance cheating, I don’t care if actually happens in real life. That stuff has repercussions and just because the characters is biker, I am not giving the character a pass on that.

So if anyone has recommendations of Biker Romances I might enjoy, I would love to hear them.

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