Author: Annika Martin

Hostage by Skye Warren & Annika Martin

Hostage by Skye Warren & Annika MartinHostage by Annika Martin, Skye Warren
Series: Criminals & Captives #2
Published by Createspace Independent Publishing Platform on January 27th 2018
Pages: 359
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three-stars

I NEVER KNEW WHEN HE'D COME TO ME. ONLY THAT HE WOULD.

I’d never even kissed a boy the night I met Stone. The night I saw him kill. The night he spared my life. That was only the beginning.

He turns up in my car again and again, dangerous and full of raw power. “Drive,” he tells me, and I have no choice. He’s a criminal with burning green eyes, invading my life and my dreams.

The police say he’s dangerously obsessed with me, but I’m the one who can’t stop thinking about him. Maybe it’s wrong to let him touch me. Maybe it’s wrong to touch him back. Maybe these twisted dates need to stop. Except he feels like the only real thing in my world of designer labels and mansions.

So I drive us under threat, until it’s hard to remember I don’t want to be there.

Until it’s too late to turn back.

Throw away all fixed ideas about how a hero or even an anti-hero should behave, entertain the idea of the antithesis of a fairytale romance, then come to ‘Hostage’ expecting that you’ll be getting the entire opposite of a sanitised HEA. ‘Hostage’ requires a lot from a reader, even for those who might like their stories tuned up, edgy and dirty. For a conventional romance reader, going into this book might even seem like going against the idealised structure and characters of a romance and the kind of happy-ever-after that typically ends with a ride off into the sunset.

‘Hostage’ is as the title implies, the forcible kidnapping of a girl because she witnesses a murder, then strangely developing an obsession with her as the months pass, because she represents a part of life that’s foreign and way out of reach.

Stone Keaton appeared in ‘Prisoner’ as an absolute son-of-a-bitch, and there are many lines in the story that reinforce this. I’m constantly reminded that he feels no emotion, keeps things together in the most brutal fashion, and stamps his own cruel brand of revenge in the blood and gore for the sake of others. The only ‘saving grace’—even this is dubious—comprise his loyalty to his brothers and his protectiveness towards Brooke over a period of a few years (a girl who isn’t even legal when they meet), as well as the mantle of vigilantism that he takes on in a city where corruption runs rife.

‘Hostage’ deviates so far from the norm that the age-gap between Brooke and Stone is the last thing I’m bothered about, considering Skye Warren and Annika Martin write about almost everything that crosses the grey boundary of good and evil. The way Brooke is written surpasses that of the typical 18-year-old’s mind however; only her with (possibly misplaced) compassion and an overly soft romanticising of Stone remind me from time to time just how young she really is, which does go a bit of a way to soften the hardness of the latter. But while I sort of understood Stone’s obsession with Brooke, it is harder to take the leap and believe their so-called connection becomes a kind of twisted love after a time.

My rating is just a reflection of my own wishy-washy attitude to this book. What I like here, oddly, isn’t exactly a pairing that I find hard to get invested in; instead, it’s the indirect commentary on current politics—complicity, the guilt of big wigs, #fake news(!)—that Warren and Martin write into the narrative which is ironically and chillingly reflective of present-day reality. Even if that only becomes more and more evident as the pages go on, that alone gives that book a depth that I can appreciate, even if the romance isn’t quite what I can buy into.

three-stars

Prisoner by Annika Martin & Skye Warren

Prisoner by Annika Martin & Skye WarrenPrisoner by Annika Martin, Skye Warren
Series: Criminals & Captives #1
Published by Skye Warren & Annika Martin on October 22nd 2014
Pages: 310
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three-stars

He seethes with raw power the first time I see him—pure menace and rippling muscles in shackles. He’s dangerous. He’s wild. He’s the most beautiful thing I’ve ever seen.

So I hide behind my prim glasses and my book like I always do, because I have secrets too. Then he shows up in the prison writing class I have to teach, and he blows me away with his honesty. He tells me secrets in his stories, and it’s getting harder to hide mine. I shiver when he gets too close, with only the cuffs and the bars and the guards holding him back. At night I can’t stop thinking about him in his cell.

But that’s the thing about an animal in a cage—you never know when he’ll bite. He might use you to escape. He might even pull you into a forest and hold a hand over your mouth so you can’t call for the cops. He might make you come so hard, you can’t think.

And you might crave him more than your next breath.

There are some books—rare as they are—that make me question the definition of romance and by extension, why I read them. ‘Prisoner’ is one of those rare few books, which makes this a near-impossible review to write. If I read romance for escapism and a HEA that is only fulfilled in fiction and unrealistic, it’s probably because I’ve been so conditioned towards carrying ‘real-life’ cynicism like a straw that breaks the camel’s back that it can be difficult to buy a certain’s pairing’s happiness. Then there are some books that tip the fairytale on its head, where the villain never even becomes an anti-hero that you think you can root for, though there are those who glory in the grey areas of morality and insist that this is as good a love story that you can get.

I’m torn, really. My suspension of belief has never been called into question more than when I was going through the more excruciating parts of this story. As clearly as I do recognise that ‘Prisoner’ doesn’t fit in any of the contemporary romance category that I’m used to, that the effectiveness of the story is so dependant on us readers trying to separate reality from fiction is what makes me uncomfortable. Because for many of us, reality isn’t—and shouldn’t—be that way and to buy wholly into Abigail’s and Grayson’s tale of lust and dark need, is akin to going against that I accept in my own ‘normalised’ world that isn’t about the microbalance of power in relationships or about living on the wrong side of the law and making do or even revelling in it.

Roughness, dubious consent and violence are par for the course, as are the lack of apologies for male behaviour that is overtly unkind and possessive, then mansplained away in a twisted kind of reverse psychology that I sometimes have trouble buying. We’re reminded often by both Grayson and Abigail that the former is a man beyond redemption—that steeped he is in his life of crime after the abuse he suffered in his early years.

One of my issues is that Abigail’s fighting spirit is what turns Grayson on, yet it also seems to show her as the weaker, cowering vessel with more than a hint of being steeped deeply in Stockholm Syndrome, because attraction and lust surely can’t trump fear and hate? In ‘Prisoner’, that happens. These toxic emotions intermingle, with more than a tinge of the delusional thrown in. But both author try to show up the similarities between Grayson and Abigail despite their outward differences and that’s where they find common ground: in the muddied waters of screwed-up life experiences and the apparent beauty that can be found in cruelty and compassion. Love isn’t all sunshine and roses, but rather, the man who overcomes a cop to rescue you in a jail cell because you belong to him.

Once again, I need to remind myself that this isn’t reality and because it’s a fictional book that I willingly chose to read, my tolerance level of this deviance must naturally be higher of what I’d be raising the alarm for in real life. After a while, enjoyment gives way to the conscious act of overriding my own instincts about romance; or maybe it’s just showing me up as a prude.

three-stars

Dark Mafia Prince by Annika Martin

Dark Mafia Prince by Annika MartinDark Mafia Prince by Annika Martin
Series: Dangerous Royals #1
Published by Annika Martin on June 28th 2016
Pages: 235
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three-stars

THE DARK MAFIA PRINCE IS BACK TO RECLAIM ALL THAT HER FAMILY STOLE.

Aleksio: Don’t look at me like that. So trusting.
Like you think I’m not a monster.
 Like I won’t wrap your hair in my fist and bend you to my will.
 Like I won’t sacrifice you, piece by piece, to save my brother. I’m the most dangerous enemy you’ll ever have because every time you look at me, you see somebody good. That friend who died. And when you look at me like that, I die again.

Mira: I spent years making myself invisible. A good girl, apart from the noise.
 Then you came back, beautiful and deadly in your Armani suit. 
Don’t look at me like you still know me, you say.
 But I remember your smile and those sunny days. Before they lowered your small casket into the ground.
 Before they told us the prince was dead.

‘Dark Mafia Prince’ isn’t the usual type I go for, but once in, is impossible to turn away. It’s built around vengeance, the unforgiving criminal underworld that obeys only a particular code of honour that’s difficult to understand for those who love walking the straight and narrow. Consequently, I’m expecting the protagonists to be anti-heroes instead and heroines to be anything and anyone, yet can ‘tame’ these hardened criminals somewhat by the end of it.

To some extent, the story does do what it says. The writing is compelling, filled with the brutal edge of terror that I couldn’t take my eyes off the unfolding narrative even if I wanted to. True to the warnings, it’s dirty, filthy and unapologetically rides the part where sex isn’t all sunshine and roses and I got into this book knowing that. There’s more than a hint of pleasure in humiliation—whether it’s a pretend scenario or not—, deliberate insults and part-degradation in a situation that isn’t acceptable on any level, though understandable in the context that’s laid out here. Some parts read like dubious consent, with a dose of Stockholm Syndrome thrown in; hence, I did have a bit of a hard time believing that instant connection after years of separation and differing life experiences.

After all, we’re talking about an anti-hero who isn’t the honourable, straight-walking type but one who kills as part of his lifestyle. Mira’s sudden entry into Aleksio’s life is a carefully-choreographed act as his vendetta against her father knows no bounds, but it feels as though there’re just too many speed bumps to overcome in their relationship, not to mention their totally opposing world views about life for them to have a convincing HEA.

‘Dark Mafia Prince’ isn’t a perfect read as a result. I do think that the characters’ voices need a bit more differentiation and that Mira/Aleksio as a pairing lacked development as the action was focused more on finding the mysterious Kiro. With the entire narrative arc unfinished as well, I definitely want the next 2 books in the series, though maybe not immediately.

three-stars