The Tied Man by Tabitha McGowan

genre: dark, erotica, romance | pages: 395

My rating: ★★★★

The Tied Man is one of those books that whilst reading it I couldn’t seem to get enough, yet when I’m done, I’m left wondering why I would voluntarily traumatise myself. It was a good read—but understand that by good, I mean that while it has a gripping storyline, this book will plaster images on the back of your eyelids that will never ever rub off.

The plot centres around Lilith and Finn. Lilith whilst busy going about her (pretty enviable) artist’s existence, is cornered into a situation beyond comprehension: a long ‘vacation’ at an estate that caters to the whims of the most twisted sexual deviants I’ve ever come across.

That’s nothing, I hear you say.

Wait for it…

That’s not the part which set my mind boggling.

One of the live-in residents is a handsome but tragic Irishman. Finn. He is nothing short of a sex slave—used, abused, punished, and tortured, all under the questionable ‘contract’ he has with the estate owner, Blaine, and her many dubious clients.

I know, I know! Mentions of sex contracts these days brings forth images of Christian Grey and his whip, but Fifty Shades is like reading Enid Blyton compared to this book; and although the second Fifty Shades book (yes, shut up, I read all three) gets a little meatier in terms of actual plot (emphasis on little), The Tied Man outdoes this by a mile. Maybe five.

If this all sounds a bit far-fetched, don’t let it put you off. The plot is by no means thin, and these bizarre events have relatable circumstances. Firstly, Finn didn’t sign the contract for fun; there’s a legitimate and noble reason why he did. Secondly, Lilith didn’t just go along for the ride; she’s almost as trapped as Finn is, first because of Blaine, and then by her own unwillingness to give up on Finn. Lastly, the impressive writing and engaging protagonists keep the plot grounded, immersing the reader into the characters’ world.

I’ve read some spectacularly questionable stories before and I’m not easily shocked or repelled, and I’m definitely not easily offended by books, but this one… This one made even the likes of my warped mind cower in the corner—trembling. Yet, I’d recommend it to anyone who might enjoy torturing themselves with dark, twisted tales (fans of Comfort Food, Flawed, etc.)

I gobbled word after word, scene after gory scene because at the heart of this disturbing story there is a nugget of beauty—HOPE.

‘The momentary discomfort was nothing at all compared to the realisation that she was finding refuge in my flawed embrace.’ — Finn

 

the tied man book cover

 

Lilith Bresson, an independent, successful young artist, is forced to travel from her home in Spain to the wild borderlands of northern England, to repay her feckless father’s latest debt by painting a portrait of the enigmatic Lady Blaine Albermarle.

On her first night at Albermarle Hall she meets Finn Strachan, Blaine’s ‘companion’, a cultured and hauntingly beautiful young man who seems to have it all. But Lilith has an artist’s eye, and a gift for seeing what lies beneath the skin. She soon discovers that Blaine is more gaoler than lover, and if the price is right, depravity has no limits. As the weeks pass, Lilith finds that she too is drawn into the malign web that her patron has spun, yet against the odds she forges a strong friendship with the damaged, dysfunctional Finn. In a dark, modern twist to an age-old story, Lilith Bresson proves that sometimes it’s the princess who needs to become the rescuer.

Please note that this storyline contains depictions of drug abuse, violence and non-consensual sex.

His Witness (Vittorio Crime Family, #4) by Vanessa Waltz

GENRE: Dark, Erotica, Romance | PAGES: 380

My rating: ★★★

His Witness turned out to be a (surprisingly?) good read, full of action and grit, and more than its fair share of sex (to an almost annoying extent). (Hold up, I did say almost.)

I couldn’t connect with Tommy to begin with but he really did grow on me, as details of his introduction into the mob was revealed. Melanie, the lead female was written with sass and strength, although because of this I didn’t buy into the sudden submissiveness of her character as much as I did with other books of this nature.

Having said that perhaps this was the point – she didn’t need to or maybe couldn’t be ‘broken’ because on some level, she’d wanted Tommy all along. She submitted by choice, which given her former predicament, was for her, empowering in its own way.

I’m not a fan of mob/Mafia reads in general so won’t bother checking out any of the other related stories, but as a stand alone, this was a decent way to spend a few afternoons, and the twist at the end was a nice add-in.

The warning on the book is not just for decoration though, so would-be readers: be prepared – not only for the borderline torture BDSM scenes, but also the scenes of mobster violence, which has a disturbing Dexter-like quality.

Hats off to the writer, for making me squirm.

 

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  His Witness (Vittorio Crime Family, #4)

 

He kidnapped me.

He was charming, powerful, intoxicating. Accepting his advances might be the last mistake I’d ever make. He was a dangerous man, and the fact that he made me feel alive couldn’t hide that I danced with death.

I made my choice, and he made his.

Now I’m trapped in his basement, completely at his mercy. Day after day, he toys with me for his own amusement. Pleasure and pain, pain and pleasure. The two have are so linked now that I can barely tell them apart and I’m beginning to crave both.

Worse, I’m beginning to crave him.

Flawed by Kate Avelynn

GENRE: Dark, YA | PAGES: 336

My rating: ★★★★

Dark and disturbing—two words I’d associate with Flawed

Two more words: compelling… captivating.

Whether I’m drawn to this kind of story because of who I am, or whether it is the story itself that pulls me in is, quite frankly, entirely beside the point.

I loved this book. Love seems so wrong a word, given the content of the novel, but there it is: I love it. I ate the words off the page like a rabid animal and I make no apologies for it.

This book, like Tabitha Suzuma’s Forbidden deals with neglect, abuse, and— #OMG —incest.

If the idea of reading about that touchy topic doesn’t make you run for the hills, and you begin the story like the brave reader-adventurer you are, you are already halfway to the point of awe that I’m at, because from the get-go, Sarah, the protagonist, demands to be heard.

Her voice is strong. Even though her situation renders her weak, her inner strength makes you care for her and connect with her.

James, her brother, becomes a hero the moment he sacrifices himself to his father’s violence to save her; and then he saves her again, and again, and again.

It didn’t matter that I already knew what he would morph into; I was so caught up in the tragic events under their unhappy roof, that their pact, their bond—of safety, protection, unity, and love—was seriously all that mattered.

Like Forbidden, when it reached the point of no return, even though you KNOW there is no such thing as a grey area in this, you (or rather, I) find the behaviour… reasonable.

Yes, I damn well said it. Reasonable!

Faced with paternal abuse, neglect, and violence, an abused and otherwise absent mother, a sheltered, fragile, terrifying existence… it doesn’t seem terribly difficult to believe that the lines of love between the two people who find solace and comfort in one another, would begin to blur.

What makes Flawed so much darker however, is that unlike Forbidden, the lines have blurred only on one side—James’.

**Possible Spoilers Ahead**

As her protector, James is fiercely possessive and increasingly controlling. He loves her to a heartbreaking degree, and he wants so badly to fix everything that is wrong in their lives. It comes from a place of love, but having solved everything with his fists from the age of eight has made him volatile, and often almost as dangerous as their father; yet, he never lays a forceful hand on Sarah. At least, not yet.

Sarah struggles with her own feelings for her brother—often confused by certain emotions that pass between them. He became her only source of love and companionship—her protector and her comrade. They have had only each other for a very long time and when she begins to look elsewhere and becomes aware of the oddness of their intimate (though not sexual) relationship, James’ entire sense of self seems to crumble.

Their initial pact as young siblings—never to leave one another—is under threat when Sarah eventually falls for James’ best friend Sam. Sam leads Sarah to doorways she never knew existed; in spending time together, Sarah’s confidence grows, and her eyes seem to open for the first time.

For the first time, she becomes afraid of her brother, who would (and does) do absolutely anything for her, except let her leave or love someone else.

As reasonable as the development of inappropriate emotions is, (in my warped head, at least) there is no excuse or explanation for manipulation, particularly manipulation of a mind as fractured as Sarah’s.

We all know how this will end—yet even then, the author manages to surprise shock.

I have nothing but praise for the entire book; and nothing but admiration for the writer brave enough to tell a story as dark as this one.

Five brilliant stars.

 

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  Flawed

 

Sarah O’Brien is alive because of the pact she and her brother made twelve years ago — James will protect her from their violent father if she promises to never leave him. For years, she’s watched James destroy his life to save hers. If all he asks for in return is her affection, she’ll give it freely.

Until, with a tiny kiss and a broken mind, he asks for more than she can give.

Sam Donavon has been James’ best friend — and the boy Sarah’s had a crush on — for as long as she can remember. As their forbidden relationship deepens, Sarah knows she’s in trouble. Quiet, serious Sam has decided he’s going to save her. Neither of them realizes James is far more unstable than her father ever was, or that he’s not about to let Sarah forget her half of the pact…

A Life Less Broken by Margaret McHeyzer

GENRE: Dark, Romance

My rating: ★★★

A Life Less Broken begins with a warning—an alert for distressing content. Rightly so; there are several scenes throughout this story that made me cringe, and I don’t wince easily.

The sexual violence described is horrific, and the author writes these scenes well; it packs a full punch, not just for the shock factor either.

The author also manages to create a believable space inside the main character’s head—Allyn is tormented on a daily basis, living and reliving everything that happened to her—and I felt as though this was done carefully, and realistically.

This is my praise for the book—this, and the ending (I do love an ending such as this one).

My issues with the book are… oh, man…

To sum it up, I guess my main issue is bloody Dominic.

He’s a nice guy, yes. He’s smart and kind, he’s noble and generous, and he obviously cares for Allyn—just don’t get me started on doctor/patient ethics—but my God, he is NOT funny—boy, doesn’t he try. He is also just a little too…. verbose… but hey, that’s just me, maybe.

If you think Edward Cullen can convince a girl how his every move is gravitated towards her, you ain’t read nothing, yet.

This man is smack-your-head-and-groan OTT in his constant, repetitive, (almost-TOO-supportive), never ending declarations of love and adoration—and he hasn’t got a hundred years of vampirism to blame it on.

I get that he falls for her, that he admires her strength and inner beauty—and that’s wonderful—but as much of a sucker as I am for a good, all-consuming, against-all-odds love story, I could not, for the life of me, get on board with this one and I’ve rooted for some pretty ‘out-there’ couples (think Forbidden ).

For me, and this is just my humble opinion, the connection between Allyn and Dominic seemed too staged. It did not seem to happen naturally enough. It was too quick, too easy, too convenient. For all the brilliant realism in the rest of the book, it (unfortunately) came undone with this. 

Add to that, the ‘squirminess’ (actual scientific term) of replacing Allyn’s crippling fear with the love-crutch of her doctor, and I couldn’t help but notice every flaw.

That said, I still enjoyed it on the whole (disturbing as that seems) and I particularly loved the epilogues—karma and comeuppance: my favourite.

Read it if you like books such as Living Dead Girl,  Such a Pretty Girl, or hey,  Twilight.

P.S. I still love Edward.

 

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 A Life Less Broken

 

On a day like any other, Allyn Sommers went off to work, not knowing that her life was about to be irrevocably and horrifically altered.Three years later, Allyn is still a prisoner in her own home held captive by harrowing fear. Broken and damaged, Allyn seeks help from someone that fate brought her. Dr. Dominic Shriver is a psychiatrist who’s drawn to difficult cases. He must push past his own personal battles to help Allyn fight her monsters and nightmares. Is Dr. Shriver the answer to her healing? Can Allyn overcome the broken? Contains distressing content. Only suitable for 18+. Standalone.

Stolen: A Letter to My Captor by Lucy Christopher

GENRE: Dark, YA | PAGES: 304

My rating: ★★★★

This book made me question my own state of mind!

Apart from being really well written and engaging, it also left me with that rare and lingering ‘book aftermath’…

Gemma, the book’s voice, is taken – stolen – at an airport in Bangladesh by someone who looks vaguely familiar to her. She wakes up in a room of a house in the middle of the Australian desert and discovers that there is nowhere to run to.

Her captor Ty is a self-sufficient man of the land and introduces her to his ideal way of life, and also his idea of how she fits into it all.

Throughout, the book paints a vivid picture – the heat of the desert, the intensity of Ty and his many issues, the confusion of Gemma as she learns about her kidnapper and herself.

Once again, as with Forbidden and Comfort Food, I found myself having an odd reaction to the events within the story.

Whilst I obviously knew the situation was wrong, I couldn’t deny the fact that I saw their connection and willed it to deepen and develop.

Being based around the relationship and events of a kidnapper and his victim, there was always a huge amount of room for Stockholm syndrome. I kind of expected it.

But it never really came.

Even though Gemma cared for and maybe even fell a little bit in love with her kidnapper, and even though she was dependent on him for her survival (and her sanity to a certain extent) I personally don’t think she suffered from the syndrome. When she finally understands what she is feeling, it seems genuine, rather than a direct response to the kidnap situation.

Overall, my thoughts on this book are hugely positive; it was a rather gripping read and also food for thought (which is always good).

On a closing note, I should point out that if anyone suffered from Stockholm syndrome during this tale it would be me. It simply has to be me – because without a technical term to back me up I would only have the basic acknowledgement of having a serious Jones for the disturbed (but delicious) Ty.

 

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  stolen

 

It happened like this. I was stolen from an airport. Taken from everything I knew, everything I was used to. Taken to sand and heat, dirt and danger. And he expected me to love him. This is my story. A letter from nowhere. Sixteen year old Gemma is kidnapped from Bangkok airport and taken to the Australian Outback. This wild and desolate landscape becomes almost a character in the book, so vividly is it described. Ty, her captor, is no stereotype. He is young, fit and completely gorgeous. This new life in the wilderness has been years in the planning. He loves only her, wants only her. Under the hot glare of the Australian sun, cut off from the world outside, can the force of his love make Gemma love him back? The story takes the form of a letter, written by Gemma to Ty, reflecting on those strange and disturbing months in the outback. Months when the lines between love and obsession, and love and dependency, blur until they don’t exist – almost.

Such a Pretty Girl by Laura Wiess

GENRE: Contemporary, Dark, YA | PAGES: 212

My rating: ★★★★

Such a Pretty Girl is such an unpretty story.

Want a book with a horrid topic? Filled with terror? Despair? Betrayal? Stand aside Horror authors and make room for a different kind of fear. The kind that chills and fascinates; moreover the kind that for some, occurs in everyday life.

Did I say fascinate? Yes, I suppose I did. We have to admit to the fascination or why else would we want to read about it? It’s a weird thing when I can soar through books like this yet take months reading genuine classics. It’s not something I’d readily admit to for fear that my interest in this topic will be taken the wrong way.

Somehow though, authors of books like this make me realise that there must be others just like me. Like I said, why else would we read stories like this one and moreover why else would anyone write them?

The answer is the tale. In every victim’s sad and tragic story there is a fighter waiting to stand their ground; a predator dodging bad karma. This story delivers that in Meredith’s clear voice. Her struggle, her ways of coping–it is all very real–and her triumph in the end, though bittersweet for having to endure the pain before that, is nonetheless a victory.

For all the intrigue and fascination and background psychology that this story–and others like it–may hold, I think I might just be a sucker for a good (read: happy) ending as much as anyone else.

 

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Such a Pretty Girl

 

They promised Meredith nine years of safety, but only gave her three.
Her father was supposed to be locked up until Meredith turned eighteen. She thought she had time to grow up, get out, and start a new life. But Meredith is only fifteen, and today her father is coming home from prison. Today her time has run out.

Living Dead Girl by Elizabeth Scott

GENRE: Dark, Suspense, YA | PAGES: 110

My rating: ★★★★

Brilliantly disturbing book. Impossible to put this down once you’ve begun. It is a sad story told in such blunt and vivid detail it will make you want to look away and retch a little. Yet you’ll keep reading. It’s like a car crash. My only gripe is that it’s just a hundred and ten pages long… saying that, whilst I devoured this in 48 hours, any more than that of this horrific tale would have been biting off way more than I could chew. The author clearly knew what she was doing.

 

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  Living Dead Girl

 

Once upon a time, I was a little girl who disappeared. Once upon a time, my name was not Alice. Once upon a time, I didn’t know how lucky I was. When Alice was ten, Ray took her away from her family, her friends — her life. She learned to give up all power, to endure all pain. She waited for the nightmare to be over. Now Alice is fifteen and Ray still has her, but he speaks more and more of her death. He does not know it is what she longs for. She does not know he has something more terrifying than death in mind for her. This is Alice’s story. It is one you have never heard, and one you will never, ever forget.

Entangled by Cat Clarke

GENRE: Contemporary, Dark, Romance, YA | PAGES: 372

My rating: ★★★

Entangled started out as what seemed like a hostage situation then slowly morphed into the internal examination of troubled Grace. The story, in her voice, tells of her journey to the point of suicide and gave a glimpse into how she finally found and made peace with herself in the end.

Grace’s voice is strong throughout, as is her character, and though her behaviour is often infuriating, it is not without cause. Her self-loathing comes through clearly, in a very real kind of light and her breakthrough at the end, though obviously very bittersweet by this point, is achingly victorious.

 

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  Entangled

 

The same questions whirl round and round in my head: What does he want from me? How could I have let this happen? AM I GOING TO DIE? 17-year-old Grace wakes up in a white room, with table, pens and paper – and no clue how she got there. As Grace pours her tangled life onto the page, she is forced to remember everything she’s tried to forget. There’s falling hopelessly in love with the gorgeous Nat, and the unravelling of her relationship with her best friend Sal. But there’s something missing. As hard as she’s trying to remember, is there something she just can’t see? Grace must face the most important question of all. Why is she here? A story of dangerous secrets, intense friendships and electrifying attraction.

Comfort Food by Kitty Thomas

GENRE: Dark, Erotica | PAGES: 192

My rating: ★★★★★

~ ‘Am I to be sane and miserable in a world of somebody else’s creation or am I to be crazy, and in my own strange way, free?’ ~

After reading a few reviews of Comfort Food, I just had to check it out, if only, at the time, to sate my curiosity. Far from regretting it, I was actually and absolutely fascinated by it.

This is the first book I’ve read based around Stockholm Syndrome (which is interesting in and of itself) and whilst I’ve delved into a couple of erotica novels, I can usually take ’em or leave ’em. This one though was amazing for the psychology within the story.

The (very readable) protagonist, Emily, is strong and smart and when she is drugged and kidnapped then broken down she knows what’s coming next. The man who stole her from the life she knew is never violent; he provides her with everything she needs but at a cost, and in such a way it makes Emily feel as though she gave him actual permission. She becomes willing to play his game, first out of necessity, then out of her own need. She knows what’s happening as it’s happening yet she’s as much a slave to it as someone who had no clue of the process. She becomes a victim of the syndrome she’s heard so much about but she comes to accept and crave both it and her captor.

Her captor, whose name we never learn, actually stirred something a bit like sympathy within me. I was so drawn in by the root of his problem (as hugely immoral as his problem was) and I really hoped for a breakthrough of some sort. There was, however, no such cliche; much like real-life cases, the sociopathic behaviour brought its own twisted reward, though I felt so connected with the story by this point, that I actually found myself hankering after the same ending as the victim, Emily, did. 

 

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Comfort Food

 

Emily Vargas has been taken captive. As part of his conditioning methods, her captor refuses to speak to her, knowing how much she craves human contact. He’s far too beautiful to be a monster. Combined with his lack of violence toward her, this has her walking a fine line at the edge of sanity. Told in the first person from Emily’s perspective, Comfort Food explores what happens when all expectations of pleasure and pain are turned upside down, as whips become comfort and chicken soup becomes punishment.

Book Review: Taming the Beast by Emily Maguire

GENRE: Dark, Romance | PAGES: 336

My rating: ★★★★

Taming the Beast is raw and unashamed. I practically ate this book in one sitting.

Sarah and Daniel begin their affair and it is Daniel’s own twisted sexual preferences that start to shape Sarah into who she is about to become. He has such power and influence over her, both in the authoritative sense and in the sense of the idealistic, intelligent lover.

When Daniel leaves, Sarah’s life becomes a series of empty one night stands in a subconscious search for something she can never find and when he returns to her and resumes his behaviour, she is grateful where she shouldn’t be.

Whilst this book dealt with the taboo issues of teacher/student relationships and had more than its fair share of strong and abusive language and BDSM scenes, it was more than justified. Only through Emily Maguire’s gritty, violent prose could we see just how tortured a single soul can become when conditioned from the impressionable age of fourteen to accept abuse, any abuse, as love.

 

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Taming the Beast

 

At the tender age of fourteen, Sarah Clark is seduced by her thirty-eight-year-old English teacher, Daniel Carr, and becomes entangled in an illegal, erotic, passionate, and dangerous affair—a vicious meeting of minds and bodies that ends badly. Devastated by grief and longing, Sarah embarks upon a series of meaningless self-abasing sexual encounters, hoping to reclaim the intensity of that first relationship. Then, seven years later, Carr unexpectedly returns and Sarah is drawn again into a destructive coupling. Now that she is no longer an innocent young girl, is she strong enough to finally tame the beast within her? A modern Lolita, Taming the Beast is an emotionally unflinching and alluring tale that introduces a powerful new writer.