Reading, Respond to Reading, Responding to Reading, Romance

Respond to Reading: Lay It Down

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Cara McKenna‘s Lay It Down has been sitting on my Kindle shelf for months.  Ever since her Irish-set Red Hot Cosmo novella, Her Best Laid Plans, I’ve all but devoured her standalones; they’re untidy and messy and more real than most romance novels.  I find my heart aching in the way it should when you discover something that mirrors life back at you.

So it’s a mystery to me why I hadn’t read this before now.  Perhaps it was because the cover and blurb implied that it was an MC-romance.  Don’t get me wrong, I adored Sons of Anarchy as much as the next person, but after the series was finished, I felt so utterly drained that I gave books featuring bikers a bit of a wide berth.

Big mistake.

Lay It Down is the first in the Desert Dogs series (the rest of which will be purchased with my annual Christmas kindle vouchers) and it does things you don’t expect.  The characters aren’t actually part of an MC, though they do ride motorbikes (something which can only be a positive; I do love a motorbike), but rather the narrative focuses in on a mysterious death.

The tone reminded me of Laura Kaye’s Hard Ink series, in that it marries gritty complex characterisation with a mystery in the best kind of way.

I’m fairly new to the subgenre of romantic suspense, and it turns out that I’m a big fan; when there’s higher stakes, everything seems so much more urgent.  And boy are things urgent here.

Mysterious deaths, what appears to be a near-conspiracy and a small town standing up to a big corporation – what’s not to love?

I also love Vince as a hero.  He’s not polished or backward in coming forward, and the stark truth and honesty that I see in him is one of the things I love most about my own partner.

Kim, as a heroine, made me look twice.  When we’re first introduced to her, an apparently out-of-place suit seen through Vince’s eyes, I wasn’t convinced;  I’m so used to the good girl meets bad boy trope that my heart sank a little.  this isn’t the case at all.  Kim’s not all that much of a good girl and Vince, for all his tattoos and motorbike-riding habits, isn’t really a bad boy.

Nothing delights me more than having my expectations upended, so this was great.

Also, there’s the mystery aspect of the narrative.  I want to read on.  I want to know what the hell’s going on and (this is where I stop talking for fear of spoilers).  It’s gripping and entertaining, but it’s McKenna’s teasing out of her characters – both main and secondary – that makes this shine.

#StrongRomanceHeroines, Guestpost, Harper Impulse, Writing

Guestpost – Michelle Betham and Strong Biker Heroines

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When you mention biker romance novels, I suspect most people think of men with beards and tattooos dressed in leather and denim straddling Harley Davidsons; tough men. Strong men.

But what about the women in these novels?

For a long time I’ve wanted to delve into the world of MC (motorcycle club) romances to explore that side of things for myself, because I felt it could give me a whole other angle in which to shape a different kind of female character, and, hey, I’m always looking for different. But I’m not going to say my obsession with Sons of Anarchy didn’t have anything to do with this either…

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In my Lone Riders series of biker novels, there are two main female characters – Lexi Hart and Mia Rose. Both women were born into “the life” so, to all intents and purposes, they’ve had to grow up strong. Their world is a tough one. But strong doesn’t mean perfect, and despite both of these characters being quite hard-edged, quite tough, they’re both extremely flawed, too. In different ways.

In this sometimes dark world of biker clubs, women can often be seen as nothing but toys for the men to play with; there to run after them, do what they’re told, keep them happy. Both Lexi and Mia grew up around that culture. And both women were determined that wasn’t how they were going to live their lives.

But, like I said before, both these characters may be strong, but they’re also flawed. Both have been damaged – in different ways – by the world they grew up in. The only men these women really know are the kind of men they grew up surrounded by, so it stands to reason they’re the kind of men they gravitate towards. And it’s these men who, ultimately, become their weakness – the men who make the decisions that have the power to shape Lexi and Mia’s lives.

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Both women had decisions taken out of their hands by the club. By those men. Because that’s the way their world works, they’re the rules they have to abide by. Because the (fictional) biker world can be one of double standards – one set of rules for the men, and another for the women. So the kind of fighting Lexi and Mia have to do may be different to that of their male counterparts, but it’s just as tough a fight, because the odds of them winning are stacked well against them.

Creating “kick-ass” characters wasn’t easy. It was fun, but it wasn’t easy. There’s always a fear of taking it too far, making these women too tough; not letting them feel anything other than indifference to a life that can sometimes alienate them. I wanted these characters to be strong, yes, but I also wanted their weaknesses to come to the forefront, to let readers see beneath the tattoos and the attitude. Because for these characters to face up to their own personal demons; to deal head-on with everything living “the life” throws at you, as a woman, that was probably the strongest thing both Lexi and Mia had to do.

On an emotional level, it ultimately became the toughest fight of their lives. For them it was all about facing up to and accepting the things they know they can’t ever change, and finding the strength to shape the things they can. In the world of biker romance, strength comes in many forms for the female characters, and that’s what made them so interesting and exciting to write.

Michelle Betham is an ex-media technician turned author of hot, edgy, gritty romance, usually involving rock stars, sports stars, and bikers. But not usually all in the same book… yet. She is both self-published and published through HarperImpulse, a division of HarperCollins Publishers.

Addicted to binge-watching TV dramas she struggles to think of a life before Netflix, loves rock music, tattoos, spicy food, and Keanu Reeves – a crush that’s lasted over twenty years, and one she blames entirely on ‘Point Break’.  Her dream is to ride a Harley. And visit Las Vegas. And be able to eat any amount of chocolate without putting on weight…

She lives in County Durham, north-east England, with her husband and West Highland Terrier, where she can be found most days drinking tea and making up stories.

Visit her blog and website, and follow her on Facebook, Pinterest and Twitter for more updates.

Reading, Television

On Crying

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I’m pretty soppy most of the time.

I cry over films, books, television programmes, music, art.  The lot.  If something’s even remotely sentimental, I’m likely to tear up.

Why?

“Tragedy … through pity and fear, … effects relief to … similar emotions.” – Aristotle, Poetics

Aristotle argues that the very form of tragedy allows us to experience pity, fear, jealous etc for ourselves.  We are able to align ourselves with the characters and to experience devastating emotions, without having to deal with real life consequences.

Catharsis can also be purging.  Sometimes we need to cry, need to allow ourselves to fall apart over something removed from our own lives, in order to let tensions go.  In those moments, often I’ll watch something that I know will make me do so.  (The Notebook jumps to mind).

200406-the-notebookBut this isn’t a bad thing.

For me, crying over Happy Endings, or the HEA that just will never be, allows me to feel connected.  When I have been at my lowest, I was completely unable to connect with the emotions of what I was watching, and my ability to cry – however capricious – reminds me of the links between us all.

So yes, I shall continue to soak my fiance’s shoulder whenever someone dies in Sons of Anarchy, or quietly hide tears on the train, when a book I’m reading on the way to work makes me feel.

And I shall embrace it.  Because feeling deeply is part of who I am.