Ashley was originally a self published author who gained a very strong following and she has now been picked up and published by one of the big name publishers. This following has grown despite the fact that there were undoubtedly issues with her self published books, or at least the ones I read. They were probably longer than they needed to be, at times the men are closer to arrogant dickheads than romantic heroes, and the pages were filled with repetition of specific words and phrases. For example, in one of the Mystery Men books I lost count of how often the heroine thought the word ‘whoosh’. Now I like a good ‘whoosh’ as much as the next person but over and over and over again was very, very noticeable. In short the books needed a good editor. The danger though of getting a good editor was that the voice that is so distinctly Kristen Ashley would be lost in the more polished product that was the result. Fortunately, it seems with these two books, and in particular Ride the Fire, the product was more polished, but you definitely hadn’t lost that Kristen Ashley factor.
Before I look at each of the books in the Chaos series, I thought I would add a little more background to where this series evolved from. My introduction to Kristen Ashley’s writing came when I bought and read the first book in the Mystery Man series that she self published. As soon as I had finished that book I had to buy the next, and the next, and the next. The hero of the first book (Mystery Man) is Hawk Delgado, a commando that skirts the edges of the underworld society in Denver, then there was Brody (Wild Man), an undercover narcs cop, then Mitch (Law Man), another cop (and the closest I would say to a man I could imagine meeting) and finally Tack who is head of the Chaos motorcycle gang and whose book is therefore called Motorcycle Man. These men all inhabit dangerous and violent corners of the world who, when they fall, fall hard and who have pretty definite ideas about the roles of the ladies in their lives!
When I read romance I am pretty much mostly about the hero, but that doesn’t mean that the female characters are invisible to me. The females provide each other with support and understanding given that they know some of the same dangers that their men face in their everyday lives, and the portrayal of the strength in the female friendships is really good. My favourite female character is not one of the heroines though. My favourite is Elvira – a very colourful character who pops up when the women need her most – usually with fabulous food and lots of alcohol! She is also very forceful and I think that I lot of the big, tough men she comes into contact with on a regular basis are just a little intimidated by her, which is fun to see. I was so glad to see that Elvira had her own hunk to keep warm with at night and would love to read more about that relationship at some point in the future.
Part of the reason why I thought it was important to provide that background is that the main characters in both Own the Wind and Ride the Wind, in particular, are closely related to Tack’s story. Whilst I am sure that you can read Own the Wind and Ride the Fire without reading Motorcycle Man it will make for a stronger reading experience if you have read it.
Now let’s talk about the individual books that make up the Chaos series so far.
Own the Wind
Too hot to handle...
Tabitha Allen grew up in the thick of Chaos--the Chaos Motorcycle Club, that is. Her father is Chaos' leader, and the club has always had her back. But one rider was different from the start. When Tabby was running wild, Shy Cage was there. When tragedy tore her life apart, he helped her piece it back together. And now, Tabby's thinking about much more than friendship...
Tabby is everything Shy's ever wanted, but everything he thinks he can't have. She's beautiful, smart, and as his friend's daughter, untouchable. Shy never expected more than friendship, so when Tabby indicates she wants more--much more--he feels like the luckiest man alive. But even lucky men can crash and burn...
Tabby Allen is the daughter of biker club leader Tack Allen. What this means for her is that she was always looked after the members of Chaos – and her main protector when she was a teenager was Parker ‘Shy’ Cage. Shy was very much aware of the rules though. No one, and that means no one, is allowed to touch Tabby or risk earning the wrath of Tack and his wife Tyra.
Fast forward a few years, and Tabby is making her own way in the world. She is studying to be a nurse, engaged to be married to a nice man (who is not a biker) and things seem to be going well, until her husband-to-be is killed in a car accident and her life falls apart.
Shy was an orphan who was looking for a place in the world when he found Chaos and joined the club. Finally, he had found his ‘home’, even though that home would not be everyone’s choice. He is not shy around the ladies (have to love an ironical nickname) but he has always had a soft spot for Tabby, even though he knows full well that she is off limits. When Tabby is hurting, he is there for her and gradually both of them realize that the attraction they both have felt, and ignored, over the years is growing again. However, as far as the rest of the club is concerned Tabby is still off limits and so the relationship must be kept secret. Of course, when it does get out...well, all hell breaks loose!
I liked the way that the author used a time lapse style to show the relationships moving forward although in the beginning the jumps forward in time seemed a fraction too long. Often you will see the two main characters meet and fall in love to happily ever after but it feels as though that transition happens really quickly. By fast forwarding the action, sometimes by a couple of weeks at a time, some times by months, means that it didn’t feel as rushed and that the relationship as given the chance to develop.
I also liked the fact that because Tabby had grown up in this world, she knew exactly how women could be treated and how she could be treated if she didn't put the ground rules down early.
I'd had a lifetime of watching biker babes and the way they got on with their badass bikers. I knew this was a minefield, and I knew that Shy was not the only badass biker who went gonzo like he did that night we discussed why I'd disappeared for two weeks and like he had again two hours ago when he confronted me about leaving.
As far as I could tell, there were three options for going the distance with a biker and after that kiss that was what was on my mind.
Going the distance with a biker. With Shy.
The options were, one, give up and let them roll right over you.
I didn't think that was me, or I hoped it wasn't.
The next was become a biker bitch, like my mom had become. Mom was just a bitch, so it was bound to happen that she'd let her bitch light shine through. But sometimes when the boys were the boys, bossy biker badasses, instead of setting the boundaries right off, I'd seen women go over the top with attitude, butting up against their man all the time and not talking to him so they did nothing but fight. Loudly. Publicly. Nastily.
I didn't want that either.
Not at all.
The last option was the way Tyra was with Dad. I didn't know how she balanced it, but they were who they were and somehow that clicked. She didn't let him roll all over her even though he had a dominant personality, the kind that pushed out all other personalities unless you were able to hold your own against him. Still, Tyra had to find that middle ground where she gave Dad what he needed to be,, well...Dad. A little over, he'd butt heads with you and the results wouldn't be pretty. A little under, he'd take advantage and then lose interest, especially in women, because as much as Dad was about control, he didn't want to control his woman. He liked a challenge. Just not too much of a challenge.
One element that didn't work so well for me in this book is the suspense sub plot that weaves through the background of this book and also Ride the Fire. The story is that there is a crook who is trying to creep onto Chaos ground. Tack and his men have spent years making the area immediately surrounding the clubhouse into a clean area - no drug deals, no prostitutes etc - but now someone has decided that he wants that ground, therefore setting themselves up in direct conflict with Chaos. Whilst the men of Chaos are no angels, they are proud of how well their clean up worked over the years and they will do whatever they can to stop their enemy, especially when someone that Chaos counts as one of their own becomes a pawn in the conflict. The only thing is that it seems as though this aspect of the story is underdeveloped in both of the books. In order to make sense it is going to require some serious page time in book 3 of the series.
Lanie Heron isn’t looking for love—no surprise, considering her last serious relationship nearly got her killed. So when Lanie propositions Hop Kincaid, all she wants is one wild night with the hot-as-hell biker who patrols with the Chaos Motorcycle Club...Ah, Hop! I think he is now my favourite Ashley hero after Tack.
For Hop, Lanie has always been untouchable. She’s too polished and too classy for his tastes. But when she gives Hop the once-over with her bedroom eyes and offers him a night in paradise, he can’t say no. And he doesn’t regret it when he finds that Lanie is the best thing that’s ever happened to him—in or out of bed. Now the trick will be to convince her of that
Before we go any further, I should give a spoiler warning. Some of the things that I mention below could be considered to be spoilers for the events in Motorcycle Man.
Years before Lanie had been engaged but it led to terrible tragedy resulting in her friend Tyra being stabbed, Lanie shot and the man she loved ended up dead after having gotten on the wrong side of the Russian mafia.
In this book we move forward several years. In all that time Lanie has been single and she is determined that she will never love again, and most certainly not with a man whose life skirts the edges of violence on a semi regular basis. But after years of being celibate, she has an itch that needs scratching and she has decided that Hopper Kincaid is just the man that she needs to scratch it. Whilst flattered, Hopper is initially reluctant to take Lanie up on her offer. After all, she is best friends with the head honcho's wife and he doesn't want to cross Tack Allen in anyway. After Lanie insists that it is going to be a one time deal, Hop acquiesces, however it only takes that one time for him to know that this is going to be much, much more than a one time only occurrence. Within days Lanie and Hop are inseparable, but both are insistent that their relationship should remain secret, which of course leads to issues when it does eventually become public knowledge.
I thought it was really interesting when it was announced that Lanie and Hop were going to be the main couple in this book, mainly because in previous books Hop had been portrayed as a bit of a douchebag, getting it on with one of the bikie groupies even though as far as everyone knew he was still married to his ex, Mitzy, who is the mother of his two kids. Whilst those actions are not completely glossed over, there is an attempt at justification on his part.
As you would expect given that he is this book's hero, we got a much more rounded picture of Hop the man, rather than just Hop the Chaos club member. We get to see Hop as a loving father despite the antagonistic relationship that he has with his kids mother, Hop the former front man of a band (hello Bob Seger songs on repeat) and most importantly as Hop, the man who will fight to keep Lanie, no matter how hard she tries to shut him out.
“I’ll wear you down. You won’t let me in, I’ll break in, sneak in, blast in.”
“You won’t get in.”
“Let you in on a secret, babe. I’m already in. Just gotta wait for you to realize it.”
The relationship with Lanie is passionate and at times volatile. Lanie has a bit of a reputation for being a drama queen but Hop is able to take this in his stride and, more importantly, is willing to accept that as being part of who she is. There are arguments and separations and reunions. Ultimately you know that Hop is somewhat amused by Lanie and her quirks,which seems to be a pretty healthy way to deal with them.
I should point out that Hop is not by any means perfect. For all the talk of how he treasures Lanie because she is a real lady and he has never had such a classy woman before, he also talks regularly about the expectations of the 'old ladies' of the club, he is bossy and domineering and he also has a chequered past, which is something that Lanie struggles with.
In terms of the timing, the events in this book run concurrently with those in Shy and Tabby's book. Interestingly, I didn’t find the time lapse worked as effectively in this book, mainly because I kind of felt as though it was introduced unnecessarily halfway through the book. It may have been sooner than half way but that is about when I remember first noticing it.
I mentioned in the intro part of this review that Ashley is guilty of some repetition in her writing. The editing and production of these books have sorted that out to a fair degree but there was one example of it in this book that did push my buttons a little bit. I did find it incredible grating when Lanie kept on called Tyra Ty-Ty. Sounds so babyish but then again when I looked back through the last book that particular name was there too.
I really enjoyed this instalment in the Chaos series and I can't wait to find out more about the next book! In the mean time I still have quite a few other series that I haven't even started yet from this author. Or maybe I will just go right ahead and reread this book!
* In the interests of transparency....I bought Own the Wind and got a copy of Riding Fire from Netgalley.