Shannon (Giraffe Days)'s Reviews > Skin Game

Skin Game by Ava Gray
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's review
Dec 12, 2009

really liked it
bookshelves: romance, paranormal, 2009
Read in December, 2009

I'm one of those readers who actually enjoys reading the copyright page. Yes, I really do. I'll also read the acknowledgements, dedication, author's foreward, byline, whatever is there. (The only thing I avoid are the quotes from newspaper etc. reviews. They have never, ever sold a book to me and they're a complete waste of paper and ink.) So in Ava Gray (aka Ann Aguirre)'s acknowledgements page, the page before chapter 1, she says "Skin Game started as a glimmer, a 'what-if' brain-storming session with my assistant, Ivette, wherein I speculated whether I could write paranormal romantic suspense, based in science rather than magic."

(Wow, I thought only Big Name authors like Margaret Atwood and Stephen King had assistants! Impressive.) This comment, about basing it in science rather than magic, led me to believe I was going to read a book along Dark Angel lines - the American-military-genetic-experiment kind of story. Granted, the background - the Whys and Hows and Whats - aren't explained here, are barely hinted at, so it could still be that kind of story. But what I got was quite a bit different - not bad in any way, but because I was expecting something, I kept waiting for it, and it never came. (This isn't, of course, the author's fault. It just is what it is.)

What I got was a story of a con artist, Kyra, who has the odd ability of temporarily stealing someone's best skill with a single light touch - be it singing or playing pool or fighting ... or less desirable skills. When her small-time hustler father is beaten to death by a casino-owner's toughs, Kyra vows revenge. Before the story even starts, she's managed to become the casino-owner's fiancee and toy with him before "winning" several million dollars and holding up a sign to the cameras that said "I was only in it for the money". Now she's on the run, living off small-town cons while she waits for her best friend Mia to return to the country and hopefully help her in disposing of her millions.

But the casino owner, Gerard Serrano, has lost pride as well as money - he's become a laughing stock of Vegas. He hires a hit man, Reyes, to find Kyra, find out where the money is and then kill her. Once Reyes finds her, he has to gain her trust - but in doing so he gains more than he ever wants to lose, and his reputation as a hit man who never fails is on the line. Kyra has got under his skin, and he's not sure he ever wants her to leave.

I've been disappointed a lot by paranormal romance this year - books that try to be sophisticated, funny, smart, touching, sexy, well-written: and turn out to be weak, confusing, lacking in chemistry, trying too hard and poorly written. I'm a BIG fan of Aguirre's Jax space opera series, but I still wasn't sure about this one - mostly because mixing romance and suspense has led to some very, very weak reads in the past.

I didn't have to worry about the prose, the plotting, the character development and chemistry - the only thing lacking was that it wasn't as, ah, steamy as I'd been expecting. Kyra and Reyes build some excellent sexual tension and chemistry, and I really liked both of them. They were strong characters, far from perfect, but not at all annoying. They didn't go through the usual paranormal romance relationship clichés, which I wouldn't expect of Aguirre anyway (I should probably be saying "Gray" but I can't think of them as two separate authors).

The plot is multi-layered: there's Kyra and Reyes, his job to kill her and the external threats to her life; there's Serrano and his machinations; and there's Serrano's right-hand-man, Foster, who is up to something himself - he's the one who hired Reyes, and he has his own secrets (which hint at him being something similar to Kyra - this is where the whole "military experiment" thing still seems possible), as well as fears. There's also Mia, who gets caught up in Foster's plans. The plotlines are interrelated and never get confusing: for all that there's a lot going on, it never feels crowded or complicated.

The characters are pretty straight-forward and not terribly original, but they are also very alive, very human-feeling. Even Foster, who seems downright alien at times, is a character you can empathise with or at least want to. For all the story's apparent simplicity, there's a lot more going on in the details, things that flesh out the characters nicely. As for romance, it's there too, but aside from the great chemistry between Kyra and Reyes, I thought it was a tad disappointing. Well-written, but not as satisfying as I'd hoped.

This is the start of what looks to be a well-thought-out, detailed, dangerous world that has plenty more secrets to reveal. I don't love it as much as the Jax series, but I'll be there to read Skin Tight when it comes out in June 2010.
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Shawna Awesome review, Shannon! :) I'm looking forward to Skin Tight to see what else is in store from this promising series!

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