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Redemption #5

Strong Hold

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For the longest moment Zack's brain couldn't process the sight in front of him.
Seven years, ten months and twenty-seven days. That was how long it had been since he'd seen her. That was how long it had been since he'd lived a life without regret.

Fight promoter Zack Grayson is on the prowl for a rising star. As the top recruiter of a prestigious MMA promotion company, he wants to take someone where he was never able to go: the top of the professional league. He didn't expect that someone to be the woman he loved...and left.

Top-ranked MMA amateur fighter Shayla "Shilla the Killa" Tyler built walls around her heart when Zack left her seven years ago--and again when her husband turned violent. Now, seeing Zack is nearly enough to send those walls crumbling. But she can't risk the exposure of the limelight, and she definitely can't risk another heartbreak.

As Shayla and Zack grow closer, though, business turns personal. And once their passion unleashes, there's no going back...

Redemption Series:
Against the Ropes (Book 1)
In Your Corner (Book 2)
Full Contact (Book 3)
Fighting Attraction (Book 4)
Strong Hold (Book 5)

384 pages, Paperback

First published July 3, 2018

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About the author

Sarah Castille

32 books3,145 followers
New York Times and USA Today Bestselling author, Sarah Castille, writes contemporary erotic romance and romantic suspense featuring blazingly hot alpha heroes and the women who tame them. A recovering lawyer and caffeine addict, she worked and traveled abroad before trading her briefcase and stilettos for a handful of magic beans and a home near the Canadian Rockies.

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5 stars
364 (39%)
4 stars
366 (39%)
3 stars
165 (17%)
2 stars
24 (2%)
1 star
11 (1%)
Displaying 1 - 30 of 165 reviews
Profile Image for Chris  C - A Midlife Wife.
1,485 reviews260 followers
June 23, 2018
Great story and so hot!!
I have read two other books by this author so far, including book 4 in this Redemption series. I have rated both of her other books 5 stars as well. This is unique for me as I do not give 5 stars easily, and yet, it tells me something. This writer has the amazing ability to touch something deep inside.

I am not usually a fan of MMA stories, for the most part. Reading about the pain and injuries as a way to punish yourself, or hide your feelings, is hard. You have to be in a good place in your own head to dive into something like this.

But on the flip side, you also get the in-depth, deep emotional connection of the characters. In this case, both Zack and Shayla are in pain because of their past but that will not stop Zack from proving he still is there and all in for her.

Loaded with passion, intense scenes, vivid imagery, raw grit and gruesome description, this story is one that will leave a mark. Make sure you are prepared for the deep emotional connection..

* copy received for review consideration
Profile Image for XxTainaxX Curvy and Nerdy.
1,473 reviews443 followers
January 31, 2020
I’m so happy I got to know Shayla a little better. Though the story didn’t address a few of the insecurities that seemed to have seeped into Shayla’s character while she was a secondary character, it gave her some new dimensions. Zack was a great match for her and the love scenes really accentuated that.

The writing was flawless. The pace, imagery, development, and prose on point.

Great addition to the series.
Profile Image for Tanja OMGReads.
1,734 reviews42 followers
June 27, 2018
This second chance was everything I wanted. I love when broken love is repaired and everything is right in the world. I loved the whole »let's keep it professional« vibe they agreed upon but failed miserably at it. I loved the persistence in Zack. It was felt through every page how much he wanted Shayla back. And i loved his way of looking out for her: "I'm goind to kiss every part of your body, so when you get hit tomorrow, you'll remeber i was there first." . Oooo Zack.

I loved how she came back after being left to die, to be a professional MMA fighter. I secretly always wanted to try MMA but never really gathered the courage to do it. I think after reading this I need to find my own Redemption. I’ve got to say that I can’t believe that this is my introduction to the Redemption family. Seriously have I been living under a rock??? I need to change that ASAP!
LOVED the cover (i can't find to words to describe how much i fricking LOVE it) and the story. Can’t wait to see what happens next :)

***Review copy requested and reviewed on behalf of OMGReads Blog***
Profile Image for Jessica Alcazar.
3,889 reviews438 followers
July 3, 2018
Sarah Castille writes sexually driven stories. There’s no doubt about it. Some more sexual than others, but they are all driven by the sexual chemistry/electricity between the leads. She also packs a punch to the heart …. Every.Single.Time. #TRUST

Zach and Shayla have a second chance to get it right. One of my all time favorite tropes :) I love it because the author doesn’t always have to take up space on the page with the get to know each other. If the author is as a word wizard like Sarah is, they will make you feel it in a very short amount of book space. It leaves more room for the couple’s journey itself. And that’s my favorite part.

Zach and Shayla don’t just have history with each other. There is baggage that comes with their time apart that intensifies the story-line. It is not rainbows and gumdrops. But they come together explosively for a common goal. Each other. There is so much passion and grit and heart and did I say passion? Lol It’s an outstanding story of redemption and growth. Sarah is just one of those authors that is really good at getting it right. #TRUST

Copy provided for blog tour
Profile Image for Carvanz.
2,042 reviews693 followers
June 30, 2018
Seven years ago Zack left Shayla so she could follow her dreams. His plan was to return to her once he had made a name for himself and secured his and her future. However, things didn’t work out that way. Shayla was heartbroken when he left her and she moved to begin her career. A year later she was married and still trying to get over Zack and the way he had destroyed her.

After her marriage leaves her even more damaged, she sets out to build a new better Shayla. Now she’s only months away from possibly accomplishing her new dream and Zack has reentered her life. Despite his explanations, Shayla can’t seem to let the past go even while she clings to Zacks sweet kisses.

I enjoyed the fighting background this book is set against. The guys in the gym really helped to push this story along. I did have some issues however. Zack had always planned to return to Shayla but he never told her before he left what his plan was. He assumed she would go to New York and wait for him although he had given her no indication to do so. He thought their love (that he had broken to smithereens) would hold her to him. Shayla did so much pushing away it drove me crazy. One minute it was “this is just professional” and the next she was clinging to him before pulling away and telling him no. A little would have been understandable but it went on for most of the book.

I felt like this had a slower pace to it but I didn’t skim anything. The steam was sizzling and the outside relationship drama was nice because it took me away from all the pushing. The fighting was also well done and I especially enjoyed that this couple found strength to face their own weaknesses and fears and dealt with him appropriately.

Overall, if you enjoy a hero that is jealous and possessive along with the push and pull from the heroine, you’ll enjoy this one.

I voluntarily read and reviewed an advanced copy of this book provided by NetGalley and Sourcebooks. All thoughts and opinions are my own.

Dual POV
Profile Image for Simply Love Book Reviews.
6,924 reviews820 followers
July 3, 2018

3.5 stars

Second chance romances can go either way with me I either love them or I have issues with them and Strong Hold by Sarah Castille is in the latter category. Over all I did like the story, but it wasn’t without some problems making it a challenge for me to finish. Almost 8 years after a special night between them, reunited lovers face challenges as he tries to find a way back into her heart while she keeps him at arm’s length.

Shayla Tanner aka Shilla the Killa is thrown for a loop when the man who broke her teenage heart walks into the gym where she trains as a MMA fighter. Following a successful career in MMA and after a tragedy in his last fight sent him reeling, Zack Grayson can’t believe his eyes when he walks into a gym and sees the woman he’s always loved and never forgotten training like her life depends on it. So guys here’s where the story fell apart for me; broken hearts happen, it is a fact of life and I have real issues with people who can’t seem to let it go almost a decade later especially when they were teenagers when it happened. Yes, I get that these two had a special relationship and I agree that the way Zack ended it s*cked big time, but it took Shayla way too long to realize that she wouldn’t be the same woman she is today if that hadn’t happened in her life. She was really dependent on Zack as a teenager and now she is a kick a$$ and take names kind of woman and yes, there are big time reasons for that but I hated, HATED that in a roundabout way she blamed Zack for those reasons when the choices she made were HER choices. That being said, I did love that they reconnected and despite Shayla continual wishy-washy behavior in regards to their relationship I was happy to see them get to know one another as the adults they’ve become. However, for me there was too much drama, blame game, and living in the past and not enough of living in the here and now. I grew to like both characters during this book but it took me awhile which also made it difficult to keep reading.

While not my favorite in The Redemption series which has been a superior series by Sarah Castille, Strong Hold is still worth the read once you get past…well, the past.
Profile Image for Gretchen.
861 reviews120 followers
June 26, 2018
I have really enjoyed this series so it pains me to say at 66% I have no desire to finish. The story line was decent but I didn't feel it was executed well, I never felt invested. It felt extremely rushed in the beginning laying everything out and it felt like there was more telling than showing happening. I felt it continued to be overly fast paced from there. I really wanted to like Shayla and Zack, sometimes I did and sometimes I didn't, honestly I never really warmed up to them. Having read all the other books in the Redemption series, I've gotten to know the secondary characters, I have to say this time around they felt very surface to me and that fun feeling I always got from them was missing, that group dynamic and camaraderie. Maybe it's just me, timing, mood, I don't know but this isn't working for me and I really, really wanted it too. I'm sorry to say I'm going to go ahead and DNF. This one just didn't do it for me.

Complimentary copy received for honest review.
Profile Image for ♥ WishfulMiss ♥ .
1,072 reviews119 followers
July 3, 2018
I loved the Revenge & Ruin series and thought I tried something new by this author. Going in I actually thought this would be a lighter version of R&R but I was blown away by the gritty apologetically violent world that is club Redemption.

Shayla is a former ballerina turned MMA fighter. Having been burned by love in the past, she's learned that the only one she can rely on to stay safe is herself. After getting out of an abusive marriage that ripped to shreds her dance career and almost killed her, Shayla finds herself at Redemption. Now instead of dancing on the stage, she's throwing punches and getting bruises. She carries a lot of emotional trauma from her past and a lot of anger towards Zach for leaving
her all those years ago.

“You destroyed me. I loved you. You were my world. My breath. The other half of my soul. And once you were gone, I was lost. I’d never felt pain like that, and I have no intention of ever opening myself to it again. It leaves you vulnerable. And when you’re vulnerable, the worst things can happen.” ~ Shayla

Shayla is definitely a strong character but a bit broken and I definitely felt for her. There is a lot of trauma and emotional angst that stands in her way of success, both in and outside the ring. The few flashbacks we get of Shayla and Zach were so bitter sweet. To say these two have a complicated relationship would be an understatement. Both MCs are in completely different head spaces then they were 7 years ago but their hearts are still very much in love.

Oh Zach! I loved him, he is one of my favorite type of heroes. The protector alpha that will do anything and everything to always provide a safe haven for the people that he loves. Zach is sharp minded and strong bodied, and he uses every resource he has to be what Shalya needs him to be. Yes, he's a bit stubborn and suffers from severe tunnel vision when it comes to Shayla and her safety but his heart is always in the right place.

“I need to protect you, sweetheart. It’s what I was born to do. ~ Zach

It's hard to hate an MC that is so devoted to his heroine and Zach is completely 100% devoted to Shayla. He knows he effed up royally in the past and he takes complete responsibility for breaking Shayla's heart. But they've been separated a long time and neither one is the same person they once were. For Shayla her marriage and the end to her dreams of being a prima ballerina changed her outlook on life and turned everything upside down and for Zach it's the death of a fellow MMA fighter that died by a knockout that he delivered and the years he's been apart from the love of his life that weigh him down with guilt.

This book is emotional, angsty, gritty and raw. It wasn't what I was expecting but still the characters were engaging, their love story was intense and I was really rooting for them to finally embrace their second chance at a HEA. I hated Zach's reason for leaving and the way he did it was not cool but he was young and with his family pressure and his own insecurities about being able to provide for Shayla it fit his character. Shayla running away and latching on to the first helpful/nice person that came along was also a low blow but it shows you just how fragile and sheltered she'd been. This all could have been avoided with a little bit of communication between the two but people make mistakes and this story is how they move past that and learn from it all.

Favorite line:
“You find the right girl, and it hits you like that. Maybe you fight it tooth and nail. Maybe it’s a long and bumpy road. Maybe you run the other way first. But when you look back, you realize it was a foregone conclusion the very first time you met.” ~ Sadist

And that pretty much sums up the whole reason why I read romance. It’s never quite the same story twice and it’s how they get to the HEA that makes it all worthwhile.

Would I recommend?
Although not 100% safe (I’d say safe with exceptions) this is a solid read. It’s gritty and angsty and as a second chance romance, there’s a few bits I could have done without (TMI) but overall the MCs and supporting characters kept me entertained from start to finish.

* * * ARC provided for an honest review * * *
I voluntarily read and reviewed an advanced copy of this book. All thoughts
and opinions are my own.

Profile Image for Kodie Mackay.
977 reviews55 followers
July 3, 2018
Holy hotness. I can't even with the kind of heat coming from this book.

Shayla "Shilla the Killa" Tanner has had a rough life. Being left in a dirty motel room at the dead of night like a used up rag was not something she could forgive. In fact as the years went by her resentment only fed the anger and hurt. Life became easier for a short while again until it didn't. Broken inside and out she found Redemption and that's when a graceful ballerina turned into a badass MMA queen.

Zack Grayson spent 7 years never forgotting his decision to leave. Despite it coming from good intentions the choice wasn't the right one and living without her was hell for him. His career thrived and he lived off his massive success for a long time until one fight brought not one but two lives to an end. That day killed his career.. it haunted his nights and plaqued his days. Despite being the best he couldn't continue that path because of what his legacy had become.

Together they were fire from the start. The chemistry palpable and the connection instantaneous. You felt every emotion from them like it was you going through it. They're story isn't easy all sweet and fluff. No it's raw gritty and heart breaking. It's a story of healing, two broken people always ment to be one whole. They had the odds stacked against them and had to work on themselves individually aswell as together. A tremendous about of character growth that was at times hard to read but so freaking believable. A storyline that will break you down then build you back up. Side characters that you'll love to hate, laugh your ass off at and definitely want more off. You'll go through a rollercoaster of emotions and by the end be left rung dry and emotionally exhausted.
It's a fucking brilliant story seamlessly written and hits the nail on the head emotionally. I can't wait for what's next.

I kindly received this ARC from the publisher via netgalley in exchange for an honest review.
Profile Image for Rosa Sharon (iScream Book Blog).
1,867 reviews294 followers
June 22, 2018


"We all have a past. It's what you do with it that determines your future."

I took a chance on this author and this series in 2014. She won me over and I've never turned back. What a journey I've taken with the Redemption team. They are a crazy bunch that keeps me laughing, but they are also strong and supportive. You can't go wrong if these guys and girls have your back, but that doesn't mean it won't hurt. They take 'tough love' to a whole new level sometimes, but it's always entertaining. I guarantee that if there was a local facility nearby I probably wouldn't survive these classes, but I'd sure enjoy observing #getFITorDIE #PUNCHorPERISH and #DISCIPLINEwithDICK.

While some of the stories in this series are more lighthearted, where I've actually spent a good portion laughing out loud, that's not the case with Strong Hold. This one went deeper, pulling my heartstrings and touching my emotions. This second-chance-romance took me back to a time when a young boy and girl were each other's everything. And then he walked away from their love and broke both of their hearts...

I'm a sucker for broken characters and the author gave me a double dose in this story. As she put me inside their heads and hearts I became so invested in their relationship, or lack thereof, that I'm sure if they could actually hear me they would tell me to shut up. But truthfully, they didn't need my advice, they handled things just fine all on their own. I'm just impatient and wanted to turn the pages faster than I could read, anxious for all their broken pieces to be put back together because I was hurting with them. "—But sometimes you need to get hurt so you can learn to see the danger ahead of you. You need to fall so you can learn how to get up again." The author did such a good job of telling their story that I felt their pain.

But I also felt the fun and family that's always present with the Redemption members. They have lots of rules and some silly names, but they are amazing people that I enjoy spending time with. I'm really looking forward to meeting the woman that finally captures the doctor, she'll have to be something special to convince him to change his manwhore ways. The line forms here...
Profile Image for Alina.
391 reviews65 followers
Shelved as 'not-interested'
June 30, 2018
This is based on the reviews.
The H and h separate because he wants her to "follow her dream" ..
I don't understand why this is such a popular trope.

The H expected her to wait for him while he enjoyed sleeping with other women.
I am not even going to comment on the stupidity of the H.

She got married and obviously, her ex is abusive. It's like these days no one wants their heroine to have a healthy sex life, its either a virgin or a heroine who is traumatized.
I am not saying abuse shouldn't be discussed, but it should be done in a more organic sense. A lot of books just skip the healing process, so as a reader you can never take it seriously. Since I haven't read the book I don't know how she deals with the abuse issue.
Profile Image for Lover of Romance.
2,760 reviews793 followers
July 14, 2018
This review was originally posted on Addicted To RomanceI received this book for free from Sourcebooks Casablanca in exchange for an honest review. This does not affect my opinion of the book or the content of my review.

Strong Hold is the fifth in the Redemption series, and I had a fun time with this story. I have really enjoyed this series, although I will warn you that the sex scenes are pretty HOT and spicy. They do have some BDSM elements, but I would consider them light and not full on BDSM. So most readers would enjoy the scenes. This was a story that I found very bittersweet at times. It had some strong emotional and drama elements that really suck you into the story and into the relationship and its complexity.

Our story starts off when Zack, is a MMA promoter and ex fighter. Zack is still feeling what he lost that one night during a fight when his opponent died in the ring and Zack has blamed himself ever since and that night has haunted him including losing the one woman he never stopped loving.  Shayla or also known as "Shilla the Killer", knew Zack and they were high school sweethearts but right when she was ready to follow him to California for his dreams he broke up with her brutally and she has never fogotten. Shayla was once a dancer, and was married until she showed up on Redemption door brutalized by her husband and her knee so damaged that she could no longer pursue her dream of being a professional dancer. She now is fierce and a fighter and used the techniques she has used to beat her fear of her ex and heal from the past until her past comes riding back in when Zack enters her life again. But both Zack and Shayla will need to resolve past issues and face them in the ring....but will they rise on the top or be defeated?

I really enjoyed seeing this story evolve, and yeah any of my friends and followers on here know how much I LOVE the Second Chance Trope and this one rocked for sure. It was interesting to see Shayla's story since I have really enjoyed her sassy character throughout the series and boy the depth of her character is the bomb. I loved seeing her past and that there is so much more to her than meets the eye. I found it interesting the way the relationship reconnects, and its not an easy one.
We all have a past. It's what you do with it that determines your future. Don't let it limit you, Shay. Don't let it hold you back from going after what your heart really wants.

We learn that Zack only broke up with her so she wouldn't give up on dreams of being a dancer, but we also see that Shayla isn't just pissed about that but also that he wouldn't talk to her. Shayla was aware of what she wanted even years ago when they were together and that he didn't have the right to make life altering decisions that caused her so much pain. I found that these two deserve one another. They are both fighters, and want to go the professional route. But they also have some issues they need to face and I enjoyed seeing them push each other into realizing the truths that they hide from each other.
Love is sacrifice. Love is giving. Love is taking the long, hard road back when it's easier to walk away. Love fils all the cracks in your heart and give syou strength in the darkest of times. It is there when the lights go out and in the depth of despair.

The love story is so beautifully written, seeing these two characters suffer all that they have and to find each other again and become stronger together was breathtaking and worth the read in every way!! IRRESISTIBLY SEXY


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Profile Image for Jennifer.
2,416 reviews69 followers
June 5, 2018
ARC received for review

It's Shayla/Shilla the Killa's turn for love and it's a blast from her past. Since Zack left her she been down a rough patch, but come through better and stronger. There was a lot of back and forth with the two of them just annoyed me. Lots of "help" from the rest of the Redemption gang. I can't wait to see who's story is up next.
Profile Image for Carolyn.
914 reviews
May 30, 2018
Absolutely loved Shayla and Zack's story. These two were each other's destinies as they had the deep bond growing up that cemented their souls! Each have struggled and have relied on each tremendously as young kids/young adults. One special night that Shayla has waited on forever ends with heartbreak and devastation. Shayla takes a different path in life that shatters her hopes and dreams, but that path has made her into the strong willed and strong bodied woman Zach sees when he walks into Redemption.

Zach had a quick rise of success in the MMA. Destroying opponents and earning championship belts, Zach thinks he has it all until a disastrous fight changes his life. Shocked to see his little ballerina in a MMA gym Zach decides he needs to stay and learn more about Shayla's life and try to get her to let him back in and be a part of it.

The hurt of Shayla when Zach leaves her is felt in the words of this book. But we also feel Zach's desire to be more and give more to Shayla- the only problem is he destroyed her in the way he goes about accomplishing those desires. These two are so wound up being near each other you know it won't be long until they are together. The problem is- that never settles the wounds that are unseen.

Shayla and Zach are meant for one another. This story brings the heat and passion of the ring to the couple that are inevitably going to get together. The getting there is an awesome story in friendship, love and passion.

I received an advanced copy compliments of Netgalley in exchange for an honest review.
Profile Image for t'irla ~The Bookslayer~ aka Barbara.
1,017 reviews132 followers
May 6, 2018
Thanks to Netgalley for giving me this book in exchange for an honest review.

I love this series and have since book 1 and this one did not disappoint. Strong characters who are likable and relate able. A storyline that makes you want to keep reading when you know you have to get some sleep. I love that the characters from past novels are reoccurring throughout the book.

I love big strong tough heros and now I love big strong tough heroines. I love the weaknesses and the strength of both protagonists. A great read!

5 stars!
Profile Image for Tina.
824 reviews21 followers
July 3, 2018
6 stars, a million stars, a galaxy of stars
That's how I feel about this book. I was addicted to this series from book 1,but this book was perfectly titled because it had a seriously Strong Hold on me. I'm talking super glued to my kindle type strong hold. I think this may be my favorite book this year! I literally couldn't put it down. Sarah NEVER disappoints. When I see she has a new book coming, I stalk her like a madwoman. I don't want to miss one thing she writes.

What makes this story my favorite is the brokenness and vulnerability of both of these characters. Despite their issues, they are both strong in their own rights. They have a major history together that ended with pure heartbreak, so when Zack walks into Redemption to sign a fighter and sees Shayla again after 7 years, reality slaps them both in the face. It's not going to be an easy road but they push and pull each other.

Neither completely sure what to do. Deep down they are still completely connected at the soul level, but emotions are making their thoughts wreak havoc on their brains. It's such a beautiful story of two souls destined to be together rebuilding the trust and revealing hidden secrets and insecurities.

This book truly was perfect in every way possible! I can't wait to see what's next. There are so many stories I want to see come from this series. I absolutely love every character and the bond they have. This is a MUST READ!!
Profile Image for Jeannine.
1,349 reviews38 followers
June 17, 2018
I’ve only read the first book in this series when it first came out. I have the second in my tbr pile. This one is #5 and it was pretty good. I enjoyed all the details with the fighting. It definitely makes me want to read the other 3. I didn’t have a hard time following along with the other fighters. Zack and Shayla were pretty hot together. They were making up for lost time in the bedroom, multiple times, and twice on Sunday. Heh, just kidding. I think they only made it to the bedroom once. Overall, I really enjoyed this one.
Profile Image for Mel Sparks.
445 reviews24 followers
July 26, 2018
Strong Hold was a typical contemporary romance. There was over dramatic dialogue, egotistical, testosterone filled male characters, a conflicted, weak willed female and unsuprising underwhelming chemistry between main characters. Everything read like a generic prototype of a Harlequin romance that fell short of my expectations and that's disappointing.
Shayla and Zack's relationships stemmed from childhood, as a young adult he made the decision to leave Shayla behind in order to pursue a career in MMA combat, after much success Zack returns a year later to claim the love he left behind only to discover she's married to someone else. This is where things get nonsensical, after his abrupt exit out of Shayla's life with no explanation, Zack unfairly blames Shayla for her decision to move on. We as readers, learn of his displeasure when the two reunites 7 years later while Shayla is training to become a better female MMA fighter.
(Yes what a coincidence)
After being under monumental emotional distress for years, Shayla vows to become physically and mentally strong in order to survive on her own. All her defenses quickly crumble with the return of Zack and here we see things quickly become repetitive with Zack's accusations of her falling for another man and her incredibly laughable attempts to keep him at bay fail miserably. 😒 😒
The two go back and forth for a few chapters, they get hot and heavy, declare how much they still love each other and they live happily every after. In a nutshell that's what this book was. There wasn't anything that grabbed and held my attention for most of their story, it was an ok read, with predictable scenes and an average plot therefore I can only rate it 2.5 stars.
Read if you're interested but I personally don't think this one's for me.
Profile Image for Rebecca.
2,824 reviews141 followers
July 4, 2018
The MMA world that Sarah Castille creates in her Redemption series is gritty, dangerous, and violent, which is a fitting setting for the characters who reside in it because not only are they fighters in every aspect of their lives, but their pasts and perhaps even their presents dictate their successes and their struggles

The background and insights into this fighter environment illustrates Castille’s desire to paint a realistic backdrop for the series and it’s those intricacies that allow readers, who may be unfamiliar with this kind of surrounding, the necessary verbiage and information that will make them feel comfortable with this unknown scene.

Zack and Shayla’s story is a second chance romance with angst, heartbreak, and sexual tension. It’s clear that these two share a past - one that ended badly for both of them regardless of it being Zack’s decision to break up with Shayla. Unfortunately, due to miscommunication and Shayla’s inability to let her walls down, their reunion is not a happy one, which means that Zack has his work cut out for him if he wants Shayla back in his life in more than just a professional way.

It’s clear that Zack and Shayla still have a strong hold on one another despite the
‘seven years, ten months and twenty-seven days’ that they’ve been apart, the broken people they’ve become, and Shayla’s best effort to hold Zack at arm’s length.

I have to admit that it took me quite a while to warm-up to both the hero and the heroine. Zack’s jealousy and inability to verbalize necessary truths made it difficult to form a connection to him, and Shayla’s actions were beyond frustrating; her hot and cold demeanor always stalled any progress they made, and the feud between her head and her heart didn’t allow her to remain in the present or look ahead at what she and Zack could possibly have.

I love MMA romances; there’s something raw about the world the characters live in and how they fight with everything that they have regardless of the obstacles in their way. I really wanted to love Zack and Shayla’s story, but it felt like they were always working against one another, which gave me a severe case of whiplash and also made some parts of the book extremely frustrating. It’s not that I completely disliked Strong Hold; I just found it sometimes impossible, at times, to understand the characters’ motives, reactions, and actions, which left me questioning just how much they truly loved one another and if they would ever find a way to work through everything because wanting to and being able to are two drastically different ideas.

3/3.5 Poison Apples (The Fairest of All Book Reviews)
Profile Image for Catty Jane.
372 reviews2 followers
July 4, 2018
****5 STARS****
****ARC Received for Honest Review****

Thank you Sarah…this is the book I have been waiting for, the book that told Shayla’s story. I thought the other Redemption Series books were great, this one topped those for me. I loved to see Shayla in a more vulnerable and exposed space, where we can see her at her rawest. We get her back story and what makes her the person we have seen in some of your other books.

Then you see Zack and what the MMA realm has given him, what it has taken from him and how he is trying to cope with not doing what he was once the best at, and turn it in to something amazing by bringing top MMA fighters out to the forefront. Then Shayla “Shilla the Killa” the one he ran from is the one who is the up and comer. He can no longer run, and she can no longer hide. They both have to deal with the damage from their past and see if what happens between them can move them forward into the future.

I love this story, I love Sarah Castille…and this book just did it for me.-Review by Catherine(Catty)
Profile Image for Renee Entress.
5,009 reviews70 followers
July 3, 2018

4 star

I was pulled right into this story. The story has abuse, second chances, and heartbreak.

If you have not read the below I would recommend reading those books(s) first
Against the Ropes (Redemption, #1)
In Your Corner (Redemption, #2)
Full Contact (Redemption, #3)
Fighting Attraction (Redemption, #4)

This is Shayla and Zach’s story. When Zach left her seven years ago Shayla built steel walls around her heart. Then she reinforced those walls when her husband turned his violence on her. He wants to help her get to the top in her sport but she just wants to stay in the shadows and keep her heart safe. He is determined to break down her walls. She just wants to keep herself from being broken. Can she trust Zach this time? Or will he let her down just like everyone else?

I felt I was able to connect with the characters and the story was a great read.

I recommend this book.
July 4, 2018
I have been a huge fan since Sarah Castille started writing her Redemption series. I was super excited when I heard she was bringing us a new book out of this series! WOW!!!! I could not take my eyes off each word. Zack had me from the get go and Shayla was my hero. When I saw the heartbreak and then the endurance to put their lives back together, I was lost in their world. I love a good fight series, but Sarah adds more heart than what I have read in the past. You will fall for these characters. You will get all warm and gooey when you are brought back with old friends.

The emotions this book brought out of me was something furious. You will be feeling a storm brewing and want to throat punch a few characters a time or two. What can I say? Strong Hold brought out the beast in me lol. MUST READ for the summer! You need to make sure you have a quiet weekend ready because once you start this book, you will not put it down!

Profile Image for Sissy's Romance Book Review .
7,645 reviews16 followers
July 3, 2018
Strong Hold by Sarah Castille is book Five in the Redemption series. This is the story of Zack Grayson and Shayla Tanner. I have read the previous book but feel this can be a standalone book.
Zack and Shayla once had a relationship but Zack walked away from it. While trying to move on Shayla ended up in a very bad relationship which brought her to the next part of her life. Becoming a fighter in her personal life and moving on to be a Top amateur MMA fighter. Shayla is now called "Shilla the Killa" in the fighter world. Zack is a promoter now looking for the next MMA which leads him to Shayla. Time has changed them both and this is their time to get back what them missed if they can let their emotions go.
Exciting Read!
Profile Image for Shelley.
2,230 reviews26 followers
June 18, 2018
Firstly, a big thank you to Netgalley and Sarah Castillo for my advanced copy for which I leave my honest review:) Sarah Castille is one of my go to authors as her books pack a powerful punch (yes, yes, MMA pun intended)! Shayla is the one character I have had a love hate relationship with since this series started and she found herself amongst our Redemption family, but purely for the reason that no one knew much about her and even though she fought well, she was a loner which ultimately made me sad - yes I’m much too attached to my characters when I read:) But finally her story is here, together with the man who broke her heart years ago, but he’s also a man willing to fight for her now and show her that they are both worthy of a great romance and life together!

I usually like to give more of a breakdown of the story but reading this story will pack more of an uppercut to the chin without any reveals! I would definitely recommend reading the previous books in this series as all characters are repeated throughout each and because they are kick@ss books:) Happy reading but sad to see this series end. I will always remember these characters and their stories fondly!
Profile Image for Sandy S.
6,313 reviews157 followers
June 30, 2018
4.25 stars

ABOUT HE BOOK: Release Date July 3, 3018

For the longest moment Zack's brain couldn't process the sight in front of him.
Seven years, ten months and twenty-seven days. That was how long it had been since he'd seen her. That was how long it had been since he'd lived a life without regret.

Fight promoter Zack Grayson is on the prowl for a rising star. As the top recruiter of a prestigious MMA promotion company, he wants to take someone where he will never be able to go again: the top of the professional league. He didn't expect that someone to be the woman he loved...and left.

Top-ranked MMA amateur fighter Shayla "Shilla the Killa" Tanner built walls around her heart when Zack left her seven years ago--and again when her husband turned violent. Now, seeing Zack is nearly enough to send those walls crumbling. But she can't risk the exposure of the limelight, and she definitely can't risk another heartbreak.

As Shayla and Zack grow closer, though, business turns personal. And once their passion unleashes, there's no going back...


REVIEW: 4.25 stars--STRONG HOLD is the fifth instalment in Sarah Castille’s contemporary, adult REDEMPTION erotic, MMA, romance series focusing on the men and women of the MMA Club Redemption. This is thirty-year old MMA fighter and promoter Zack ‘Slayer’ Grayson, and twenty-five year old, former ballerina turned MMA fighter Shayla Tanner’s story line. STRONG HOLD can be read as a stand alone without any difficulty. Any important information from the previous story lines is revealed where necessary.

Told from first person point of view (Shayla), and third person perspective (Zack) STRONG HOLD follows the second chance romance between MMA fighter and promoter Zack ‘Slayer’ Grayson, and former ballerina turned MMA fighter Shayla Tanner. Zack and Shayla were childhood best friends, and high school sweethearts but on the night Shayla gave Zack her most prized possession, Zack walked away without a second glance. Fast forward to present day, wherein Shayla will come face to face with the man that broke her heart, and destroyed her soul. Enter MMA fighter and promoter Zack ‘Slayer’ Grayson, and the man with whom Shayla was still in love. What ensues is the rekindling romance between Zack and Shayla, as Zack takes control of Shayla’s training, in an effort to get closer to the woman he loves.

Zack had no idea that Shayla Tanner, his Shayla Tanner, was on the amateur circuit of the MMA. Heading into Redemption to recruit possible new talent, Zack will have to face the wrath of the woman from whom he walked away but a woman who has lost and suffered more than Jake could ever have imagined. Shayla struggled in the years following Zack’s ill-timed escape but none more so than into the arms of an abusive man who all but destroyed what was left of our heroine’s life.

The relationship between Zack and Shayla is one of second chances; a rekindling romance between former best friends, and sweethearts but a romance that suffers with too many memories from the past. Zack is determined to prove himself worthy of Shayla’s trust and respect even if it means protecting her from herself. The $ex scenes are intimate, erotic and intense but, once again, I take issue with a certain four-letter word that I find unnecessary in a romance story line. Used only once, I felt it was more for shock value than descriptive narration.

Most of the previous story line couples and characters play secondary and supporting roles, some byway of mention or cameo appearance: Blade Saw, Renegade, Rampage, Torment, Homicide Hank, Fuzzy and Doctor Death (all of the nick names must be used in the arena and at the gym), as well as the only other female fighter at Redemption Sandy, and Shayla’s nemesis in the ring Carla Gordon.

STRONG HOLD is a dramatic, intense and captivating story. The premise is energetic and impassioned; the characters are dynamic and vigorous; the romance is provocative and fated. Sarah Castille writes tantalizing romances, strong heroes, and sassy heroines.

Copy supplied by Netgalley

Profile Image for Badh.
3,262 reviews55 followers
July 4, 2018
In this corner, we have Shilla the Killa. In that corner, we have Slayer. May the best fighter win!

I'm not normally much of a sports kind of person. I say that I cheer for the local teams, but I really don't pay all that much attention to when anyone is playing. I've lusted mightily after MMA fighters, but I've never watched a fight or anything. But, dayum, all those muscles just do something for a person, you know? But, when I ran across this one, I decided that it sounded good and decided that I needed to read it.

Shayla and Zach had been best friends when they were young and then boyfriend and girlfriend as they got older. She was a ballerina, with plans to go to a ballet company in San Diego, while Zach, an amateur MMA fighter was planning on going there to try to turn pro. But, when he finds out that she's turning down a better opportunity, he decides to leave her. On her 18th birthday. After their first time.

Seven years later, he holds 4 belts and is a recruiter. He walks into a MMA gym and finds his beautiful ballerina in the ring, fighting. Shayla has been broken and reforged into something stronger, and MMA helped her get there.

I enjoyed the story. I like the way that things flashed back to Shay's past to give us more information as to what had happened in her past and what made her the way that she now was. I liked it better than having everything explained. Experiencing it with her made it seem more real and let me connect with her better than I might otherwise have. Zach sometimes annoyed me, sometimes didn't. I get the overprotective thing, especially when it comes to head injuries, but he really does just paint Shayla into a corner sometimes. And then when he doesn't, it's not a good thing. I don't think that he should force her into a particular choice, but it just wasn't as consistent as it could've been.

It worked as a story, and I was quite happy with the way the story went.
Profile Image for Blodeuedd Finland.
3,387 reviews293 followers
July 15, 2018
That blurb is...not quite right. Sure it is right, and still not right. Let me begin.

Zach is looking for a new star, that is right. He was a winner himself, and then he quit. He seems like a good guy, until he is around Shayla. I mean wow, can you spell Alpha!? He gets really protective and I really wish he was not 5 years older cos...yeah something gets weird when you think too long about it. Still, he means well and really really really loves her.

Shayla was a ballerina and now she is a fighter with scars. And she really wants to take it to the next level, but it's hard to get there. I liked her, she picked herself up again and got strong (kick-ass strong!) Though she really should not blame some things on Zach, you are your own woman!

They meet and he decides to stay around cos hello! Destiny right there!

The Redemption gang was great. They truly are a family and take care of each other. I wish some did not have names like JR Ward cos it made me cringe.

The book is about these two trying to get over hurts and deal with their own shit in the past. Plus there is lot of fighting and fight talk. It's about MMA after all.

Love, passion and throwing your hat in the ring and going for it. I enjoyed it.

Narrator: Josh and Chandra Skyee
I have heard Chandraa before and I do enjoy her voice. She did her chapters well with voices and range.
Josh was new to me, but he did his Zach chapters well too. A pleasant voice.
Profile Image for Heather.
242 reviews3 followers
March 2, 2019
This book is the last in a series, and I managed to somehow read it first. Yeah, not always a great idea. “Strong Hold” managed to hold up as a stand alone, though, and actually made me eager to go back and read the rest of the series, in order this time! The story revolves around Shayla, a retired ballerina turned aspiring MMA fighter, and Zack, an MMA fighter who has left the ring after a deadly bout an now works as a recruiter for the industry. I must admit to little interest in MMA, or the fighting world in general. It’s all way too brutal for me. So I was wondering if a book about not one, but two, MMA fighters, would be a book I’d enjoy. I’m glad to say that despite my disinterest in the sport, I was totally engaged in the story. Shayla and Zack have a history, and when they reunite years later they are both different people, but their attraction and their connection remains. There is a lot of push and pull between the two of them, and Zack is determined to win Shayla’s trust and heart once again. Shayla, burned more than once, finds herself fighting in more than just the ring. She has to decide if her future is one she wants to share with the man who once threw it away. Sarah Castille builds a great world, and the characters are all intriguing. As I wrote earlier, I’m looking forward to getting to know them all better.
Note: I received this book in return for an honest review.
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