Two orphan brothers are taken in by their rich cousins, only to become involved in a dangerous and risque romance with their beautiful daughter. And as each brother falls for her further, dark secrets arise weakening their strong bond.
H.K. (Heather) Rowe is a designer and writer from the Chicago suburbs. She has been writing and drawing since birth, and possibly in other past lives. As an avid reader, her stories are influenced by some of her favorite authors, such as V.C. Andrews, Jane Austen, Stephen King and Leiji Matsumoto.
H.K. leads a double life as well, working full time as a UX designer in the Chicago suburbs. Technology and Design are a few more of her passions.
In her rare free time she likes gardening, cooking, walking her coonhound, spoiling her daughter and kvetching with her husband. She is a huge advocate of LGBTQ+ and civil rights.
HOLY SHIT THAT ENDING! I must admit, I was totally hoping for the brothers to make it to the end. I honestly thought Elekta was going to die and Ethan and Brian would make it out. I definitely didn’t see that twist coming. An overall fast-paced and emotional read from H.K. Rowe. Definitely excited to read her next book!
Check my reviews of Mod Furyhere and Promise to Keephere.
This entire review has been hidden because of spoilers.
Let me admit that I am a friend of Heather's who has read a *lot* of her writing before this, so I might not be the most objective. But I will also say that I am not into the romance/erotica genre at ALL. This kind of stuff is a tough sell for me.
But I liked Unbridled! And here's how H.K. Rowe turned a grumpy romance-hater like me into someone who enjoyed her book. (I warn you, this review is *slightly* spoilery, but nothing that should ruin it for you.)
Stuff I loved: - There was a male protagonist. This adds an edge, especially because Ethan spends the book thinking about a variety of things - not just how much he loves a girl. - The crime/thriller aspects. This author is fantastic at bringing the criminal underworld to life. I kind of hope she writes a full out noir book at some point, because those were definetly some of the best scenes. You feel like you're watching The Usual Suspects at some points. - The VC Andrews vibes. Layers of disturbing darkness that make this book stand out from the rest. - The length. I finished it in an evening, but it didn't feel too short. - The characters are pretty developed. Ethan is a baaaaad guy, but you still feel sympathy for him all the way to the end. He perfectly straddles the line between an unforgivable monster and an anti-hero. Brian is just plain likeable. Staisha is sick and twisted, but you still feel sympathy for her too. - My favorite character overall was probably Hutt. These side characters, like Hutt, Candi, and Howin were some of the most entertaining. I kind of want Candi and Howin to ride off into the sunset in a badass motorcycle/side-car combo (spin off potential? :P) Sure, they were a little tropy, but they were still fun. - Pacing/Plotting. The book was engaging enough that I almost read it in one sitting. It was unpredictable, even up to the very end. Halfway through, I still didn't know who was going to end up with who, or how Ethan was going to escape from Staisha. This was really refreshing to me. - The ending. The ending took balls. But it felt right. - The writing. It starts off a little rough, but finds its legs around Chapter Three, and just gets better and better. Heather tells ths story in a straightforward and succinct way, while still throwing in some gorgeous paragraphs along the way. As I said, I've read plenty of Heather's stuff, and I know that she can spin a sentence. The erotic scenes were well written and sexy too. - This story is well-formatted and edited for a self-published novel. I only noticed a handful of typos. I can tell that much care went into the writing and creation of this book. $2.99 is a steal, and I would have still felt satisfied paying up to $5.99 or so. The cover is gorgeous too!
Stuff I wasn't so enthused about (aka, why this is 4 stars instead of 5): - Elekta and Ethan's relationship. They had a lot of physical chemistry, but I didn't feel it deeper than that. I do appreciate the explanations given to explain why these two want each other (him giving her purpose, her giving him family), but Ethan spent almost the entire book wanting nothing to do with her. He was borderline abusive to her (even if he had good intentions), so I couldn't really get behind that. The worse Ethan treated her, the more I kept waiting for Elekta to snap out of her love for Ethan and appreciate how nice Brian was. - It perplexed me that these characters were all teenagers. I suppose their young age made the plot work out, but when you're dealing with engagements, love, sex, and hit men, you kind of expect the characters to be older. Perhaps their youth would make sense if they dealt with typical teenager problems/feelings/parentals on top of their struggles, but they basically behaved like adults throughout. The parents were all dead, off screen, or oblivious. I assume they were kept young to preserve the V.C. Andrews tradition, but other than that, I found this creative choice a curious one. - The epilogue. I can't tell you why, because of spoilers, but I will say it's a personal thing. There are plenty of people who will find it cute, but I wasn't into it.
Overall, I recommend Unbridled. H.K. Rowe is an adept storyteller with some pretty well rounded characters. If you join Ethan, Elekta, and Brian for an evening, I doubt you'll be dissapointed. People who enjoy this genre should be especially impressed, as this is one you don't want to miss!
Ethan Carpenter has done a lot of horrible things during his short life, but ultimately it was to protect his younger brother, Brian, who was chronically ill as a child, and who ultimately ended up needing a heart transplant to even live. It was in pursuit of this deep-seated drive to shelter his brother that led Ethan down his dark road, getting caught up in Cameron Michaels’s underground world of crime. It has sucked the very soul out of him, but he considers it a fair trade, because his brother is still alive.
Ethan and Brian move in with their distant cousins following their parents’ death, and the two struggle to fit into their new lives as members of this crazy rich, upper crust society family. Brian is as sunny and optimistic as Ethan is dark, which just makes their reactions to meeting their cousin Elekta all the more intriguing. Brian is immediately smitten, and Ethan is wary - he immediately recognizes the girl’s latent power to forever alter not only his brother’s life, but his own - and, given his circumstances, he doesn’t see that as a good thing.
The characters are all teenagers, and thus the story contrasts between their time at school and the underbelly of their city, which has not only ensnared Ethan but his best friend, Howin. It is a stark contrast between their days at their snooty private academy and their nights on the gritty streets, handling “missions” from Michaels and his just-as-evil daughter Staisha. The story oscillates between Ethan’s drudgery and Brian’s burgeoning love for their cousin - who, of course, has totally fallen for Ethan instead.
The love triangle leaves something to be desired, but it does culminate in the turning point of the story, pushing the plot towards its climax and shocking conclusion. Without giving anything way, let me just say that this ending took SERIOUS cajones, and is a major reason why I liked the book as much as I did.
There are two elements to the story: the urban fantasy/crime noir, and the erotica/romance. I thought the first part was very, very well done - some of the scenes had me on the literal edge of my seat, and kept me turning the pages to see what happened. The side characters here were well done - Staisha, Hutt, Howin, the elusive Cameron Michaels - and I felt very engaged with this part of the story. I’d love to have known more about how Ethan got to the point where he was by the time the novel begins - how his spirit was slowly but surely broken, until he became basically a shell of himself, especially considering how the story ends.
The erotica/romance was a bit weaker, IMO. I had a hard time with Elekta. She ventured into TSTL territory a lot, and to me she didn’t feel worth the pain she caused. She’s not a bad character, just underdeveloped. Of the trio of main characters, she is the one I felt I understood the least, and thus it was a bit mystifying why the brothers were fighting over her.
Then there’s the way Ethan’s feelings turn on a dime. He spends the entire book avoiding her (and warning Brian away from her), only to suddenly declare his love for her. Their relationship felt very shallow and based on physical attraction, not anything deeper.
It wasn’t until I actually got to the end of the book that I started to realize that I was reading it wrong - this wasn’t a romance. Sex is a weapon these characters used to punish each other. Even Ethan and Elekta’s declarations of love in the midst of their lovemaking (which is supposed to show how Ethan’s heart has finally been opened after these years of darkness) manage to hurt another character. There is no sex without dire consequence, which I found quite interesting, albeit outside the conventions of even erotic romance.
I liked the characters who had a chance to develop on screen - Ethan and Brian, especially, but also Howin and to some extent Staisha. I think she also had great potential for development, especially given the way she enters the story.
All in all, I found this to be a very engaging story. I read it all in one sitting, without feeling like time was dragging by. I’d read a straight urban fantasy/crime noir by this author in a heartbeat. If all three of the main characters had received equal development, I probably would’ve found the romantic aspect of the story just as engaging as the suspense. It does have an incestuous bent, which is not normally my cup of tea, but which could’ve added a great intriguing/forbidden fruit layer to the works.
This was a fast read, which is important to me. I enjoy a book I can just flip through the pages in simple enjoyment. It had been a while since I read the summary as I bought the novel on my kindle several weeks ago. It was definitely a dark romance. I liked both of the male romantic interests and Elekta was a nice girl, but with the definitely annoying stubbornness most of us women suffered from at the age of sixteen. There were hints at past events without explanation, which was fun in that it left a lot of room for my imagination to speculate.
Overall, I enjoyed the read. It reminded me a bit of Flowers in the Attic at times, where some things made me a little uncomfortable, but I was too fascinated not to continue reading.
This book was pretty good. It definitely had a noir feel. The characters felt well developed,our female character having a very accurate stubbornness for someone who is 16. Definitely worth the read, worth picking up, worth sharing.