A beautiful fugitive—wanted dead or alive.
Kyra is a con woman and a particular kind of thief. She steals with a touch, but she only takes one thing: her target’s strongest skill. Which means she can be a fighter, an athlete, a musician, an artist—anything she wants… for a limited time. Heartbroken, she turns her gift toward avenging her father’s murder; with deadly patience, Kyra works her way into casino owner Gerard Serrano’s inner circle. After pulling off the ultimate con, she flees with his money and his pride.
A hit man who never misses the mark.
Reyes has nothing but his work. Pity for Kyra, he’s the best and mercy never sways him once he takes a job. He’s been hired to find out where Kyra hid the cash—and bring her back to face Serrano’s “justice.” Dead will do, if he can’t locate the loot. He’s never failed to complete a contract, but Kyra tempts him with her fierce heat and her outlaw heart. So Reyes has a hell of a choice: forsake his word or kill the woman he might love.
I won this ARC on Ann Aguirre’s (Ava Gray’s alter ego) blog and I think it’s safe to say that it’s the best win of this year, even if we still have 2 months left to go. I can’t imagine another book having the impact on me this one had. Despite having the books by Ava Gray’s alter ego on my shelf this was the first taste of her writing for me and it definitely tastes like more. If I were asked to describe SKIN GAME in one word, it would be: compelling. It’s the first word that came to mind and it describes this book perfectly. SKIN GAME sucked me in, slowly and surely it got under my skin and didn’t want to let me go. Even now a few weeks after finished it and even though I don’t do re-reads, ever, I am certain this book will be re-read and maybe multiple times even.
Ava Gray’s writing really resonates with me, she penned down a mixture of romance and suspense with a sarcastic and raw undertone that worked wonderfully. She’s an admirable storyteller and a most talented writer. The way she builds up the setting and the plot, using a perfect combination of descriptions, dialogues and emotions is astounding. She doesn’t dumb down the language and regularly uses movies references, which I loved and they were never disturbing or annoying but rather fitting the rest of the book. There is never any question to what her meaning or purpose is with the language and references. The writing, the characters, the plot and the pace all conspired to lure me into a story that worked for me on so many levels I am still amazed at it. The reader has information the characters don’t have and knows the basics of the plot but still I was very curious as to where it was going and how certain things were going to pan out.
One of the things I undoubtedly liked about SKIN GAME were the characters, from the main couple, Kyra and Reyes, to secondary characters as Mia and Foster, to the villain Gerard Serrano, they were all exceptionally portrayed and developed. Next to the dialogues, the characters are a major strong point in Gray’s writing. Let’s face it, an author who names her hero Porfirio Ten-Bears Reyes and manages to make me forget that outrageous name and focus on the amazing character he is, deserves to be praised for that.
SKIN GAME swept me away to a world of suspense, intrigue and on top of that I got a story of raw passion between two people so alike that they are perfect for each other. I loved the chemistry between Kyra and Reyes. I loved how Reyes would chase and Kyra would find ways to outwit him. I joined them on a road trip and the further their trip progressed, the more their relationship developed from assassin and target to partners in crime to lovers and soul mates. Kyra doesn’t fit in any mold. She’s a free spirit, both literally and figuratively and this is what attracts Reyes to her. Reyes tries hard to stay in control of his emotions, her and his assignment. It’s hard but he manages to fight the attraction and his feelings. This made him an even stronger character to me.
One thing puzzled me at first about Kyra and Reyes: How come Reyes got immune to Kyra’s talent? I was hoping for an explanation for it by the end of the book and when I didn’t get it, the only thing I could think of was that being in each other’s vicinity so much must have made Reyes resistant to it. I reminded myself that Kyra had always shied away from repeated contact with other people so for me this explanation is the one I’m sticking with until the author tells me otherwise. Though this had me thinking for a while, it didn’t bother me or impede me from enjoying the characters. I definitely appreciated that Kyra stayed cautious and vigilant despite her attraction and growing feelings for Reyes. It was refreshing to see that Gray doesn’t make the mistake some romance authors make of letting the heroine (or hero) spill their guts the moment their hearts (or other body parts) come into play. Gray handled this part of the story excellently and it earned her some extra points.
The villain of the book, Gerard Serrano, is a paranoid and ruthless control freak. He reminded me a bit of Shannon McKenna’s villains but with a lessened “icky” factor, which made him more realistic and more believable.
Speaking of villains, let’s talk about Foster. He intrigued me from the very moment he stepped into Serrano’s office and the book. I knew from the start there was so much more to him than met the eye and he was definitely not whom he was making me believe he was. My suspicions were confirmed in a few scenes that were as tantalizing and mesmerizing, as they were confusing. Scenes that raised many questions in me, questions I hope will be answered in his own story, SKIN TIGHT, which is coming out Summer 2010. I have formed my own ideas about him, but will have to wait and see if my speculations are correct. He managed to distract me from Kyra and Reyes and that was quite an achievement as they aren’t characters that can be easily surpassed. I fell for Foster from the start and have no doubt my fan club membership is a lifelong one.
Even though SKIN GAME is labeled and being marketed as paranormal romance (for obvious and understandable reasons), in my opinion, it belongs in the romantic suspense section of the romance genre and takes a special and unique place within it. As some may know I am a big fan of romantic suspense and this was romantic suspense as it’s meant to be: compelling, mind-blowing, excellently set up without the fluffy embellishments of unnecessary action or missions impossible. It’s raw and candid writing that allowed complicated emotions to come through loud and clear. It’s wonderfully written with a perfect pace, excellent character development and an intriguing plot. This is one of those books you don’t want to end and yet you can’t stop reading so you try to drag it out to make it last as long as you can. I really didn’t want to reach the end because I knew I would have to leave this amazing story and the intricate characters Kyra, Reyes and Foster turned out to be, behind. I am more than ready for the next installment in this series and that’s not just because Foster will be the hero of it.
SKIN GAME is a very good read for readers who appreciate romantic suspense with paranormal elements and a perfect must-read for those of us craving unembellished writing, raw action and strong characters that you need to peel through their layers to get to their cores.
Rating: 9.3 out of 10