Wednesday, December 9, 2009

Review of Skin Game by Ava Gray

Ava Gray
Skin Game
Berkley Sensation, 2009

Genre & Keywords
: Paranormal, Suspense, Violence

Rating: êêêê½
Heat level:

Skin Game by Ava Gray has been applauded very loudly by a lot of the romance bloggers I follow. It made me curious enough to give this novel a try myself. I wanted to know what all the fuss was about. I’ve never read a book by Ava Gray before - as Ann Aguirre she has written some SciFi and Urban Fantasy novels – but this will definitely not be the last one I want to try. Next June the sequel Skin Tight will be released and I will be hanging out for it. Because I can only applaud along with the others: man, this woman can truly write a wicked, explosive story!

Reading Skin Game was a different experience than usual. It’s a full length novel that’s structured accurately and written in a deliberate way. I haven’t read many romances that are quite as… well… literary as this one.
Although a lot of reviews already have been written I still like to share my High 5, Low 5 with you. The High Five are five things that have impressed me or that I really enjoyed, and the Low Five are five things that had me shaking my head in wonder or even annoyance.

First the Back Blurb:
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.

High 5

• Fast paced suspense
One of the highest high fives of this novel is the well dosed pace which adds to the great suspense. There’s a lot of action and many events take place but this is alternated at the right moments with reflection on feelings and emotions. The suspense is not only brought on by the chase and the violence. The sexual and emotional tension yield quite some reading suspense in itself.

• Sexy read
The physical attraction between Kyra and Rey is pretty explosive. Although they don’t have sex all the time - like in some other romances where the h/h only have to look at each other to become completely aroused - when it happens their interaction is hot, with some blazing love scenes. These scenes evolve from quick sexual relief into long and tender love making. Their growing feelings for each other become credible because of the way Ms Gray expresses them.

• Not your usual suspects
Ms. Gray’s characters are something else. Her heroine is a con woman and her hero a hit man. Not the most moral persons. And on top of that, they stay that way. There’re no promises made that they will give up their bad ways or profession. Their ethics are not questioned at all. There’s only a hint made that they will retire from their evil businesses once they reach the island. They are not very typical in that sense. More often than not the amoral hero or heroine turns good when the love couple finds their HEA. Not these two! Nope, they even get off on the idea that the other person would kill for him or her! And to be honest, that turned out rather refreshing. The same goes for the supporting characters, Mia and Foster by the way; not your stereotypical man or woman either.

• Manageable paranormal level
So far, I haven’t read many paranormal romances (but I will take it up a step soon) and although this story is labeled as paranormal it remains manageable for me. Because there are no fangs or weresnakes involved. It’s kept at Kyra’s ability to steal other persons best features by touching their skin (hence the title). It’s quite convenient for her, being the con woman she is. I must say that I experienced this paranormal element as an original touch to the story. Once I surrendered to the idea of it, it was quite a good addition to the already strong storyline.

• Strong second storyline
Alternating with Kyra and Rey’s adventures and feelings of attraction is a second full storyline that is set in Las Vegas. In this thread of events the casino owner Serrano that put money on Kyra’s head plays an important role, along with Addison Foster, his head of security. Especially Foster turned out to be multi layered and has the potential of becoming a very interesting hero. He’ll be back in the sequel Skin Tight as a main character.

Low 5

• Poems?
One of the things that bugged me the most was the sudden emerge of Serrano’s poems that he supposedly wrote for Kyra. The man was depicted as some mob-like villain during the entire novel and I had a hard time believing that a man like that would write some soppy poems after his lover left him. No way! But let’s face it, this is just a minor annoyance.

• Too many details
Sometimes the pages were interspersed with details. Particularly the second storyline suffered from too many extensive descriptions. Especially where it concerned the whereabouts of Serrano. This could have been more summarized at times.

• Sex with a target
Okay, I wouldn’t want to miss the hot scenes but I considered it not very professional of Reyes that he slept with his target, and keeps sleeping with her, just out of lust. He’s way past the first half of the story still thinking of killing her. Even at the instant where Kyra confesses to him she thinks she’s falling in love with him. Just seconds before he’s concerned about his reputation:

He couldn’t throw away years of work, establishing himself as th go-to man who always got the job done. He couldn’t walk away from this job with his reputation intact; Foster would see to that.

• Clean?
Near the end Reyes takes another job. He has to take out some child molester and than he thinks:

He needed this. Needed to feel clean again by doing something worthwhile, make the world a better place by taking a scumbag out of it.
This sounded a bit farfetched imo. I think it was the use of the word clean that had me raise my eyebrows high.

• predictable breakup
At one point this novel was not so original. The breakup with the heart squeezing moments of being apart is quite traditional. I didn’t expect it in this story, but it was there. Although it perhaps took more time than in other romances for the h/h to get back together the breakup progressed a tad predictable. And the heart wrenching emotions could have been more milked perhaps instead of replaced by descriptions of every day hit man stuff ;).

These were my five highs and lows. Overall, I loved Skin Game very much. It was a very enjoyable read with a sexy heroine and hero and an interesting supporting cast. The banter between the h/h was humorous and the structure with the alternating storylines and point of views was well done. This novel has got something of a literary allure, not just because of the repeated mentioning towards the end of the book of my favorite modern literary novel ever: One Hundred Years of Solitude by Gabriel García Márquez. I guess that rereading Skin Game would make me discover a few new things, because it has a well developed plot and three dimensional characters.
So, go get yourself a copy of this book if you haven’t read it yet!


  1. I really like your way of reviewing with the high and low fives. Isn't it hard sometimes to find 5 highs and/or lows?

    SKIN GAME is truly one of my favorite reads of this year. It didn't get my highest rating for a few reasons but definitely ranks with my highest ranked books...

    One tip though: I wouldn't consider this a paranormal book...IMO the paranormal element is too weak and definitely not the focus of the book. True paranormal book will not be comparable to this one.

  2. Thanks Pearl! Sometimes it is, but then I just leave it be. But I try, because it gives me a good reason to look more critical at books I love ánd to find good things in books I enjoyed less :)

    Yeah, I think this one ends high on my favorites list too.

    I agree with you on the paranormal element. It's nothing compared to other more fantasty like stories. But it's labeled not only by me as paranormal, and technically Kyra's ability is paranormal of course ;)
    I know I have to prepare myself for the real thing... it will be way more vigorous!

  3. Yup I already have my copy...

    Glad to see all the things I like in a book - very clear and present..

    I have ready her other voice and I like it alot..


  4. Ah, see, this is one of those books I was talking about - I have it on my TBR, and I know I'm going to love it!! But everytime I reach for it, I end up grabbing something else. And I know once I read it I'm going to wonder what took me so long!

  5. Words of praise for Aguirre, well she is good. I have read what she has written but not this one. And I do hear it is more explosive

  6. Wow I like your review! I have this book but somehow not read it yet, but I hear so many good things about it! Must read it soon...

  7. I missed your post on my blogroll *headdesk* Anyway, I really fell for Ava Gray's writing style. I opened this book and before I knew it I was half way through...and I just love Foster, I blame it on page 35/36 of the book.

    When I finished the story I bought other novels from her alter ego; Ann Aguirre. But I also raised my eyebrow on the PNR element, like pearl I felt it was a very minor element in the story. But aside that, I really loved the characters and the romance. Skin Tight is on my wishlist for 2010 ;) Did you read the excerpt of Foster's book? I believe it is up on her blog. Very good stuff!!!

  8. Okay, I feel so left behind **sniff sniff** I do not have this book, but I do have it on my TBB list.

    But I will say this, I love your review! All I can ask for is honesty and you give me what you honestly thought of the book. No hiding your feelings. The part that made me raise my brow was the Clean part too... humm... And sleeping with the target...
    Overall, great review honey!
    Hope you have a great day honey!

  9. OH and I have an award for you at my place!!!!!

  10. I love your review too. I don't have this on my TBR but will certainly be looking to track down a copy now. I like stories which have a literary feel to the writing, sometimes all the pulp gets to be too much!you know like eating too much fast food LOL.

  11. @Erotic Horizon: I'm amazed that I've already read a book that's still on your tbr shelf ;)
    I'm looking forward to your thoughts :)

    @Patti: Yeah, I know what you mean. But, girl, grab this one! Really, just do it!!

    @Blodeuedd: Give this one a try too! I bet you'll like it!

    @Marissa: Thanks, hon! Yes, you must... pull it from under your 800 other TBR books and start reading ;)

    @Leontine: Her writing style is compelling indeed! In my version p 35/36 is the scene with the prostitute tied to his bed... In yours too?
    The paranormal element was minor yes, but still paranormal ;) For me it was a nice introduction to more opaque elements in my romances :)
    Skin Tight is def on my wishlist as well! Thanks for the link :)

    @Cecile: Lol, there's just one thing you can do to solve that: go get it! You'll love it!
    Thanks, sweetie! I'm glad you liked my honest opinion :)
    WOW, an award! Really? I'll be hopping over to your place in a minute! Thanks so much!

    @Adrienne: Thanks, girl! I agree, the pulp can get too much sometimes, but I can't help loving my fast food reads! LOL! Though I like some literary feel to the writing now and then, I wouldn't want to miss the fast food. Would you? :D

  12. Whatever Ann writes brings me to my happy place. I agree with Leontine, where the heck was the PNR aspect in this book? The characters were interesting and the sexual tension fogged up my condo windows.

    Great review, I really liked your low and high points.

  13. See, I didn't mind the paranormal part missing. I mean it was there. I kind of liked that it was a simple world. Pretty sure Foster has something funky going on with him...he greatly intrigues me btw.

    Great review!

  14. @Smokinhotbooks: Yep I agree with you on the interesting characters and sexual tension part. But it didn't bother me that the paranormal played just a minor part in the story. I'm a rookie as a PNR reader so I had nothing to compare it with ;)
    Thanks, I'm glad you like the high and lows!

    @Mandi: I'm with you on the paranormal thing, girl!
    Foster intrigues me too. I think he has the same skin thing going on as Kyra has, or something comparable, since he doesn't like to be touched... Don't you think?


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