Publisher: Harlequin HQN
How I got this book: Netgalley
Release date: 31st December
Love is the most dangerous territory of all . . .
Every day, bodyguard Owen Jackson puts his life on the line — and keeps his feelings for Penny Sandoval locked away. Assigned to protect Penny’s father, a presidential candidate, Owen can’t get emotionally involved. That is, until Penny and her young son, Cruz, are abducted and taken deep into the California badlands.
Owen knows the bleak territory from his childhood. Worse, he knows the gang leader making ransom demands — his own brother, Shane. When a terrified Penny escapes into the desert with Cruz, Owen has to save her: from the elements and from the gang in close pursuit. Owen has hidden the darkness in his past from Penny. Now his only chance of keeping her alive is to let her see the man he really is — even if it means losing the only woman he’ll ever want.
*blurb taken from Goodreads*
I admit I was very shallow in choosing this book. I was browsing the Harlequin selection when the cover caught my eye. Also, Badlands is a pretty badass sounding title. Combined with the cover and title, my shallow-self went ahead and requested this book for review, and I’m glad I did as I enjoyed Badlands.
Owen and Penny are young protagonists. Whilst the book is adult romance, the characters, especially the hero, Owen, are young in terms of emotions. I hadn’t read the previous books in the series so I missed some of the back-history between Owen and Penny. Owen is an ex-convict who became part of Penny’s father’s security personnel because of what he did when Penny was trapped in the earthquake years ago. He helped her give birth to her son, Cruz, and he has a good relationship with her son. But Owen makes sure he keeps all emotions and his attraction to Penny locked up. He’s an ex-convict and gang member who was forced to do some pretty terrible stuff just so he could survive. Owen’s family life was full of abuse from his father, and from his brother, Shane. Owen has a lot of baggage, and he went through some horrific episodes when he was in prison which I’ll talk about later on.
Penny is young but she knows what she wants, and she wants Owen Jackson. Owen and Penny have danced around each other but Owen firmly keeps it professional between them. When Penny, Cruz and Owen are kidnapped by Shane’s brother, their enforced closeness and their desire to escape brings them closer and it’s what bridges that gap between them.
A lot of time is spent on Cruz, Penny and Owen whilst in the badlands, surviving and running away from the gang after them. It really allowed the sexual tension between Penny and Owen to thrive, and I loved that we saw a lot of emotions from Owen. I enjoyed Penny’s character because her first concern was always her son. The attraction between Owen and herself is always present but there were no inappropriate sexy times when her son was in peril. Despite her being younger than Owen by a few years, she seemed to be more settled than Owen.
What I really liked about Owen was his vulnerability. Despite being an ex-convict and gang member, he was very averse to violence. The author did a fantastic job in showing this by his reactions after he was forced to do violence against his kidnappers. Afterwards, he would feel guilty and he would literally be sick. I thought it was refreshing to have a hero that wasn’t desensitised to violence. Owen cried a few times in the novel, and again, I loved that the author showed this because it’s rarely seen in romance novels. Owen still loved his brother despite the fact it was his brother that kidnapped them. He couldn’t divorce his feelings from his family.
Sorenson uses multiple narrators in this book, and I really enjoyed all narrator’s POV, especially Janelle’s who was Shane’s ex-girlfriend and mother of his son. She was a stripper and I actually enjoyed her POV more than Owen and Penny. I disliked Shane intensely because despite the love he claimed he had for Owen, he still did shit for his own selfish gain–never mind the people he hurt in the process, including Janelle and his son. Owen and Penny’s romance develops during their time in the badlands, and I liked the sultry and sensual tension between them. I did think that some of the smexy scenes ended a little abrupt but the ending more than made up for the quick scenes previously.
Spoiler: [spoiler]Owen was raped multiple times in prison. He had problems with intimacy and I enjoyed how the author made Owen face this with Penny, and his breakdown afterwards and his humour towards his response. I did think it was a strange time to divulge everything because I would have liked to have seen more time spent on the reveal.[/spoiler]
End of spoiler.
The suspense part of the book I thought was a little weak as Owen, Penny and Cruz did manage to escape easily until they’re captured again by Shane. There is some violence in this book, and poor Owen got the brunt of it. But I enjoyed the family ties that were intertwined in the book, and I liked how Penny stood up to her father in defense of Owen. I hope Janelle gets a story of her own because I enjoyed her character the most, and her strange and sexual attraction she had to what seemed to be the baddie.
All in all, Badlands was an enjoyable read with a sensual romance and some great secondary characters. I give it a B.