Brutal Game by Cara McKenna (Flynn and Laurel #2)
Released: November 22, 2016
Eight months ago, Laurel walked into an underground boxing gym and found herself mesmerized by a stranger named Flynn—a man who fights hard and loves harder. Since then he’s taken her places where fear and curiosity clash in exquisite pleasure, where trust is the price of ecstasy, and in time their brutal games have become her kink as much as his.
But when real life intrudes and hard decisions demand action, will these two whose bond is rooted in fantasy take shelter in each other’s arms, or discover that lust is no substitute for a lasting commitment?
Six years ago we read and really enjoyed, Willing Victim by Cara McKenna. It’s a dark book featuring a hero who enjoys the fantasy of rape. It’s 100% consensual between Flynn and Laurel, but they like that role play. It was a book that really stretched my boundaries.
While Willing Victim has a solid HEA, the idea to revisit this couple excited us so much – we thought we would do a group review. If you have yet to read Willing Victim, we recommend you do before Brutal Game. It’s only $.99 right now.
Mandi: I didn’t reread Willing Victim, but it’s a book where certain scenes have always stuck with me. Six years ago, Smexy Books was still a baby and the idea of reading a rape fantasy book was new and a little scary for me. Since then, I’ve taken a liking to darker books, maybe I have Cara McKenna to thank. Brutal Game takes place eight months after Willing Victim ends, so Flynn and Laurel are happy in their relationship, but not quite at that – let’s get married and have lots of babies stage. (not that that stage has to happen, but both of them want that eventually.)
My first reaction to this book is how sweet and….nice it is. While there is some role play, there is more emphasis outside the bedroom, than in. Not that this is a bad thing! Flynn is a great hero who I adore, and I loved him even more after this book. I was just surprised – I expected it to still be dark. What were your initial thoughts?
Kini: I read Willing Victim a few years back and loved it. I feel like it changed my romance reading habits and expectations. Anyway, I was very excited when I saw WV was being re-released with an extended ending. It was just as good as the first time I read it. I was overjoyed when I saw that there was going to be a sequel. I had high expectations for the story, but didn’t have any ideas of what I wanted to happen with Laurel and Flynn.
Much like Mandi, I thought the book was nice. But it also had some emotional heaviness that I was not quite expecting. Sheena and I chatted briefly on Twitter about it, she mentioned how “McKenna goes raw and deep.” I felt emotionally gutted after reading it.
Tori: I read Willing Victim because Mandi told me too and I absolutely adored it. The dichotomy between the extremely dark kink and this blue-collar couple was brilliantly done. I found Brutal Game to be the perfect wrap up for this couple. I loved Willing Victim but it was almost 100% Laurel’s story. Brutal Games is hers and Flynn’s story. I enjoyed the deeper engagement McKenna strove for; the balance between their kink and the relationship that built around it. I also liked the dual narrative. Adding a masculine voice helped to increase the sense of realism in relationship as a whole. We get to see this couple in everyday situations. Paying bills, attending family events, discussing their wants and fears for the present and the future-McKenna didn’t hold back on the honesty between them and I appreciated that. The main conflict was a rude, emotional awakening but I felt it really acknowledged the strength of the bond between them and allowed us to see a different side of Flynn. He comes off so strong and uncomplicated but he’s not. We are given a front row seat to his feelings and they are heartbreaking.
Sheena: A little late to the party, I only read Willing Victim last May and whoa- was I hooked. My romantic tastes run the spectrum, but I can definitely skew dark and Willing Victim was rape fantasy done exceptionally well. My chief complaint is it ended abruptly and far, far too soon. I was intrigued to say the least. I didn’t know how much I needed another go with Flynn and Laurel until I heard they were back. (Yes!!) Brutal Game was so different, yet felt so familiar. Like Mandi, I was surprised Brutal was so…un-dark. It was eviscerating in its overall emotional impact, however, the kink was definitely not dark, barely even skirting the edges of grey. Initially, I was confused by this, I kept waiting for the “Willing Victim-esque” shoe to drop and all I got for my efforts was a good chunk of anxiety and heartache when I opened my eyes to unchartered territory that was the focal plotline. Not at all what I was expecting by way of story escalation. Tori, you took the words right from me- Flynn’s masculine voice was certainly pivotal for me. So often we lose the dude’s point of view- typically caught up in the heroine’s turmoil. The real, raw honesty that they both had to face makes Brutal Game the perfect case study! I want to rip it apart and dissect each scene, soaking up every ounce of bitter irony, pain, love, forgiveness and acceptance that are found between these pages. Flynn’s vulnerability was starkly naked. I couldn’t look away even if I wanted to. Hard truths are told in Brutal Game and I was barely in one piece when I finished. In a word. Sigh.
Tori: Sheena, yes, you hit the nail on the head. Too often grief and sorrow are gender restricted. The hero can be sad but their feelings are muted so we can fully experience the heroine’s. I loved that Flynn was given equal page time and his scene wasn’t rushed or treated in an offhand matter.
Kini: Tori and Sheena stole my thoughts about getting the masculine voice from Flynn on this one. It was great to hear from him. I loved him in WV and thought he was a solid dude. A good, rough and tough man. This time around McKenna made him real with all his emotions that extend outside of the bedroom. He isn’t afraid of Laurel and her body. He talks about her period. He isn’t grossed out by it. I highlighted that section of the book. He cries. I need more heroes like this.
Mandi: Yes, Kini – that is the perfect way to describe Flynn. His voice was rough and masculine – and his slight breakdown over the big drama in this one is portrayed so well. I love that he cries – I love that he admits to Laurel that he needs time and he can’t move on. I don’t always love the trope of what occurs in this book, but it gives the reader a chance to see Flynn vulnerable, and I’ll take that any day.
I still say this couple is one of my favorites. I could read another couple of books about them.
Tori: Kini, I LOVED the frank talk. How often in a book, much less a romance, do we hear about periods and other bodily functions? All most never. I can think of only one other book where the hero was frank and verbally expressed to the heroine that he had no issues having sex while she was on her period. This is everyday life for many couples. Messy times, sad times, angry times and I love that McKenna dips into that well in her stories.
Like Mandi, I could read an entire series devoted to this couple. I love their dynamics, compatibility, differences, and of course, sexual escapades. Brutal Game was everything I wanted and more. I give it an A.
Tori”s Favorite Quote: “This body awed her, chilled her, intoxicated her. Whether he sought pleasure or pain, he gave himself completely. “
Sheena: More Flynn and Laurel? Sign me up please! They are probably one of the most realistic romance couples I’ve read in a long while. They have a lot on their emotional plates- yet they still choose to eat together. Mental health and what it looks like to be functional while battling depression was also explored further in Brutal Game. I admired how Laurel and Flynn understood and coped with her propensity for depression. Laurel could have easily regressed to far darker times but she was a fighter, even when she didn’t really recognize it. McKenna’s well runs deep and I do not cease to be amazed at how she can thread all of these different issues into her stories and they work and add such interesting and provocative texture to each novel. Not to mention a glimpse of truly angry sex- and I don’t mean something hard and fast against a wall after an argument about who forgot to put the toilet seat down- I’m talking sex whilst angry– it is an entirely different beast and showed yet another facet to this deceptively simple couple.
Sheena’s Favorite Quote: “She’d take whatever iteration of her lover this was, let this sex be his solace or distraction, or her punishment. Whatever he needed. Whoever he needed to be.”
Kini’s favorite quote: Laurel to Flynn: “Just this, right now… When you see people in love in movies or wherever, it’s all good feelings. Grand gestures and proclamations and kissing in the rain. I never thought it could feel this intimate, something as painful as this. Something this visceral, and ugly, and sad. But I don’t know if I’ve ever felt this close to anyone.”
I feel like we can lump romance books into that quote on how we see love portrayed, being perfect with rainbows and sunshine. But it is very rarely like that in real life. I love the way McKenna writes characters that feel authentic and true. This was another top-notch book from McKenna for me. I loved every bit of it. Even when I felt raw and sad with their big drama. Grade: A
Mandi: I enjoyed this book – but it didn’t give me that OMG WOW feeling that I need to give an A. But I do recommend it and think the author did really well with Flynn’s voice.
Mandi’s Favorite Quote: “Christ, I fuckin’ love you.”
She laughed and gave his sweaty hair a limp, lazy pat. “You always say that right after we have the most depraved sex.”