Thursday, June 29, 2017

Under Her Skin (Blank Canvas #1) by Adriana Anders

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Her Body is His Canvas
A darkly possessive relationship has left Uma alone and on the run. Beneath her drab clothing, she hides a terrible secret—proof of her abuse, tattooed onto her skin in a lurid reminder of everything she’s survived.
Caught between a brutal past and an uncertain future, Uma’s reluctant to bare herself to anyone…much less a rough ex-con whose rage drives him in ways she will never understand. But beneath his frightening exterior, Ivan is gentle. Warm. Compassionate. And just as determined to heal Uma’s broken heart as he is to destroy the monster who left his mark scrawled across the delicate tapestry of her of her skin.

"Old hag in need of live-in helper to abuse. Nothing kinky."
Anyone who answers this ad has to be either out of their mind or desperate. That's the ad that Uma answers when she arrives in Blackwood almost penniless and in dire need of shelter. She's escaped from a volatile relationship that's left her with physical scars to rival her emotional ones. She can barely recognize the person she is today but in Blackwood she hopes to find her salvation where she will erase her past and restart her life. Her employer is a curmudgeonly older lady who pushes Uma to her limits but it's their neighbour that has her heart racing. Any man at the moment is bad news in her mind and Ive with his imposing physique and gruffness is no exception, though his kindness towards her goes against his outward appearance. When Ive first meets Uma he recognizes something in her eyes: someone whose spirit has been beaten down and is afraid. It has him curious as to who did that to her and for no logical reason at all he becomes protective of her. 

Under Her Skin is equally emotional and erotic. As the story goes on we learn about the abuse Uma suffered previously. It hurts even more when she traces back all the missed cues that she should have caught on to but it's all hindsight. She does not intend to make the same mistakes again so when Ive shows interest, she asks for time. Uma begins to notice Ive as she sheds some of her apprehensiveness. My absolute favourite passage comes on page 124 -- while she's watching him work with metal at the fire, she uses her photographer's eye to imagine him as a medieval blacksmith. That entire scene is so sensual and with the way Anders described it, I could picture it so vividly in front of me. Deep breaths were necessary to cool down after that. 

I was captivated by Anders' writing style and the images that she so exquisitely paints. I liked how her characters' rapport develop organically. One of my other favourite scenes is earlier on where Uma sits by her open window and listens to Ive banging on something in his garage. She's not aware yet that he's a blacksmith but finds a distinct comfort in clinging to that rhythmic sound. It doesn't escape me that this romantic and almost spiritual scenario of the two of them awake at night unable to sleep yet his nearby presence puts her at ease, is what helped forge this unusual and heated connection between them. I also want to praise Anders for how sensitively she handles Uma's storyline. Writing about someone who has escaped abuse and who is dealing with so much anguish is a precarious challenge. Uma is complex, filled with fragility and grit.

Under Her Skin is a stunning debut from Anders. So stunning that I read it in one day. This story will consume you and leave you breathless at times. Don't fear, there is a HEA that makes the journey through all that heartache worth it.

~ Bel

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