Review and giveaway: INSIDE by Brenda Novak

This twisting, turning tale had me rooting for the unlikeliest of heroes.

Inside by Brenda NovakAfter spending over a decade in prison for a crime he didn’t commit, Virgil Skinner is exonerated. While incarcerated, he did what he had to in order to survive—including joining a tough and well-connected gang. Now that he’s out of prison and trying to escape the gang, he’ll do whatever he has to in order to help his sister survive their threats, even if that means going back inside to help the authorities figure out who ordered a hit on a judge.

Peyton Adams is second in command at the maximum security prison Virgil is being coerced into infiltrating. She’s the only one of the authorities who cares about the dangers such a plan poses for a recently released man, but as she and Virgil spend more time together preparing for his time inside, she develops stronger reasons for wanting to keep him out of prison.

I loved the tug-of-war between Virgil and Peyton’s attraction and need for distance. They’re both so conflicted, wanting to be together for reasons that go much deeper than sexual attraction, but both facing very real consequences if they give in. Peyton could lose her job, but more importantly she’s conducted herself with strict professionalism over the years to carve her career in a traditionally male sector. Virgil risks having to survive a harsh prison after experiencing love, intimacy and freedom for the first time in his life.

But they can’t resist each other.

Take this scene, for example, after Peyton rushes to the motel Virgil’s staying in because she thinks his gang may have found him, and she decides she can’t leave him there.

“Get your stuff.”

He’d just put down the ice bucket and was opening a Coke. “Am I going somewhere?”

“You’re not staying here.”

“Peyton, I appreciate this…mothering instinct of yours, but I don’t need you to babysit me.” He scowled as if she was being ridiculous, but she knew he was scared. If not for himself, then for his sister.

“I’m not babysitting you. I’m giving you a safe place to stay.” What she felt was very different from what a mother would feel. As much as she knew she shouldn’t let herself care about him, she couldn’t help it. Probably because she was the only person who did seem to care.

He deserved more than that…

“It’s not wise for me to go home with you.”

“I don’t give a damn. Nothing is more important than your life. And I happen to feel you should get to enjoy the next two days without having to look over your shoulder all the time. We’re talking about a short stint at my place. No big deal.”

He poured the soda into a plastic cup with ice. “Wallace would never agree with this.”

“You don’t care what Wallace thinks, and neither do I.”

“What if he decides it’s irresponsible? What if he decides it’s a good reason to go after your job?”

“He won’t.”

He offered her the Coke. When she refused, he took a drink himself. “He could.”

“So we won’t tell him,” she said with a shrug.

“Peyton, no.” Setting his soda aside, he retrieved the television remote.

Why wouldn’t he let her do this for him? Couldn’t he accept a good turn? Had it been so long since he’d received one? “Why not?” she demanded and took the remote away so he’d have to focus on her.

She’d expected him to enumerate the many practical reasons or at least grab for the remote, but he didn’t. “I don’t want to care about you,” he murmured.

The characters drew me right in to this beautifully complex and cleverly plotted story. Even the most minor character plays a vital role, showing humanity in the darkest of circumstances in a way that feels intensely real.

I struggled to fall asleep the night I read this book—not because it terrified me but because the story wouldn’t let me go. And when I’d reached the end, I wanted nothing more than to start all over again.

Rating: 9 out of 10

Heat: 3 (sensuous)

INSIDE is released on June 28. I’ll pre-order a copy for one person who leaves a comment on this post! (Open internationally. Winner will be chosen on Wednesday June 22.)


  1. Sounds like a great suspense thriller. Brenda Novak has been on my radar for awhile and this novel seems just the book to discover her. Thank you for the giveaway.

  2. This giveaway is now closed. Congrats to Karen Wapinski, who won a pre-order of this book!

    Karen, I’ve sent you an email, so if you haven’t received it, check your junk mail.

    Thanks to everyone who commented!

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