Reading as healing – a musey thoughtsey about The Billionaire Takes a Bride by Jessica Clare

I stalled out writing this post over a year ago, and I just… stopped. I’d hit a wall, and I couldn’t write anything. Read on, and perhaps you’ll see why.

For most of my life, I’ve answered the question, “How are you doing,” with, “I’m OK — I’ve been reading this book…” and then I go off on a tangent about that book. I have no idea if it’s deflection or if I actually contextualize my life through the books I read. (In other words: I have no idea if it’s healthy, this thing that I do, but I do it, so it’s normal to me.)

And it’s actually why I started this blog, so that I could get a better read (ha) on what I think about these books (and who I am). As a relatively reserved person, my choice to share all this on the Internet might seem odd. When I started this blog a few years ago, I really thought that no one would ever read it, and that was a comforting thought. Then I made friends, and I discovered that my life is so much better, richer, and more intellectually complex when I push past my shyness and reserve and engage in dialogue with people about all these thoughts I have. It’s complicated, of course. Sometimes I want to hide. Sometimes the books I’m reading hit too close to home, and it’s terrifying to share my thoughts about them. Sometimes I gag on my random neuroses, so afraid of being misunderstood that I say nothing, so convinced that I have to be the most eloquent writer to be worthy of saying anything.

I was talking to my best friend last night fifteen months ago about this book I read and mentioned that I wanted to write about it on the blog but that I was afraid. What if I’m wrong, I said. What if the truth shines through too clearly, I said. What if I’m not perfect, I said. (I said a lot of other stuff, too, most of it ridiculous.) And my best friend told me that I need to give myself permission to think out loud, to process stuff the way I process it, to be wrong and to learn, and to write occasionally inelegant sentences. I need to give myself permission to be me. (And if a random mob of judgey judgers happens to descend — which would be really strange, tbh, because in 200+ posts I have received exactly zero negative comments — I should give myself permission to tell them to fuck off.)

My best friend is… well, she’s awesome. Anyone who could listen to me agonizing over these debilitating yet completely unfounded (and ridiculous) fears and respond with patience, understanding, and acceptance is just… she’s like awesome covered in amazing and dipped in the very essence of friendship. Anyway.

I read a book.

Billionaire Sebastian Cabral loves his family, he just doesn’t love their reality TV show, The Cabral Empire. So when his ex-girlfriend tries to rekindle their relationship on camera, Sebastian decides that drastic measures are in order.
By day, Chelsea Hall is a happy-go-lucky, rough and tumble roller derby skater. By night, she’s still living in fear of her past. Most of all, she just doesn’t want to be alone. And she really, really doesn’t want to date.
So when their mutual friends’ upcoming wedding turns Chelsea and Sebastian into fast friends, they realize they can solve both of their problems with one life-changing lie: a quick trip down the aisle.
But with one kiss, Chelsea and Sebastian suddenly realize that their pretend relationship is more real than either of them expected…

I’m going to lead with a trigger warning. I wasn’t quite sure what to expect from the book based on its rather vague blurb (“…living in fear of her past” could mean almost anything), and I honestly would have preferred to be warned. I still would have read the book, but I would have known going into it that I’d have to reckon with some of the content. Anyway, for any of you who need it, this book and my thoughts about it come with a trigger warning for rape/sexual violence and PTSD.

Most of the story revolves around a marriage of convenience (and friends-to-lovers) story between Sebastian, an artist who values his privacy yet is saddled with a reality show family, and Chelsea, a soap-making roller derby player who is recovering from rape and a nasty case of PTSD.

I don’t particularly feel like giving a blow-by-blow, but the book starts off on a funny, if a bit wry, note, and it actually keeps the humor going throughout, even when things take a darker turn. The humor and the sweetness of the friends-to-lovers romance between Chelsea and Sebastian help to balance out the heavy issues, and I’m grateful to Clare for providing them. I don’t watch any reality TV at all, but my best friend said the reality show elements of the book sound like a hot-mess mashup of Keeping up With the Kardashians and Here Comes Honey Boo Boo.

There are a lot of great things about this book (all the roller derby, loads of Gretchen antics, etc., but I just want to talk about the romance as a path to recovery aspect of the book. For reasons.

Rape and sexual violence make frequent appearances in romance novels. I can think of a lot of reasons why: sexual violence disproportionately affects women and is, therefore, always going to be interesting and relevant as an issue to the women writing and reading in the genre; there’s nothing more dramatic than a traumatic backstory; something like 1 in 3 women experiences some form of sexual violence in her lifetime (and I would posit that 100% of women are impacted by sexual violence, whether from personal experience or the experience of a close friend or relative. Additionally, I’d say all women are impacted by it because of the fear and sense of inevitability that surrounds it, at least in the U.S.); the rapey-hero trope permeates old-skool romance novels and is sometimes reprised in modern ones; and the threat of violence (sexual or otherwise) adds tension and movement to a story. There are many more reasons, and some of them are actually good (many aren’t). I don’t shy away from stories that depict sexual violence, because I’m hungry for stories that give me hope, that show characters grappling with these issues and winning. Of the romance novels (that I’ve read) that depict sexual violence and its aftereffects, there are just a very few that do so in a thoughtful, compassionate, thoroughly good way. The Billionaire Takes a Bride is one of these.

Some context might be good… In the past, I’ve been perhaps a trifle coy about this subject. I’ve had my reasons for that reserve, but I’m kind of done with it.

About fifteen years ago, I was raped by a close friend of my then-boyfriend. It took me at least a decade to start calling it sexual assault (rather than an incident, an assault, or “that thing that happened to me”), and this is the first time, I think, that I’ve used the real word for it in anything as lasting as text. And I am even now choked with all the things that I suddenly want to explain in order to justify my use of the word. I hate that I feel the need to justify it in my own account, but…

So that’s my context. What was to that guy a throwaway thing, a thing he’s never had to justify or explain, dominated my early twenties until I learned to live with it. The PTSD was the worst part, because it was a weed that grew around so many other things and stayed. I got a back injury out of the experience, and I have (admittedly mild) flashbacks every time it flares up. It sucks, and this is me fifteen years out.

I felt the need to share these facts because I really wanted to write about this book, and I couldn’t think of a way to talk about what’s so awesome about it without talking about why it matters so much to me. (I know I haven’t told the story… I’m not quite ready for that yet, even though it’s nothing outside the ordinary. To be honest, though, I don’t think it much matters what the details are. The facts tell one story, but I still have a hard time ignoring all the other messages that for years prevented me from telling myself the truth.)

Chelsea, the heroine of The Billionaire Takes a Bride, was similarly choked (and yoked) by the conflicting messages that made it difficult for her to talk about her trauma and heal. She’d been roofied in a neighborhood bar and woke up in a dumpster. You might think, reading that bald sentence, that there’s no way her story could be anything but the one thing, but you really shouldn’t underestimate the insidious messages we tell our young women every day:

Be vigilant. Don’t go out alone. Never leave your drink unattended.

And while those are all good pieces of advice, on the other side lies the idea that if a woman isn’t vigilant or goes out alone or leaves her drink unattended and the “unthinkable” happens, it’s as much her responsibility as the rapist’s. After all, she knew better. We hear this victim-blaming every time there is a news story about sexual assault and the reporter or pundit or well-meaning family member sitting next to you comments on how alcohol is so dangerous or how young women should be careful about what they’re wearing in public or how women shouldn’t go out at night alone. Sadly, I don’t often hear a lot of pundits spending time talking about how men should stop raping women… funny, that.

Back to the book. So Chelsea withdraws from her life, pulling away from the friends and experiences that defined her before life. By chance, she attends a Roller Derby bout and decides to join a league, and she finds a workable new normal. She opens a small business selling handmade soaps online and devotes the rest of her energies to roller derby, an exercise that allows her to escape her reality for a bit and to recapture some of her lost joie de vivre. As Chesty La Rude, Chelsea can safely exhibit her now-dormant sexuality for a time, and then put it away again.

One of the things I like about romance as a genre is that the stories so often model the redemptive and/or healing power of love to set wayward or hurting humans back on a right or more healthy path. In The Billionaire Takes a Bride, Clare cleverly uses the marriage of convenience and friends-to-lovers tropes to enable these two characters to pursue a relationship in a way that isn’t traumatizing for Chelsea (and off-putting for readers). Their mutually-beneficial relationship and friendship that turns slowly into something more gives the characters a lot of time to get to know each other and explore physical intimacies with a strong foundation of trust.

And, lest you worry, there’s not a magic peen moment, and there’s this great line:

Then again, it was like she said: There’s no rape-victim guidebook on how to feel. She’d been through hell and emerged out the other side. If she took a bit longer to get turned on, then, well, he’d just have to wait for her.

As a character, Chelsea is pretty damn resilient. The woman who deals with crippling PTSD by restarting and creating a new, safe normal for herself isn’t going to passively endure a problem once she’s decided it’s untenable. She figures out a workaround that enables her to pursue a relationship with Sebastian. It helps that Sebastian, being first Chelsea’s friend, feels pretty damn strongly that she should have the right to reclaim her agency. Personally, I found it rather beneficial to read about the path these characters take toward healing. By the crisis point in the book, Chelsea is doing much better — starting to reach out to her before life, her old friends — and so is Sebastian, starting to share his art and find ways to solve the purposeless ennui of his privileged life.

Of course, I have a couple of criticisms of the book. Sebastian is almost too good a character. He’s a little aimless in his life, sure, but he doesn’t have many other rough edges to make you really want to engage in his story. (I mean, I understand… he’s kind of like the ideal soft landing space for Chelsea, but… it makes him a little one-dimensional.) And I would have preferred if the conflict in the book had focused on the two characters rather than on another character swooping in and perpetrating the worst sort of villainy upon Chelsea. Home girl had already been raped… she didn’t need any more trauma. Neither did I. The denouement is appropriately sweet, and Sebastian gets to be all heroic, but…

Anyway… disturbing conflict aside, I enjoyed reading The Billionaire Takes a Bride and I found it, on the whole, much more therapeutic than damaging, which cannot always be said about books involving characters recovering from sexual assault. After reading it, I felt much more inclined to look back on my old trauma and deal with some of the things I’ve been hiding from for years. And publishing this post is part of my process.

There is no guidebook for these things. There’s no right way to recover from the traumas we survive. For me, I find that there is a lot of power to be found in reading a good book. I get to practice empathy with characters, and sometimes I am even able to transfer that empathy to myself.

So how am I doing? Well… I read a book.

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The battle of the stereotypes: douche-canoe vs. cat lady

Hi again! So a couple of months ago (or something? Whatever. Some time ago. Any mention of time gets really complicated when it takes me months to write a damn post.), I saw a series of tweets from Charlotte Stein about how much she loved Magic Mike XXL. I was particularly struck by these:

(I mean, sort of as an aside, I think your life is missing something if you’re not following Charlotte Stein on Twitter. She’s magical.) Anyway, these tweets struck me because I’d read and was sort of mentally circling Jessica Clare’s latest billionaire release, and they helped me identify an element about the book that I found both fascinating and a little problematic.

Edie’s an overbearing cat behaviorist who’s not big on people. Magnus is a newly-rich game developer who likes to be in control. When the two of them meet at Gretchen and Hunter’s masquerade engagement party, the loathing is mutual. Unfortunately for them—and everyone else—they’re in the wedding party together and must deal with each other for the next few months.

But when Magnus’s younger brother falls for Edie’s sister, he begs for his brother’s help in concocting a plan to win her over. If Magnus can keep the prickly Edie occupied, his brother will have time to woo Edie’s sister. Of course, Magnus isn’t interested in the slightest, but Edie is…intriguing. And stubborn. And smart. And sexy. And they might have more in common than they thought.

Before long, it becomes a challenge between the two of them to see who will be tamed first. But how’s Edie going to react when she finds out that Magnus is using her? And how’s Magnus going to handle the fact that he’s fallen for a cat lady?

I had to read this book, you guys. It had me at Shakespeare, of course, but there was the also the promise of Gretchen (one of my favorite romance heroines of all time) and the cat lady thing. And it totally delivered on all three fronts — as a Taming of the Shrew adaptation it worked almost as well as Ten Things I Hate About You (my favorite adaptation…); there was definitely a lot of Gretchen in the book, and she was as sassy and balls-to-the-wall as I’ve come to expect; and cats ended up figuring prominently in the plot of the book — but the meet cute very nearly derailed the whole thing.

Before Edie is introduced to Magnus, she overhears him and a few of the other groomsmen talking shit about the bridesmaids (dishing on their relative fuckability, basically), and she takes an instant dislike to him both because it’s just a shitty thing to do and because he makes a snide comment about cat ladies. Don’t get me wrong: I’m a Pride and Prejudice fan, and I like the heroine overhears the hero saying something objectionable and takes an instant dislike to him trope as much as anybody. My beef with this particular meet-cute is that Magnus acts in a decidedly unheroic manner (although not nearly as unheroic as the other douchebags in the scene), and that makes it really hard to root for him later on. (Actually, let me interrupt myself again… it’s entirely possible that Clare will make some of those other douchebags the heroes of their own books at some point, so it’s not just a question of Magnus’ being unheroic… I’m wondering if we’ve got an entire series built around — or at least involving — douchey heroes. Anyway, I guess that’s a worry for the future.) There’s a world of difference between “She’s tolerable, I suppose, but not handsome enough to tempt me” and “Shut the fuck up…Or I’m gonna insist you hook up with the cat ladies. Just don’t get them too excited or you might end up with a hairball on your–”

I’m hesitating on letting that paragraph stand, by the way, because I’m not 100% certain that I wouldn’t love, just for the sake of its being subversive, a story that centered around a heroine who behaved pretty much the way Magnus does at the beginning of The Taming of the Billionaire. It feels different to me because Magnus isn’t being subversive here… he’s behaving exactly the way I’ve been culturally conditioned to believe all men behave in groups when isolated from women (or when interacting through the buffer of the internet, perhaps). But, honestly? This seems like lazy characterization, and that’s why it bothers me (beyond the obvious that it confirms and perpetuates a ridiculous gender myth; sure, the book seems to say, all men are douchebags, but only until they meet the right cat lady.). This is a Taming of the Shrew adaptation, so there has to be some antipathy between the main characters, and I would have liked it so much more if that antipathy were more complicated than the inherent conflict between a douche-canoe and a cat lady.

(It’s possible that someone out there is still wondering why 10 Things I Hate About You is my favorite adaptation of this story. It’s probably got more to do with my age than anything, but (and I just re-watched it) it still strikes me as funny and interesting and manages to balance its more questionable elements with some unexpected social analysis. I do wish that there were more groveling at the end, but I pretty much always want more groveling.)

Anyway, back to The Taming of the Billionaire… While I was tempted to give up on the book after the inauspicious meet cute, I’m glad I stuck with it. It features perhaps the grandest (certainly the most cat-filled) romantic gesture I’ve ever come
across in a romance novel, and it has all the groveling I could ever want. I’m going to keep reading Jessica Clare’s billionaire stories. Among the veritable horde of such stories, hers stand out for humor and a batch of truly badass heroines who are (for me) the antidote to all those stories about PAs who are swept away by money rain and terrible behavior. Bonus, as of this posting date, The Taming of the Billionaire is $0.99. I’d jump on that if I were you.

*FTC disclosure – I received an e-ARC from the publisher via NetGalley for review consideration. My opinion is my own.*

Kelly & Kim’s dueling review of Once Upon a Billionaire by Jessica Clare

My buddy Kim from Reflections of a Book Addict got me hooked on Jessica Clare’s Billionaire Boys Club series (which, just to interject, does make me think of the Babysitters Club books every single time I see the series name.) Check out our reviews of the other three books here, here, and here.

The Billionaire Boys Club is a secret society of six men who have vowed success—at any cost. Not all of them are old money, but all of them are incredibly wealthy. They’re just not always as successful when it comes to love…
As a member of the royal family in a small European country, Griffin Verdi’s presence is requested at the wedding of the century. The scholarly billionaire feels out of his depth in social situations, so a good assistant is required—especially when dealing with royal etiquette.
Unfortunately for Griffin, he’s stuck with Maylee Meriweather, a pretty, charming, and thoroughly unsuitable woman who doesn’t know a thing about high society—but she sure can kiss. Her lack of polish may sink Griffin, because after all, even his money can’t buy class. But through Maylee’s eyes, he’s starting to appreciate the simple things in life—if simple means the most complicated woman he’s ever met.
Maylee is everything Griffin isn’t—and everything he wants—if he can let down his guard and step outside his sheltered world…

Kelly: Months ago, Kim sent me a link to the blurb for this book, and I was like WHAAA?! Griffin and Maylee?!? And I was so worried that it would be terrible. I probably could have spared myself some of that worry, however, because it was pretty much predetermined that I would love the book (or force myself to love it) because I am clearly delusional and I fucking love stories about make-believe kingdoms (it might be Mr. Rogers’ fault) and rags to royalty stories and the like.

Kim: I shared Kelly’s apprehension about Once Upon A Billionaire mainly because of the heroine. We meet her in Beauty and the Billionaire as Hunter’s “hickish,” deeply Southern secretary. A woman who keeps her notes on Post-Its. Says gee-golly wizz….You get the idea.

Kelly: Don’t knock post-its! I keep my notes on them, too. In fact, I put post-its all over my monitors and desk. (And sometimes post-its end up on my butt. Don’t judge.)

Kim: HAHA I would never judge you. And Post-Its are great and all – I just don’t approve of them as your only way of schedule keeping, etc. (Especially when you’re the secretary for a man as busy as Hunter!)

Kelly: Well, maybe… but I’m an EA, too, and I’m just saying that extreme post-it usage is not necessarily a sign of workplace incompetence. I had no idea I felt so passionate about post-its. Right. Moving on (and butting out).

Kim: HA! Well Post-Its aside, I was nervous about this heroine being paired with Griffin, a Royal Viscount of a made-up country. He’s pretty particular about things and honestly has a stick up his ass most of the time. You can probably understand why Kelly and I felt nervous about reading Once Upon A Billionaire.

Kelly: To an extent, some of our fears about this book were realized. (More on that later.) But you know what? This book is so damn funny that I didn’t even care that there were some plot holes bigger than the state of Montana or that Griffin was kind of an assmunch or that Maylee is magically transformed from a hopeless, incompetent bumpkin with a penchant for informality to a stunningly efficient assistant overnight with seemingly no learning curve. You read that right: those things are all there, but they don’t matter so much once you start reading this book.

Kim: True story. The humor of this book is so strong, that it effectively allowed me as a reader to look past its flaws and just appreciate the story. The rags to riches Cinderella story should have pissed me off (Griffin buying Maylee clothes, telling her that her appearance was horrible, giving her a makeover/new hairstyle), but the humor of those situations (and probably the fact that it all backfires on Griffin) had me laughing through it, rather than raging.

Kelly: Kim and I may have mentioned a time or two that Gretchen (the heroine of Beauty and the Billionaire) is pretty much our favorite character in the history of ever. A significant portion of this book’s humor comes from Gretchen’s role in manipulating Griffin into hiring Maylee; sending vaguely abusive text messages to Griffin to remind him that he’s an asswipe; and yelling at him when he calls Hunter. Here’s a random sampling of Gretchen’s lines in this book:

“Wow, Griff, a pike up your ass and a foot in your  mouth. That’s quite a feat.”

“Hey, I know…Why don’t you take another swig of ‘Shut the Hell Up’ and let me care for my man?”

Kim: While Gretchen does offer up many comedic moments in the book, it was ultimately Malyee that had me cracking up the most. At one point in the novel, while climaxing during sex with Griffin, she yells out “LORDAMERCY.” I guffawed out loud so hard that I spit out my tea and immediately started texting Kelly. Maylee’s southern manners mixed with Griffin’s uptight personality and Gretchen’s snark really helped move the book along.

Kelly mentioned before that there were large plot holes in this book and I have to agree. The main premise of the novel is that Griffin is heading to his (made up) home country for his cousin’s royal wedding. His assistant/dresser/manservant/butler person gets sick before the trip and Griffin therefore needs a new assistant to assist him. Kelly and I are still not sure why it was possibly apocalyptic that his mother find out that his one servant was sick.

Kelly: Oh, come on, Kim. If Griffin’s mother knew that Kip had the chicken pox, she would force Griffin to hire a whole bevy of staff, and Griffin’s just not that into hovering staff. (Never mind that he’s unable to dress himself, doesn’t understand how currency works, can’t drive anywhere because he has no sense of direction and GPS is for weenies, and seemingly lacks any kind of common sense about cause and effect. For example, it doesn’t even occur to him that people who want to eat in private should probably request private dining rooms and people who don’t want to be followed by paparazzi should probably not drive in cars that advertise “ROYAL FAMILY IN THIS CAR.”) Anyway, I’m just saying that Griffin’s need to show up with his own staff totally makes sense. Because, let me tell you, it’s a slippery slope from showing up at a royal event without an assistant to living in a 10,000 room mansion with 400,000 retainers. I’m not kidding. It happens just like that. And Griffin don’t play that.

Kim: Along with all that ridiculousness – can you explain to me how one gets lost in his own hometown? If Griffin lived with 100 servants all the time his inability to care for himself would make sense. But he’s been living with one assistant for several years. A thirty-something in today’s world that can’t figure out GPS? Or ATMs? It all rang a bit unrealistic.

Kelly: I am actually a little impressed that Griffin was able to operate buttons. Those things are fucking hard to use! My three-year-old can tell you all about it. She’s like, velcro and zippers are BOSS.

Kim: HA. Your daughter is smart. Velcro and zippers are BOSS. I guess we should probably discuss something positive about the book besides the humor now.

For me, I was a big fan of how this Cinderella story got turned upside down. Griffin spends so much time and energy attempting to make Maylee his kind of “presentable,” that it’s truly a shock to him when he realizes he’s succeeded and hates the result. He begins to understand that the perfectly quaffed, elegantly dressed, well-mannered woman he turns Maylee into is not at all what he wants. He misses the way she calls him Mr. Griffin instead of Lord Viscount (insert 10 more names here). He misses her outrageously large curls. And yes, he even misses her hand knit clothing.

Kelly: Yes, that was one of the more lovely parts of the story, that Griffin realizes that (1) he’s not nearly as awesome as he thinks he is; (2) wealth and the trappings of it are not always superior to everything and (3) it’s Maylee he loves, and all the things about her that make her special and individual, and those things are diminished when he tries to make her “perfect.” ALSO, he realizes that he’s kind of an asshat for even trying to mess around with her appearance and wardrobe, like she’s not good enough for him. (Gretchen helps with that discovery.)

Kim: Thank God for Gretchen! She’s helped a lot of the characters in this series realize they’re assholes.

Kelly: I’m a tiny bit ambivalent about one of my favorite things in this book. (How can that be? Don’t worry: I’ll explain.) Maylee seemed to undergo a fairly abrupt shift about a third of the way through the story, and that shift seemed to coincide with the reveal of Griffin’s interest in her (if ya know what I mean). That shift kind of bothers me, but I like SO MUCH what she became (hence the ambivalence). At the beginning of the book, Maylee is super timid, and she’s pretty intimidated by Griffin — especially after their less than auspicious meeting when she’s experiencing a xanax/alcohol interaction, calls him “Mr. Gryffindor” and demands hugs. Then Griffin kisses her, and all of a sudden she’s confident and comfortable with her own sexuality and more than willing to take the initiative with Griffin (if ya know what I mean). And — yes — those characteristics are all wonderful to see in a lady character (especially one in a billionaire romance novel), but it would have been better if she had exhibited those traits all along. I mean, it’s just a little too coincidental that Griffin’s kiss (he used to be a Prince, you know) is the thing that spurs all this character growth. Maybe he’s magic.

Kim: I completely get what you’re talking about. She looses some of her country “bumpkinness” and does in a way become a bit more refined. Her speech isn’t as drawling, her appearance is a bit more put together – yet her confidence level has gone through the roof. So as women shouldn’t we be happy that she’s become confident in herself? BUT at the same time, I’m bothered at what instigates the changes, just like Kelly. A sexual awakening is all well and good for a woman. But a sexual awakening caused by a man who keeps trying to change you? Not so great.

Kelly: Slightly less empowering.

Kim: Exactly where I was going with that.

In conclusion, I’m not sure I see Maylee and Griffin’s relationship “going-the-distance.” Their worlds are so much more than just financially opposite. Griffin’s family (specifically his mother) is so hardened against “commoners” that I don’t see her accepting of Griffin’s choice of Maylee. An interaction with Griffin’s family post their getting together would have helped me probably. But I guess that’s what future books are for, yeah?

Kelly: Yeah, and let’s just talk about the ending for a second. There were things I liked about it… Griffin had clearly been an asshat through much of the book, and it was satisfying that he had to chase Maylee, step out of his comfort zone and get Arkansas dust on his fussy shoes (I’m just guessing he wears fussy shoes… he seems the type). I particularly liked that Maylee doesn’t fully accept his apology right away — because he hurt her, and he damaged her trust in him, and that kind of thing can’t be magically repaired — but it’s a little strange how Clare makes it happen.  I mean, I can imagine a whole host of reasonable responses to a clearly sincere, yet not quite enough, apology: “I need some time,” perhaps, or, “Let’s maybe slow this down a bit and work together to reestablish the trust that’s been lost.” Reasonable, right? Yeah, well, that’s not what happens.

Kim: Instead she agrees to come back and be his assistant, but ONLY until she can trust him. Then she’ll quit and just be with him.

Say wha?

You don’t trust the man….but you want to be financially beholden to him? And live with him? I don’t get it. Also, the way Clare writes the ending, I get the sense that Maylee is totally ok with being a trophy girlfriend/wife. It’s like as soon as her trust is earned again she’s ok with quitting her job and basically being his sex slave for life.

Kelly: And can we talk for just a second about how strange it is to agree to live with someone, to continue having sex with someone, and to insist on being employed by someone whom you don’t really trust? Like, totally strange for both parties. Why in the world would either of them be OK with that situation?  And the thing that finally earns her trust? He throws her a party and invites a newspaperman from his home country. And Maylee’s like, OMG, you’re willing to let your family know about me? I’m not a dirty secret? I LOVE YOU FOREVER AND AM TOTALLY OVER HOW YOU WERE A RIDICULOUS ASSHAT. OBVS. YOU’VE CHANGED. Also, I QUIT.

Kim:YES! Can we speak about the party for a minute also? A huge conflict in this book is Griffin’s mother and her views on his life, commoners, etc. He falls in love with a girl who is basically EVERYTHING his mother hates. He throws the party as a way to introduce her to his friends, but ALSO as a way for his family to find out about her. How is there not a scene with the mother reacting to Maylee as a future daughter-in-law? That conflict builds and builds and builds for the whole book without ever cresting and reaching a conclusion.

Also, if I were Maylee I’d be pretty pissed that my new intended didn’t have the balls to tell his family about me himself.

Kelly: Oh Lordamercy, yes! It was such a strange (and disappointing) ending to what was otherwise a fairly problematic yet incredibly fun book.

Kim’s final thoughts: So in conclusion – What made this series special to me from the beginning was how it chose to not follow the protocol for billionaire romances. They were about strong-willed women who didn’t fall for money. They fell for the men behind the wallets. Once Upon A Billionaire was the complete opposite. Griffin offers Maylee $100,000 a year salary plus another $100,000 severance package and BOOM! They’re together again as employee/boss, girlfriend/boyfriend. What makes the series special was lacking here, and not even Gretchen’s sense of humor could save it.

Kelly’s final thoughts: Kim’s 100% right. I’m not gonna lie: I had a hell of a lot of fun reading this book. I was laughing my ass off left and right, sending Kim gleeful texts, and just enjoying the hell out of it. But when I stopped to think about the book, I realized that it has a lot of problems, and that I’m better off re-reading Beauty and the Billionaire for my much-needed dose of Gretchen awesomeness. I hold out hope for the final two books in the series that they reclaim the subversive glory of the first few books and turn out to be fun, interesting, and much less problematic.

*FTC Disclosure – I received an e-galley via NetGalley from Penguin Group in exchange for an honest review.*

What I read in March – a wry confession

Not too long ago, I wrote about how I had set this wild goal for 2014 to read fewer books and to think about them more.  I want you to know how well I’m doing on that goal.  Are you ready? I read the following books from March 1-31. (Click on any of the covers to learn more about these books.)  Oh, and I’m listing them in the order in which they were read, from March 1 through to March 31.

That’s 22 books (9 novellas, 13 full-length novels). Maybe I jinxed myself when I so publicly stated my goal. Maybe it was just a coincidence that I ended up binge-reading several authors (Sarah Mayberry, whom I started reading in February, Charlotte Stein, Cara McKenna, Laura Florand, and Maisey Yates). Maybe I just really wanted to read during the month of March, and I should get off my own back.  Either way, I think we can conclude that I spectacularly failed at my goal last month.

But, OH, you guys…. I don’t even care, because some of these books were just so damn good.  If you’ve not read Charlotte Stein (and you’re in the market for erotica), you should do yourself a favor and pick up Control. That book is simply beautiful. And Penny Reid’s Neanderthal Seeks Human will probably make my list of favorites for the year. And Unexpected was, well, unexpected — a contemporary, Oregon-set, cowboy-secret-baby-almost-engagement-of-convenience story that not only worked but also managed to fill me with hand-clapping, bouncing glee?! — and incredibly good (MissB: if you’re reading this, I think you’d love it.). And I really can’t wait until my bestest reading buddy Kim picks up Once Upon a Billionaire, so I can find out if she likes it as much as I did.

And don’t even get me started about those two Laura Florand books (or the one I just finished a few hours ago)… I didn’t think I could like a book better than I liked The Chocolate Touch but then I read The Chocolate Rose and realized maybe there could be a tie in my affections. But then I read The Chocolate Temptation (which I really want Tasha to read) and realized that, really, there’s no way to pick a favorite, and the best thing to do about it is just read all the books over and over and over again, the way my bestest friend in the whole wide world cycles through The Lord of the Rings and Harry Potter.

So, there you have it. I may have failed at my goal, but I WON AT ALL THE OTHER THINGS. Stay tuned for future posts discussing these very books in greater detail. And happy Friday, everybody!

 

Kelly and Kim discuss The Wrong Billionaire’s Bed by Jessica Clare

Oh, billionaire books…  I’ve been known to bitch about how bad they are, but my buddy Kim (from Reflections of a Book Addict) came across this series by Jessica Clare that avoids many of the pitfalls common to the subgenre.  Clare’s billionaire heroes (except Hunter) do tend to run true to type — successful at business and meaningless affairs, hopeless at relationships; inclined to fix all problems with money; etc. — but her heroines are a different breed from the ones I’ve encountered in other billionaire stories.  Clare’s heroines cannot be controlled through sex — which doesn’t mean they lack the ability to feel attraction or to respond to chemistry… it just means they aren’t bizarrely portrayed characters whose responses to objectionable behavior can be suppressed or negated by arousal — and they aren’t overly impressed by money.  In fact, Clare’s heroines think it’s really creepy when their heroes try to buy them things like clothing, lingerie, diners (you read that right), book deals, etc.

Kim finally got me to read the first book in the series, and I was impressed, even though I didn’t completely love it.  So I read the second book, Beauty and the Billionaire, and I loved it. So of course I read The Wrong Billionaire’s Bed (and you know I’ll be buying the fourth book when it comes out in a few months.).

The blurb, courtesy of Goodreads:

Audrey Petty’s always been the responsible one. The good twin.  Successful, dependable, and trustworthy–that’s Audrey. She’d be the perfect girlfriend for her childhood crush, billionaire Cade Archer…except that she’s pretty sure she’s not even on his radar. But when fate (and her chaotic twin) come together, Audrey finds out that she’ll be spending the next month with Cade at his remote cabin retreat. It’s a dream come true…

Until she meets her worst nightmare.

Billionaire playboy Reese Durham is used to seducing women to get what he wants. But when stiff, too-proper Audrey bursts into the private mountain lodge and scares his companion out the door, it’s time for a little revenge. It’s clear that Audrey’s in love with his buddy, Cade…and it’s clear to Reese that blackmailing Audrey with this information can get her to agree to just about anything. Like furtive kisses in the dark, or a secret rendezvous in the woods. Audrey may think she knows what she wants, but Reese is determined to show her what she needs.

And as Reese discovers the volatile minx behind the buttoned-up exterior, he starts to think maybe she’s just what he needs, too.

Kelly: I’m suffering from a short attention span today, so I think we should throw our thoughts into a series of pros/cons lists and then go from there.

Kim: We have enjoyed unique review formats recently, so this fits in perfectly. 🙂

The characters:

Reese

Pros

Cons

Kim: Reese worked as a perfect foil for Audrey. Audrey’s all uptight and rigid while Reese is a more “fly-by-the-seat-of-your-pants” kind of guy.

Kelly: the ‘playboy hero who’ll fuck anything that moves’ trope is a little hard to make into a believable romance hero.

Kelly: I liked that Reese wasn’t exactly a billionaire. He was still having to work for his outrageous fortune, and it gave him a vulnerability that I didn’t expect to find in a billionaire romance.  Reese, like Clare’s other billionaire heroes, is actually shown actively working on his business, and that’s a refreshing change from other billionaire heroes that are purportedly serious about making money but are never shown doing anything besides stalking the heroine or having all the sex. Businessmen actually doing business? REMARKABLE.

Kelly: It was also a little awkward that Reese was OK with being Audrey’s ticket to hot sex while she was waiting around for Cade to fall in love with her.  Like, I get that he’s characterized as a man hoor who’ll sleep with anything — so it would be weird for him to turn her down — but, honestly…

Kim: I liked that Reese stood up for Audrey when her twin sister Daphne was being an asshole. Everyone else (even in the 2nd book in this series) babies Daphne and allows her to do and say whatever she wants. Reese sees how upset Audrey gets and gives Daphne a taste of her own medicine back. I totally respected him for that.

Kelly: Reese can cook.

Kelly: But it was strange that Reese would cook up some awesome food and then tell everyone that Audrey made it, because he was trying to help her land Cade.  On the one hand you could go, aww, that’s sweet that he was helping the woman he was boinking to land another man, but… you really do have to step back and ponder (1) why you’d associate that wacky behavior with sweetness and (2) why Audrey’s ability (or not) to cook would have any bearing on whether or not Cade recognized her as a legitimate love interest.  What is this, 1950?

Audrey

Pros

Cons

Kelly: Audrey isn’t shy about her sexuality.  I expected her to be a bit reticent, to allow Reese to take the lead (I mean, seriously, one of the tropes of billionaire romances is that all those guys are Doms, right?), but Audrey is an initiator and isn’t about to be ashamed of it.

Kelly: But Audrey doesn’t feel confident in her sexuality around Cade, the dude she’s convinced she loves.  In a way, that was the hardest part to swallow about her character, for me, that she so firmly believed in her love for Cade and so openly accepted her own sexuality (as far as its expression with the guys in her past and with Reese was concerned), but could not connect that sexuality with Cade.  How could she possibly believe she was in love with him? She’s not actually dumb.  ???

Kim: Audrey is constantly thinking about others. Trying to take care of her sister, being the perfect assistant for Logan, cooking for the cabin (even though she knows she’s a terrible cook). She is constantly putting the needs of others before her own needs, illustrating her generous nature.

Kim: Audrey is constantly thinking about others. (It’s a catch 22) It’s great to think about others, but at what detriment to yourself? The scene in which she asks Logan for time off to take care of her sister – it saddened me to see how timid she was and kept offering concessions for her actions. (As if an employee taking time off was a terrible thing) She never expects anyone to reciprocate kindness back to her in the amounts she gives.

Kelly: Audrey reads romance novels!!

Kim: Audrey’s obsession with being a “good twin” got old after a while. What exactly does it mean to be “good?” Your twin sister is a drug addict. Honestly, not doing drugs automatically makes you “good one.”

Kim: Audrey’s vulnerable and insecure. This made her seem normal and relatable to me as a reader. She’s insecure about her weight (what woman isn’t?), she finds flaws within her character, etc. She isn’t perfect and she recognizes her limitations. (A respectable trait in my opinion)

Kelly: I loved how Audrey was willing (and able) to be the strong one, to (FINALLY) give Daphne the tough love she needed.  It broke my heart that her strength was so isolating, that she had to lock her heart up to achieve it, but it was a lovely piece of character work.

The secondary characters (Daphne & Cade)

Pros

Cons

Kelly: As secondary characters, Daphne and Cade are both a little light on characterization… So Cade’s basically the perfect man, and Daphne is beautiful and bright but also self-absorbed and suffering from addiction.  I KNOW, that sounds like a con, but it was actually nice to have them in the story because they’re lovely foils for Audrey and Reese.  Cade/Audrey cling so hard to the ‘good’ role, and Reese/Daphne suffer from low expectations — their own and others’.  That was neat.

Kim: I touched upon this above, but DAPHNE IS ATROCIOUS. I get that she’s going through a detox from insane amounts of drugs but she takes absolutely no responsibility for her actions or for the decisions that led her to her current predicament. I have difficulty feeling anything but annoyance for selfish characters like that.

Kim: I found it hard to believe that someone who is as successful as Cade could be as naive as he was written. We’re shown in a flashback scene that Cade has a rags-to-riches story. Maybe I’m not informed enough in the business world, but I don’t see someone becoming a billionaire in that short an amount of time by being a doormat.

The story

Pros

Cons

Kelly: The chemistry between Reese and Audrey was fantastic, and I thought the sex scenes were really well done, magic penis/vagina notwithstanding.

Kim: Reese and Audrey both have “magic sex organ” syndrome and, as a result, are not written with a lot of emotional development. They develop intimacy through magic sex instead of actual character development.

Kim: I really enjoyed the dares that Reese kept giving Audrey. He recognizes her sexuality and gives her multiple opportunities to own up to it. (And to prove her feelings for Cade)

Kelly: But I could have done without anal sex being the constant joke of all those dares.  I mean, it was nice that Reese never once said something like, “I can’t wait to get in your butt; here, why don’t you just walk around with this buttplug shoved up your ass all day.”  It’s always refreshing not to encounter that kind of dialogue. But it was a trifle irritating that instead the story fetishized anal sex, like it’s the craziest thing these two kids could possibly do.

Kelly: In order to save his business, Reese has to tap into the Power of Friendship.  I liked that, even though his friendships with the other five billionaires actually represent a hinky legal issue with all the insider trading shenanigans… But whatever! It’s FRIENDSHIP.

Kim: AND WHAT’S BETTER THAN FRIENDSHIP!?!?!?!??!?!??!?

SPOILER ALERT:

Kim: The secret baby and the reasons that the baby is kept a secret from Reese. The last time I checked, it took two people to make a baby. When neither person worries about birth control precautions they are equally responsible for that pregnancy. Why Audrey felt Reese would consider her pregnancy an attempt at securing him for marriage I’ll never understand. He kept asking her and asking her to get engaged PRIOR to knowing she was pregnant. As Kelly mentioned above, Audrey isn’t stupid.

Kelly: Except when she is.

Kelly: The ending was a little rough on my suspension of belief.  So legendary man hoor Reese, having experienced the glories of Audrey’s magic vagina, is suddenly all about commitment.  He who has never actually dated (just fucked) moves with maddening speed from “Hey girl, I miss you. Let’s try to date,” to “Hey girl, let’s get married tomorrow.”  For reals: he makes that jump in a matter of minutes.  Even Audrey was like, “ummm… you crazy. Let’s slow it down a bit…” Then there’s a secret baby epilogue.  WHY?!?!?!

Kim: It’s obvious that the author meant to have Audrey be Reese’s wake-up call for life and make him want to commit. It’s unfortunate that it wasn’t written in a way illustrating that, which is where our issues lie.

Kelly’s final thoughts:  To be honest, I think I would have been fine with this book — even with all the oddities — if not for the secret baby ending and the way it was handled.  But that bit just left a foul taste in my mouth.  Other readers might not have a problem with it (I mean, for reals, it’s The Billionaire’s Secret Baby.  That’s fantastic!), but I took mighty exception to Audrey’s notion that her pregnancy was her fault because Reese started riding bareback too soon after she got on the pill.  Fuck that.  It’s his penis.  It’s not as though he didn’t have enough money for condoms.  I didn’t hate this book, but I didn’t love it, either.

Kim’s Final Thoughts: I’m with Kelly. Didn’t hate it but didn’t love it, either. As you can tell from all our lists, it walks a fine line. And even though my feelings are “meh” about it, I’d recommend it for 3 reasons. 1) The great sexual chemistry between Audrey and Reese. 2) Towards the end of the book Gretchen (our heroine from book two Beauty and the Billionaire) bursts into the men’s poker game. The scene that follows is one of the funniest in the series to-date. Totally worth the read for that scene alone. And finally, 3) If you are a tired of reading romance books that have billionaires buying their way into the heroine’s hearts, then read this series. In each one Clare showcases women who aren’t impressed by money. This, in my humble opinion, makes this billionaire series better than any of the others out there.

Kelly’s final thoughts (for reals this time): Oh, I forgot about that scene!  Kim’s right… the bit where Gretchen crashes the poker night is absolutely the most entertaining scene in the book and one of the funniest bits of dialogue I’ve ever read (and served to remind me just how much I loved the second book in this series).