*Crawls out of her weekend writing binge* What do you mean I haven’t finished with this yet? *Cries*
This is the last actual post where I sum up the most egregious offenses Faleena Hopkins committed, and then there will be a masterpost linking to all of the posts related to this travesty of a book.
There are a lot of little things that went wrong. Things that would have dropped stars on their own, but nothing I haven’t seen a million times before. Things like bad proofreading, weak heroes and heroines, bad sex scenes, lack of research. Ultimately if those had been the only problems with this book, it would have been rated two or three stars. Mediocre and unmemorable. Not throw the book across the room worthy.
This book is.
I’m still angry at it.
And that’s a problem.
So what are the things that on their own make this a one star?
For starters: Sean.
“Wait!” I hear you say, “But you liked Sean. He was your favorite character.” And he was. I’m not about to deny that, but the problem with Sean is several-fold.
His story arc of coming out to his family wasn’t relevant and is part of what made this book Not A Romance.
His POV wasn’t needed and again is part of what made this book Not A Romance.
His being gay was not handled well and featured some very hurtful stereotypes.
Once he was out in the book, his entire character changed. And he became sex-obsessed and attention-whoring. Gone was the empathetic generous man. He became Jack… only Gay. And we all know my feelings about Jack.
I’ll cover points one and two later when I get to the part about how this book wasn’t a romance.
I wish Sean had been openly gay from the start. Not because we needed another hurtful stereotype of the “Sassy Gay Friend” which BTW we totally got. But because it would have been better than what we did have. Which to refresh your memory, is this:
So why is this so wrong? Because it contains the following harmful implications:
Queer people must be either completely celibate or…
Queer people must fuck everything that lives.
Never being in love at the ripe old age of 23 is a problem.
Being a virgin at that same age is a problem.
Celibacy is unnatural and wrong.
The first is a huge problem. Currently in the Mormon community, this is the official stance. LBGT+ people must either choose to live a heterosexual life or be completely celibate… no kissing, hugging, or touching of anyone of the same sex. This is leading to a huge rise in Mormon LBGT+ youth in Utah committing suicide because they feel that their families and community won’t love and accept them. There was a whole documentary about it recently on HBO called “Believer.”
The second is a problem because it reinforces the stereotype that all homosexuals are raging sex fiends and unable to be in long term relationships. Or form long term bonds. It’s one of the excuses used by adoption agencies when denying same-sex couples. And worse, it’s why those in the LBGT+ community were blamed for contracting HIV/AIDS and it was seen as divine retribution for the disease, which can affect anyone.
The third is an issue, because it unreasonably puts pressure on young people to hurry up and find love. Love, real love, not infatuation, can happen at any time. That’s part of how love works. I have friends who didn’t find their first love until they were in their thirties or forties. While I know others who found their someone when they were children (a friend met their now spouse when they were in nursery school - they grew up as friends and eventually fell in love). People should be allowed to look for love at their own pace and when they are ready. Not by some arbitrary due date.
The fourth is a huge issue because of the implication that virginity, especially male virginity, is a problem. This thought is one of many that leads to toxic masculinity and the culture where men are predators and women victims. It leads to young men and boys shooting up their schools and workplaces because they were rejected by a woman and couldn’t deal with the repercussions. This thought, that male virginity is bad, is deadly. There is nothing wrong with being a virgin. There is nothing wrong with waiting until you’re ready to have sex. You don’t owe any partner anything. You don’t owe society anything. Male virgins can be awesome lovers. I know. I’ve had two myself.
Finally, there is nothing wrong with celibacy. No one owes you sex. If someone doesn’t want to have sex, then they don’t have to. There are even some people out there who find the whole concept of sex off-putting and there is nothing wrong with that. There are victims of abuse who find sex triggering. Celibacy can be a choice. And if if people are “involuntarily celibate” there is always something called masturbation, and in some places prostitution is legal. No one owes you sex, even if you want it. Period.
It’s really that easy.
The second reason this book would get one star is what is essentially plot-whiplash coupled with an unsatisfying ending. The antagonist doesn’t get his comeuppance and doesn’t actually apologize for what he did. In fact, Jack gets off scot-free because of plot whiplash.
There’s an art to telling a good story. You need to have a good hook early. The longer the story, the more concurrent plots you need juggle. And you need to have a good sense of pacing. Draw things out too long, and your readers will lose interest. Wrap things up too quickly and you leave your audience reeling. Faleena Hopkins manages to do both.
She drags out plots that have no reason being strung along for as long as they are. Things like Rue’s parentage. You told us this in the summary, why does it take you over 6 chapters to get to it in the book? Or Sean’s sexuality - which really shouldn’t have been central to the overall plot of the book yet somehow took it over (when it’s the last line of the book, that means that is also the core plot, FYI endings matter).
But for the most part, Hopkins suffers from plot-whiplash. AKA moving from plot to plot so fast that your head goes back and forth like you’re at a tennis match.
Seriously, the whole novel takes place in less than a week. It took me going back and making a timeline to realize that no really the whole thing takes place that quickly.
The problem with doing things too quickly is that you don’t give the audience time to process what happened. Crucial details get left out. Continuity gets ignored. The whole thing feels rushed. It’s like the author is afraid that if they doesn’t resolve the subplot or conflict quickly they’ll lose readers.
But here’s the thing. Readers don’t want instant happy endings. They want the happy ending to be earned. And that is true in romance as it is in other genres. If, for instance, Poirot immediately solved the Murder on the Orient Express, the story wouldn’t be nearly as iconic.
You’d feel cheated.
As Hitchcock said - “There is no terror in the bang, only in the anticipation of it.”
The same is true in romance. Or any story. It’s the journey that’s important, not the destination.
Which is why I got so angry when I reached the end. Jack hadn’t gotten a valid redemption arc and he’s still the same awful person that he was at the beginning of the novel. Sean actually got worse and his story ended up overshadowing what was ostensibly the more important of the plots (give him his own book, don’t shoehorn it into what is supposed to be a het romance). The Romance wasn’t really resolved in a positive manner. And the answer to the overarching plot – will success ruin Rue Calliwell? - was an overwhelming yes. It may be realistic…. but it’s not satisfying.
The third and biggest reason why this book is deserving of a one-star (I’d give no stars if possible) is because it isn’t a Romance, yet it bills itself as such. I know there’s a lot of problem with Authors miscategorizing their works in order to get that elusive “Bestseller” tag. But this isn’t that. This is the author falling into the pitfall of “Trying to change romance” and ending up not being a romance at all.
Interestingly, Hopkins does miscategorize her book… but in a weird way.
Her book is not an inspirational romance. That category is reserved for “wholesome, faith-filled stories that enrich the lives of readers” - that definition is straight from Harlequin. That means no sex. No swearing. And lots of references to religion (it can be any religion but Christianity is most likely). This is why there are a lot of reviews angry about the sex and the language.
So how did I come to the conclusion that this wasn’t a romance?
To make sure we’re all on the same page, here’s RWA’s definition of Romance.
1. The over-arching plot.
The plot of the story is pretty much spelled out in the summary. “How will fame and fortune change Rue Calliwell as well as how will she handle finding out about the family she never knew she had?”
The romance is secondary. It’s part of how she handles fame, fortune, and her family. Her brother puts his best friend up to seducing her (amusingly I wrote a fanfic with this EXACT plot 14 years ago). The brother is testing his new sibling. The fact that his BFF and sister fall in lust is a side-effect. Not the main plot.
In order for this to be a romance, the characters falling in love and making the relationship work has to be the main focus. And in this book, it just isn’t.
2. The Points of View.
The book is 52 chapters long. Jack, the antagonist brother, has 8 POV chapters. Sean, the sympathetic brother, has 7 POV chapters. Alec, the love interest, has 7 POV chapters. While the rest are in Rue’s POV. What does that indicate?
Well, that the author considered the brothers equally or more important than the love interest. We don’t even meet Alec until page 60-something out of 300 pages. That’s waaaaaay too long for a romance novel. The love interest needs to be introduced quickly. Not a fifth of the way through the book.
3. The “I Love You’s”
You know there’s something wrong with a romance novel when the heroine says “I love you” to all of the other main characters other than love interest. Rue says “I love you” to Jenna. To Sean. To Jack. But not to Alec. Nor does he say it to her.
4. No actual relationship.
The story between Alec and Rue is a pure Lust and Erotica story. It’s a story of obsession. Of possession. The characters don’t talk. They don’t date. They just engage in tonsil hockey and longing looks.
And the way it’s written is about as sexy as that gif.
The thing is, there is a relationship story in this book. But it’s between Rue and her brothers. In fact, everything with Alec can be seen as supporting that story, not the other way around.
5. The ending.
Again the ending needs to be emotionally satisfying and optimistic. To her credit, she kind of gets the optimistic. Rue and Alec are going to try to make things work on a long term basis and he’s going to go public about liking her.
Sounds good, right?
Except that’s not the actual ending of the book. The ending of the book focuses on the siblings and nothing is resolved there. I was left going “is that it?”
I wasn’t satisfied. I wasn’t happy.
I was angry.
Each of those things would make this book ranked one star. (So would the fact that stalking is portrayed as romantic, but I’ve gone into that before so I don’t need to go into it here.)
So it should come as no surprise that this book gets:
For the rest of this review, go to the masterpost.
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