I’ve never been much into Romance. My taste definitely runs more to the thriller or the urban fantasy bent.
But Michelle at The Barenaked Critic is an avid reader of romance, and has been twisting my arm into the genre. On a weekend retreat, she brought a pile of romance books that she wanted to read, and curious, I picked one up. The summary looked interesting, and I have to admit, the fake girlfriend/boyfriend trope is one of my favorites in fanfiction, so I thought “Why not?” I’d try it.
In Michelle’s defense, she hadn’t read the novel. She just HAD it.
The first fifty pages were good. The main male character, Travis Bravo (silly name, but at least it wasn’t something completely cliché, like Rod), is an adorable failure whose mother runs rip shod right over him. His love interest, Sam Jaworski, is loud, bright, obnoxious, and curses like a sailor.
So far, so excellent.
They come up with some complicated plan to dupe Travis’s mom into getting her off his back by pretending to be engaged. And, honestly, that’s where the story goes downhill. I can accept the fake girlfriend thing. What lost me was this need to turn Sam into this stunning heiress overnight. Sure, a bit of coaching is one thing, but after a week of “learning how to be a woman” (UGH. GAH ME), Sam is suddenly this debutante, who handles herself well in heels and slinky dresses.
We had just established her as loud, crass and honest.
And don’t get me started on how her coach controls Sam more than teaches her. It’s one thing to order a complicated meal just to teach her how to eat it. (Like, shrimp? I had to have someone show me how to deshell and eat them. Because I honestly had no idea how to crack those tasty suckers open.) But he forces her to starve under some misguided notion that woman eat delicately and she hadn’t “earned” her food.
Say it with me. NO.
This is not okay. If anyone tells you that you have to earn your food, they are being controlling, manipulative assholes, and you need to relieve them of their front teeth.
The rest of the story falls apart soon after that when Travis and Sam finally get to his parent’s home.
Everything is perfect. Too perfect. Sam charms Travis’s family. Everyone loves her. Travis falls for her. They decide to get together. Less than a week later, Travis proposes, and Sam accepts.
Really? Now they’re in love and engaged? Where’s my conflict? Where’s my scenes of Travis’s mom getting suspicious and spying on them, searching their luggage for condoms or something? Where is my scene of Sam inevitably getting frustrated with this posh lifestyle and going full-blown drunken sailor on them?
The most conflict we get in the story is Travis pushing Sam too quickly. Even then, that’s quickly resolved when Travis “thinks” about it, and stop pushing Sam so much.
Then they get married. The end.
That’s it. That’s the whole book.
On top of the complete and utter lack of anything resembling a fight in this story, Travis himself comes off as a manipulative, misogynistic jerk.
“She reminded him of the women in the science fiction novels her couldn’t get enough of as a kid—warrior women, tall and commanding, who lived in strange jungles on faraway planets, who dressed in leather pelts and hammered silver and hunted fantastical creatures using only a shield and spear. Women who didn’t need men—or thought they didn’t.
“Until the right spaceship captain dropped out of the sky.” P. 133
I don’t doubt that there are men who really feel this way—that no matter how capable a women is, they feel like they can “fix” her somehow. But having your main character actively look at his girlfriend this way really turns me off. I really put down the book at this point.
But I didn’t, because I was hoping it’d get better.
Later, after Sam and Travis are engaged for real (only a week after they started the ruse!), Travis mentions something about kids. Sam replies,
“’Our kids…’ she considered that possibility.
“‘I never thought… you and me. Kids.’ She nudged off her shoes, heard them plunk to the bedside rug.
“‘Well, think about it now,’ he said gruffly, sitting up to get rid of his own sweater. ‘Because it’s going to happen.’” P. 148
“’And I’m so glad.’” P. 148
Really? A man you’ve been dating for a week tells you “[Kids are] going to happen,” and your reply is “I’m so glad”? This came completely out of left field. Not once did Sam mention or think of having kids of her own. Everything her character had stated that she wanted was a job, a new career direction, and to get off that oil rig. Not once did she even mention wanting to settle down and have a child.
I expected Travis to want kids, but that demanding, ‘not taking no for an answer’ tone really pissed me off. If he wanted kids, he needed to ask Sam about it. Ask her what she wanted. Have a fucking conversation with her, not just demand children out of her like she was a breeding cow.
It’s her body. She deserves a goddamn say about it.
Just a few pages later, it gets worse.
“’Sam.’ He didn’t wait for her to finish. ‘We need to get on with having those kids we’ve been talking about…’ P. 151
When were they talking about this? Is this a reference to page 148 when he basically just told her that she was going to pop out babies for him, even if he has to tie her to the bed to do it? This conversation seems to be getting really out of control.
The author tries to explain Travis’s shitty behavior away as his fear of what happened to his first fiancé happening again to Sam. Even so, it doesn’t excuse his suddenly abusive behavior and his attempts to control Sam.
And Sam, for all her “I don’t need no man” strength and determination at the beginning of the story, just totally rolls over for him. Just lets him control her and manipulate her into doing what he wants. Honestly, I was half expecting her to punch him in the jaw after the way he treated her.
“So okay. She was scared. Of her own insecurities of the past that hadn’t really let him go.” P. 165
Oh honey. You’re not scared of the past. You’re scared of what an abusive asshole he’s being. Run away. Run very far, far away.
With some magic author fairy wand waving, the characters miraculously overcome their hidden fears and insecurities. And the book fast forwards a couple of weeks (weeks!) and boom! It’s their wedding day.
And they get married.
To say I had an issue with the book would be a drastic understatement. Not only where the characters problematic and their relationship questionable, but the author didn’t do anything with them. Everything was just explained away and tied up neatly with a bow, instead of letting the characters hash it out for themselves. And it made the story completely unbelievable.
I’m thinking that next time, I am going to let Michelle actually recommend a book for me to read. Apparently picking these books out based on their covers isn’t going to get me anywhere.