I'm currently reading THE ROYAL WE with the Unapologetic Romance Readers (or the "Romaniacs", as Karly calls them), and that put me in the mood for more trashy royal drama. Conveniently, I received a notification that I'm next on the waitlist for THE SELECTION, and since the prequel was available, I thought I'd read it & see what I'm getting myself into.
At its heart, THE SELECTION is an interesting and titillating idea - what happens if you get thirty-five teen girls (and their hormones) and have them compete for the affection of a prince a la The Bachelor?
It's pure wish fulfillment fantasy.
So is THE ROYAL WE. So is What a Girl Wants. So is PRINCESS DIARIES. And there's not a problem with that, really. There's a time and a place for all sorts of romance stories, even the bad ones. The problem is the execution, in my opinion. THE PRINCE could be glorious, trashy, melodramatic, and awesome...but it reads as very watered down and bland. I think part of that is the way it's being marketed; this is obviously a book for young teens. Had this been written for an older audience (new adult, or even adult), I think it would have been much better, because then it could capitalize on all the things that make reality TV so fun to watch - swearing, sex, alcohol, fighting, name-calling, and passive-aggressively mugging for the camera in between all the former.
I'm also not 100% sold on the world built around this story. It's set in the Kingdom of Illea, which I think is supposed to be a "new" version of America (based on something Maxon said about America - yes, there is a heroine named "America" in this book - and her name). There's also a country called Honduragua (a conglomerate of Honduras and Nicaragua?) and then - France. THE PRINCE gets points for at least referencing the outside world (something its fellow dystopian sisters, DIVERGENT and THE HUNGER GAMES really did not do), but that's it. Just a name drop and vague references that things have changed. But why? (And why is France still France? This is puzzling to me.)
Prince Maxon is the narrator of this short story, and I didn't find him particularly engaging, either. To his credit, he's not a jerk, he's just...kind of whiny. "What if I fall in love with all the girls?" This is something he is legitimately worried about. Oh, Maxon, please. Go sit in the corner for a while. Please. Maxon is the type of guy who really, really wants to be a nice guy. He even believes his intentions are good. But he also oozes smarm from every pore. Calling all the Selected "my dear" is just so icky. I guess when he approaches the Selection expecting to have his butt covered in kisses, it's understandably intriguing when one of the other girls tells you to go to hell, but this concept has been overdone to death, and their hate at first sight is more like mild resentment at first sight, anyway.
Also, don't be fooled by that incredibly misleading blurb. The blurb would have you believe that there's going to be catfights and proclamations of unrequited love. It's really just a very short prologue of the events leading to the first part of book one, except in Maxon's view. "The other girl" in Prince Maxon's life gets a few pages to air her misery before skiving off. I felt sorry for her, because Maxon completely blows her off without even really empathizing with her, and that was sad.
So far, my impressions with this storyline are "meh." I had some people tell me that this book was awful, and I had some people tell me that this book was amazing. It is neither. It is meh. I'm hoping that someone gets slapped in book one, or at the very least that some hair gets pulled. If I'm going to get suckered into reality TV (even if it is in book form), you had better pull out all the stops.
Confession: when this book first came out with the original cover, I thought it was a book about ballet.
Spoiler alert: this book is not about ballet.
When a new young adult title gets released, two things inevitably happen:
1) a whole swarm of bloggers read the book, talk about how they can't even, you guys!, and rate it five stars.
2) I read the book in question, wonder if I'm in a parallel universe where good books turn into bad books, and rate the book one or two stars.
With THE WINNER'S CURSE, I suffered no reader's remorse. This is pretty much everything I expect from young adult - it deals real issues in an intelligent and sophisticated way without talking down to the audience at all. The heroine is calculating, clever, brilliant- a military strategist who is a champion at her world's equivalent of chess. The hero is dark and dangerous, but not in a contrived way. His backstory is quite sad and heart-wrenching, and he has depth to his behavior that makes him seem less scary and more like an honest-to-god love interest.
THE WINNER'S CURSE is about two societies: the Valorians and the Herrani. The Valorians are fair, militaristic, and obsessed with honor. The Herrani, on the other hand, are artisans and intellectuals, who put a premium on artistry and religion, although they also had a powerful navy. The Valorians were jealous of all that the Herrani had achieved - and so, the Valorians decided to take it, and enslave the very people that they had once held in admiration, reducing them to the status of animals as they took them all as their slaves in the very villas where they once resided.
Kestrel is the daughter of a powerful general in the Valorian army. One day, while in the marketplace with her friend, Jess, she comes to a slave auction by accident. She sees a young, attractive man whose rebellious streak will doom him to a life of beatings. Out of a misguided sense of something, she purchases him - and the decision ends up changing her life in unexpected ways. The slave, Arin, is not all that he seems...and as her relationship to him grows closer, it could mean her doom.
Who doesn't love doom in their romances?
One of the best things about THE WINNER'S CURSE was the complexity of the characters. They are both very suspicious, clever people who are good at getting into the heads of others. Watching them try to read each other and gauge one another's thoughts was like watching a chess match between two skilled chess players. This was really well done, and it was especially refreshing to see a female main character who could keep the male main character on his toes, and even best him on occasion.
Boy, this book ended on the mother of all cliffhangers, though. It seems to be going THE HUNGER GAMES route, and I think I can espy a love triangle on the horizon. Honestly, though - at this point, I'm game. Rutkoski has proved herself worthy. THE WINNER'S CURSE is that rare book in a hundred that actually lives up to the hype.
Reading Elle Kennedy's THE DEAL taught me that I could enjoy sports romances. That realization gave me the courage to pick up UNDER THE SPOTLIGHT by Kate Willoughby: another hockey romance.
I liked UNDER THE SPOTLIGHT. It was similar to THE DEAL, except with older characters and an interesting soap opera twist that seemed like it could have been taken out of a scene from Jane the Virgin. Willoughby had a lot of interesting things to say on the topics of celebrity and attraction that made me sit up and pay attention.
I also liked the bro talk. One of the things that makes Kennedy's books so beloved is the bro talk. These ladies write guy talk in a really funny, engaging way that makes us feel like we're part of the club, too. I loved reading about these hockey guys talk about what they loved best - hockey, mainly, and also sex.
My favorite character in the book was actually Hart, who was also gay. The way he was portrayed in the book was really nice. He was attentive to his boyfriend and was not portrayed in a stereotypical way. He just came across as an ordinary guy with a bit of a snark streak who also loved dudes.
I enjoyed the story enough that I later messaged the author asking her if she had any intention of writing more about Hart and his boyfriend, Jeremy. She told me she did, and that was her next project, and that it would be coming out in summer. Lo and behold - my joy when I saw and was accepted for this lovely, lovely ARC on Netgalley. Come to me, my precious!
ON THE BRINK takes place not at the age they are in the main books, but back in college. Jeremy is proudly out and has a crush on one of the hockey players at his school - Hart. When he drags his friend to watch a game, Hart's eyes keep locking with his. After the game, Hart tells him gruffly that he's a distraction, without really elaborating as to why. Then they happen to notice Jeremy's car, which has been defaced with the f-word, and has all the tires slashed. Hart offers him a lift home but they end up making out in the car instead, and Hart gets embarrassed and angry and kicks him out.
In the aftermath of this incident, Jeremy turns the car incident into something he can own. He paints it with rainbow colors and writes "proudly out" in glittery lavender over the f-word. It catches local attention and gets him an interview with the college paper and an intervention with the school principal who wants to make the school a safer place for all diverse students (his intentions are coming from the right place, even if he has all of the subtlety of Dudner Mifflin's Michael Scott).
Some people have been concerned about whether it's GFY. It's not. Hart is seriously buried in the closet, but the signs are there. I think it also makes sense why he would be reluctant to come out, because sports can attract machismo dudes who think that masculinity means being anti-homosexual and anti-woman. I thought his rationalizations of past actions were well done, even though it upset me to see him say cruel things to Jeremy, or selfishly offer him a carte blanche type of relationship with the condition that it's done totally in secret and only in their own home.
There is an HEA but it kind of made me sad, because both characters still feel the need for secrecy. I was hoping for a leap to how both of them became so accepted in the present day, with the Barracudas. I was also hoping to find out who the jerk was that defaced Jeremy's car, and whether he would get his punishment... A longer novel might have answered these questions and more. But this wasn't a bad book. I think it's the author's first M/M work, too, so that might account for some of the awkward scenes, as well.
LOVE AND WAR was a dense, horrific "romance" novel set during the Civil War. THE RAGING HEARTS was the gleefully sadistic sequel, where both characters are again separated and the heroine is manipulated and emotionally abused by pretty much everyone she comes into contact with. In LOVE AND GLORY, the conclusion to the trilogy about Travis & Kitty, the characters are again separated, except this time, there was so much craziness that I literally could not even. To convey the sheer insanity this plot had to offer, I'm going to have to resort to spoilers.
P.S. Speaking of spoilers, do NOT - I repeat, do NOT - read the Goodreads summary for this book. It has a huge spoiler in it. I read the spoiler by mistake (thinking in my innocence that a summary would be spoiler-free); do not make my mistake, for I was once like you, living in ignorant bliss.
**WARNING: Huge, Huge Spoilers!**
Kitty and Travis are living on a farm with their young son, but Travis doesn't like farming and doesn't hide it well. When Kitty finds out that Travis was offered a position to be a U.S. Marshal for Haiti and the Dominican Republic, she pulls the "I'm going to push you away for your own good" stunt with the help of his BFF, Sam. She does this by forcing him to go to a party he doesn't want to go to. There, she receives honors for her medical work (which annoys Travis, because how dare she have a part of her life that doesn't involve him or his child). She nags him the whole time about being more "gentlemanly" and this infuriates him even more, because he doesn't like being told what to do. The plan works: Travis gets angry that Kitty has changed into a nag, and leaves in a huff.
Sulking Kitty sulks, and everyone who hates her (or wants to bone her) takes pleasure that Travis dumped her so publicly. When she's marooned in a sudden and convenient storm, Jerome Danton (the KKK dude from the previous book) decides it's the perfect opportunity to try and rape her, but his wife (and Kitty's arch-nemesis), Nancy Warren, bursts in with a shotgun right as he's getting to it. Jerome panics and tries to claim that Kitty forced herself on him (uh-huh), but Nancy has none of it and kicks him out of the cabin. She then reveals that she's paid Luke Tate (the man who held Kitty hostage and raped her constantly in book one) to take her far, far away. To Nevada, in fact, where Tate plans to become rich by staking out silver mines. After much rape and abuse, Kitty has a mental breakdown and vows that she is going to die...
Meanwhile, in Haiti, Travis is sleeping with one of the local women - an underage girl named Molina and fuming about Kitty. When Molina finds out that Travis is not only married, but has no intent of entering into a common-law marriage with her, she goes to the island voodoo priest to invoke the gods to get revenge on Travis. One of his fellow U.S. expatriates freaks and explains to Travis that he's in huge trouble, but Travis laughs it off as "BS" and it isn't until he's drugged and wakes up in the middle of a voodoo ceremony where everyone starts fornicating and said friend is nearly killed that he even starts to take it seriously. Then he does the "I'm leaving because I want to not because you told me to" schtick as he stomps back to the U.S. in disgrace for infuriating all the locals.
When he comes back, he finds out that Kitty is missing. Does this stop him from sleeping with Nancy, though? Nope. Jerome catches them in the act, and reveals to Travis exactly what Nancy did. Travis dumps his son off with Mattie Glass (the woman from book two that Kitty saved), and storms off to Nevada to find Luke Tate, who shows Travis Kitty's grave. Travis kills Luke the same way he killed Nathan in book one - by stomping on his throat. Also, he gets a silver mine by saving a guy from being tortured. Then he goes on another U.S. Marshal mission - to investigate a KKK uprising in another state.
Here we meet Alaina and Marilee Barbeau, daughters of the local bigwig. Travis immediately sleeps with Alaina, infuriating her informal fiance, Stewart. The two of them get into a pissing contest that alternately amused and annoyed me. Marilee, on the other hand, is pretty cool. I liked Marilee. She spies on the local KKK chapter with the intent on finding out which black men they intend on harming or killing, and then warning them ahead of time in order to escape. She suspects that her father is involved, but doesn't want to report this to the authorities for fear of implicating them, so she settles for treating the symptoms and not the cause. One day, after coming back from one of these spying missions, she sees Alaina and Travis going at it in a field. She comes back to that field one day and starts touching herself, and Travis sees her, and then they start having sex, too.
Keep in mind that the hero sleeps with five women over the course of this book. If you liked Travis at all in books one and two, you will hate him by the end of this one, because LOVE AND GLORY is where he really lets his d-bag flag fly. He cannot keep it in his pants. At all. Also, he turns into an even bigger jerk. But more on that in a moment.
The KKK plot spins itself out, and Marilee is almost raped in an Indiana Jones-style snake pit by one of the clan members and is saved just in time by our hero. Then they have a series of close calls that ends with the appropriate people being punished. The villains in this book have very inconsequential deaths - one of them is a "blink and you'll miss it" death that occurs because of a misfire. How lame. Travis is so impressed by Marilee's bravery that he decides that she is worthy enough to marry, because she's almost (but not quite) as good as Kitty.
Marilee and Travis end up living together, but Travis is nasty to Marilee. He makes it clear that he doesn't love her and that she doesn't hold a candle to his first wife, who he refuses to talk about and snaps at her the one and only time she dares to ask any question. He drinks a lot, and snaps at her when he drinks, much to Sam's disapproval. Then he decides that he wants to move to California and gets angry at Marilee because she doesn't want to leave the Mormon school she works at, because she's grown so close to the Native American children she teaches. Travis gets into a huge huff, and talks about how he's the man, and blah, blah, blah. Marilee feels bad and says, of course I'll do what you want, sorry for being selfish and by the way I'm pregnant. Because poor Marilee can't catch a break, it's a rough pregnancy that requires her to be hospitalized. And imagine Travis's surprise when the doctor treating Marilee looks just like Kitty...only she doesn't recognize him at all, and calls herself Stella Musgrave.
Well, it turns out that Kitty developed dissociative amnesia from all the rape and abuse she suffered at Luke Tate's hands, and since he's a coward he decided to lie about her death rather than implicate himself. Travis's wife is in the hospital (and since he's already married to Kitty, technically that makes this bigamy. In fact, there is no technically. He is a bigamist - although this is never mentioned in the book, oddly) but could he give a fiddle about that when "the most beautiful woman that God ever created" is in the room? No. There's hemming and hawing about whether it's good for Kitty to remember who she is, and even though it's clear that she's better off now, Travis can't leave her alone. Kitty remembers Travis, and Marilee dies conveniently, telling Travis with her last breath that it's okay if he and Kitty are together before releasing a gush of blood from her womanly parts. Kitty was going to get a full scholarship to a medical school in Europe at the recommendation of the doctor she works for, but Travis is a man, and his happiness must come first, so to heck with that!
This book was absolutely over the top madness. It was like the author was cackling gleefully to herself and saying, "How many tropes can I possibly incorporate into this book?" While talking about LOVE AND GLORY to some of my friends, I joked that I was waiting for some amnesia to pop up. Little did I know that was waiting to spring itself on me in act three...
I debated about what to give this book, and I think I'm going to give it three stars. It's somewhere between three and three-point-five stars, but I'm rounding down because Travis's behavior really upset me in this book. Don't get me wrong - he's a terrible man, and not what I look for in a love interest at all. No, I had come to terms with the fact that he was a prat, but he never learns from his mistakes or his behavior, and while that's probably more realistic it isn't exactly fun to read. How can you root for a man who says that "he doesn't have to rape women" and claims that he can't be without the sex, and who forgets about his own son whenever it isn't convenient, and ignores his own wife when she's in the freaking hospital because sex trumps obligations every single time? Plus, Hagan writes these amazingly strong female characters who fall to pieces and forget their interests as soon as they meet Travis. Kitty was the best dang doctor in the whole Civil War, and Marilee ran a mini-version of the underground railroad right under the noses of the KKK, but when Travis walks into the picture they become sniveling messes who always put his needs above their own.
LOVE AND GLORY concludes the first part of the trilogy. The next set is about Travis's son, Colt, and I read the spoilers for it and it looks like it might be even crazier than this book. I'm not sure I'm ready for that. Even though I gobbled up books 1-3 like candy, I think I need a break from the series, because LOVE AND GLORY left a really bad taste in my mouth.
P.S. There are a lot of typos in these books, too! I'm not sure if they are left over from the originals or errors from the conversion process, but the last book had all kinds of mistakes and this book even got one of the characters' names wrong - Nathan Wright instead of Nathan Collins. Which I have to admit, made me laugh, because Nathan did sleep with Kitty, so accidental typocest for the win.
P.P.S. This book also uses three variations of the N-word. I actually didn't know what one of them meant and had to look it up. Apparently it's a more "polite" version of the really offensive N-word. Because it's always important to remember your manners, I guess... If seeing any variation of the N-word is a trigger for you, I'd suggest avoiding this book because it's very free with it.