Synopsis: After an unsatisfactory relationship, graphic novelist Zoe Glenn Edwards is determined to remain single. She is happiTW:Rape, Domestic Abuse
Synopsis: After an unsatisfactory relationship, graphic novelist Zoe Glenn Edwards is determined to remain single. She is happily married to her work and plans on keeping it that way. Dion Richards is an author, trapped by ugly circumstance in a sham marriage. Her work is her escape.
Both are well respected in their individual fields. Their professional circles overlap. So do their sensibilities. A collaboration draws them into a fantastic working relationship and new friendship. Zoe is highly respectful of Dion’s circumstances, and Dion… she will do anything to keep those she loves safe from the threats hanging over her. What will these two ‘unavailables’ do when they discover they’re unmistakably Drawn Together?
The synopsis makes this novel sound way lighter and romance focused than it ends up being. I don’t mind reading grittier books. Also a love story that succeeds in spite of adversity and abuse is unfortunately all too common for people in the LGBTQ community so I completely understand why telling these sorts of stories can be incredibly valuable. But for any other potential readers I will say that this book (particularly in the second half) gets into a depiction of a truly awful abusive relationship and there is also an early on graphic rape scene.
I hate it when I dislike an ARC I’m sent to review, I feel bad about it because I want to support LGBTQ+ artists and I know how difficult writing is but I have to be honest this book really didn’t work for me. In particular:
The writing is often repetitive with words of phrases repeated ad nauseum ( I read the word baby I’m pretty sure 5 times on one page). I get that speech is naturally often repetitive but a phrase or word being used to death is way more noticable on a page. There are a quite few loose ends that don’t wrap up and they are pretty prominent in the novel (whole characters get instantly forgotten) so it's a little odd and frustrating that they don’t go anywhere (which I’ll go more into in the spoiler section below in the read more). Half way through the book the stakes change (in away I’ll go into when I talk about the abusive relationship) which makes the whole tone of the novel abruptly change. I don't mind books that have twists and turns or ones where the tone changes throughout the course but this book felt tonally dissonant in a way that never clicked with me. Character motivations often make little sense or are never explained at all (see spoiler read more section).
I’ll start this review by talking about the romance even though it's really a subplot (the main plot being Dion’s abusive marriage to Kerry) because it's one of the things I feel most positively about, although I do have some misgiving which I will get into. The novel is written from the alternating perspective of both Dion and Zoey which is such a cute way of writing a romance when you can see both of them develop feelings for each other while they are emailing about the joint project they are working on together. This shift in perspectives is a little frustrating later in the novel as Dion is in life or death situations but it feel like we as the readers are wasting time and being kept away from the gripping pace because we are reading Zoey’s perspective so instead we are interacting with minor characters in her life.
I will also say that I hoped the way they interacted when they worked would be more collaborative. I know a little about graphic novel and comic production (its one of the things that drew me to reviewing this book in the first place and I know not everyone uses the marvel method. However when this book says they are collaborating what it means is the author Dion is posting the script (which isn’t in script from) on a public blog and then Zoey is just illustrating that exactly. That’s not how creative comics are made hell it's not really how any creative collaboration is done. Neither of them makes suggestions on how the other should change or improve they don’t talk to each other about where the project is going. Even the fact that Dion is sending this work out to a public blog seems to quell any kind of intimacy these two would have surrounding their work together. One of the reasons this book intrigued me was because the idea of sharing ideas and working together to shape something new, and that energy turning romantic sounded so interesting to me. But the only way these two really communicate about the work is to gush about how good the other person is, which feels way less like a meeting of minds than I thought it would be. It just lacks that creative back and forth leading to a romantic spark that I was looking for. (Also a comparatively minor point but it doesn’t really make sense that a publisher would let her publish any of this work online,especially one as money hungry as hers is portrayed as being).
I think I should talk in general terms about the main thrust of the novel and the emotional/physical abuse that Dion suffers throughout the book. From the very start Kerry s portrayed as a monstrously emotionally abusive person to the point where you don’t really understand not only why they’ve stayed together but also why they got together in the first place. In the novel’s synopsis it says she is trapped by ugly circumstances but it isn’t until around page 60 when Dion starts to excuse her partner's abusive behaviour which is clear thats because shes been manipulated by emotional abuse throughout her marriage.
Although personally it would have made more sense if in the novel we would have heard why Dion’s staying in this horrendous marriage way earlier in the book at this point Dion’s perspective made sense to me. It was around page 100 when the book took an abrupt shift.
I’m not going to go into every narrative twist and turn because I don’t want to ruin the plot for you however I can’t review this book without talking about the seismic shift in stakes and tone the novel moves into at the halfway mark. At this point we realise that not only is Kerry physically abusive her Dad and by extension her really are murderous mobsters. This book needed to be more gradual in this reveal, as it stands reading this book felt like two very disparate experiences because as soon as the potential for violence and Dion’s death is introduced this novel strains believability to the point of incredulity. (I go into this more in the spoiler section).
One of the problems with this sudden shift is that it means that side characters is Dion’s family must have either know about the abuse before the audience or only realised very recently that she is in trouble either way there reactions don’t make much sense. Dion has parents who love her and a twin brother who she's very close too but none of these people have noticed or asked her about her abusive marriage before, really?
This is when we come to something I have to talk about one of my biggest problems with this book which is how many people know this woman is being horrifically abused and yet they don’t try to get help. At no point in the book does anyone try to get the police involved, even when all of Dion’s family know that she is being abused they never try and ring the police. There's one point where Zoey’s mum suggests they call and Zoeys reasoning why they shouldn't is that there's no evidence of a crime.But they aren’t trying to get Kerry arrested they literally just need Dion to come to the door so they can get her away from the horrific situation. Which if they call the police they would ask her to come to the door Kerry wouldn’t try anything violent and they know Dion would leave willingly because she’s expressed a desire to leave. It makes no sense.
So I have some experience with this subject that I’m not going to talk about publicly but the fact that it doesn’t seem to occur to the characters that even if they don’t want to involve the police, domestic violence shelters/charities that are designed specifically to get people away from their partners who are very often trying to kill them is completely nonsensical to me. I don’t live in the states but I have visited New York I know how big it is there must be so many domestic abuse centers with skills in this specific area. But not one of the characters even try to contact one or even think of googling any help from online charities. I know as someone in an abusive relationship it can feel like there is no where to go that really isn’t true there is help out there and this novel acts like it doesn’t exist. Which especially doesn’t make sense for Dion as she has parents who love her (but somehow doesn’t notice when she hasn’t called them for seemingly months) and a brother in the military (who doesn’t seem to realise despite all the evidence that she could be dead before he has a chance to get back and stop it himself).
None of the characters who know she is being abused treat it like the life and death situation it obviously is, which is I think supposed to keep the audience thrilled but really it just made me incredibly annoyed. By far the worst example of this is when Zoey (the love interest) knows her crush is being abused but still is thinking about whether she is being used by Dion and whether Dion likes her back. A woman that she is supposed to care about is in an abusive relationship and these are Zoey’s priorities, it was at this point at about the romance because of how selfishly Zoey is characterised.
I have some really specific and kind of spoilery problems with the novel which you can read here: (view spoiler)[ * Early on we are introduced to the fact that Kerry Dion’s wife is cheating on here at this point Kerry is treated as an emotionally abusive woman but we aren’t aware of any of her mob connections or murderous tendencies. So at this point it felt they were trying to lead the reader to make Dion seem more disposable to Kerry might leave her of her own volition. Early on there’s also references to Kerry only being with her for her money (but basically no authors are that wealthy and her Dad is a mobster so she should have more money). Theres also talk of them being a literary power couple (even though only one of them’s a writer the other one works in a car dealership) and being needed to be seen at the right parties but this is dropped as soon as it's brought up. Later in the novel the only time the affair is mentioned is when Kerry implies the only reason she is staying with Dion is so that Dion (without her knowing) will blurb her girlfriends book.Implying that a good blurb will mean her manuscript will get published or will get more money, which simply isn’t really how publishing works. But in the end when Dion gets away there is no mention of Kerry cheating, I thought it might be leading up to a twist where Kerry had voided a pre-nup so Dion would be able to get a quick and clean divorce. But no, the girlfriend just disappears which made me wonder what purpose this little subplot served. We already know Kerry is a bad person she’s been emotionally abusive to her wife since the start. If anything it just made me puzzled as to Kerry’s motivations and not in a -keeping the reader on their toes- way but in a -this doesn’t seem consistent- way. * Bruce neither as a character nor any of his motivations ever really make sense and completely don’t wrap up. He is written so as cartoonishly evil that even after Dion saves his life from choking he is till questioning and interrogating her less than a hour later He is also entirely complicit in her abuse throughout the novel. He wants her to work harder to make him more money but he knows she is being drugged/ poisoned and it's making her pass out and lose time so she’s not doing any work (more about the drugging in the next bullet point). There’s no satisfying scene at the end of the novel where Bruce is sacked for professional misconduct or any kind of scene where Dion realises he has (for some reason) been complicit in her abuse so she fires him. No wrap up at all for this one note secondary villain, I mean I'm not entirely sure a book about an abuser needs a secondary villain at all or why someone as controlling as Kerry would admit they were abusing their wife to Dion’s colleague. * This final one is the most egregious dropped plot I’ve ever read for the whole second half of the book Dion is being drugged/poisoned by her wife. If it's supposed to be a twist it is telegraphed so obviously everytime it happens (she constantly insisting that Dion finishes her tea, only uses her cigarettes and Dion notices it tastes funny every time). I don’t really understand why Dion doesn’t recognise that she's being poisoned at the end point of the book Kerry has threatened to murder her about ten times and yet even when she’s keeping a second phone in her sock so she can get away from Kerry she doesn’t suspect anything. (Also not tests at the hospital bring up the fact she has been consistently drugged none at all really?) The novel also yo-yos back and forth on how conscious Dion is and how much these drugs are affecting her I think this is supposed to add tension but it just makes her seem inconsistent. She has the wherewithal to ask for some help from the neighbours but then can’t stop herself or ask them to stop Kerry from taking her back. She knows a contract isn’t in her best interest and yet shes so drugged up shes losing time, but not ill or confused enough to want to see a doctor. So what purpose does the poisoning serve narratively and for Kerry; well presumably to keep her compliant but she was that already, there's seems like there's no real end game from Kerrys perspective. Is Kerry trying to kill her she could do that by shooting her or in a car accident which is what she threatens to do throughout the second half of the novel. Narratively I have not got a clue what it gives us, once again there is no satisfying realisation scene there's no point where the characters can give the evidence of the drugging to police so Kerry will be arrested. (hide spoiler)]
I’ll be honest if I hadn’t been reading this for review I’m pretty sure I wouldn’t have finished it and I can’t really recommend it. But there were somethings to like I really enjoyed how a few of the supporting cast were LGBTQ+ older people.The LGBTQ+ romance books i’ve read often have the main couple in a an overwhelmingly straight environment and i’m glad that this wasn’t the case in this novel.
All of this said however perhaps the author’s other work is very different as I found the writing of the story within a story way more engaging in those short sections. This leads me to believe that perhaps I would enjoy more of her work because a lot of my problems with this book came down to plot and pacing which could be completely different in her other books....more
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