Pre-read reaction: *sighs* I might as well... =/
This is weird, though. It's like this is listed under two different series (#4 in the Beautiful Disaster series, #2 in the Maddox Brothers series), and I haven't really seen very many books that have that kind of measure. I'm guessing it's listed like this for continuity's sake, but it's still weird to me.
Post-read reaction: Probably not a surprise to anyone who's followed my "following" of this series, but you might be surprised as to why I didn't like this novel. I feel like the quality of JM's writing is just getting worse with each book, and more implausible with the storyline. The worst part of it is, I think this book is trying to backtrack to tie threads to "Walking Disaster" and "Beautiful Oblivion," along with making more diversified strides (lead character is Japanese heritage), but it's singing the same old song as her other narratives with threadbare conflict and characterization. There's just not a lot of effort here.
"You looked through me like an open door
Do I exist to you anymore?
'Cause when I'm talking to you
There's someone else that you're hearing.
I gave you all the love I had,
And I almost gave you one more chance,
Then you put one in the chamber
And shot my heart of glass
This time will be the last."
- from "The Chamber" by Lenny Kravitz, from the album "Strut"
Starting off this review with this set of lyrics, because 1. These lyrics do have something to do with the themes in this book - I'll get to that shortly; 2. I'm fairly certain Lenny Kravitz has more sensuality in his pinky finger than anything this book could ever have; and 3. I sometimes wonder why the heck I keep reading JM's narratives after all this time when I keep feeling like I want to bang my head against the wall. But usually it always comes back to the fact that my curious mind keeps reeling me back in. Plus, if it keeps other people from spending $6 a pop (for the e-book!) for this ridiculous, formulaic, offensive piece, I think I'll be saving people time, money, and headaches.
(I'm not censoring my frustration in this review, in case you're wondering.)
So, um, you guys know how much I like Japanese culture, right? (The Face Your Manga avatar I have might be one indication, but seriously, there's far more signs than that.) You'd probably think I'd gobble up this book considering it features a part-Japanese heroine. But instead of saying "Finally! McGuire actually featured a POC in the reins of one of her stories!", my first thought was "Oh crap, this is another culture she's going to royally screw over."
(I point to "Apolonia" as Exhibit A. Seriously, that whole book was just made of wrong.)
*brandishes her harisen*
This is going to be a long review, so I'll have to break this up into subsections to make the read easier for those of you following along.
Part I: In which a Japanese/Irish heroine isn't enough to keep her from being pretty much like any other character JM has ever written (plus *STEREOTYPES*)
So this book is written from the perspective of Liis Lindy, a part Japanese, part Irish heroine who just moved away from her husband and is starting fresh in an assignment with the FBI. I had a feeling that McGuire chose a generic name for Liis's character for a couple of reasons:
1. This was meant to emphasize Liis's "exoticness", because she's Japanese-Irish, her name has to sound as such so that it can bring attention to the fact that people can know she's Asian and *something else*. When you take the time to emphasize people pronouncing her name as "geese, but with an L" and focus on how many people get her name wrong (including the supposed swoon-worthy hero), you've got serious issues portraying diverse characters.
Plus, for the name Liis, I'm pretty sure has Danish origins. It's not a common name, but honestly - Google could pull this up within a matter of seconds. I don't think McGuire did that search to suggest otherwise...
2. The letter "L" does not exist in the Japanese alphabet. And Lindy is actually Italian, Spanish and Latin origin for the name, IIRC. Google can confirm that in a few places, but there may be other uses for the name. Lindy means "pretty"/"beautiful". I guess this character has special snowflake written all over it. *sighs*
But you know what, that's probably nit-picking because if you think about it: Liis, regardless of her heritage, still comes across as an aggressive female lead who could very well be Abby Abernathy 3.0. She ends up meeting a Maddox boy who hits on her, with a line about her knowing "Kung-Fu" (she does address this as being possibly racist) and the comment:
"I just recently read about Asian female peace leaders being honored. I'm guessing you weren't one of them."
Many people would be telling this dude to screw off, but no, the heroine is somehow charmed and can't resist him, in lines like this:
"My little game was over. He'd won."
"The stranger’s shirt was off, his torso a combination of impressive genes and several years of an intensive daily workout regimen that had sculpted the perfection in front of me."
"When I nodded, he kissed me once and then left quickly to fish a square package from his wallet. When he returned, he ripped it open with his teeth. I was glad he’d brought his own. Even if I had thought to purchase condoms, I wouldn’t have had the foresight or optimism to buy any in his size."
"...even though I’d only just met this man above me, I would miss those longing kisses once he ducked out of my condo in the early hours of the morning—if he even waited that long."
Anyone want to throw tables yet?
Liis has a one-night stand with this dude, a guy who just so happens to live the floor above her. But push comes to shove when she reports to work the next day and, ooh la la, the man she slept with happens to be the infamous Thomas Maddox - her new boss.
From then on, it's a bit of a slog getting through the narrative because of a number of different things, but Liis is a weak narrator because she's so derivative. She's headstrong (like Abby), lacks proper motivation for her actions (like Abby), and while she finds the Maddox boy problematic and gets jealous of his relations at the drop of a hat (like Abby), she still can't stay away from the dude, even when she thinks he might be having another one-night stand at one point.
Don't get me wrong, Thomas is not much better. Matter in point, he's worse in a different way.
That's right guys, Thomas/T.J. is the same guy from the revelation of the last book. That's where things get pretty sticky.
Part II: Where's the Plot, dangnabit? Thomas Maddox, the lover who can't let go, and the FBI sting/recruitment that makes no lick of sense
So I'll address this part of the book two fold. This book seeks to explain plot threads that were left dangling in "Walking Diaster" (specifically the weird epilogue) and "Beautiful Oblivion," in terms of the so called "twist" ending. With the explanation provided in this book, I feel like McGuire made things ten times worse on the reflection of the narrative, because it's utterly ridiculous.
First plot point: Thomas can't get over his former love, Cami. This is a running theme through the novel, and hence why I reference Kravitz's lyrics in the beginning of this review. Since his brother, Trent, supposedly loved Cami first and the relationship fell apart, Thomas still pines for her and it's to blame for his hard demeanor towards everyone (except he's really not that alpha, despite some tendencies - his personality is really bland, and I don't say that just because he's not alpha. He's a single dimensioned character). But somehow Liis shows up and breaks down all his defenses - and EVERYBODY notices the change. It's too convenient. The relationship seems a forgone conclusion before it even truly begins.
Liis is insta-jealous of this former relationship (and no, she and Thomas hadn't even had a relationship for a month yet). Even when she has to pretend to be his girlfriend when meeting his family (Hello recycled plot point, Batman), she can't help doing the whole comparison game with Cami. And it's further complicated as they attend a party in which Trent plans to propose to Cami. Doesn't help that at one point in the work,
But I think you guys probably saw that one coming.
Second plot point: The idea that Thomas is trying to keep his little brother Travis Maddox out of jail. It's emphasized many times, but the idea is that the FBI is trying to manipulate Travis into getting Abby's father apprehended (alongside dealing with dangerous Yakuza - this is never really explained). They are even trying to recruit Travis to the FBI (even though the dude doesn't have a lick of experience.) Thomas has to convince Travis to keep all this from Abby and stick to the plan. Only the plan is so threadbare, you could pull apart the holes. Liis's role in it isn't that clear cut, because she's slated as a translator who can speak Japanese, but is she really needed? (Answer's no, but she's there anyway.)
I still feel like this is pretty much the Travis and Abby show since their mentions and personas overtake the newer characters with ease. McGuire does do quite a bit of summarizing of the events of "Beautiful Wedding" among others in the context of the narrative, and provides (for the first time) Abby's motivations in context of the shotgun wedding. And McGuire even makes the reveal that Travis has to come to terms with the events of the fire and his role in that. He pretty much says he has to "think about it" when it comes to his cooperation and it's pretty annoying how all that's summed up in the context of the novel. But things go as you would expect them to for the operation to begin.
I don't think the FBI context in the novel is that strong, nor that well researched (despite McGuire saying that she consulted someone who's married to an FBI agent). Promotions are not given that frequently (as Thomas does to Liis towards the beginning of the novel. Conflict of interest relationships and power pulls are not that rampant, and certainly FBI agents aren't recruited so readily especially considering people with volatile histories (a.k.a. Travis Maddox).
I felt like the ending was far too convenient, rushed and telegraphed:
At least it wasn't a cruel cliffhanger like the last book, but I still did many mental facepalms at the sequence of events and explanations behind them.
My end thoughts are that this novel was far too unrealistic, implausible, underdeveloped, and formulaic to work. And the whole diversity address is just a front because Thomas and Liis were weakly drawn characters, cookie cutter imitations, and really set-pieces for a plot that was essentially backtracking to cover weakly drawn plot points in former novels of this series. I'm not confident that other novels in this respective series won't just be for wish fulfillment purposes rather than being a showcase of the actual main characters contained within, with palpable issues, problems, struggles, and things that would otherwise develop them and bring them full circle. McGuire just doesn't know how to handle these things well in the work.
In the end, not recommended. I may read the last two novels to see where they begin and if they do anything to improve upon this and the previous novel in this respective branch of the Beautiful Disaster series. But I have no confidence. None whatsoever.
Overall score: 0.5/5 stars.