Pre-read: Screw it...I'm taking one for the team. Again. >.<
Post-read: Review coming. I'm probably going to end up breaking the review limit for this book again, but - there's a lot to discuss and much I found wrong with this book, probably in some familiar ways as well as some new issues that decided to rear with this particular book.
Also, the "twist" ending? That was a cheap shot man. >.< But this read was full of cheap shots, and it made the read so manufactured that I feel cheated for the reading experience.
This review's going to be equal parts personal reflection, debate with talking points, and maybe more than a few spoonfuls of sugary snark. I kind of need the latter to cushion the rough read that this was. Admittedly, this wasn't as rough a read as "Beautiful Disaster" and "Walking Disaster" - because if there's one compliment I can give to Jamie McGuire, she actually tackled two of the biggest weaknesses in this book among narratives I've read from her thus far: character development/motivation and setting. That said, I don't know if that was as much of an improvement for the narrative since the read itself transitioned into something of a "same script, different cast" measure. It felt like McGuire tried to backtrack and establish a lot of things that BD and WD did not do and should have done.
Before I get too far ahead, let me kind of establish how I came about reading a copy this book. I was going to "drive-by" this read too, much like I did for "A Beautiful Wedding" (i.e. spend an hour in my local campus bookstore and peruse it for however long it took me to read it). But I happened to run into a woman who actually took the time to buy this book from the new releases and had a small conversation with her. I've talked with her before, because we've seen each other in the campus bookstore and have chatted up more than a few times to have a friendly rapport. She's around my age, slightly older.
She's familiar with the New Adult "genre", and she'd also read "Beautiful Disaster" (which she was not too happy with). Her previous experiences with NA have been pretty hit and miss as well. (She liked Rebecca Donovan's "Reason to Breathe" and Cara Cormack's "Faking It" - reads I rec'd her a while back. She hated Tamarra Webber's "Easy", she liked Katie McGarry's "Pushing the Limits" series, and she didn't like any of Kim Karr's "Connections" series. Those were the ones she mentioned that I was familiar with, but she'd read many others that I hadn't heard of and I might end up reading for myself - for various reasons.)
She decided to give Jamie McGuire a second chance with this read - skipping "Walking Disaster" because she heard it was a rehash of the first book and only from the hero's perspective. She told me she was nervous about reading it, and I told her that was one of the reasons I was debating reading it at all, because I'd read quite a bit of the author's previous work and had been less than impressed I told her that I'd probably read it anyway so that I could "take one for the team" and add a different perspective for reaction to the narrative. Also because my curiosity doesn't let me sit out reads, even when I'm likely to say "Ugh, I've had it. Never again."
That's when she said (paraphrased): "In that case, why don't you read it before me? You can borrow my copy. We can talk about it, and if I don't like it, I know who I can give it to once I finish."
And the look on my face could probably rival a lot of anime reactions.
Case in point:
That was a generous (and very sweet) offer I couldn't turn down. Unlike a lot of NA environments, people on college campuses can be very warm and friendly and likely to chat with you or do things like this. I should know, I live and work close to a few. Suffice to say, I'm going to have a lot to talk with her about after finishing this. But I told her if she didn't like it that she didn't have to give it to me, she could just take it back to the bookstore (we have a very generous return policy at the bookstore here), and buy a book she loved with the money instead. And I knew that after reading this book, I would need a therapy trip to the bookstore myself (I'll probably go on a mini-book buying binge after the holiday).
So I started reading "Beautiful Oblivion" on release day (July 1st) and finished it yesterday (July 3rd). Dude...I have a ton of reactions to this on an overarching note, and to say it was both awkward and deja-vu is an understatement.
I have to be honest: evaluating this narrative for what it offered, I'm convinced that Jamie McGuire, at least in the scheme of writing contemporary romance, is no more than a one-trick pony, if even that. While there were narrative improvements with this beginning book to the Maddox brothers series, "Beautiful Oblivion" could really be cut of the same cloth as "Beautiful Disaster" and "Walking Disaster." This read was less trainwreck for tone, a little more mature in the writing and presentation, but not so much for events and for what I saw and noted to be manipulative ways of storytelling. I will explain shortly.
I took quite a bit of mental and digital notes for this book, so I'm going to give you guys a brief rundown of the similarities that this book has with "Beautiful Disaster":
- Girl next door protagonist (Abby/Cami): Plain Jane heroine who comes from a big family with an abrasive father figure. Where have we heard this one before? And what's with McGuire's repeated focus on bad father figures? I saw this in "Providence", saw it in BD/WD, and then here in the heroine's life for "Beautiful Oblivion?" Dude...you can write a different scenario. It's not that hard.
- The "bitchy" best friend: (America/Ragan): As much as I tend to like feisty best friend figures, this one was a little too close for voice and comfort, in my opinion. Sure, Ragan's/Ray's a different character to her own experience, but I kept getting deja-vu vibes of America's voice from BD/WD. America is actually a character in this book too, and that's a problem I'll get into later. But I'll admit I had a laugh because I kept thinking of this song whenever Ray came into the narrative. Probably to distract me from the times when she annoyed the ever loving heck out of me.
- "Good guys are bad, bad guys are good" trope: This is something that annoyed me in BD/WD and bothered me in this narrative as well - you have guys who treat their S.O.s well, but the S.O. characters end up going with the people who treat them like utter crap for very little rhyme or reason as to why. And it's usually portrayed in a cheating scenario where the "good" figure is portrayed in a "bad" light. In BD, Abby had a guy who treated her well (Parker), but she ended up going with Travis, who repeatedly treated her like crap (at least until the moment he was threatened with the idea of losing her, I guess). In this book, there's two concurrent relationships of this type going on, namely Cami/T.J./Trent and Ray/"Brazil"/Kody. It's three way love triangles that are pretty much pure drama, one of them with a twist that is only revealed at the very. last. page. (And that was the biggest piece of manipulative crap I got from this narrative).
And this doesn't make much sense to me. I get that people have their flaws and that people in real life do gravitate towards people who aren't very "good" for them, but why play this up so much? And "bad boys" aren't good - there's a reason why they're called bad. I like a good antihero just as much as the next gushing fangirl, but even I'm getting tired of these thinly drawn scenarios and characters where I can't even see how these "bad boys" have any appeal to the people who like them. And it has to go beyond a hot body or some surface details to convince me (more on this in a little bit).
- Punch happy party!: Dude, I don't know many guys who would drop everything just to be able to punch people just at the slightest insinuation of conflict. For one, punching people hurts. You don't want to do it unless you absolutely have to do so in real life. But in BD/WD/BO - everybody's punching everybody in here. You insult my girl? *punch* You get in the way of my family? *punch* You try to take my girlfriend? *punch* Domestic abuse scenarios, in which the wife and family, even older children, keep silent and suffer the blows of the dominant father figure? *punch*
This is not healthy.
- "It's the Travis and Abby Show! Starring Travis Maddox and Abby (Pigeon) Abernathy!": I say this in a cheesy, advertisement type way because that's what the presentation feels like. This book is yet another retelling of "Beautiful Disaster" - just with different characters at the reins.
Or are they? I was under the impression that this was Trent and Cami's story. But oh no, McGuire won't have that, because Abby and Travis have to pop up in some congratulatory or glorifying form or fashion throughout this narrative. It wasn't so bad in the beginning of the novel, but as the novel continued, I had the sickening feeling that these characters would be like "Whack-A-Mole!" gophers popping up. What's worse is that McGuire uses the new characters to affectionately prop up both Abby and Travis. "Oh those Maddox Boys! Everyone wants to sleep with them" and "Look at their groupies," and "Oh, this girl has Travis pussy-whipped." (paraphrased, referring to Abby) It wasn't cute from the first instance, and it certainly wasn't cute by the 20th reference (there were more than this). I tried to tune it out, but I couldn't, and it really bothered me in the narrative.
Look, Travis and Abby already had their stories. I'm not shy about telling them to GTFO and let the stage cede to the people this narrative's supposed to be focusing on. And I'm not manipulated into thinking that the references to Travis and Abby are supposed to make them more endearing to me. Nope, they weren't. The references were just extremely annoying and repetitious for the most part, because it was forced down my throat what I was supposed to think about them. McGuire still hasn't learned to keep authorial intrusions/Mary Sue/Gary Stu-isms out of the narrative.
But those are just some of the similarities, among others that I don't have the space to cover in this review. With that in mind, let me get to the heart of what this story's about.
Cami's 22 and a college student busy with studies, distancing herself from her domineering father, abrasive brothers, and meek mother (her poor mother). She has a very loyal boyfriend, but in a long distance relationship (her boyfriend's out in California). So when the boy's away, the girl's affections will play.
Enter Trent/Trenton Maddox. I'll say this about Trent, I liked following him a heck of a lot more than Travis, but he's really no better of a character than Travis was. He's just more subtle in his manipulations of the heroine.
This is a dude who knows Cami already has a boyfriend, but he just doesn't care who the guy is. He'll use anything to have an excuse in meeting up with her. Even bring his five year old neighbor (Olive) as a bargaining chip and say "Oh, I'm babysitting her." Luckily, Cami calls him out on this, but while I liked Olive's character - she's cute and I like kid characters in adult narratives - I didn't like the manipulation involved with her character. I also didn't like Trent's overprotectiveness and trying to dictate Cami's life in some measures. His gestures might seem friendly (between him jumping the gun and telling her to move in with him and telling Cami's boss she was taking the day off from work to be with Trent), I think it's a characteristic that all the Maddox boys must be into not treating their S.O.'s as equals to be consulted or asked for their opinions. Oy vey.
Cami's a fiesty character, and there were parts I liked her voice, though not enough to endear me to her since I kind of saw her as Abby 2.0. And she strings along Trent and T.J. for their affections through quite a bit of the narrative, with a jaw-dropping secret (supposedly) that would supposedly throw their relationships out of balance. Can you guess? Think about it. Arguably it's just as bad as the so called epilogue of Walking Disaster, but this is formatted in the hint of a so called "twist" that's supposed to be suspenseful. Ready?
Ha...haha...HAHAHAHAHAHAHAHA...No, dude, that's not clever at all. I kept asking "What was the big secret that Cami had that would keep her from being with Trent? Even after she broke up with T.J., though it was a long drawn out journey for them to actually call it quits."
When that reveal was made, I ended up getting a bad taste in my mouth about the whole narrative and the way it progressed up to that point. It was really awkward the way it was done for the main story reveal. I get that McGuire's trying to mess with my head through the narrative, but it's more that it's giving me more mindaches than mindblows.
As for the side stories, there are a lot of side characters in this narrative, some of them with interesting backgrounds, others not. The only side character I actually liked was Kody, and I felt so sorry for him. This was a guy who really liked Cami's best friend, Ray, but she treated him like utter crap, dumping him for Jason Brazil and letting Brazil use her even when Kody still loved her. It's a love triangle that parallels the main one, just in a different way, and I mentioned why that was a problem earlier on.
America, Shep, Abby and Travis all make appearances here, but their features tend to overshadow the main characters of this story and that's not a good thing if you're trying to make the focal characters a priority in the narrative. I could've done with maybe a few references for familiarity, but this was just too much. Too forced, too manufactured, too FAKE.
In the end, "Beautiful Oblivion" had very few redeeming points and felt like a rehash even when it had another story to tell. The characters were cookie cutter despite having some background and motivation, mostly because the emotions are force fed and making you think what you should feel about the relationships and scenarios here.
I don't know if I'll follow the series from here on out, but honestly - it wasn't a good start. Not at all. I'm still having to wash the stink this left in my head and I'll probably be doing so for a while after (a not-so-subtle diss considering the initials to this work are B.O. I'll leave you to ponder that and with this song, because that's an oddly appropriate tune for the broken relationships in this narrative.)
Overall score: 1/5 stars