Rant, Review

Review: The Blackmailed Bride by Chris Stevenson (2019)

Heat Factor: The heat comes from the plot…not the romance.

Character Chemistry: They just kind of weirdly click, but if I were their friend I’d be calling red flag after red flag.

Plot: Artist rescues a bride hiding in a tree on what was supposed to be her wedding day. Ex-bride is escaping a forced marriage to a dangerous mafia mobster man. She’s also a stripper and a health nut. Ex-bride-ex-stripper-health nut charms the pants right off of the unhappily married artist and they work together with artist’s friends to outsmart and escape the mafia mobster man and his goons.

Overall: I’ll be honest, the riveting plot did succeed in making me want to read more–but the book had some seriously sexist (and they weren’t subtle) undertones that were a little off-putting.

OK! This is an Ingrid-Rant. 

Look, I want to acknowledge that it’s absolutely critical to this genre to have all different people and viewpoints represented. So when relationships are super traditional I do try to remember that some people really thrive in that dynamic and I try not to make it a roadblock that might prevent me from enjoying the story. But the lens on this one was offensively sexist and it missed the mark from a Romance standpoint. I’m just going to throw out a few quotes here:

Maybe his wife had been responsible for all his bad health habits. How much could his wife have loved him if she’d never been concerned about his nutrition and exercise? What kind of a woman would allow her husband to sink into a pit of ill health without lifting a finger to help him?

I beg your pardon. Is he a poodle? Does he require daily walks and a strict keto diet? Why on earth would the expectation be that his wife is responsible for the food he puts into his mouth and for his exercise?? This is confusing for me.

Also:

He could still swear she acted like a teenager who didn’t know any better.

Again, I’m sorry–but a fully-grown adult man romancing someone who is being described using the worst attributes of a teenager is troubling

AND: 

Ryan expected her to throw a bitch fit, but it never came.

I, personally, wanted to throw a “bitch fit” when I read that sentence. How derogatory.

And these were all within the first 15 minutes of reading this book.

I’m going to table the personal criticisms I had (that the hero strokes his goatee, that he believes tap water is swill and bottled is much healthier, that the “health-nut” he’s cohabitating with thinks it’s SUPER healthy to chug raw eggs because apparently this takes place in 1983, and that I honestly have no ability to visualize his soon-to-be ex-wife as anything but a giant pair of wobbly breasts because that’s the author’s constant description of her) because despite these details being a huge turn-off, I guess there are people out there who might like those things. I mean, goatees are fine, and I didn’t see a picture of him or anything, so maybe he makes that goatee look like he’s some kind of sexy pirate, I don’t know. 

I will say that devoting two pages to the hero’s massive multiple ejaculations (plural) was perhaps overkill. I will say that I have never read a sex scene were the sounds the author chooses to use in order to really set the mood are “guh” and “ohoooo”. I did a casual poll and I’m not sure anyone I know says “guh” or “ohoooo” during acts of intimacy. Also, I was really put off by the author’s choice to vividly describe the “river of sweet juices of passion” that “ran down out of her and pooled on the sleeping bag” and I’m sorry but “discharge” is a medical term or what a gun does, PLEASE don’t ever use that word to describe any part of the act of sex in a romance novel. Don’t ever. I want you to know that I ran these sex scenes by Holly, who is our resident “whatever floats your boat” reviewer and even she was bewildered by some of the choices in these sex scenes. You know how sex scenes are thrilling and sexy and fun? Imagine your favorite sexy love scene from your very favorite smut book. Now imagine your parents acting it out in front of you. Okay? Do you understand what I’m trying to tell you? They were hard to read. They were very hard to read.

Also, if this book is a romance the love story has too many unresolved red flags to work for me. The hero is actively working on his marriage when he meets the runaway bride and by all signs, does want her back. WHILE THIS IS GOING ON, he quite literally paints this younger woman, one he frequently refers to with child-like terminology (red flag number one) fully nude, and then…loses ‘self-control’ on his own later. I think perhaps the intention was to make them look star-crossed, but when his wife ‘misinterprets’ what is clearly the beginning of an affair as a full-blown affair and bounces, he barely cares and it comes off as callous and like that “older man trading up for a new model” trope. Red flag number two.

Red flag number three? Their relationship dynamic appears to be fully built on her trying to “fix” him. And he seems to expect it. At one point he admires her housewifey skills because she fixes him a sandwich and then says he’s going to go watch TV, and likes that instead of coming with him she stays behind to clean up. He likes that she’s serving him and then depriving herself of the break he thinks he’s entitled to because he thinks that shows good wife material. I know some people think the whole subservient housewife thing is the way to go even though it makes me a little ragey, but I feel like surely there’s some general consensus on going into a relationship thinking you can change someone. I have never known any relationship based on “but he’ll change!” to work. I don’t think this one will either. I just don’t buy it.

Here are some things I thought this book did well: it’s a suspenseful crime novel, and it’s done well. The male relationships in the book were solid. They were caring, cooperative, tight-knit, funny, and likeable. Also? THE ROMANCE WITH THE EX-WIFE. This woman gets out of what’s clearly a crappy marriage by the skin of her teeth and goes to this sexy rich man’s horse farm for some R&R. He’s respectful of her situation. When she’s upset, he brings her some food and listens to her. I wanted to read that love story so badly. That love story had me. 

Romance (to me) means everyone involved is transformed for the better by the journey they go through to be together, and I just didn’t see that here. I see another bitter divorce in Ryan’s future. Sorry, Ryan.

 I voluntarily read and reviewed a complimentary copy of this book. All thoughts and opinions are my own. We disclose this in accordance with 16 CFR §255.


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