Review: Etched in Stone by Liv Arnold (2020)

Invested in You, Book #1

Heat Factor:

Character Chemistry: The meet cute was a great setup, but it didn’t pull through for the story.

Plot: Overblown

Overall: I was constantly cringing.

I love a good corporate romance. A little forbidden, a little dangerous, a little thrilling. Of course, the operative word is “good” because the power dynamics in a corporate romance are a tricky thing to deal with. And this is an area of HR in which I am professionally trained, so I have a really hard time reading a lawsuit waiting to happen. Or bad management. And 20% into Etched in Stone, that’s exactly what we have. There is zero professionalism in this office as far as I can tell, and it gives me hives. 

Don’t get me wrong, Vanessa and Sebastian are absolutely consenting adults, but the way they got to the relationship made me cringe, as did a number of Vanessa’s interactions with her direct supervisor, who was supposed to be an effective manager but…yikes. So wildly inappropriate. 

The story is this: Vanessa Lang, newly graduated from college, has been offered her dream job at Stone Corp., an investment company owned by Sebastian Stone. Vanessa accidentally bumps into a mostly undressed Sebastian in a dressing room while shopping, and loses her treasured necklace. The loss of the necklace triggers her mother, who has some grief-related kleptomania, to attempt to steal a similar necklace. Unsurprisingly she is caught, and the detective who arrives at the scene offers Vanessa a deal: spy on Stone Corp., which is suspected of insider trading, and charges against mother dearest will disappear. But Sebastian is just so perfect, he can’t possibly be guilty!

As the relationship is presented, it’s difficult to believe that Sebastian is not a predator. Vanessa has just graduated from college, so she’s in her early twenties, and Sebastian is CEO of a thriving investment business, so he has to be much older. At least 30, right? In and of itself, this is not necessarily a problem, but Vanessa is constantly describing how Sebastian understands her, treats her, considers her like no other man before. Woman, you are, like, 22. How many men have you met, exactly? Worse, when she’s mooning over how considerate Sebastian is of her–like no other man has ever been–it’s meeting the threshold of basic consideration. Basic. Consideration. She has known him for a week, talked to him about three times, had sex with him once, and she’s in love with him. Vanessa, have some self respect! And Sebastian is opaque, so we don’t get any of his own perspective to soften his image or to give us insight into his motivations or feelings. They’re on the page together quite a bit, but it’s either sex or brief descriptions of conversations (as opposed to actual conversations), so the development of their relationship is minimal.

The biggest detractor for me while reading Etched in Stone was that it’s exceptionally poorly edited, and I’m not just talking comma splices or verb tense disagreement, which are all over the place. I’m also not talking about the fact that the story is set in the San Francisco bay area and a character puts down ten dollars for lunch at a restaurant with table service (?!?!?!), and they all go out to get “takeaway” or eat sausage rolls and toasties, among other things, which indicates to me that this wasn’t read by an editor well-versed in the quirks of American English or the cost of living in American cities. I’m not even talking about puzzling word choice (hello, Inigo Montoya). Those types of things might be jarring when they occur, but they can be overcome if the story is compelling. 

I struggled with the numerous declarative statements from Vanessa’s POV–telling rather than showing–as well as transitions that were choppy and abrupt. There are far too many rhetorical questions about How Sebastian could be such a perfect match for Vanessa? Why does Vanessa think the way she does? I don’t know why these are questions since it’s Vanessa’s POV? In addition, there were several continuity issues. Sometimes the later incidents were based on knowledge that could not have existed given what had previously occurred–Vanessa could not have been offered a job after running into Sebastian in the changing room since they didn’t exchange names–while at other times they were stress points that should not have existed because Vanessa had already told Sebastian about the “incriminating information.” 

The characterization of most of the players in the story is hyperbolically caricature-ish. Vanessa is woefully immature: she talks like she’s got a wealth of experience under her belt, but she just graduated from college. The detective is shady: she drinks liquor from a flask in a public library during a work meeting with her CI. The guy in the band is oily: “His breath smelled like a mixture of tobacco and bourbon…” and he gets physical with Vanessa. Sebastian is a flat, too-perfect CEO and boyfriend. Vanessa’s aunts are crude, middle-aged, unmarried women. Sebastian’s dad is a suspicious shark with no softness. There’s a point when Sebastian demonstrates what an excellent, natural father he’ll be when Vanessa is taking care of her co-worker/friend’s kids. It gets to be a bit much.

In sum, this book would have benefited from both development and copy editing, the lack of which severely detracted from the underlying story. The insider trading story was underdeveloped, cropping up primarily as angst in Vanessa’s head, with uninspiring cameos by a sly detective. And the romance was flat and inchoate, relying on a sizzling meet cute that never fully fleshed out as emotional engagement between the protagonists.

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.

Buy Now: Amazon

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