Secrets and Lies, Book #2
Heat Factor: It’s a slow burn, but then there’s some dirty talkin’ daddy kink funtimes
Character Chemistry: Angst level 1000
Plot: Marriage in trouble after cheating
Overall: I wanted this to be the cheating romance we never get, and I think it largely succeeded
This book is going to be a hard pass for a lot of people, and that’s okay. For me, I tend to find the conversations surrounding cheating in romance to be frustrating and dehumanizing, in that they tend to be more declarative statements than conversations, so I was excited to see that Booth wrote a marriage in trouble book that involved trouble that is extremely challenging to navigate, which is to say: a husband cheating on his wife.
Here’s what I thought this book needed in order to succeed:
- He’s not a serial cheater who thinks he can do what he wants, and he has to feel real regret for his actions
- She needs to feel the social expectation that women automatically leave a cheating partner and struggle with that as she figures out what she wants
- He’s got to grovel, but also she has to decide to fight for the marriage eventually, too
- They have to substantively solve the problems that derailed the marriage beyond just “he’s a cheater so he has to grovel”
And Booth does carry us through the difficult emotional journeys these protagonists are traveling after Grace finds out that Luke is having an affair. It is an incredibly difficult read. Grace punishes Luke in really hurtful (though arguably not undeserved) ways while they’re separated as she works through her grief at his betrayal, and while it’s easy to get where she’s coming from, it’s hard to read. Luke finally seeks therapy (better late than never!) to try to repair his marriage, yes, but also because his whole life has been kind of a giant emotional mess that he really did not handle well.
I spent a good chunk of the book wondering if it was even worth fighting to save this marriage, which is probably exactly where the reader should be as Luke works on himself and Grace reasserts her own personhood. The argument must be made that the protagonists have something worth saving, but part of that is the protagonists themselves deciding they have something worth saving. Eventually Luke has to let go and Grace also has to fight for the marriage…
It was as things were coming together toward the end of the book that I realized that the black moment was really at the beginning of the book. This makes the whole book the dramatic resolution rather than just, say, the last twenty percent of the book. This, combined with the fact that part of reading this book is accepting that the characters are making the decisions they’re making whether we think they’re good decisions or not, might make the ending feel not as satisfying as, say, a grand declaration of love after 300 pages of angsty emotional constipation.
There were also very few secondary characters, and almost none of them were women. Further, Grace and Luke didn’t disclose Luke’s affair to anyone close to them. So Grace didn’t much feel the struggle of trying to make her own decisions while dealing with a social expectation from people close to her that obviously she would end her marriage. She started out with that presumption herself, but it is my understanding that many people in her position feel a real lack of support from their support systems as they process their feelings after being cheated on, and I would have liked to see that portrayed on page. But there was a lot going on emotionally already, so I suppose something had to give.
Grace does say:
There is a brutal double standard for women who have been cheated on. On the hand, they are blamed for it. They weren’t sexy enough, they ignored their husband’s needs. And then, when they find out, they are expected to leave.
You think people are rewarded for staying with a spouse that betrayed them? Not by people who see them as having agency. Agency means we leave. Period. Agency means, when I’m hurt, I run.
I’m not exactly running. But I feel pretty fucking lonely in this place of fighting for what I want.
Which I would argue is the thesis of this whole book.
(A note on the characterization: I am tagging these protagonists as 40ish. This is in part because they read that way, like they’ve got years under their belts, but it’s also because there are numerous mentions of Grace and Luke being together for 20 years, and they met in college. I have been with my spouse for 19 years, starting in high school, so that gave me a feel for exactly how old these two are. HOWEVER, toward the end of the book Grace says that when she’s sixty she’ll look back on the past 25 years after two really bad years, which seems to indicate that she’s 35, so that doesn’t really math for me. Take it as you will, but I’m sticking with: even if they started dating when they were 18, that makes them 38 during this book, not 35, which makes them 40ish.)
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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