Review: Did Not Finish by Nicola Marsh (2022)

Heat Factor: fades to gray 

Character Chemistry: Not sure we get enough push-pull when he hates her (but really not) and they hop into bed by 35%

Plot: Mia is a professional reviewer and aspiring writer who wins a spot at Axel’s writing workshop. Axel is furious with Mia for writing a mean review about his alter ego’s book because he needs the extra income stream. They get snowed in.

Overall: Their fight seemed a bit ridiculous when they were so ethically messy from, like, page one

My feelings here are mixed because, look, I didn’t like this romance. Mia is not great, and not in an unlikeable heroine way that makes her also kinda great. Axel is…not a whole lot better. I’m not convinced that the romance was developed much beyond “Ooo, I have pants feels for this person, and also their brain is sexy, too” → “Sex is a terrible idea, but I’m gonna do it anyway because it’s sooooo goooood” → “I’m in love now.” And, as a person who reads a TON of romance, I found the primary thread of Mia and Axel’s relationship to be…not particularly novel, either in its essentials or its execution. (I acknowledge this might not be a problem for people who read less than me.) And yay! This book includes one of my least favorite things: “I told him to leave, and he did, and now I’m really mad that he didn’t prove his feelings by coming after me.” Plus the super helpful best friend who says, “You chucklehead, you need to go after her!”

Also, I listened to the audiobook, and I’ll definitely acknowledge that the narrators can impact a read. In this case Kendra Murray and Connor Brown didn’t have any obnoxious habits or weird voices that can make an audiobook a struggle, but also I didn’t feel like their narration infused the prose with the kind of life than can make a book with passable prose sound amazing. I didn’t mind listening to it (and I have DNFed many an audiobook because of obnoxious narration), but I’m not going to rave to my audio-listening friends that it’s not to be missed.

That said, the meta components of this book are really interesting to think about. (At least I think so. Some people have Very Decided Opinions about what’s correct.) Mia is a professional reviewer who is also pursuing her passion for writing on the side. Axel is a famous suspense writer who has a super secret pen name under which he writes erotica. Neither of these things are particularly weird. Reviewers and avid readers often pivot to try writing…and it’s not like they stop reading or having opinions about books when they do. Authors have different interests and set up pseudonyms that they don’t make public sometimes for personal reasons and sometimes for reasons as simple as it will mess up “also read” algorithms. 

That said, there’s probably a way that these two could manage to be ethically in the clear with all these criss-crossing fronts, but they fail so hard at it that it’s difficult to think of ways they might have done more. Except just totally abdicating responsibility for behaving ethically, I suppose…they did seem interested in at least the notion of being above board. 

For example, Axel is angry at Mia for writing a DNF review of one of his secret erotica books. Bad reviews suck, and some reviewers are definitely more influential than others, but if Axel is targeting his books to a specific group of readers who are seeking the specific content he’s writing, then one review isn’t actually going to tank his pseudonym’s career. On top of that, there’s no way a trade reviewer is going to review an indie publication for her job. Him going out of his way to antagonize Mia over this review appalling. And to ask for her to reconsider her viewpoint and go easier next time is shady AF, although he doesn’t go so far as to tell her what to think or write. But still! But Mia’s not perfect here, either because she admits that part of her disdain for the pseudonym’s books is out of professional jealousy, which is understandable because reviews are subjective, but it’s not at all bad for someone to tell her that she might not be reviewing as objectively as she thinks she is. 

Then there’s Mia, who has somehow existed in the publishing life cycle for years and doesn’t seem to understand that the fact that she’s a professional, paid reviewer AND a writer might cause problems for her. How exactly does she think she’s going to develop a professional mentor/mentee relationship with Axel and also critique his book without disclosing that she has a personal relationship with the author? Or that a bad review wouldn’t adversely impact her relationship with him? She wants to butter Axel up so she can maybe get recommended to his agent, who’s only accepting referrals from her current clients, and she blithely moseys along like she doesn’t have to change anything she’s doing or put up any ethical walls to ensure that she is actually treating each component of her life with professionalism. This lack of consideration for the lines Mia herself is criss-crossing with abandon gives her extremely wobbly legs to stand on when she gets (reasonably) mad at Axel after finding out his secret. 

AND THEN! Mia jumps into bed with Axel because he’s hot and she wants to without considering how that adds yet another layer to her already extremely gray tangle. For his part, Axel keeps telling himself he hates Mia, but he really doesn’t act like he hates Mia, so him jumping into bed with her without considering all angles is definitely ill advised but maybe less surprising. Things get really messy when Axel starts sticking up for his pseudonym after they have sex—because he finds Mia getting all hot and bothered reading the next ARC!—and Mia thinks he’s sleeping with the erotica author (to be fair, why would she ever think he is the erotica author?), which also makes her react emotionally in not great ways from her reviewer standpoint. 

So, of course, things come to a head, and Axel tries to salvage the situation, but Mia has a personal backstory that makes it impossible for her to accept (which also was something I’ve read so many times that I was OVER IT before it even happened). And this might be a me problem, and I understand that part of a relationship includes that the parties need to trust one another and share intimate details, but I don’t think that it’s unreasonable for a person who has known his lover for less than a week to expose one of his most closely guarded secrets. 

BUT! Thinking about the possible ways that Axel and Mia might have navigated the situation they found themselves in—because, as I said, the place they started from is totally normal and understandable—that was really interesting. I would say that a person who is not as involved in the book world as I am and who does not read as many books as I do would probably enjoy the romance and drama in this book. I, however, do live in the book world, and I read so many romance novels, that there were probably too many nitpicks on my end to fully enjoy the story. 

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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