Where to Buy*:
Another ranty review, ahoy! Just rename me The Bitchy Queen (reviews).
You might recall that I recently used this cover for L4C. I mean, LOOK AT HIS ARM/SHOULDERS. I have A Thing for good arm porn. I am weak for such covers. And I do like a SEAL (or former SEAL) hero, so I took a chance and grabbed this one from NG. And once again, I wish I had not.
The plot is pretty much exactly what you see in the blurb, so I’m not going to spend too much time going over it. My biggest issues really don’t connect to the plot (though I don’t really have anything overly positive to say about it, either).
Mackenzie’s brother, a SEAL, died in a mission recently. He left her a bunch of money (which she doesn’t question how/where he got it, btw) and his bucket list. Her life has been quite straightforward, perhaps boring, even. But she decides to take his bucket list and start crossing the things off – even though Liam was the opposite of her, and everything on the list is the last thing she’d ever think of/want to do. She jumps off a waterfall in Costa Rica, goes to Vegas with her friends, etc., etc. There’s also some sex related items on the list, but what exactly they are, I’m still not sure, as we’re never told. Just a vague “she needs to do kinky sex things with someone”. Also, since I got the impression that Liam was NOT a shy prude with his sex life, I’m still not sure WHY he had “kinky sex” – hell, ANY sex act – on his bucket list in the first place. That did not fit his character at all, but I guess it was needed for the “romance” set up between Mackenzie and Noah? Your guess is as good as mine.
Noah was a SEAL, but when a mission he was on in Mexico went wrong, and his wife and baby girl were killed by the drug lord, he went a bit off the deep end for a bit, mad for revenge. Basically, he ended up being discharged from the service and shortly after made his own plans to get revenge on his family’s killer. Said plans involve infiltrating another major drug lord’s group. Anyway, his “boss” wants the guns that Liam had, and sends Noah to find the sister and this bucket list; he thinks the list is a treasure map to where the guns were hidden. I don’t know, it all seemed a bit confusing and far-fetched to me, and not very well explained, but I stuck with it, hoping it would get better.
Noah follows her to Vegas and approaches her; they share a lil’ kiss and grope, but then they split ways before doing anything more. He ends up with the list, as it fell out while she was in his hotel room. Note: She keeps the list in her bra at all times because she wants this last piece of Liam – handwritten by him and all – with her. And yet SOME HOW she doesn’t notice the list missing until DAYS later when she runs into Noah again, who just happens to have it? Okay. Sure.
He convinces her (ha, manipulates the situation around her) to allow him to drive the boat for the next thing on her list. Now at this point, I’m about 30% in and honestly do not care one bit for either of them or the story. I should have just DNFed then. But I stuck around, and from there it only gets worse. Because I still never grow to like them – or hell, even really know these characters, even though this is told from alternating 1st POV! – and I’m not even really invested in the story of the brother and the missing guns, and on top of that, I have ALL THE FUCKING ISSUES with the sex. Or rather, the poorly done BDSM.
Let’s start from the beginning of their sexual relationship. This is really such a minor thing, more of a “Haha, what? No!” moment compared to the WTFery that comes later, but I figure it’s best to start small and give you a laugh first. They’re out to dinner, and in the middle of the restaurant, Noah tells her to go in the bathroom and take off her bra and panties. She gets up and does so. But here’s the thing that gets me: she hides BOTH her bra and her thong into her hand and walks back to the table. HOW BIG IS HER FUCKING HAND? Look at your bra – can you ball that up and hide it within your fisted hand? Even a training bra wouldn’t really fit in this situation! She gets back to the table, he takes both from her, SNIFFS THE THONG – in the middle of a damn restaurant, remember! – and then puts the bra and thong into his pocket. HOW? Are her underthings literally the size of a Barbie doll? How do you put a bra into a pants pocket?
Like I said, this part is such a silly thing to call out, but this was only the beginning. My issues get much more serious now.
There’s some poorly done BDSM in here. Surprise BDSM, at that, because this was clearly a case of “Let me jump on the wagon for this trend/money maker even though I don’t know how to write it correctly and it really doesn’t fit the character or story at all”. That alone pisses me off. I’m all for some good kinky romances, but I’m tired of authors throwing it in because it’s popular. It’s not a damn throwaway trope, so stop treating it like one, please.
But here’s my biggest problem with all of the BDSM in this book: it’s done without any discussion, without the heroine understanding what she’s getting into, and without the consent and trust that a BDSM relationship REQUIRES in order for it to be kinky fun and not, you know, unsafe and questionable sexual activity. He doesn’t explain to her what he wants, what he’s going to do, or what she should expect. He doesn’t ask her for a safe word, doesn’t ask her what her limits are, doesn’t do ANY OF IT. He just starts bossing her around because “he’s a Dom and he knows what she needs” bullshit, binding her up, blindfolding her, and going to town on her.
THAT. IS. NOT. OKAY. THAT. IS. NEVER. OKAY.
She doesn’t know anything about BDSM, she’s never given a chance to say “Hey, just don’t do this thing, I’m not interested” or “Hey, can you talk me through what it’s like to be suddenly BOUND so I’m not panicking”. If your partner is, at any point, panicked by what is going on, or not feeling comfortable during a scene YOU ARE DOING IT ALL WRONG AND THAT IS NOT CONSENSUAL OR SAFE OR FUCKING RIGHT. And yet that’s how all their shitty-BDSM sex scenes go: with him pushing all these new things on her, without asking first, without talking to her at all, and her just having to take them, even as she freaks out – on more than one occasion – before ultimately giving in because he has the magical orgasm-giving peen or some shit.
Then we have the fact that despite his claims that he’s this Dom who knows what he’s doing, he’s really not. His actions say that loud and fucking clear to anyone who knows even basic BDSM rules. No Dom would do this shit. But then later we get this quote from him (Sarah was his wife) and I wanted to throw something at his head because THAT IS NOT HOW A DOM/SUB RELATIONSHIP WORKS STOP IT! And he tries to pull the “Oh, but I’ve since learned that I really want a sub who is strong and pushes back and you’re that sub for me *wink*” which doesn’t fix ANYTHING other than still prove that he is not a Dom and shouldn’t have anyone submitting to him, ever.
Also, can we not with the heroine thinking that this magical man (and more specifically his magical penis) has finally come along to free her from her cage and give her endless orgasms as she flies off into the sunset? Look, exploring your sexuality with a partner CAN be awesome and informative and perhaps even life-changing in that you learn things about yourself that you didn’t know before. That’s one thing. But THIS comes across as “she has zero sexual agency herself and was just wasting away waiting for Magical Hero to dick her to personal freedom” and that’s such bullshit. And make no mistake, she really doesn’t have any sexual agency here, no growth to find herself or what she likes, because it’s all based around what HE gives her, what HE makes her do, what HE wants, all in order to “push her limits”, limits that HE has decided on by himself.
That’s not how this works, that’s not how any of this works. I cannot repeat that enough in regards to the BDSM in this book.
So, back to the unsafe BDSM, let me give you a few glimpses into THEIR FIRST TIME TOGETHER. Remember again, he didn’t talk to her, didn’t ask for her limits or likes/dislikes, just used her as his own sex toy, basically.
Oh, I know the answer, dear (stupid) heroine: TERRIFYING. FFS.
He sets up a game where he binds her up, blindfolds her, and then takes different objects and rubs them on her body. She has to guess what they are: a correct guess will earn her 2 minutes of an erotic massage later, a wrong guess will earn her 2 minutes of punishment. If this book had been done in a GOOD BDSM-positive way, that could have been one fun and sexy tease of a game. But because it was happening in this book, where she’s left in the dark and has no say in what they do, I was turned waaaay off by this entire scene.
There’s a feather (okay, that’s normal), there’s even an ice cube at one point (again, nothing too unusual there) but there’s also dental floss, which he uses to make DIY nipple clamps/bows (Wha?), a toothbrush which he uses to brush her nipples – and her clit (WTAF? -- also, I hope to fuck that it was a new toothbrush, but considering this hero and his shit, who knows?). Oh, and a chopstick, which, when he draws it across her skin, she freaks out and thinks he’s got a knife and is trying to cut her.
Here’s my surprised face at her not trusting him and thinking a chopstick is a knife:
THAT’S WHAT HAPPENS WHEN YOU DON’T TALK ABOUT SAFETY AND PLANS AND GET HER CONSENT AND INPUT BEFORE A SCENE STARTS, DUMBASS.
He brushes her worry aside as “Well, the mind can fuck with what you think you’re experiencing, but you just need to trust me” bull shit. THAT’S THE ENTIRE PROBLEM, DICKHEAD: SHE DOESN’T TRUST YOU. Their scenes are not built on safe, consensual power dynamics, so no, douchebag, you don’t get to write her panic off as kinky mindfucking. Mindfucking CAN be a thing in a scene, but again, for the person in the back -- IT REQUITES TRUST AND BOUNDARIES SET UP FIRST. And that is NOT done here, ever.
Oh, but this continues throughout the book. He strips her naked and ties her to the mast of his ship --- I’m not even joking – and she’s not at all comfortable with it because they’re out in the open, docked, and she’s afraid people might see her. And he doesn’t give a single shit, just keeps her there and distracts her with orgasms to forget that she’s NOT OKAY WITH THIS. Again, doesn’t stop to talk to her about it, doesn’t ask her what she’s feeling, just swings his pseudo-Dom dick around and gets his way. All under the disguise of “I know this is what you need because my cock is all knowing, baby”.
I cannot stress enough: these things, on their own, are not BAD or WRONG, especially if it’s your kink/likes. But my problem is he’s doing all these things without asking her about it first, without explaining what he’s going to do, without ONCE asking her what her limits are, or a safeword – oh, excuse me, he does tell her once that if she wants to stop, say red, but that’s it, that’s the extent of his BDSM 101 talk with her. THAT is why I have a problem with all these things – because she shows in the book, during inner dialogue, by tensing up/being nervous, etc., that she’s not 100% into these things. And just because she orgasms and has a smile on by the end does NOT make it okay for her to be uncomfortable during the scene. Her being nervous isn’t part of the scene play either, before someone asks – she’s GENUINELY not comfortable or trusting or even goddamn knowledgeable about what he wants to do to her.
But orgasms and magical peen can apparently fix that. ß (sarcasm for days)
I could go on, complain about every BDSM sex scene in the book, but I’ll stop because I think (hope!) I’ve made my point: this is not safe, sane, or consensual just because he’s the hero and she happily orgasms in the end. Without communication, without limits and actual trust between them, I don’t view their scenes as hot – I view them as him forcing his desires on her.
And that is NOT sexy. That is NOT what a hero does. No, not even a Dom --- especially not a Dom.
But wait, he continues this controlling, abusive bullshit outside of the bedroom too, with this gem:
OH HELL FUCKING NO.
Nobody owns your fucking thoughts. You do not owe ANYONE your thoughts. Communication is fucking important, yes, but that is NOT what he’s talking about here. No, he honestly believes that because he “owns” her, her very goddamn thoughts are his as well.
FUCK. THAT. SHIT.
Okay, moving past the bad BDSM sex and all its shit, which came out of nowhere (no mention of it in the blurb, no hint about it until he starts playing Pseudo-Dom to her) and took up a good portion of the book, the rest of the book was lacking, underdeveloped, disappointing, and boring.
The characters were so flat that I never got anything from them, never felt like I knew them. And remember: it’s 1st POV. If I can’t get anything from your characters in 1st POV, then you are DEFINITELY doing something wrong. I didn’t get the picture of her as the goody-two-shoes girl all her life, or her finally letting loose and stepping outside of her comfort zone – I got nothing from her. Zip. I didn’t get anything from him, either. For a man who is out for revenge on his dead wife and daughter, I got zero of that emotion, zero of his character – hell, he spoke about their murders and his revenge plans like he was talking about the weather, like it had affected him as much as a rain storm ruining his day.
Also, though it’s not a big deal in the scheme of things: I’m still not sure how old he is. She’s 24, we’re told that, but he starts throwing around years, and not his age -- like he didn’t join the Navy until he graduated with his degree (and what a random degree it is, let me tell ya…), so I’m guessing 23/24, and something about 6 years was mentioned – not sure when that was, his service time? The time since their deaths? I have no damn clue because it wasn’t made clear and whatever WAS said didn’t stick in my memory. It’s a small detail, sure, but it’s just proof that this story was lacking, was rushed, and wasn’t properly developed at all levels.
The fact that I was often bored is probably a combination of not caring about either character and not feeling a connection to this story/writing at all. The writing often felt bulky and didn’t flow smoothly. I had hoped that maybe the suspense plot would carry the book a bit, but that fell so flat, it’s a joke. When I picked this one up, I knew that it said first in a series, but I figured the rest of the series would just cover characters we’re introduced to in this one. And it will . . . but it’s also connected through the plot. That’s right, the mystery of her brother’s involvement with the missing guns is not solved in this book. It’s not even touched, really. It’s somewhat there to set the story up for Noah and Mackenzie to meet and that’s about as far as it goes. And it's not until I'm nearing the 90% mark that I realize there's no time left for the story to be wrapped up or addressed. And it's not. It just ends with these two "happy" and the plot is thrown aside to be picked up in book 2. That was disappointing and frustrating because I don’t have any desire to read any more of these books, so I guess I’ll never know what all was going on with the brother and the guns. Which irritates me, but not enough to bother picking up the rest of the series. I’m just left frustrated and disappointed.
Okay, last thing, since I’ve kept you guys here listening to my rambling rant for far too long: the romance wasn’t even good. I’m not even talking the sex anymore, just the romance itself. I don’t believe for a moment that these two were in love with each other. Nope, not buying it. There’s nothing to show how they fell for one another, no deep conversations that reveal their characters, there’s no reason for why he went from telling her “I’m too broken to love anyone *manly brooding*” to “I love you forever and ever and ever!” in the span of a few pages – the last few pages, of course.
TL;DR: I didn’t connect to the characters, the BDSM was OH HELL FUCKING NO bad, the romance was worse than instalove, and the suspense plot is dropped, to be continued in future books that I have no desire to pick up. There’s nothing about this book that I can point to and recommend to others, no redeeming quality to it. For me, it literally failed on all accounts. And once again, the only reason I didn’t DNF was so I could do this full rant. You’re welcome. Or I’m sorry. Probably both, to be honest.
~ * ~ * ~
I received an e-ARC of this book from the publisher, via NetGalley.
*Note: The quotes used belong to Brynley Blake; TBQ's Book Palace does not claim them. Any mistakes or typos in the quotes are my own fault.
~ * ~ * ~
If you want to read more quotes that I highlighted, check out my Twitter!
Until Next Time,
*TBQ's Book Palace is a member of both the Amazon and Barnes and Nobles affiliates program. By using the links provided to buy products from either website, I receive a very small percentage of the order. To read my full disclosure on the matter, please see this post!