Wednesday, September 27, 2017

Discussion: Too Beautiful To Break [Spoilers!]

Today Jen and I are going to discuss Tessa Bailey's newest release, Too Beautiful to Break!

Warning: There will be some spoilers, so if you haven't read it yet and don't wish to have anything ruined, come back and join the discussion after you're done! :)

Too Beautiful to Break by Tessa Bailey
Publisher: Forever (September 26, 2017)
Series: Romancing the Clarksons, 4
Genre: Contemporary Romance

A love of a lifetime . . .

Leaving Belmont Clarkson is the hardest thing Sage Alexander has ever done. From the moment they met, she knew Belmont was the one, and getting up close and personal with him on his family's epic road trip has taken her desire to a new, even hotter level. But there's no way she can go there---not without revealing secrets that could devastate them both.

Losing Sage is not an option. Belmont's heart is hers, has always been hers. He knows she's hiding something from him, but nothing will stand in his way of telling her just how much she means to him. Finding her is easy---saving her from her past could cost him everything.

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Our Discussion:

TBQ: You and I -- and so many others! -- have been waiting for Bel’s book since this series kicked off. And then finally we got the ARCs and read it and . . .uh, well, let’s start this discussion off bluntly, shall we? We were disappointed in Too Beautiful to Break. A disappointing book is probably the worst, by the way; I’d rather have a “OMG THIS POS MAKES ME WANT TO RANT!” book than one that leaves me, well, just leaves me, you know?** So let’s get into the specifics of the book. 

Be warned -- there will be some spoilers throughout, so if you haven’t read it yet, come back after!

From the start of this book all through to the last page, I felt like we somehow got less depth of character from Sage and Bel than we did in the glimpses of them in the previous 3 books combined!

Jen: This was probably the biggest problem for me, too. I was hoping she’d go back and tell me more about that first meeting between Bel and Sage. Their connection is so intense that in the first book, Belmont can’t even go with the rest of his siblings on their road trip until she’s there! How exactly did they get to that place? If I’m remembering correctly, they met at Peggy’s first failed wedding, so these two have built up a lot of this brooding, mysterious attraction. This book needed a prologue! Or, maybe I was expecting Tessa Bailey would go back and retell some of the scenes from earlier books from the Belmont/Sage point of view. It was weirdly not enough information.

One thing I’ve thought a lot about is the problem of writing introverts, and Bel is the most powerfully introverted character I’ve probably ever read in a romance. Like, “poor baby” kind of introverted. It could be a storytelling problem because of the classic “show don’t tell” mantra about writing. With someone as taciturn and aloof as Belmont, maybe Tessa Bailey was trapped with doing more telling. In the earlier books, those scenes where he would just stare soulfully at her were so sexy. But I needed more or different in this book and I didn’t get it.

TBQ: Definitely! Writing introverts, especially Bel’s level of introvert, is so hard to do, so we really need more telling or something from it! And Sage . . . on one hand, I was able to connect to some of her personal struggles and emotions connected to her childhood, but at the same time, I still didn’t feel like I fully understood, or even truly cared for, her character. And that kind of pains me to say it, but it’s the truth. Her constant “Bel and I are going to turn into my parents because we depend on each other!” BS was beyond aggravating for me. Noooo? Her parents depended on the alcohol first and each other second; the big problem wasn’t their dependent relationship. And besides that,  just because she and Bel “used” (hers and Bel’s wording, not mine at all) each other to calm down and be stronger, etc., doesn’t mean they’re going to have a shitty dependent relationship like the parents’.

Jen: I completely agree. And it felt like a plot device instead of how people really think. In my experience, people from unhappy homes change once they leave home and are out on their own. They see other relationships and realize there are many different ways to be happy. Sage is a *wedding planner*, so she’s seen hundreds of couples work through their problems. She also has, on this road trip, seen 3 very different Clarksons find happiness. It seems like she’d have more faith that people can make things work out because she would have seen so many different models for communication and being together. The whole “I must return home NOW and face this problem and never leave my parents again” was not a plot device I ever really bought.

TBQ: Exactly! It all felt forced for the purpose of “plot” but not for the purpose of her character! Especially, as you point out, because she’s been working in an industry that’s all about HEAs and relationships. Realistically, she’d either have learned that, hey, relationships are not all messed up like my parents, there’s hope yet! Or . . . well, I don’t know, she would have been a cynical wedding planner or something stupid. My point is: her problem with her parents didn’t affect her character development like it should have, it just felt like a weak plot device.

Okay, it’s a Tessa Bailey novel, so you know we’ve got to talk about the sex! Bailey is a queen when it comes to dirty-smutty-goodness and dirty talking heroes. It’s one of the reasons that I love her books. And while we get some of that here, I have to say again I was a bit underwhelmed by it all.

So their first scene [no penetration] is in her old high school. And here’s where I go off on a tangent because breaking and entering a school to get freaky AND they didn’t get caught (No alarms? No cops driving around looking for kids trying to pull stunts there? NOTHING?). I kind of side-eyed this, especially in a small town. Listen, in my small town, anyone who tried that would definitely get caught. Also, this meant that, while the sex itself was hot, I couldn’t fully relax while reading it because Logical Me was certain they’d get caught and cockblocked any minute!

Jen: I honestly get so freaked out in small towns. Like, if I’m somewhere with less than a million people, I’m completely like RETURN ME TO CIVILIZATION IMMEDIATELY. So I trust you on this, but was also like, break into the school! What else is there to do?

TBQ: Ha! Nothing says love and sexy times like a little B&E, right?

Jen: Obviously.

TBQ: We get some more sorta-B&E for their first time, too. And I do mean first time because SURPRISE, both Bel and Sage are virgins. I honestly didn’t see that coming. (Heh heh.) I figured Bel was because of how introverted, etc., he is, but I was figuring Sage would have some experience. Honestly, I really wish she had because I don’t think two virgins, or at least THESE two virgins, worked out that well. It was just slightly . . off, I guess? And not because they were bumbling teenagers, which I think I almost would have preferred because maybe there would have been some laughs along the way. Instead it was slightly awkward in that “Wait, would they really talk/act like this?” way, you know what I mean? Still hot in the end, because Bailey, but again, not my favorite from her.

Plus, how many can say they lost their virginity in a church? (Which, yes, also had me side eyeing because NO ONE WAS AROUND AGAIN? No cops driving around to keep an eye on things like normal cops do, especially in small towns? Okay, sure sure.) And again, I had that feeling of “I can’t relax because surely they’re going to get caught any moment now!”. I’m not sure why this bothered me so much in this book; I’ve read plenty of other books where the couple are actually in danger of getting caught but continue fucking anyway. For whatever reason, my brain grabbed onto it here and would not let it go!

Jen: Given the religious overtones of Peggy’s book, the church-sex seems like an especially bold choice. Tessa, what are you trying to say about religion?! But, it was hot and I was there for it. Here’s what I kept thinking about: the lyrics to Let’s Get It On by Marvin Gaye. I’ve always love the lyrics, “I’ve been sanctified.” There’s no doubt that moment is something holy between them, right? In that way, it’s a fitting setting for the consummation of their relationship.

It seems implausible that two virgins wouldn’t be more fumbling. I get it, everyone is preternaturally gifted at fucking in a Tessa Bailey book. But.. I even had a hard time even believing they’d never kissed each other.

TBQ: Right? Which could lead us to a romancelandia conversation about needing some more reality in sex scenes and whatnot, but that’s a story for another day. I guess we just accept that two “gold star” virgins, if you will, could hit it off like porn stars from the get-go.

Jen: That previous sentence is amazing and I just air kissed my fingers and raised a proverbial glass. Gold star virgins! *snort*

TBQ: I mean, you’re welcome!

And then there’s That Scene. The Bel’s-bad-day-and-attempted-sex scene? Made me cringe and “ummm” so hard and I’m still not sure my thoughts on that or how it was handled or why it was even in there? Because let’s be clear: he almost pushed her even when she was telling him no. Yes, to give context: she was saying no because she thought sex was only going to make their relationship issue worse, not better. Did she physically want to have sex with him at the moment? Yes. But she didn’t want to use sex as a crutch and so she told him no. Regardless: NO IS NO. And yes, he then apologizes for it -- apologizes, mind you, he doesn't try to excuse his behavior, thank god! -- but it just . . . left me cringing. And didn't fit his character. At. All.

Jen: I actively repressed everything about this scene because it bothered me so much. Not that he couldn’t have acted that way, people are capable of just about anything. But I’m not sure I believe the man who treated her with kid gloves for years would have...and just why.

TBQ: Repressing it is truly the best course of action. Because just talking about that scene again has me cringing and ready to rage.

Anyway, in short: The sex wasn’t my favorite from Bailey, but it was still hot. I just . . . I had to side eye a lot of things.

Jen: So much side-eye.

TBQ: Can we talk about the next plot device -- the town bad guy and all that drama? He’s such a caricature of a bad guy. I expected him to start twirling a mustache. And his blackmail for her? I saw that coming and rolled my eyes – and then wanted to smack her for going with it at all

But behold, it’s magically stopped at the last minute and the debt/bad guy issue is just brushed aside as she and Bel walk out into the sunset or whatever.

Jen: I’m honestly not even sure I followed this whole part of the plot. It was just ridiculous in all the ways. It was almost like farce. But then, the whole part about Miriam’s second husband being the one that pushed Bel into the well also was also difficult to believe. I believed Bel’s response, and it helped explain how removed he was. But Miriam, FFS, why wasn’t Belmont in YEARS of therapy? The blackmail marriage plot, a grown man pushing an innocent kid into a well, the squicky “these poor white people have been practically enslaved” by the town villain---It was like an 80s  soap-opera, which was not the tone of the whole series. I can do soap opera if I know that heading in, but this is the last of a series that plays it pretty straight. I do expect a certain continuity of tone in a series, and so it was just too melodramatic.

TBQ: YES, that. This book didn't feel like it was from the same series at all. I was almost ready to pinch myself while reading, hoping I'd wake up to a different book! I can honestly say that not once during the long wait for this book did I ever think “I hope there’s no soap opera level plot devices in Bel’s book”. And yet here we are and that’s basically what we got.

Cosign the fuck out of questioning why Bel was never given therapy. Because *sigh*

While we’re on the subject of plot devices: Also brushed aside? “Hey, there’s your biological dad! Okay, you saw him from a distance, now let’s hurry and end this book and not speak about any of it.” Like, what the hell?!

Jen: Preach. Or even that he sends everyone else ahead so he can go to work in the mines to prove something to himself? I literally muttered, “Come on!” Also, wasn’t there a whole thing about how Aaron had hired a PI to look for Belmont’s Dad...and the dude’s last name was BELMONT? It seems like a smart 13 year old with an internet connection would have been able to find the guy.

TBQ: Seriously! Him finding his father and always feeling like he wasn’t part of the group of siblings because of his having a different father was such a big part of this entire series -- and even a little bit of this book. And then . . that. That’s what we get? *eye roll*

I feel like the plot, the conflict, everything was just thrown together last minute, but wasn’t actually integrated into the story or characters. I’m not saying that’s how the writing WAS done, and I would never belittle any writer the legitimate work that goes into writing a book (let alone, you know, multiple books a year). But that’s how it came across, at least for me.

Overall – I was just let down by this one. Maybe it’s partially because I WAS expecting so much from Bel’s story after the teases of his character in the first 3 books? But I never really fell for either of them here, or their romance, and things alternated between too rushed and dragging on with nothing moving forward. I liked it – but I didn’t love it, and while I had hoped Bel’s story would be my favorite of the series, it’s definitely my least favorite instead.

Jen: That’s exactly it. I thought it would be my favorite, and it just wasn’t. What Tessa Bailey does best is bring a couple to a full, rolling boil. This is a woman that knows how to turn on the heat! Maybe after cock-blocking these two for 900 pages, she couldn’t figure out how to break that pattern and light the fire. Don’t get me wrong, it wasn’t terrible, but it wasn’t perfect. And I wanted perfect! If I’m being honest, maybe nothing could have satisfied me after all that build-up. Maybe we should talk about Bel as a character. Why do you think he was so appealing?

TBQ: Who can resist a good, tortured hero? A quiet soul? And all that intensity, especially focused towards Sage? It’s A+ swoony potential there! He was a bit distant and mysterious, and many readers were drawn to that, wanted to know more about him, and see him get a HEA.

Jen: I am such a fan of the type of hero you described above, but it’s not the typical Bailey hero, either. I don’t have much to add. You got why didn’t it work in this book? I liked Sage less in this book, so I wonder if she was the weak link in their relationship?

TBQ: It could be that as well, yes. I guess we were just expecting too much from these two..

So, final score? I’m going to have to go with 3 Stars (I’ve actually wavered between 3 stars and the 3 ½, but the more I think on it, a solid 3 is all I can do). And that still pains me because BEL! Bailey! But the reality is Bel just didn’t live up to the expectations I had for him, or his story. And it’s only natural that some books, even from a favorite author, just won’t work as well as others.

Jen: I’m also going with that same range. I still love Tessa Bailey and have read and reread so many of her books. They can’t all be hits. But it’s disappointing when you’re expecting a grand slam, and instead you get a bunt. Good lord. I’ve been reduced to sports metaphors. Definitely time to wrap this up.


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Jen and I each received an e-ARC of this book from the publisher, via NetGalley.

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If you want to read more quotes that I highlighted, check out my Twitter!

**Funny thing is, I ended the book disappointed and figured I'd have nothing to say. Then we started this document and I turned into "Here, hold my purse, I got some bitchin' to do!"

The snark was kinda strong today. Jen and I regret nothing, of course. :)

Have you read Bel's book yet? What were your thoughts, especially after the long wait for his story? 


Until Next Time,

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