Wednesday, January 17, 2018

Jen's DNF Review: Breathe

Were you going through a ranty-review withdrawal? No worries, Jen has you covered today!

Breathe by Kimberley Ash
Publisher: Crimson Romance (January 15, 2018)
Genre: Contemporary Romance

This emotional debut featuring two characters burdened by the past introduces a talented new voice in contemporary romance.

British expat Ellen Hunter trusts no man and finds her position as the events and conferences manager at a large hotel in Boston the perfect place to hide from her traumatic past. That is, until a business meeting brings her to the office of notorious playboy Kane Fielding. Ironically, his open disdain for monogamy and his storied past make him seem less of a threat. After all, there are no surprises from a wolf in wolf’s clothing.

Kane knows his reputation with the ladies is greatly exaggerated. After his father’s sudden death required Kane to take over the family business at the tender age of 22, he’s been more concerned with keeping the company running than finding someone to settle down with. He’s more than happy to treat Ellen the way she deserves. But the media is writing a different story, snapping pictures of them together around the city and putting her job—and her visa status—in jeopardy.

At the same time, an arsonist is stalking Fielding Paper, threatening the entire family’s livelihood and increasing the public scrutiny on Kane’s every move. Is a fling worth risking everything they’ve achieved—or can the flame growing between them forge a lasting bond?

Sensuality Level: Sensual

Where to Buy*:
More Info:

Jen's Review:

Trigger Warning for Rape (not on page, in the heroine’s past)

Let’s talk about the art of the DNF. Truth is, I’m a hyper-fast reader, so I’ll often just power through books because it won’t take me that long to finish them. For me, DNF books fall into one of 3 categories:

  1. I’m bored. This is the most common. I start a book, I stop reading for some reason, and I have no compulsion to pick it back up. I don’t think too much about these book because there’s just not much to hang on to--if there was, I’d still be reading! And even I’m not surly enough to write a “I’m bored” review. What would I even say?
  2. I’m outraged. But the truth is, even though I know I should DNF, I love a good hate-read. I’m trying to work on this. I don’t think it’s a good look for me. But often, once I’m riding the hate-train, I’ll keep going just because I love being right about how bad a book is. I’ve written a few 1 or 0 star reviews, and they all fell into this category. The x-factor: I thought they were all profoundly misogynistic and patriarchal. I will cheerfully slice those books to tiny little Jen-sized-hate-slivers all day long.
  3. I don’t believe it. That means that whatever the author is doing just isn’t working for me, and I’m not talking about the quality of the prose. Trust me, I have strong feelings about what kind of writing works for me. But the truth is “good writing” has largely been defined by white men in Western culture, and I mostly find the vague charge of “bad writing” to be useless critique. Be specific or go away. For me as a reader, bad writing means unclear character motivation and behavior. If I don’t understand why a character is acting they way they are, or if I think a character is a jerk, I’ll stop reading. 

All right, now that you know my methods (Don’t you love how I’m always showing you my work?), let’s talk about Breathe by Kimberly Ash. Great cover, an okay sounding blurb, and a new author. I have worried a bit that I’m just reviewing books that everyone already knows about, so one of my New Year’s blogger resolutions is to review more first time or new-to-me authors. But you know what, maybe that’s not going to be for me? I just worked too hard to find something to like in this one.

Ellen Hunter is a British citizen who has been working at a fancy hotel in Boston for the past four years, and she’s nearing the end of her rotation at this hotel and will have to transfer to a new location soon. Kane Fielding is the hero, and he’s the young and handsome CEO of a local Boston company that sells paper. Several of his plants and factories have been attacked by an arsonist, and Kane is worried about the future of his company.

Let’s talk about my struggles with this book. First of all, I think that this book can’t really decide if it’s a mystery or not. The set-up makes it so the question of the arsonist should be a very important plot point. But it’s kind of not, at least not through the first 40% that I read. Kane isn’t an arson investigator, it’s just something that worries him. The danger of the workplace romance is that if you give too many details about that job in your exposition, I’m going to spend a lot of time wondering about the success of this dumb business. Is Fielding Paper more like Crane’s and selling fancy stationery? Or are we talking Dunder Mifflin? And how in the hell am I supposed to believe that there’s a playboy millionaire of a paper company? At one point, he thinks about paper contents like a chef thinks about a treasured recipe, and I was like, “Oh shit! It’s an artisanal paper company.” Just no.

I think there were some timeline problems in this book that a good editor should have helped the author manage. I was very confused about Ellen’s background and how a terrible incident in her past played out. Four years ago, Ellen was raped by her boyfriend. I honestly had to reread her description of what had happened a few times before I got it. This isn’t necessarily bad writing, because I think Kimberly Ash was trying to capture how difficult it is for survivors to tell their stories. But I honestly had to be like...okay, she and Edward had two years of bad sex and then one night after getting drunk, he forces himself on her even after she says no. Then there is some undetermined amount of time when she stays in England, but he goads and taunts her when they see each other. Then she leaves for Boston? Maybe I’m more detail oriented then I think. This is important to understanding her character, but it was hard for me to make sense of it. The portrayal of Ellen as she struggles with her past was the part of the story I was most interested in reading. She keeps the rape a secret from her family and friends, and the weight of it is suffocating her. She blames herself and deals with her fear with self-defense training, but I badly wanted her to see a therapist. If there’s anything that sends me back to the book, it’s going to be to see how this plays out at the end. But I’ll be honest. I don’t have a good feeling about it.

That brings me to the DNF moment. When did I just quit this thing? It’s Kane. He is her date at a gala at the hotel, one she planned. So it’s a working event for her, but she is able to sit down and eat the dinner. At their table is a man Kane knows from high school named Darren. Darren was a few grades younger, so this dude is maybe 32 to Kane’s 35. Darren is socially awkward and smitten with Ellen and he asks her to dance. Whatever happens during that dance makes Ellen uncomfortable and a few minutes later Kane asks her to dance. She wonders why he didn’t ask her sooner, and he says he wasn’t going to interrupt her when dancing with her boss. Then she turns the conversation to Darren.

“You could have fought off that bloody Darren Laing.” 
Kane snorted. “He didn’t need fighting. He’s just a kid.” 
“He’s my age,” she said, her voice hardening.  
“You know what I mean. Why did you have to step on his feet?” 
She pulled away, scowling. “He was getting grabby, and whose side are you on?” 
He didn’t like the way her face was closing up against him, but he also didn’t like her assumptions about a harmless kid. “With this dress, any way of holding you must feel grabby.” 
“Look,” she hissed, her cheeks going pink as she dropped her hands from his waist. “I don’t need you to tell me when I should feel that someone is being inappropriate!” 
“So you finally admit men make you uncomfortable?” 
Okay, he shouldn’t have said that, but someone had to challenge her bullshit assumptions. Otherwise, how would she learn there were men out there who could be trusted?...He sighed. This wasn’t the time to fix whatever it was that happened to her.

Reader, I stopped. Because questioning someone’s bullshit assumptions is not the way to show you’re trustworthy. TRUSTING Ellen’s judgement is how you become trustworthy, Kane. Then, he basically tells her that she’s to blame for unwarranted attention because of how she’s dressed. And in the year of our fucking Lord 2018, I am not here for any 30-year-old white dude creeper being called a “boy” by other men. Finally and while we’re at it, Kane, your job is not to “fix” Ellen. I’m glad that she called him out, but it’s also instantaneously clear that he doesn’t get it and is not listening to her. So what am I to believe any future will be like for them?

Right there in that scene, the author managed to ring bell #2 and #3 on my list, and I just had to DNF. I don’t care how this book ends up. I’m out. Life is too short. And if this book doesn’t end up with Ellen having to fight off some attack to prove her worth to herself, I’ll eat my fucking hat.

P.S.: Looking back at my notes, there was another thing in the book I found super gross, even more so because it was sort of a throwaway. There’s some harmful and bizarre references to homeless and poverty stricken people as props. In the beginning, Kane is going to go to an art exhibit where a photographer stages the same photo twice: once with celebrities, and then again with homeless people? But it’s not at all clear that it’s supposed to benefit or raise awareness about the plight of the homeless. It’s more like, “Oh this friend is a celebrity and she raved about the shoot.” WTF? That’s appalling, and I can only hope that if such an art exhibit does exist, we all talk about how monstrous it is in our loudest voices. And later, Kane is so caught up in admiring Ellen that he ignores his table companions. The description of this moment is, “Kane was so blown away by her, the chairman and Barton could have been sending designer handbags to the starving for all he heard of the speech.” What does that even mean? WHAT DOES THAT MEAN? 

Rating: DNF

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Jen received an e-ARC of this book from the author.

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Thanks for the review, Jen! Nearly two weeks after I first read this review and I'm still raging at that scene. In my opinion, there is no way he can be redeemed or change after that. Nope, that scene told me all I needed to know about his character.

Can I please cut his balls off and roast them in front of his face? Please?

What makes you DNF a book?


Until Next Time,

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