Monday, January 22, 2018

Jen's Review: Indecent Exposure

Remember, since this is a Royal Pick, come back on January 25th for a chance to win an ecopy of your own!

Indecent Exposure by Tessa Bailey
Publisher: Avon (January 30, 2018)
Series: The Academy, 2
Genre: Contemporary Romance
Dual 1st POV

Is there a problem, Officer? 

Jack Garrett isn’t a police officer yet, but there’s already an emergency. His new firearms instructor—the one who just dropped every jaw in the academy gym—is the same sexy Irish stranger Jack locked lips with last night. The Olympic gold medalist and expert markswoman is now officially off-limits, but Jack’s never cared much for rules . . .

Katie McCoy’s been cooped up in a shooting range for too long. A wild love affair is just what she needs to let loose, though she never imagined it would be with her smokin’ hot trainee. She cannot get involved with Jack—but a quick fling? Perfect. Falling hard for a charismatic recruit with an equal amount of sex appeal and secrets? Bloody stupid.

Jack’s charmed the pants off plenty of women (literally), yet few have ever looked beyond his perfect surface. Until Katie. He’ll do anything to keep her in his life . . . except tell her about his past. But a tiny lie of omission never hurt anyone, right?

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Content Warnings: alcoholism, deceased sibling, recounting of sexual assault and non-consensual bondage

Jen's Review:

Tessa Bailey is in that small pantheon of auto-buy romance writers. She’s just one of my favorites. Almost every one of her books manages to hit that sweet spot for me: a strong heroine meets an alpha male who is grumpy and possessive but who is also a feminist who cares about consent.  In Indecent Exposure, Jack’s tortured, harrowing past and current alcoholism make for very difficult reading, but ultimately made me feel hope for people who journey to become healthy and whole.

First, a small detour about why I’m a Tessa Bailey reader, but I don’t do a whole lot of Tessa Bailey reviewing. I struggle with any author who routinely writes all-white casts of characters in big multicultural cities, and Tessa Bailey is guilty of this in a big way. What New York is this? And I cannot even begin to describe the mental resistance I felt about the entire premise of the Academy series, which follows three roommates as they make their way through NYPD’s police academy. These books are being released in 2017 and 2018, and the problems with police brutality and violence are well-documented. Great men in the NFL are putting their careers at stake to protest police violence in America. The entire Black Lives Matter movement is urgently addressing these issues, and in return, our government treats them like terrorists.  I just knew the “heroic white cop in training” was going to be a tough one for me. As it turns out, it was more of an issue for me in the first book of the series, Disorderly Conduct. I decided to just read that one because I enjoy her books, but not to review it.

I don’t even know how to parse my feelings: both my own choice to read books that I know won’t grapple with problems I think are urgent, but also the author’s choice to create characters unaware of real issues in their fictional worlds. Where is that line? Is it somewhere different for literary fiction than it is for romance? And if so, why?  Mostly, I’ve decided to fall on the line of “I noticed it” and “it bothered me” or “I wanted more.” I don’t know what else to do. I just know that I’ve changed; it’s harder for me to let it go and enjoy it. I can’t help but wonder if the books, movies, and television shows that refuse to talk about social justice have created millions of Americans who refuse to do the same.

Sigh. I just don’t know. But, I’ll tell you that Indecent Exposure felt different. Even though it didn’t tackle police brutality and it’s still white New York, it did tackle other big issues, in a way that felt vital and important. In the first book, it’s clear that Jack is an alcoholic and that his roommates Charlie and Danika don’t know how to help him. This, right from the beginning, felt so real to me. If you love someone suffering with addiction, you know that feeling of helplessness. Tessa Bailey does an excellent job of showing how Jack uses alcohol to drown his personal demons, which stem from being sexually assaulted as a teenager. (If you need more details, contact me via Twitter @JenReadsRomance and I can tell you more. But I wouldn’t want anyone being triggered, and it’s a harrowing scene.)

Enter Katie, an Irish citizen on vacation in New York. She’s fresh as a daisy and they meet in the neighborhood, and the attraction is instantaneous.  Of course, it turns out Katie is a special instructor in the Police Academy, and now she’s in the position of essentially being Jack’s supervisor.  I’m not sure that this made a whole lot of sense for two 26 year olds, but it honestly didn’t bother me that much. The real conflict in this story is about Katie and Jack learning to love each other despite his alcoholism, the “dating at work” part is quite secondary. Katie’s brother was killed by a drunk driver, and she can’t even go into a bar, her sadness and anger are so overwhelming. She smelled alcohol on his breath at 10am during training, which seems to be a huge signal that someone has a drinking problem. At first, I was annoyed that she would even start a relationship with him; but, then again, she’s thinking of him as a potential vacation fling, not a long-term romantic entanglement.

I was wary. I’ve read books where falling in love magically cures addiction---and it’s just infuriating. Pretty sure it doesn’t work that way! But I think Tessa Bailey handles this well. Jack’s decision to try and stop drinking is because he wants to be a better man for himself and also for Katie. He notices that he’s more present and aware when he doesn’t drink. There’s painful moments where he faces and overcomes his need for alcohol, and others where he backslides and succumbs. This won’t be a quick, easy journey for Jack and he goes to AA meetings and knows he needs help. Tessa Bailey does not give a single hint that falling in love will magically fix his addiction---it’s that falling in love gives him the courage and will to face his own fears.

I don’t mean to give short shrift to Katie. She has her own conflicts---her fear of disappointing her father, her uncertainty about how to balance her personal interests and her career, and her warring desires to be independent and also to be needed. Katie’s emotional journey may be less dramatic than Jack’s, but it was just as important to me as a reader. Katie and Jack’s sexual relationship reveals truths about who they are to each other. And, of course, it a Tessa Bailey book, so it’s plenty hot, steamy, and satisfying.

This was a difficult book, but it’s one that will stick with me. Despite many obstacles, they face addiction, they trust each other, and they choose love. Jack and Katie both show real courage. It’s hard-won, and they do it together: the hallmark of a great romance.


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Jen received an e-ARC of this book from the publisher, via Edelweiss.

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Thanks for the review, Jen! And for the important discussion about where do we draw the line between just enjoying a favorite author and taking a step back and calling out their books? I'm not sure I have an answer for you, other than try to do both whenever possible? I fully believe that when we're self-aware of the issues, we can still enjoy our "problematic favs", as many in the community call this. I think the only time there's an issue is when a reader blindly pretends that there's nothing wrong/the author can do no wrong. Nah, that's never true. You can critique something while still loving it, I promise, people. :)


Until Next Time,

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