by Sarah MacLean

Rating:
3/5


Plot/Storyline: 📖📖📖📖
Feels: 🦋🦋🦋
Romance: 💞💞💞
Emotional Depth:💔💔💔💔
Sexual Tension:⚡️⚡️⚡️
Sensuality: 🔥🔥🔥
Sex Scene Length: 🍆🍆🍆🍆

I have so much to say about this book that it’s difficult for me to figure out where to start. I both loved and hated it. I was frustrated and fascinated. Both disappointed and enthralled. I loved it for it’s uniqueness and for Sarah MacLean giving a voice to this kind of relationship. And at the same time, I wish the book had been written differently, because the impact would have been greater, at least for me in many ways.

We first meet Malcolm and Sera in The Rogue Not Taken, where Malcolm is branded a cheater and Sera is basically a lovelorn castaway. And so you start off this book hating the hero. It’s hard to imagine how one can forgive a cheater. How a romance novel can be written around a relationship that has been broken apart through infidelity. I think for that reason, many people would immediately write this book off. But that would be a mistake, because Malcolm unequivocally redeems himself. In fact, he is so sympathetic in this book that my opinion of him did a complete about face. There are a lot of reasons for that, which I simply could not cover in a review because it would take me forever. But I hope you will take my word for it.

I found the first 200 pages of this book to be a massive exercise in frustration. Nearly each chapter bouncing back and forth between present time and what happened between them in the past. In the beginning of this book we find that Sera has left Malcolm and he has been searching for her for years. Because he never stopped loving her. I wanted to feel his pain, but so much was hidden from me as a reader that I couldn’t with any great magnitude. I wish it had been told in order, because I love angst and I would have been captivated by the depths of their despair, if only I could understand what caused it. But at every turn it was a mystery. I didn’t know why they hurt about certain things until after the story was moving on and revealing a different hurt. I wanted the chance to ache with them, but I felt the opportunity was lost because I didn’t know what had happened until later. And for that reason, the emotional development felt stunted to me. It could have been a gut punch, but instead it felt faded, like memories often do.

And this impacted some parts that I particularly look forward to in romance novels. Like the first kiss and the first love scene, which here were glossed over because they were, in fact, just memories. But it made some of the steam fizzle for me. Every time I started to feel involved, I was removed from the moment, and so, I didn’t get that build up and tension I desire in a romance. And it was a particular let down from Sarah MacLean, who I consider the queen of sexual tension. She’s a master of build up. A perfectionist of feels. And she does redeem herself towards the middle/last third of the book with a couple of truly beautiful and scorching hot sex scenes, but a lot of the book left me wanting in that regard.

The most difficult and tedious part of this book was that it was in large part about two people who have absolutely no ability to be honest with each other. Everything was one giant miscommunication. Everything that went wrong in their marriage the first time around was because neither of them had ever bothered to speak the truth. To say how they really felt. To explain the unfolding of events. And then they lost each other. Worse, they pushed each other away through their perpetual dishonesty, only to realize much too late what they had done and what they had truly meant to each other.

And what do they do when they come back together? They continue to hide and lie and deceive and pretend. They’ve learned nothing from their heartache or their separation. Even Haven, who has chased Sera for nearly three years, praying he’d someday have the chance to tell the truth and make it right again, immediately goes back to holding back his love and feelings in favor of deception and trickery.

If you like an enemies to lovers story, this would probably be golden for you. But I have never been a fan and I rarely get butterflies from fighting. So, this is, in the end, a personal thing, but it simply didn’t work for me.

That is, until they finally started to speak to each other with honesty. That’s when I started to care about them. They have a couple of private conversations that were tender and sweet and revealing in ways that open your heart as a reader. It’s when they begin to understand themselves and each other and begin to truly own where they went wrong that the book finally grabbed me.

And this is when I started to truly feel for Malcolm. Because he got a raw deal. You have to read it to understand, but Sera has treated him terribly. She makes mistake after mistake. Manipulates and lies. And holds one sin against him that pales in comparison to the sins she’s committed herself. It made me angry for him. I hurt for him. I began to love him as a hero and I was pulling for him. And Sera, well, she is the one that destroyed their relationship. She stole his opportunities to prove his love again and again. And it was kind of hard for me to see him chase her at some points.

That’s not to say that Malcolm didn’t make mistakes. He did. And at the same time, Sera has lost so much and had so much pain. She’s living with her mistakes as best she can and it breaks your heart along with her to feel what she’s been through and to eventually understand that she was punishing herself, though she accused Malcolm of being the punisher. They punished each other and their relationship is wrought with the most heart rendering miscommunications and then these moments of honesty that tear you apart.

Those are the things that Sarah MacLean does so well. One of the reasons I’ve love her books so much is because I’ve always felt that she spends most of the book focused on the romance. And while that is true about this book on the most basic level, there was a lot going on that got in the way of the romance. Between the time period shifts and about 15 other characters who all had some sort of role in this book, including a minor side romance (which was darn cute, but still another thing coming between Malcolm and Sera’s story), there were so many antics. Antics after every emotionally revealing moment. When you want to steep yourself in the sorrow and heartache. Grovel in it. This book just ripped it all away with antics from all these side characters.

I wish there had been more of those touching moments of honesty. But they were sparse and I kept waiting for them. The ones that were there were incredible, but the feelings I got from them so quickly evaporated because of the intrusion of other characters and their over zealous conversations. And it’s not that they weren’t enjoyable or well written. But poorly placed. I felt it was disruptive to my immersion into what could have been an absolutely gut wrenching and emotional read.

All in all, I just wanted something different. It’s personal. My three stars might be someone else five stars. But there were too many things encroaching on every moment of their romance. I just wanted them to be together. Talking. Growing. Fighting, even. And those moments were few and far between.

The ending was far better than the rest of the book. It had a much greater emotional pull, and ended on a high note. And Malcolm finished it off with a surprisingly lovely and unexpected grand gesture that I adored. I did fall a little in love with Malcolm in this book. He deserved to be happy. So I at least leave it on a high note. 

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