This is it for romantic suspense for me, and not merely because I don't enjoy it. I can't tell if I dislike this book more because I'm not enjoying the romantic suspense parts, or more because of the other flaws I found with the characters and the plot. I'm pretty much opening this entire review with, “Take this with a grain of salt because Romantic Suspense and I are breaking up for good, that's it, no more. We are never ever ever getting back together.”
Grain of salt out of the way, this story required me to make huge leaps of faith when it came to believing the characters, and once I reconciled myself to accepting the characters and their assorted superpowers, the book introduced a villain who was terribly clumsy and inept. Asking me to be afraid of the villain was just too much.
Ashley Bristol has just recovered from a coma when some scaffolding fell on her during a previous book's plot, and is having the world's worst life. She's got a beachfront home in Malibu, which definitely doesn't suck, but she's unable to work because of her injuries, and she's got hideous migraines that render her sightless (foreshadowing migraines, y'all). During the aural warning of one of those incoming migraines, Ashley's heading up the cliffside stairs to the beach with her friend (a person from a previous book who disappears conveniently part way through this one and doesn't have much else to do during this story) when she slips and falls – and wakes up without her eyesight due to traumatic brain injury.
A short time after she's released from the hospital with only the fuzziest of peripheral vision, she's back home adjusting to sightlessness with an aide. Ashley's home is the guest cottage of a larger estate that was sold in two pieces, and a mostly-absent rock star owns the other half. When some dude shows up named Mel, Ashley and her aide, Lizzie, wander over to say hi, and he's rather gruff and standoffish. But lucky Mel, who is really burned out rockstar Seger Hughes, realizes that Ashley is blind and can't identify him, and Lizzie's got no knowledge of rock stars or anything outside of her writing and aiding, so he's safe.
I thought there was plenty of tension between Mel and Ashley before the crazeystalkerpants villain showed up. She's adjusting to life with blindness. He's incognito and trying to turn his life and career in a new direction. She can't see; he's taking advantage of that by hiding who he is. He's been hiding who he is for a long time, and is finally being himself. She's got no choice but to be herself, and accept her limitations and vulnerabilities.
I liked them both, though I struggled to believe Ashley's ease of transition to her loss of sight. Within three weeks, she's chopping tomatoes and making multicourse dinners? Climbing the cliffside stairs without help? I struggled to believe that, though Sassy Outwater has told me it's possible. So I accept I could be wrong about that one. (There's another part where Ashley describes the most benevolent and overly-involved attorney former coworkers ever in the history of the world, but I'm willing to accept that, too, though I raise an eyebrow).
But then along comes Paula Crazeystalkerpants who is thin and brittle as a character where Ashley and Mel are more vivid and three-dimensional. Paula's obsessed with Mel, and she knows he's really Seger. So she does some really horrible things (I can't say what but oh, gosh, did her actions just crush me. I hate when someone I like in a story becomes a convenient plot device) and inserts herself in Ashley's life. Paula then starts targeting Ashley because Mel likes Ashley, and doesn't seem to like Paula Crazeystalkerpants.
My biggest problem with Paula is that as a villain she operates in a vacuum. She had a job, but she quits without talking to anyone at her office when she has the opportunity to move closer to Ashley. She has no friends, no one in her life. She's utterly isolated except for her obsession with Seger. And like any great delusional character, she's imagined her life with Seger and has convinced herself she deserves to be with him, and anyone standing in her way has to be eliminated.
There is no subtlety, no empathy to Paula Crazeystalkerpants' Crazey Stalker Behavior. She's decided she wants something and so she deserves to have it, just because she wants it. That does not a scary or even interesting villain make. She's all Id. The one-dimensional nature of Paula made her the opposite of scary. She was unscary and inept. Her motivation was all unhinged fury, which was more tiresome than terrifying.
Aside from Paula, my other problem was the overtelling and restating of events in the dialogue. Here's an example: Ashley is sweeping the steps and is chatting with Mel:
“I may be close to blind, but unfortunately my ability to clean is still fully intact. Kind of sucks if you want to know the truth. I mean really…you’d think there’d be at least one disease that does something for the good of mankind.” She paused and looked down at nothing. “I’m sorry, miss, but we’ve diagnosed you with sweeper’s disease.” She put her hand to her mouth feigning fright. “Oh no, doctor, not sweeper’s disease.” Her eyebrows pulled together in question. “Doctor, what is sweeper’s disease?” She shifted, now playing the doctor. “It’s sweeping the country.” She giggled at her joke then lost the smile. “I’m afraid it’s serious. You’ll never be able to sweep the floor again. You’ll have to have someone else do it for you.” Her hand came back to her mouth. “Say it isn’t so, doctor?” She dropped her hand and grasped her broom. “See what I mean? We need a disease that people would be glad to get.”
She was a hoot. “Sweeper’s disease?” Mel laughed.
Just in case you missed it, the heroine is a “hoot.” I don't need to be told. I can catch subtlety or even overt banter.
Unfortunately, there's a lot of telling and overtelling, and also some cliched pitying:
“Mel hoped she got her vision back. She seemed like a good person, and God knows she hadn’t deserved the way it happened. No one did.”
Yeah, ok, Mel.
By the end of the book, I'm told Ashley and Mel are best friends, but this best of friendship is based largely on having a handful of conversations usually about or while eating sandwiches. I didn't believe that their connection progressed so quickly from neighbors to like to full on ardor.
However, I DID believe in the connection between Ashley and Lizzie, Ashley's aide, which infuriated me because Lizzie went from real character I cared about to forgotten plot device. I can't even describe how much the plot's handling of Lizzie's character bothered me without spoiling the shit out of the book, but of all the people in the book, she was the one I liked best, and the way she was treated by Ashley and Paula made me dislike and lose respect both of them. It revealed inconsistencies in the book, too: the characters who logically would have been important and vital were not, and those that shouldn't have been were suddenly omnipresent and inescapable, and no one in the story seemed to notice or mind.
Also, and this is a bit of a spoiler: Ashley won't let Mel go down on her because she's saving having her box munched for “the One.” Except that she's let guys do it before, but she won't let Mel, which means that he is and is not the One. I think. I'm not sure.
He lifted his head.
“This is going to sound really stupid, but you can’t go down on me.”
He didn’t budge. “What? Why?”
“Because…” How did she explain this? “I’ve kind of reserved the spot for…for…you know…The One.”
“Huh?” He shifted over her. “You mean you’ve never let a guy…?”
“Well, no. I have, but it’s been few and far between and just a couple of times. It’s very personal for me. It’s not something I’m really comfortable with.”
I don't get that part either, but it seemed like a weak ploy to add tension or limitations to create an artificial virginity or boundary that had no other explanation. I started skimming shortly after that, so I have no idea if Mel ever got to the golden palace or not. He's the hero so I presume so.
My reaction to this book when I finished it was mostly frustration: frustration at the heroine who felt some things so keenly but conveniently (and in my opinion unlikely) forgot other truly important things when the plot required it. She was far too trusting. The hero did nothing exciting except conceal his real identity from Ashley and take advantage of her blindness, as did the villain. But whereas Mel had selfish but understandable reasons in the larger context of his character for doing so, Paula CrazeyStalkerPants did not have any reasons for taking advantage of Ashley except that she wanted to and decided she deserved to do so. The weakness of the villain, and the unevenness in attention paid to characters that I as a reader were emotionally invested in compromised my enjoyment of the book as a whole, and highlighted the flaws rather than the strengths.