This might be the first time I've written this on a review, but I want to warn you: this review, and the excerpts contained within it, might be triggering of emotions and recollections in people who have suffered assault or been victims of abusive relationships. As I was typing out the excerpts, I got a very sick feeling in my stomach when I wasn't rolling my eyes, and I want to warn you before you read on that you might experience similar.
Also, fair warning: this review is very spoilery. It was difficult for me to talk about what I didn't like without going into great detail about the problems I found with this novella.
Twisted in Tulips is a novella, but it made me so angry that I could barely finish it. I was so angry at the hero, I wanted to break him in half. I was never convinced of his heroism, never convinced that the he'd amended his tendency toward judgment, and never convinced the heroine had a clue what to do with the very dangerous aspects of his behavior.
Jace Nichols is a disabled veteran. He lost his forearm in an attack and is now discharged and looking for work. He wears a hook as a prosthesis and is very unhappy.
He first notices Misty Morgan, the heroine, as he's riding his motorcycle to a job interview with a security firm, a job he wants very much.
“Jace noted a curvy woman with slender legs showcased by a mid-thigh mini skirt striding along the palm tree lined sidewalk. Pretty enough. Asking for trouble dressed like that. The kind of trouble she'd get from the jittery man following her at a shrinking distance.”
I'll warn you now: I never warmed up to him as a hero. I wanted Misty to stay far, far away from him.
He saves the heroine from an assault, but then blames her – repeatedly – throughout the story. Her skirts are too short. Her suits are too revealing.
She is, in short, asking for it.
I have never wanted to set fire to a hero in a ebook before.
Because Jace intervenes and stops the jittery assbag from assaulting Misty after jitterbag covers her mouth and drags her into a parking lot, Jace misses a job interview and receives a very terse voicemail from the person with whom he was interviewing. Jace is mad at Misty, of course, because if she hadn't been wearing her skirt, he wouldn't have been late:
“…he was still enraged that Misty, just another gorgeous woman who was no doubt used to getting by on her looks, didn't see how wearing skimpy suits invited trouble or screwed up lives.”
He's brooding about it at a bar with a friend that afternoon and says he:
“wants nothing to do with a woman who begs for that kind of attention. A sexy woman who chose provocative business suits and sashayed her hips when she walked and teased with her legs in stilettos.”
His friend, Kyle, isn't much of a prize, either:
“You think all women who know how to dress for their body style are inviting creeps to go after them?”
“…Doing it without knowing how to defend herself is plain stupid.”
Then again, with her looks few would expect anything different.
“Do your fellow man a favor…. Keep your theories to yourself just in case a gorgeous woman overhears and decides to cover up.”
What a prince, this guy. Jace isn't having any of his bullshit.
“I'd rather have a passably pretty woman with a brain in her head.”
WOW. So because Misty is attractive, she must be stupid? Awesome.
“Wow. You're a regular prince. I wonder how you've failed to find the right woman.”
You and me both, Kyle.
So they talk about emotions (or, as Jace says, they don't talk about them because they are men) and Jace's military service (another taboo topic for Jace) when a woman walks in and draws Kyle's attention.
Kyle whistled long and low. 'Well, hello beautiful.'
Whoever the woman was who'd entered, she represented everything he'd been talking about. A woman who showcased her body for men to attract them and make them turn stupid. Curious if he was right, Jace opened his eyes and turned to follow Kyle's leering appreciation.
His heart lurched. His dick saluted. His rage bellowed.
GUESS WHO IT WAS.
Misty. Who is still, by the way, feeling affects of the attempted assault that morning and is trying to hide them. Jace, what a man he is. He is just MADE of empathy:
Dressed in a suit much like she'd worn that morning, though maybe an inch longer in the skirt, the blonde he'd been cursing all day slid onto a bar stool beside a man who couldn't tear his lecherous stare from her ass. If she'd noticed the direction of the man's eyes… she didn't care. Every man in the place watched her and she was as oblivious as she'd been that morning.
The woman was tormenting him. Or following him.
It's all about Jace, y'all.
So Misty is talking to the man she's with, debating whether she's feeling stable enough emotionally to enjoy an evening with him, when Jace, who is smooth like gravel, comes up behind her.
She didn't have to look to know who it was. Despite the disapproval snapping in his tone a feeling of security enshrouded her.
“Misty Morgan.” He stepped around so she could see him. “I see this morning taught you nothing.”
Unfounded intimacies hovered, hinted at a deeper meaning than Jace's actual words.
Yes, and the meaning of those words is, “HE IS A JUDGMENTAL SEXIST ASSBAG. RUN.”
“Jace's skill at projecting menace to one person and security to another was eerie. And arousing.”
She gets up and heads to the ladies' room to get away from both men, but Jace is not content to let her alone.
Halfway into the hall Jace grabbed her arm and pulled her into the back room. “You should have learned your lesson.”
“What is that supposed to mean?” She jerked free.
“You wear those short skirts. It's no wonder I had to pull your ass from the flames this morning.” The left side of his nose twitched in disgust. “Here you are again in another short skirt and tight jacket allowing a man to lay hands on you.”
I want to point out that Jace has no idea who the man with Misty is, whether they're in a relationship, whether they're friends, etc. He's just whipping out his giant judgment stick and wailing on her.
“You invite the attention of men, no matter what their intentions.”
“Jace,” she said again. “You need to stop. Now.”
“You toss that hair back and beat your eyes and men beg you to join them in bed.”
This man was arrogance personified. His attitude had her ready to fight, but it didn't turn her off. Some warped part of her liked that he was ranting about her clothes and looks. Liked that he noticed her and, unlike other men, wasn't set on seducing her.
That's true enough. He's set on demeaning and verbally abusing her.
Misty tells him off, saying that he doesn't know her, anything about her – or, as I pointed out, the status of her relationship with the man at the bar. Jace takes exception to the fact that the man didn't stand up for her when Jace brought his menacing ass over to the bar to interrupt them, and Misty tells him she doesn't need anyone to stand up for her.
“That wasn't true this morning.”
I said that a lot.
“I thanked you for your help this morning. I don't appreciate having it thrown back in my face.”
“Your clothes –” He grabbed her neck with his right hand and with his hook at the base of her spine he yanked her close.
His mouth descended, claimed hers.
His anger slammed into her. She sucked in a breath, drawing in a flame of passion….He released her, stepping back.
“You should rethink what you wear.”
I have never rooted for a heroine to kick a hero right in the nuts, but I was hoping that was next. Alas, it was not.
Misty tries to talk sense to Jace:
“Desperation had that creep targeting me, not my outfit alone. There is nothing wrong or inappropriate about my wardrobe.”
“Except that the shortness of your skirt and the height of your shoes suggest you're an easy target.”
“Along with thousands of other women. Your archaic and overbearing views blind you…. Thank you for the rude interruption, but if you don't mind, I'd like to get back to my friend.”
“You need to be careful.”
“Are you some kind of stalker? Are you following me?”
“I was here first.”
Yadda yadda. Misty goes back to her friend, who is trying to talk her into bed. He doesn't know about the assault that morning, otherwise I'd presume he'd be more sensitive. I could be wrong. The town may be populated with dickheads.
Jace goes back to his corner table and stares at Misty. Just stares at her.
And this was not not good staring, in my imagination. Not this.
More like this:
Misty's reaction? Pop quiz!
a. Tell the bartender, and ask the bartender to call the cops
b. Ask her friend to escort her home
c. Fantasize about Jace and wonder what makes him so compelling while he stares at her.
If you picked C, well, you're probably as baffled as I am.
She wanted to know more about him, like what compelled him to help a stranger, what made him so grumpy, how he lost his hand, and why he had kissed her.
Misty cocked her head with an I-am-going-to-figure-you-out-and-you-can't-stop-me challenge ringing in her mind.
His stare locked with hers…. Power rippled across the room as if dancing on an invisible chord tethered to her.
She's captivated! She's aroused! She wants to find out what makes Jace the way he is. I can't help but think that's a bad idea, but whatever. And Jace is so turned on by watching Misty watch him he nearly jerks off under the table at the bar.
Because that's not creepy.
Then he watches the two of them leave, and follows them.
Because that's not creepy AT ALL.
He watches Misty punch the security code at the gate of the community she lives in, and even though he “couldn't see the numbers from his position… her finger strokes were enough to figure it out.”
Because that's not creepy AT ALL EITHER.
Jace watches as her date leaves and she goes into her home, then crosses the street and enters her gate code.
“Moving like he belonged there, he approached the door that stood between him and the woman of his desires. He rapped twice.”
Misty opens the door.
“What are you doing here? How'd you get through the gate? Did you follow me?”
Driven by instinct, Jace stepped inside, grabbed her hips and backed her into the entryway wall. His mouth descended to hers. His tongue plunged into her warmth.
Misty's hands gripped his shoulders. Her body arched against his. She mumbled against his lips. “The door's still open.”
There's something of a fine line between the obsessive, obsessed hero and his charismatic, single-minded focus on the heroine, and the obsessive, obsessed male who gets in your face with unhinged desire and follows you home. But as Robin at Dear Author has written about (and I agree with her), the difference is consent: the reader consents on behalf of the heroine.
Jace is so objectionable that I don't want Misty anywhere near him. I was horrified that she was going along with his behavior, and was so uncomfortable with the fact that she was getting aroused at the idea that a guy she barely knew followed her home and wanted to bone her in her townhouse hallway.
So they have wild hallway sex, and I'm debating whether to continue reading. On one hand, ICK. On the other hand, maybe Jace will redeem himself from the abominably low approval rating he has with me.
Misty invites him to cuddle in bed after the hallway sex. Jace says no. She says it's his loss and tells him he knows the way to the door. She goes upstairs and he follows her.
Because that's not creepy at all, no way, no how.
“Do you always open the door to sex with men you don't know without question?”
“Only men who've proven themselves by fighting off an attacker for me. Are you always so conflicted with yourself?”
“No. You get attacked often?”
“Once every twenty-eight years. Do you always follow women home for sex?”
“Once every thirty-two years.”
She started to shoot off a smart remark, but something on his face, something a little dark and doubting, had her pulling back her words.
And that's the problem for me: Misty acts as if she knows intrinsically without any doubt that Jace is a good man with a grumpy attitude problem. I don't know or believe that at all, and think she's a damn fool for tolerating his actions. He might have saved her from assault, but he's been patronizing, condescending and insulting since then.
Jace seems to know he's on the border of uncool behavior, too. In a later scene, Jace sees Misty at that same bar and can't stop staring at her…again:
“The woman had driven him to the edge of stalking by avoiding him, and here she stood as if they'd never battled barbs.”
It's all Misty's fault he's a sexist shitbag! Jace can't control himself, and instead of being sexy or compelling, he was plain creepy.
Misty wasn't impressive either. In what might have been a previous book or story, Misty was involved in aiding a friend with repairing her relationship with her boyfriend in a surprise reconciliation.
“I don't care how tough he is, or how wounded, no soldier can reject the woman he loves when she meets him on the runway with a minister. Besides, everyone knew it was his fear of rejection that compelled him to pull away.”
I hadn't read this story, and have no idea who she's talking about, but this doesn't reflect well on Misty from my perspective. She's good at emotional ambush? Oy. The set up she describes makes me think she's the Leeroy Jenkins of emotional ambush. The entire idea of meeting a dude getting off a plane with a minister makes me go 0_o. I would have thought the guy would run like hell and jumped the security barrier on his way past.
Also: one of my least favorite romance tropes is the idea that everyone knows something about two people's relationship problems except the two people in the relationship, like “it's just his fear of rejection that keeps them apart.” If everyone around a couple is a know-it-all Dr. Phil clone, it's time to move.
I think this is supposed to establish that Misty is generous, determined, and wants what is best for her friends. For me, I thought Misty was ridiculous. Jace, however, overhears the whole conversation, thinks she's amazing and begins revising his poor opinion of her:
A wounded military man had been given his woman and his dignity. Misty had helped a woman prove her devotion and loyalty in an unavoidable assault. That wasn't the mark of a superficial or materialistic woman, like he'd viewed her to be.
Hold up: “his woman?” “Been GIVEN HIS WOMAN?” What the hell is this women-as-possessions subtext in this book? I have some unavoidable assault I'd like to perpetrate on all these characters.
In the next sentence, “pressure, similar to tears” builds in Jace's chest. More on that in a moment.
Misty is tired from her unavoidable emotional assaults, but you know that only makes her more beautiful:
As quick as she changed topics her demeanor changed. The vibrant Misty who'd been charged with the success of a surprise gave way to the exhaustion of what had clearly been a long day. Her shoulders drooped. Darkness circled her bloodshot eyes. Even her hair sagged more than when she'd entered. She'd never looked more stunning.
Of course she looked stunning.
Am I alone in wanting an animated GIF of someone having darkness circle their eyes while their hair goes flat and their shoulders slump, with the caption, 'You look stunning!' Yeah? Oh, well.
Then Misty nearly falls asleep standing in the middle of the bar. No, wait, she DOES fall asleep in the middle of the bar:
She swayed. Her lids lowered. Her knees bent as she slowly lowered toward the nearest stool. Her exhaustion was going to take her down before she could sit.
Jace leapt to his feet and caught her as she collapsed. “Talk about asleep on your feet.”
Mumbling to himself, he scooped her sleepful weight into his arms. She was going to bed all right. His.
And she wouldn't be avoiding him come morning.
Why the bartender doesn't intervene, I don't know. Maybe they're all party to this incredible amount of common knowledge, including the fact that Jace isn't a stalking creepazoid who takes women he barely knows home with him.
Later, Misty reveals that her upbringing was very strict and her clothing style is her way of owning herself. Jace begins to change his mind, but the depth of his judgment, and the way in which he acts in scenes where he just stares at her like a total obsessed creep (much like the one who yanked her into a parking garage) soured my opinion of him permanently. Plus, the manner in which empathy was established for the heroine bothered me, too. She was repressed as a child and now got to show herself off, so her abused childhood makes it ok for her to wear fitted jackets and shorter skirts? No to the HELL no. If she wants to wear short skirts, she should be able to for whatever the hell reason she wants. The idea that sympathy for her upbringing had to be established for the reader or the hero to excuse her manner of dress bugged the crap out of me, too.
Goddam neanderthal sexist asshat douchebag.
Anyway, back to the story.
Jace gets his job because the guy he was interviewing with knows Misty and figures out that Jace saved her and thus missed his appointment. Oh – and Jace is ripshit angry at Misty because clearly she had pity for him (not hornypants) and intervened on his behalf with his new boss. Misjudging asshole: 4, Misty: 0.
Misty does stuff, and later, one of Jace's fellow soldiers appears out of nowhere at Jace's door to talk to him. Clint had seen Jace in the hospital, taken a look at Jace's missing arm, and walked out. They hadn't spoken since.
So Clint taunts Jace from behind the closed door to open it and stop being a coward, and once he does, despite anger and betrayal and shame and other crapful emotions choking him, Clint pulls him into a big hug that cured everything and caused “the tension that had built” to “ooze” out of Jace.
Is that like cupping? I want one of Clint's magic hugs, y'all.
Clint announces that they're going out, and when Jace calls him on the fact that he hadn't spoken to Jace since that one day in the hospital, Clint says guilt kept him away, and Jace should hurry up and get dressed already.
Never mind on that hug, Clint. You're a douche.
Jace isn't convinced either. He pushes Clint to say more:
Clint shrugged. 'I'd just cost my best friend his arm and his career. I couldn't see you without thinking of that.'
The emotion-filled pressure cooker in Jace's throat grew tighter and tighter. His sinus cavity burned with restrained tears ready to pour free. He hated to cry.
'I needed you.' His voice cracked. 'I needed to know you cared no matter what.' Tears leaked free.
Clint shifted his feet. Left. Right. Left. Right. 'I cared. Too much about the wrong shit, but I cared. I care.'
And that's about the depth of their emotional reunion. Jace goes to put his prosthesis on, and get himself to stop crying, and Clint says a woman made him realize that he was being a turdbucket to Jace.
Jace and Clint continue discussing Clint's disappearing act at the bar, where it's loud (and, you know, a bar, where it's really easy to have difficult emotional conversations) and Clint apologizes. Jace reacts as I've come to expect him to:
Emotions as thick as the Florida air after a storm clogged his throat…. “I don't want any apologies. I'm just glad you're here.” Glad to have family again. He held the last back with his tears. Vulnerability wasn't something Marines did.
Unless they're Jace, in which case they do tears and stalking. Not necessarily in that order.
But wait, there's more! Misty has organized another unavoidable assault.
“Then joining the party in the back room should thrill you…. The unit is here with their families.”
Yup, the whole unit that Jace felt had abandoned him was in the back of the bar, organized by Misty – who leaves a note and a framed picture of his unit before his last mission “printed in crisp color and framed in a pine that matched his furniture perfectly.”
The thing is, I didn't find any of this charming. I thought it was implausible and really kinda creepy.
But of course this means that Jace has misjudged Misty once again and has to eat crow.
So Jace sneaks into Misty's office after hours when he knows she's alone using his master key (because that's not creepy or an abuse of his authority as a security guard) because he's had a Great Emotional Epiphany and wants to share it with her.
Jace mansplains his change of heart to the reader:
Because of Misty he'd released his judgmental views. He'd lost all issues with her clothes. Before long, when men looked at her they'd look with envy because they'd never know how amazing the sexily clad woman was.
So he's not judgmental and doesn't have issues with her clothes anymore because she's demonstrated that she's awesome — but she's still an object to be coveted with envy by other men? Doesn't convince me. To me he seems like the same sexist asshat, only with a big boner of love to go with that judgment.
As Jace gets closer to Misty, “the sense of sunshine and happiness grew in a quiet swell within Jace's chest.”
Uh, oh. $10 says he cries. Any takers?
He tries to thank Misty for the unavoidable assault of all his friends in a bar:
His chest, right in the middle and radiating outward, ached. His eyes burned. His vocabulary washed away beneath a sudden avalanche of tears fighting for freedom. He shook his head to dislodge the urge to cry.
I WIN $10! PAY UP EVERYONE.
Seriously, I'm all about stories that portray a man's navigation of his own emotions and how difficult it is to struggle with feelings that are overwhelming. I think men are unfortunately culturally inculcated to express no emotions and to feel as if they are often abnormal if they have strong feelings of any kind, and I think that's a terrible thing, this emotional disconnection that's encouraged in young men.
So it's not like I have no respect for Jace's emotions. But he cries every other chapter. The tears of the assclown have lost their power of empathy with me by this point.
Jace tells Misty he's learned from his mistakes and isn't a judgmental ass anymore. Misty says, 'Damn right you aren't.'
No, wait, she says that he's helped her see her issues with her mother (which were a minimal presence in this story) and that Jace has helped her:
“realize I was using my appearance as a weapon. While I do love my clothes and the way they make me feel they're no longer a defensive wall against my mom.”
So the clothes she wore to protest her strict upbringing were a defensive wall against her mother, the mother she barely saw or spoke with during the story! Oh, ok.
Jace has to make sure, though, that this doesn't mean no more sexy Misty for him to look at and for other men to covet. He asks if she's going to change the way she dresses, and is relieved that she isn't going to.
They continue to talk, and Misty is, of course, utterly forgiving of how much he's been a sexist asshat.
“You've shared so much of yourself with me, shown me the beauty of your spirit.”
His cheeks heated. The frou-frou talk had him wanting to roll his eyes, yet at the same moment she thrilled him.
I totally missed the beauty of his spirit, but I promise, I rolled my eyes plenty, long before Misty started talking. And I continued to roll them, like when they start getting it on in Misty's workroom, and Jace, “always prepared…pulled a condom from his pocket.”
Sure. He probably keeps them in a dick-shaped dish by the door: keys, wallet, phone, condom.
They make sweet flowery love, and Jace… man, he knows some hot dirty talk:
“You'll never know another man this way.”
“You'll never know the feel of another man deep inside.”
“You'll never know from another man the love you'll know from me.”
Oh, boy. I admit, the last one is much more nice-squishy than ew-oogey, but the first two things he says while plunging and pushing give me the squicks, much like a lot of his behavior in this story. There's no end to the continued subtext of Misty as his possession, his acquisition that belongs to him, and it really turned me off.
I'm all for redemption stories, narratives where characters learn to be better people, and I'd love to know that this sort of sexist perspective can be changed, that someone who sees women as a tempting set of possessions dressed up for his perusal can learn that he's being a sexist judgmental shithead. But I never believed that change in Jace. He learned that Misty was nice and kind and determined to assault people with surprises, and he learned that he wanted to have sex with her a lot, but I never saw him truly change his perspective. Once I saw the rhetoric of possession and objectification in his perspective, I saw it everywhere, and never saw him lose it completely.
Plus, he judges Misty with blanket assumptions about women that were repulsive, and I never saw an indication that he didn't hold on to those preconceptions about attractive women. His perspective might as well have been 'All women are short-skirt-wearing slut temptress whores except Misty because I like her.' There wasn't enough evidence that he'd grown and changed, but way too much evidence that he was a screaming asshole where women were concerned. There certainly wasn't enough to reassure me that he wouldn't stumble right into other sexist assumptions about her. I was never convinced he'd fully extracted his head out of his ass.
The story sets up a tough challenge: taking a hero with a terrible opinion of women, including the heroine, and redeeming him. I am not convinced it was done, and never believed in the characters' regard for one another. While there were moments that conveyed real and welcome emotion, I spent most of the time reading this book wondering why I didn't want the heroine with the hero, and then counting up the number of times his behavior or her acceptance of it made me profoundly uncomfortable. Unfortunately, this hero was not redeemed, nor was he heroic enough in my opinion, to deserve a happily ever after.