Catherine Heloise thought Shakespearean retellings mixed with rockstars sounded right up her alley, in the most cracktastic way possible. But…there are many things that sound great in theory, and sometimes you just need a good Book Rant to get it all out of your system. And not only did she share the rant with us, but I’m told she also complained at length to her spouse about this book, and now he’s ranting about it, too. So hold on to your guitar picks, y’all. It’s Book Rant time.
About a month ago, a reviewer on this site referred to a romance based on Much Ado About Nothing and featuring rockstars. This sounded completely cracktastic and exactly my cup of tea, so I hied me over to Google to see what I could see and discovered not just one but a series of three Shakespeare comedy rockstar-centric romances by Michelle Mankin. And a mere $1.99 on Kindle! Sold!
Of course, the next morning I woke up, checked the Bitchery site, and learned that in fact the reviewer was talking about a musical and not a novel at all, but hey, that just meant that two people were using this brilliant idea.
Since I was unlikely to get an opportunity to see the musical, I was very happy to have the books.
Love Rockollection is a trilogy, with the three novels being based, respectively, on Twelfth Night (Love Evolution), Much Ado About Nothing (Love Revolution) and The Tempest (Love Resolution). I have to say, The Tempest connection was pretty tenuous but the other two were pretty good re-tellings.
Love Evolution is the story of Marcus and Avery. Avery is in a pretty scary place at the start of the novel. Her mother is dead, her abusive father is out of the picture, and her twin brother – and the other half of her band – has been murdered, and the mob is after her to pay his debt. So when her manager suggests she audition for Marcus’s band, Brutal Strength, she immediately agrees – even though she will have to disguise herself as a man, because Marcus doesn’t think women can play the guitar.
OK then. That made me raise an eyebrow or two, but look, it’s early in the book, and Shakespeare is not exactly known for his commitment to women’s lib, so I moved on. And it was quite a fun read. I enjoyed the way Marcus and Avery worked together and the descriptions of the music and songwriting (though as a singer, I found it absolutely hilarious that Marcus could rave about Avery’s voice without once realising that it was a woman’s voice. But perhaps she has an androgynous, Annie Lennox sort of voice? Hard to imagine in a 19-year-old).
From here on, the novel essentially follows the plot, and I won’t go into details. It’s fairly amusing watching Marcus not quite coping with the fact that he is attracted to someone he thinks is male, though in my view, he does demonstrate an unacceptably high level of douchey behaviour when he learns the truth. But the plot is very cleverly worked out and comes together well, and altogether, it’s a nice little romance, if you can overlook the fact that Marcus is kind of a chauvinist. At the end of the book, he’s trying to do better, so there’s that.
Unexpectedly for a book about bad boy rockstars, there is absolutely no sex in this book, and a level of focus on second chances and forgiveness that made me wonder if Mankin was an Inspie writer in another life. The book didn’t fill me with joy – the chauvinism did annoy me – but it was nicely written and not a bad read.
Love Revolution is the Much Ado About Nothing book, and this was always going to be an uphill battle for me, because I love the play, but, like Beatrice, tend to find myself muttering ‘Kill Claudio’ rather a lot while reading it. We have a pair of couples here, sisters Sara and Sam who fall, respectively, for guitarist Chris and drummer JR. Incidentally, the men are all much older than the women in these stories – generally about a decade, which is a big age difference given the age of the heroines.
Sara and Sam have a frightening backstory, with a mother who had affairs and was murdered by their father, who is in prison but due for parole. I was a bit uncomfortable with the way this was presented. Sam, the younger sister, is the good girl (the Hero analogue), whereas Sara is the feisty and Beatrice-like older sister who has a love-‘em-and-leave-‘em attitude to romance. At one point she justifies this, saying, ‘but I’m not like Mama’, which made me wince – it felt to me just a little bit too much like saying that their mother’s murder was in some way deserved.
(I’m also getting the impression that Mankin’s characters are far more conservative than me. Which is fine, but my fellow lefty feminist readers might find her a little difficult to read.)
Of the heroes, Chris is actually rather nicer than Benedick, and JR – well, he’s rather sweet initially, and at least I can see what Sam sees in him, which is more than could be said for Claudio. And he does help rescue Sam at the end, which covers up a multitude of sins in Romancelandia. Unfortunately, that little comment about Sara and Sam’s mother really coloured my reading of the book so much that I had trouble enjoying it – I was waiting with bated breath to discover if my horrible suspicions would be realised and the father would turn out to be a man who had done one bad thing under terrible provocation and was thus in need of forgiveness.
So I’m going to tell you right now that we do eventually meet the father and he is unrepentant, violent and horrible, and definitely in the wrong. Thank goodness for that.
Still, there did seem to be a tinge of slut-shaming in the air, as well as a feeling that if you really respect someone, you don’t sleep with them until you are at least engaged.
If you like Shakespearean-themed romances, these first two novels are quite fun and probably worth your time.
But you should stop there. Because, unfortunately, there is a third novel in the series. It’s called Love Resolution, and it made me so utterly furious that I was swearing at it and ranting at my husband and then swearing at the book again. Infuriatingly, it also managed to reach back in time and wreck Love Evolution for me, so seriously, if you liked Marcus at all, stop at the end of Love Revolution. You will be happier, I promise.
Love Resolution returns to Avery and Marcus, and this, I feel, was Mankin’s first mistake. The trouble with returning to an established couple for a romance is that you have to un-establish them, and given that Marcus was on shaky ground with me from the first book, this was a problem. In fact, while I quite liked two books in this series, this was the book that compelled me to write this book rant because I was so appalled about the way Marcus and Avery’s relationship developed in this story. Consider yourselves warned.
All the spoilers begin here, and there are too many to hide, so be ye warned.
No, really. Here they come!
Here is a list of things that Marcus does in Love Resolution that pissed me off. Mild trigger warning for abusive behavior. As mentioned, they are all spoilers:
- Polices Avery’s clothing choices. He doesn’t like it when she wears things that show off her body (other men might see her and she belongs to him. Because that’s not creepily possessive.)
- Takes out his anger with other members of the band on her.
- Gets incredibly jealous at every opportunity. Bryan, a guitarist in another band, clearly has a thing for Avery, and is trying it on. Avery is having none of this. Marcus is jealous anyway.
- Refuses to listen to Avery about any of it.
- Falls off the wagon, drunk-drives with Avery in the car, and gets into an accident, which lands Avery in hospital.
- Doesn’t go to see her in hospital.
- Breaks up with Avery as soon as she gets out of hospital because obviously he doesn’t deserve her. Or possibly because she doesn’t deserve him. He seems a little inconsistent on this score.
- When Avery fails to fall out of love with him fast enough, sets her up to walk in on him with a groupie, in order to make her fall out of love with him. *
- Chooses a groupie for this purpose whom he knows will then brag about all of this to the press, humiliating Avery further.
- When Avery runs away in shock and distress, nearly drowns, and has to be rescued by Bryan, Marcus yells at her about how obviously he never meant anything to her or she wouldn’t be in Bryan’s room.
- Gets angry that Avery then decides to hitch a ride with Bryan’s band to the next gig.
- Tries to change her contract to require her to travel with his band at all times.
- Decides that he does want her back after all. Refuses to back off on this after Avery clearly and repeatedly tells him no.
- Keeps on kissing her even though she has told him she doesn’t want him near her (because she responds to him and thus he knows she really loves him)
- Gets super jealous (again) because Avery decides maybe she would like to go out with Bryan after all. Punches Bryan.
- After Avery (inexplicably) decides to get back together with him, gets jealous AGAIN because Bryan has given Avery a necklace. Of course Avery has to apologise for all of this.
(*This was the point at which I started singing a little song that went ‘douchenozzle, douchenozzle… douchenozzle douchenozzle’, just to alleviate my fury.)
When I was at Lifeline, we learned about hallmarks of abusive relationships. Abusers tend to be charming, jealous, manipulative, controlling. They isolate you from friends and family. They are inconsistent, critical, and hypersensitive. And somehow, they always convince you that the abuse is your fault, because you provoked the reaction.
Reading this story, I found it impossible not to look at Marcus and start ticking off these hallmarks. He has all the warning signs in spades. And in turn, you have Avery, herself the product of an abusive parent, conciliating, enabling, pacifying, apologising, blaming herself – even agreeing to drive with him when she knows he is drunk, so as not to make a scene. It’s horrible.
Worse still, poor Avery finds that wearing revealing clothing makes people look at her in ways which make her uncomfortable, that travelling with Bryan’s band is also uncomfortable because they are all man-sluts, and that getting drunk gets her told off by management. She kisses Bryan, and there is no chemistry. She is surrounded by people who think she should forgive Marcus – holding grudges isn’t healthy. The whole book is conspiring to tell her that Marcus is right and she is wrong.
This upset me so very much.
Look, forgiveness is clearly an important theme in this series. Second chances are important. But for one thing, Avery has already given Marcus a second chance. In fact, she gives him lots of chances in this book. And all that happens is that he gets more possessive and stalkerish – I really wanted to reach into the book and get Avery to apply for a restraining order by the end. I found Marcus honestly terrifying.
Another thing to note about forgiveness is that, in a healthy relationship, it has to come with a change of behaviour – an attempt at reparation or restitution. Otherwise you just have a cycle where one party does something terrible, and apologises, and is forgiven, and then they do something terrible, and apologise again, with nothing ever changing. Saying sorry is an important first step, but it isn’t enough. Marcus spends the whole novel hurting Avery and trying to control her. Avery – who is actually very good at vocalising what she needs – even points out that he doesn’t seem to respect her or treat her as an equal. But instead of trying to learn from this, Marcus uses seduction to steamroll her back into the relationship.
This book made me want to cry, and not in a good way.
As a romance, Love Resolution is a failure. But as a portrayal of a deeply toxic relationship, and the way a person’s insecurities and the behaviour those around her can lead someone to stay in a place that is clearly unsafe and damaging, it hits the nail on the head.
I cannot tell you how much I was rooting for Avery to run away with Bryan. He’s super-cute. He’s nice to children. He helps her wash her hair when she has a dressing on her forehead. He saves her from drowning. Even when coming onto Avery, he treats her with respect, takes no for an answer, and doesn’t take advantage of her even in the inevitable ‘saving her from hypothermia = shower nudity’ scene. OK, so he smokes, and he is definitely a manslut, but seriously? Much better deal than Marcus. You just know you’d have fun with Bryan. And as a bonus, you’d have fun secure in the knowledge that he wouldn’t murder you later in a fit of jealousy.
As mentioned above, I thought the Tempest connection in this book was pretty tenuous. But it wouldn’t have taken much tweaking to turn this story into Othello.
I would give Love Evolution a B-, Love Revolution a C, and Love Resolution a great big F (standing for Fuck No, something that I also muttered many, many times while I was reading). Overall, I’m giving the collection an F, because Love Resolution managed to retrospectively destroy Love Evolution for me.