In full disclosure, this book sits firmly in my “Did Not Finish” pile. Because of this fact, my review will be a little longer than usual and will have a few spoilers to explain why I was unable to finish the book. The additional length also serves to clarify my review rating despite being unable to finish the book.
Marnie and Scott are both lawyers whose first meeting wasn’t exactly stellar. I’m actually not sure if their initial meeting was meant to paint Scott, the hero, as a jerk, but it resulted in me not particularly liking the heroine.
Marnie was nearly breathless when she burst into the crowded Laundromat. The only dryer available had someone’s clothes in it. She asked around to the see if anyone belonged to the clothes but everyone shook their heads. Biting her lips, she reached into the machine and removed the still damp men’s silk underwear. She placed them in a pile on the folding table and tossed her clothes into the dryer. She turned it on and then rushed to the drugstore two doors down to purchase a pair of pantyhose.
When Marnie returns from her jaunt to the drugstore, she is confronted by Scott:
“Ahmm, Look I’m sorry. I was in a rush and I thought I wouldn’t need the dryer for more than a few minutes—“
Cold, silver eyes flashed at her. “So you just thought you had the right to handle someone else’s laundry, just like that?”
“N-no—I mean, I’m sorry. I don’t usually do stuff like this. My dryer was on the blink…”
The man didn’t stop stuffing his wet clothes into the dryer. “And that is my problem— how?”
Already short-tempered from the frustrations of the day, Marnie narrowed her eyes. “Look, I apologized, didn’t I? You didn’t have to dump my clothes all over the place!” He ignored her and Marnie lost it. She grabbed one muscled arm. “Look at me when I’m talking to you!”
Anyone who has ever used a Laundromat would see why I sided more with Scott that with Marnie on this. For me there is an unspoken rule of not touching other people’s things. I know this sounds petty of me, but when an author chooses to place their protagonists on either side of any major or minor conflict, they take the chance of disconnecting the reading from the characters. However, I considered this a minor issue at the time and was willing to look passed my annoyance with Marnie and see where Ms. Caine wanted to take this story.
As the blurb implies, after their initial meeting, Marnie and Scott are forced to work together in the same law firm. I like that the author made Marnie Scott’s superior. In contemporary romance, the trope of “enemies” working with each other after having a bad first encounter, usually depicts the hero as the boss or higher ranking employee. In this case, Marnie’s character is clearly placed as the one with the most professional experience.
I appreciate it when contemporary romance authors take the time to reflect the current narrative of real women.
Unfortunately, this is perhaps the last moment in the book that I was able to appreciate the premise of this story. This is largely due to the fact that this is also the last moment when the plot is fluid and clear to me. I discuss this more in “The Conflict” section of this review.
There were a few moments within the book, where I felt Marnie and Scott had some genuine chemistry, but unfortunately those moments were few and far between. The dialogue between them appeared stiff and stilted, and I found myself constantly wondering why the characters were even together. From a technical standpoint, I felt I was constantly being told why their romance was real instead of being shown why their coupling made sense.
Insta-love isn’t one of my favorite devices. Unless the stories take place in a fantasy or science-fiction world, this type of love never really works for me. Although, I can’t say that Marnie and Scott fall into insta-love, there are moments inst-angst in the book that had me scratching my head in confusion. Their attraction for each other seems to constantly fluctuate at the beginning of the book to a degree that served to further disconnect me from their romance.
This disconnection and confusion was aided by the constant head-hopping that made it difficult for me to track who was thinking what at any given time. I don’t mind angst heavy romance, but I do mind the use of agnst to serve as a way to drag the story on when certain issues could be reasonably resolved sooner. Examples can be found in the spoiler section below.
Spoiliers…View Spoiler »
1. Scott eventually builds up the nerve to ask Marnie out. However, he stands her up. Regardless of reason, I felt this type of “big misunderstanding” was poorly used and not well executed. I also feel that Marnie’s reaction to this misunderstanding is in complete opposition to her supposed high intellect. Instead of giving Scott an opportunity to explain, she gives him the cold shoulder. Scott’s reaction is just as juvenile.
2. Despite the official book blurb, Marnie and Scott do not work together for long. He states in the beginning that he is only at the firm until the position he accepted as an assistant DA is ready. So just as quickly as he is introduced as a colleague, he leaves. This is also conveniently timed to coincide with the “big misunderstanding”.
3. At one point Marnie gets hurt and this results in several scars on her chest. These scars become another device that keeps Marnie and Scott separate a little longer. Now instead of thinking Scott is a jerk, Marnie worries that her scars now make her unattractive. This would have been an excellent moment to show a deeper side to both these characters, but I felt that just as quickly as this conflict is introduced, it is swept aside. It served its purpose to prolong the story and that was all. « Hide Spoiler
The bottom line is that there was little character development, and even less time spent on creating real chemistry. When the first love scene finally did happen I felt no urge to cheer or be happy for either character.
There are a lot of conflicts in this story both internal and external. Unfortunately the plot drags in some instances only to be followed by confusing plot twists and choices in other places. I can’t even accurately explain the premise because by the time I made it 57% through the book (according to my kindle), outside of fact that Scott and Marnie were in love, the premise was still very unclear to me.
This book totals approximately 318 pages according to Amazon. 57% of 318 is approximately 181 pages. If I have read 181 pages of a book, I expect at least a few things to be clear to me by then.
Characters and situations were added to the book that served little to no purpose in advancing the action of the story. And when they did advance the action it was not very exciting. Here is a basic outline of the story (to the moment I stopped reading).
- After, their initial “meet cute”, there is a BIG misunderstanding that forces Scott and Marnie apart.
- Due to this misunderstanding Marnie and Scott remain separated for much of the first portion of the book.
- A traumatic event brings the two back together
- Scott goes on a crusade to prosecute the person responsible for hurting Marnie.
- During the course of Scott prosecuting Marnie’s assailant, he and Marnie finally resolve their issues and get back together.
- There is the looming threat of a villian who may or may not be a danger to Marnie
This skeleton description isn’t meant to detail the lack of excitement of the plot, but to highlight that it had so much potential. The “big misunderstanding” felt contrived and only served to annoy me with Marnie’s character further. The traumatic event hinged on a situation that would have never happened if proper research into law and court house security measures was done, and Scott’s sudden urge to protect Marnie doesn’t mesh with their lack of chemistry.
Situations are introduced and abruptly resolved which make me wonder why they were even introduced. The quick resolutions didn’t annoy as much as the long, slow scenes in between these action moments that came across as aimless filler instead of being actually integral to the storyline.
Spoiliers…View Spoiler »
1. Scott’s stepsister is introduced and used as a plot device to instigate the “big misunderstanding” that breaks Scott and Marnie apart. Just as abruptly as she is introduced, she is literally killed off. Her function had been served and there was little reason to keep her character around any longer. Her death actually brings Scott conveniently to the same hospital that Marnie is currently fighting for her life in.
2. The book itself starts off with Marnie in a relationship with someone else, whose single purpose in the story is a juxtaposition to Scott. This isn’t necessarily a bad thing, but this character is such a stereotype of a bad boyfriend, that he only serves as making me doubt Marnie’s intelligence level.
3. Marnie takes on a custody case representing a mother who has left her abusive husband. The mother wants full custody of their children. Here is where the lack of research comes in. At one point the mother states, that her husband has child pornography. As a lawyer specializing in family law, Marnie seems unsure and hesitant on whether this will change the outcome of the custody case…This baffles me. Of course it would!
4. At the end of the court case, the judge hearing the case obviously awards custody to the mother, then issues an admonishment to the husband regarding his issues…Again this is a lack of research issue. Not only would the judge have ruled full custody to the mother because of the child pornography, but the father would have immediately been shuttled from one court room to another because he would have been tried for possession of child pornography. I admit that this particular moment in the story irks me the most. If you are going to introduce a crime and situation as serious as child pornography and pedophilia into your story, an author should put in due diligence in researching and portraying something like this accurately.
5. Once the judge rules in the mother’s favor, the father whips out a gun and shoots both the mother and Marnie. Marnie obviously survives. However, this is another moment where lack of research was glaring to me. My first thought as I read this scene was “How did he sneak in a gun?”. In a time where mass shootings seem to occur every other week here in the United States, most people know that court houses in all major cities here require a metal detector search and scan of all persons and handbags before entering. But it seems that this logic would have interfered with the plot Ms. Caine was weaving, so it was either ignored or never researched. Either option took away from the story for me. « Hide Spoiler
Despite the issues I listed above, I did enjoy the fact that Ms. Caine was willing to “sacrifice her queen” in a way. Technical and research issues aside, her willingness to put her heroine in real danger and show her recovery was a great concept. In romance, authors often shy away from the ugly side of injuries and tend to fast forward through them. Here Ms. Caine stayed true to many aspects of what recovering from Marnie’s type of injuries would be like in real life.
Because I didn’t finish the book, I can’t speak to how well the HEA was implemented. However, I can say that I had no interest in seeing Scott and Marnie end up together. Somewhere along the line, between the inconsistencies in Marnie’s character and actions, Scott and Marnie’s general lack of chemistry, the constant subplots and throw away characters, nothing could save their romance or this story for me.
The lack of chemistry, slow pacing, convoluted plot, and lack of any true character development results in me giving this book 2 stars. Despite this rating, I do look forward to reading more of Ms. Caine’s books. Justify My Love did not jive with me, but it did show that this author is willing to take risks and not deliver the typical overused tropes.
Laurel Cremant is an opinionated author and reader of romance with a wicked sense of humor. RNIC was smart (or crazy) to bring her on as a blogger. In 2016 she took over the management of this site and relishes her new title of “Overlord of Awesome”