Book Links for this Review:
Captivate Me, by Kira Sinclair
I’m trying to alternate reviews of past/classic titles with more recent publications, so I’m not always behind the pack. That, and the fact that I’d never read any Harlequin titles and was curious about some of their series, prompted me to buy the March 2014 bundles in Harlequin’s Blaze, Presents, and Superromance lines. Because some heat would be nice during the (hopefully) final days of The Winter That Will Not End, I decided to start with the Blaze line. This review is for the first novel in the bundle: Captivate Me, by Kira Sinclair.
First, a gripe about format. I don’t know whether this is a feature of the bundles only or is also in the individual titles, or maybe it’s just a Kindle thing, but I found it somewhat irritating that it took so damned long to get to the actual novel! There’s an intro blurb, a short scene that I thought was actually the start of the story... but no, wait, here’s a title page! And then an About the Author Page! I guess it’s an e-reader thing, since if I’d had a paper version I would just have flipped past those pages. Anyway, on to our story.
I always like to start off with the things I liked about a book, so that whatever negative things I might have to say later on can be seen in context of how good the book was otherwise. However, I’m afraid I don’t have much to go on for Captivate Me. The sexual tension works, and the sex scenes themselves are well written, but that’s all I could find to like.
My main issue, and this is what prevented me from liking either the plot or the characters, is that I felt that I was being asked to suspend my disbelief to a ludicrous degree. I don’t want to do a play-by-play of the entire plot, but I do want to address some specific issues.
- Character Backgrounds
Just once, I’d like to read about characters who don’t have an angst-ridden origin story to justify their crappy behaviour. In many ways, I felt that Alyssa and Beckett were walking stereotypes: she’s a brilliant yet sexy programmer with a wicked stepmother and a high school sob story; and he’s a ruthless entrepreneur who had to start from zero after being kicked out by his wicked father. Neither character’s family history makes any sense in the novel, specifically the reasons for ostracizing/abandoning that are set forth. I was, at the same time, reading Lord of Scoundrels, where the hero has a tragic family history of his own, but the way that background is described in the Prologue is much more powerful and in line with what we find out about his parents. Here, the families are mean and nasty without much of a believable explanation, which made the main characters’ personalities hard to justify. Near the end, we’re given a glimpse of hurt, or something, in Beckett’s father’s eyes; and Alyssa’s stepmother gets a verbal comeuppance, but that’s all the depth we get.
Aside from the families, we have Alyssa’s sad tale of being rejected by Beckett at a party she’d attended during her high school days over a decade before the novel begins. She was drunk and looking for an easy hookup, and she never forgives him for rejecting her when he finds out she’s a virgin. Beckett does not remember any of this when she finally tells him why she hates him enough to not want to do business with her. So let’s recap here. She’s been holding a grudge against Beckett since her high school days, because he wouldn’t have sex with her. She’s mad because nothing happened, and she’s grown up feeling rejected and invisible. I really felt it hard to empathize with someone who lets an episode like that determine her future personality, never mind guide her professional decisions. I know how terrible this sounds, but I would have been more inclined towards sympathy if he’d actually taken advantage of her at that party. Then he’d have a reason for seeking redemption. I understand that the author wanted to point out that Beckett had been noble back then, unwilling to do the same thing his father had done (get a rich woman pregnant), but her subsequent years-long outrage just didn’t convince me.
This was the biggest obstacle for me, in terms of accepting what came to pass between Alyssa and Beckett. She first sees him from her bedroom window: he’s on a balcony across the street, half in shadows, wearing a mask. So she does what any sensible woman would do (????) and proceeds to strip for him. You see, Alyssa has a wild side that she keeps carefully hidden (of course, all prim-yet-sexy programmers do). At this point, I could buy the idea that he was just a masked stranger.
However, beginning the following day, Alyssa and Beckett meet regularly as business rivals, with a healthy dose of sexual tension thrown in. She’s supposedly smart and observant, which means that she should be able to notice things like build, voice, and scent. Because Beckett proceeds to seduce her not once, but twice, while wearing that mask, and she has absolutely no idea who he is. We won’t even get into the specifics of her not being nearly creeped out enough that this stranger knows her name, where she lives, and sends her expensive clothes. Bu again, he’s just wearing a mask as a disguise. Not a full-on chicken suit, not a mummy wrap (though those would make for some intriguing scenes of their own): just a mask. I’m sorry to say that my disbelief was not only not suspended, it was knocking me upside the head yelling at me to stop reading.
I have no problem with instant lust, or instant attraction. I also understand that this is a romance novel (and a Harlequin title to boot), which means that there has to be a happy ending. However, I think there can be a compromise here. Instead of blurting out “I love you” after they’ve known each other an entire week (if that) and spent many of those days either fighting over business or playing identity games, how about settling for a “let’s be together and see where this takes us”? Are those three little words really a requisite ending to every romance novel? This is an honest question, not at all snarky or sarcastic; I’m really curious to find out whether it’s a required element in writing romantic fiction. Because for me, added to the above issues, it just adds to the reasons why I don’t buy this love story.
- Style Issues
Finally, a few words about language. I’ll write a full post on this in the near future. But the preview goes something like this: if you are a writer, language is your tool set, and you need to know how it works. I’m tired of the excuse that goes something like “Well, the story is good, and there’s no need to be a snob about language.” Let’s try to transfer this to another profession: “Well, her office hours are good, and there’s no need to be a snob about anatomy.” No? How about “Well, he has a state-of-the art garage, and there’s no need to be a snob about knowing what’s under the hood.” My point being that writers, and editors, should know their language anatomy, and be able to identify word meanings and parts of speech. And, while they’re at it and because there’s some art to it, give us a little variety too.
But I digress. As a former lit prof, I unfortunately do notice language, and it’s something that can really turn me off a book. For example, Sinclair uses the expression “reign in” instead of “rein in,” which irks me both as a language snob and as a horse person. There are way too many one-sentence paragraphs, many with no verb in sight. Also, too many... ellipses, and many descriptions that were used over and over and over. Eyes were stormy; tongues and fingers were talented (I’ve never understood this last one). I normally don’t do a lot of highlighting on my Kindle, but I found myself underlining like crazy here.
I understand that, by the time an author has finished writing a book, the entire thing can become a blurry mess in her mind. It’s also true that, with our own writing, our brains tend to skip over errors, because we’re so familiar with the flow of the text. This is why we have proofreaders and editors and critique partners; I certainly made sure to hand over my dissertation and articles to a second (and often third) trusted set of eyes. By the time the writing is done, we’re tired and biased and often resistant to change. Again: editors and proofreaders are here to save the day. And now that I’m on the other side of the fence, as a proofreader, I realize just how many changes many manuscripts need, grammar or style wise; and how hard it can be for authors to accept these changes. But in the end, language can make or break a book for many readers; it definitely contributed to my negative opinion of Captivate Me.
So what’s the bottom line? I think Captivate Me does have some appeal: the story moves at a good pace, and the sexual tension between Alyssa and Beckett makes for some great scenes (the Bacchanalia Ball is a fun, steamy chapter). However, the problems I’ve listed above kept me from really enjoying the story. I was almost tempted to not read the next novel in the bundle until I’d had a “palate cleanser,”, but I decided to give Harlequin Blaze a second chance. So on to Texas Outlaws: Cole. Should I be worried, though, that the heroine’s name is Nikki Barbie?