"It is what you read when you don't have to that determines what you will be when you can't help it." - Oscar Wilde
I've thought long and hard about writing this review. Mostly because I wasn't sure if I should write a review at all. But then someone *wink-wink-nudge-nudge* reminded me that A) I have a right to say what I feel about a book, and don't have to dwell on it and be angry about it silently and in private; and B) my own personal feelings do matter, simply because they're my own and if something is said/written publicly, it's perfectly alright to say what I think and feel about it in a public way, too.
That said, this review will be full of my own personal issues and my personal hurt feelings. It will also be a little rant-y and a little rage-y. So you've been warned. I'll try not to spoiler anyone, but still: Read at your own risk.
Let me start with the things I liked about this one. Renae Kaye can write, there is no doubt about that. I didn't connect as much to the characters as I thought I would, but that wasn't necessarily because of the writing. The basic idea behind the story drew me in, and I was interested in the whole story after reading the blurb. Unfortunately my reading pleasure was seriously spoiled because of some things happening and being said in this book that were unacceptable to me.
I don't even count the odd fat-shaming comment. Because firstly, the character who said it got his very own lecture shortly after, and secondly, because it wasn't a reoccurring problem. It happened, I didn't like it, I moved on. I have no idea why, in a community of readers and authors coming in all shapes and forms and sizes, we frequently have to deal with shaming people for their outward appearances. But it's the same thing with chauvinism and misogyny. I hate it, I don't understand why it is so freaking common in MM romance, but I also know that many people obviously don't take offense when they stumble upon it in their books. So no, I didn't even took that into account. Much.
But then there was the gem that made me want to puke.
"Tell me what you want done, and as long as you're paying me and it won't give me AIDS or rabies, I'll clean it."
Woah. You can't be serious. No, really. You CAN'T. BE. SERIOUS! That, right there, is so wrong and so damn hurtful on so many levels, I don't even know where to start! And I don't give a flying fuck if this MC was supposed to be a smart mouth and say inappropriate things and this is meant to show his inability to think before he speaks. THIS is wrong! There is a HUGE difference between being a smartmouth and being a complete and utter asshole! Getting AIDS from cleaning? Really? Comparing it to RABIES? The first time I read this, I was shaking with rage! How dare you? I'm serious, how dare you? I took a break from reading the book, but even after I had time to cool off and read on, this stuck with me. It pretty much ruined the book despite the rest of it mostly being not so bad.
You know why? Because not only did this "statement" piss me off like nobody's business, it also didn't have negative consequences for the MC after he said it. On the contrary. This... thing was supposed to be the reason why the MC got his new job, because it was met with approval by his future employer. And you know what? Screw the smartmouth-thing. The fact that an employer would give a housekeeper a job after he said THAT, is a fucking insult. It's the big "fuck you" to everyone who ever had in any way, kind, form or fashion anything to do with HIV, AIDS, STDs, house cleaning, housekeeping, human beings... Ah, screw it! It was insulting to ME. And I was stark raving mad after reading this paragraph.
But then I thought, maybe I'm overreacting. In my heart, I knew I really wasn't because how can you overreact when someone hits you with a big load of horse shit like that? But I tried to get past it, I tried to read on. Because despite this one thing, the book wasn't bad so far. Plus, I really liked previous works by Renae Kaye and I thought maybe, just maybe, this book would redeem itself somewhat over time. And maybe it would have.
But then there was the part with Mrs Lee, the Asian housekeeper.
And I realize that I might have a huge chip on my shoulder where others might just shrug. Because I know that with the shit going down in my country ever day right now, with all the hate and prejudices and sterotypes flying around and poisening every little aspect of my every-day life, my nerves are stretched so very, very thin. On some days I'm exactly one xenophobic comment away from exploding all over my life like a water melon someone threw from a speeding car. So yes, I might be hyperaware, oversensitive, and sometimes overreacting. But the way Mrs Lee was portrayed, the way her accent was described was... I saw other readers calling it "borderline offensive". Which is a very nice way of saying: Hey, the fucking 40s and 50s are calling, they want their anti-Japanese and anti-Asian jokes back! Plus, Mrs Lee might not have spoken English without an accent, but she was the BEST in cleaning the whole house without fault, she was very strict and harsh and had no sense of humor. For a moment I was wondering if I was watching Mrs Kim from the Gilmore Girls exploring a new job. Never mind that Mrs Kim was Korean, and not even she was that cartoonish.
What it came down to for me was this: Instead of writing this scene with dialogue and plot, the author also could have written: "Mrs Lee is a Chinese housekeeper who can't speak English, but is one hell of a cleaning lady." And that's okay, right? Because the MC liked her and respected her for it? Uhm, no. No. It's not. In the 90s we called that romantic racism. "I love the Chinese, they're always so prim and proper. And so quiet!" "I love Mexicans, they are such hard and dedicated workers, and always eager to proof themselves!" "I love black men, they are fantastic basketball and football players!" "Oh, don't you admire gay men and their fantastic sense of style and fashion?"
No matter how nice that is supposed to sound, no matter how you twist and turn it, no matter how much sugar you throw on it, THAT is racism. A romanticized, so very dangerous kind of racism. It sounds good, so it can't be bad, right? Well, it fucking is and I hate it with a vengeance. And just to be clear, it's exactly one step above "I don't have anything against -insert minority here-, BUT...."
What else can I add? The rest of the book was okay, and if the things that bugged me don't bother you, I'm pretty sure this could be a fun read. I couldn't get into it though. I didn't enjoy the family dynamics, mainly because I found them too bizarre, and as a whole, I didn't really connect with the characters. That's on me. Ergo, the ending did nothing but raise my brows so high, they payed my grey hairline a nice, long visit.
So, no. I couldn't enjoy this book. I didn't like the plot, I didn't connect with the characters, and I was hurt by some of the messages that came across. Sure, I might be overreacting, overinterpreting, overanalyzing. But since it's my review, and my personal feelings, and my personal views, I'll proudly stick with it and give this book one star. Because NO, I didn't like it and Goodreads taught me that if this is the case, I have every right to choose the one-star rating. So I do.
That is all.