Sadie Liberato is cheerfully sloppy and filled with attitude. Having experienced multiple failed relationships and cheating men, she is not a smiler and prefers to keep to herself, spend time in the gym, working at her father Big Tony’s restaurant and trash talking the folks on her favorite reality show Motorcycle Madnezz. Horrified by her lack of care and clear singleness, her brother Elliot convinces Sadie to attend a masked costume ball in the hope of growing the bakery’s business (and in Elliot’s dreams, finding Sadie a man who will snap her out of her doldrums) for Halloween. There Sadie has a powerful semi-public erotic encounter with a man in a devil costume - and it turns out her lover is Harrison “Gear” Blackstone, former member of the Motorcycle Madnezz crew, disgraced and removed from his reality show perch (and the custom bike business he created with his bare hands) after punching his co-star Brian - “B-Man” - in the face over B-Man’s alleged cheating with Gear’s fiancée, Sahara.
Gear actually is the betrayed victim of Brian and Sahara’s lust, but thanks to the twosome’s manipulation (and manipulative editing) is now forced to deal with the fallout alone. Neither Sadie nor Gear is looking for commitment, but that sex was pretty darn hot and both want to know more about their masked partner. Once they meet up without their costumes, Sadie and Gear try to convince themselves that they’re nothing more than friends with benefits, but are powerfully pulled together by their similarities and mutual attraction. Can they beat back their fears about romance and the glare of the reality show spotlight (and Brian and Sahara’s plotting) to find love?
AAR staffers Sara Elliott and Lisa Fernandes read this first book in author Marie Harte's new series and are here to share their thoughts.
LISA:This was a weird read for me, and it felt quite a bit weaker than the last Harte I consumed. Her writing kept me interested, but her choices a lot of the time kept me from enjoying it. What did you think, Sara?
SARA: I’ve never read this author so I had nothing to compare with. Overall I’d say that I liked the book. I’m so used to reading books with aloof characters it was a pleasant change to spend time with grounded, normal people like Sadie and Gear. The humor and relatability of the characters kept me reading despite the thin storyline and some questionable actions by the main couple.
LISA: I had mixed feelings about Sadie; she had backbone and spunk, and her narrative voice was really funny, but her crassness sometimes grated on me. She is very much a ‘not like the other girls’ kind of girl and Sahara is held up as the epitome of the ‘other girl’ (overtly sexualized and thus, in the author’s mind, overtly evil/catty). Harte at least does a good job noting Sadie’s hotheadedness and how she might learn to hold her temper to improve herself. Did you like her better?
SARA: I also have mixed feeling about Sadie. Initially I enjoyed her direct approach and lack of filter with her family or with Gear. Over time though, the plain spokenness got old and around the midpoint of the book I noticed that she really hadn’t grown much or changed from how she was introduced. Most books take the main characters on some kind of a journey so that they learn from mistakes, become better people and find love along the way. Here, Sadie says in virtually the first chapter that she’s happy with who she is and doesn’t bother to find ways to improve herself. I guess that’s intended to hammer home the point that she and Gear fall in love for just being themselves without any pretense.
LISA: I noticed this; the narrative very much supports Sadie’s point of view, even when she’s dousing journalists with icewater and brawling with Gear’s ex in public; she’s always in the right. I liked Gear a lot more; he was instantly winning, and felt like much more of a rational adult to me. How about you?
SARA: Gear makes this story. Where Sadie remains the same from beginning to end, Gear changes and has enough presence of mind to see where he’s gone wrong with his attitudes or in his approach to his fame. He’s the first to realize that he and Sadie together are something special and he’s the one willing to work at the relationship. The violence kind-of goes hand in hand with his characterization as the big, bad biker type. Considering that both times he’s in a fight he is provoked, I gave Gear more leeway in dealing with it through force rather than words.
LISA: What did you think of their romance? I thought the chemistry between them was fine, and personality-wise they made sense together. Then again they seemed to have two ways of forming a bond - ‘acting misanthropically together’ and ‘having lots of sex.’ Their mutual denial of feelings is understandable but really irritating, especially past the halfway point, especially when they are having deliberately unsafe sex and talking about wanting kids while being still uncomfortable with commitment. (Also the book’s blurb makes a huge deal about them searching for each other after their first encounter but they find each other within pages - pretty sneaky!)
SARA: The chemistry was there and I liked how well suited they were from their first meeting but together they seemed less like thirty-something adults and more like teenagers in heat. Their casual attitude about unprotected sex and Sadie’s mental math on her fertility were all indications that the maturity level of both characters is questionable. Sadie’s insecurities about her looks as compared to Gear’s ex-fiancée’s linger for too long and poison her every time he says he likes her appearance and personality. It’s only towards the end of the book when Gear has to make serious choices about his future where I believed in their relationship as adults. Sadie - in her frank manner - shows Gear that he’s loved and supported in whatever decision he makes.
LISA: I think you hit the nail on the head; their unified emotional development happens so late in the plot that it’s hard to root for them. Speaking of said plot, I almost felt like the author’s choices re. Brian and Sahara were far too shallow. I wish Harte had given them a bit more depth instead of making them so simplistic, especially Sahara; every time I saw her described as a ‘skank’, I winced because that was all there was to her entire (highly slut-shamed) existence in the novel, and I absolutely couldn’t understand why Gear would’ve fallen in love with her in the first place, in spite of his protestations!
SARA: Unfortunately all of the secondary characters are rather shallow but Brian and Sahara as foils to Gear and Sadie are terrible. I guess it’s difficult to have villains with too much personality when the main couple themselves are a little one-dimensional. The pot-shots taken at Sahara may have been deserved but they were overly cruel so as to show Sadie in a better light. A better way to present both women (without the slut-shaming) would have been possible if the focus had been on how they see Gear’s fame. Sahara used it as a tool with no care for the man whereas Sadie only wanted the man and hated the exposure.
LISA: What about the other supporting characters? I thought Elliot was a little too overinvolved in Sadie’s life (what is wrong with being thirty-three and single?!), and I feel like a lot of the characters were colorful for the sake of being colorful without their occupations impacting on their existence (Was there any point in Elliot being a model?). If you’re going to have your background characters run a combo Renaissance Faire/metal festival, make it about more than costume creation!
SARA: Elliot was cute, if a little OTT. I figured we were getting a better outline for his character because he’s sequel bait. Considering Sadie has no real friends to talk to other than her siblings it was necessary for Elliot to be hyper-involved in her life to push Sadie when necessary and give the plain-speaker some tough love. Gear’s parents were adorable but both seemed plucked straight out of central casting. I wasn’t quite sure if we were supposed to like them for their quirks or sympathize with Gear for having to deal with two eccentric role models growing up.
LISA: That’s another problem with the Sahara/Sadie mess - there aren’t any other friends or kind central female figures in the story outside of Gear’s mom, and that really impacts the narrative. Harte’s writing reminded me of Jackie Collins this time out; it was solid and snappy and gossipy. How did you feel about it?
SARA: Ha! Marie Harte has a good contemporary voice. While I didn’t like everything about Sadie I could see myself saying a few of the things she does with my own friends and family. The story is tuned into today’s values, where going viral or acting out on camera are the benchmarks for fame and glory.
LISA: What’s your ultimate score? I’d give this one a D+; good chemistry between the two leads, but the characters were a bit one-note and the work done on them showed little development (and frankly both Sadie and Gear were uncharming, I’m still boggling about them whining about Gear’s mom hating the word “gypsy” and bragging about their non-political correctness as if it were an attractive feature), and the conflict between heroine and hero was very on the surface and never lasted. You?
SARA: Perhaps I’m more forgiving as this was my first Marie Harte book. I’d grade it a solid C. If there had been more development of Sadie’s character and more thoughts behind her relationship with Gear other than how awesome the other person was in bed this could have been a recommended read. Will Gear and Sadie go down as one of my favorite romantic couples? No, but there were a few funny moments and I liked members of their extended families enough to give the series a second chance.
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