Oh, this one was so hard to grade! For the first half of the book, I was thrilled because it seemed that Bad Romeo by Liesa Rayven was going to be a solid DIK and a great start to my reading year. But then things began to slide downhill, and by the last page, my frustration level was off the charts.
Bad Romeo tells the story of Cassie Taylor and Ethan Holt on parallel tracks. The first track takes place in present day New York City, where Cassie and Ethan, successful actors and former lovers, find themselves cast opposite each other in what looks to be a smash Broadway show. While the career opportunity is something Cassie’s always dreamed of, she quakes at the prospect of being near Ethan again. When they parted ways three years prior, he didn’t just break her heart, he demolished it. Her brain is determined to have nothing to do with Ethan, but she knows that her heart and her body will fall under his spell with not much more than a smile. Things are made all the more difficult when Ethan vows he has changed and is desperate for a second chance.
The second track of Cassie and Ethan’s story takes place six years earlier when they first meet as acting students beginning the prestigious Grove Institute of Creative Arts. To say it was dislike at first site was an understatement, but the two find that they have a chemistry that’s off-the-charts hot, both on stage and off. Despite Ethan’s constant warnings that he is no good for Cassie, she’s attracted to him in a way that borders on obsessive. She pursues, he resists, but in the end they are fated to be together, just like the characters they are cast to play, Romeo and Juliet.
Author Rayven jumps back and forth between the two time periods, following as present day Cassie and Ethan creep towards a possible reconciliation while past Cassie and Ethan creep towards a romantic relationship.
And creep is the operative word in both situations.
Because after their initial hostile encounters and the establishment of their white-hot physical attraction, there are pages and pages of young Cassie lusting after Ethan while he insists that he’s no good for her and will eventually break her heart. In the present, we get pages and pages of Ethan insisting that he’s the best thing for Cassie while she resists every attempt he makes to prove it to her. That’s pretty much the whole story.
What’s excellent in Bad Romeo comes entirely from Rayven’s fantastic writing. The dialogue is fast and laugh-out-loud funny. The sexual tension between Cassie and Ethan is off the charts. In fact, many of their encounters border on hyperbole because they are so intense. The scene in which Cassie loses her virginity had to be one of the most realistic depictions I’ve ever read, with pain and discomfort and nary an orgasm to be found during the actual act.
The problem is that it all gets rather tedious. What begins as a refreshing twist with Cassie being the sexual aggressor and Ethan the reluctant priss quickly grows stale as she constantly begs him to become physical while he constantly pushes her away for reasons that remain a mystery. Based on present day Cassie’s extreme – and repetitious – resistance to present day Ethan’s charms, we are assured that he truly did a number on her, but we have no idea what actually happened between them.
Because unfortunately, the story just ends. We never learn what Ethan did to destroy his relationship with Cassie and only a vague, unsatisfying idea of why he felt compelled to do it. In order to find out, we need to read the next book in the series.
The problem with having to read the next installment to find out what happened is two-fold. First, I feel frustration – resentment even – when a writer begins to tell a story, leading me to believe that it will offer a conclusion (satisfying or not) by the last page, only to pull out an unexpected cliffhanger. Second, by the end of Bad Romeo, the build up of the Foul Deed that Ethan perpetrated against Cassie was so extreme, I can’t imagine anything living up to my expectations. Half of me is compelled to find out what happened, but the other half of me kind of doesn’t have any desire to slog through another 400 plus pages to find out.
Bad Romeo gets a solid A for the fantastic dialogue, intriguing characters and a compelling beginning. But a lack of forward momentum, endless recycling of the same conflict between Ethan and Cassie, and the full-sudden stop of the ending deserve a stern D. In the end, I feel comfortable with a grade of B- and a mild recommendation to read it for the fantastic writing but a warning that if you need story closure, you won’t find it here.