One of my 2018 reading resolutions is to try more books outside my comfort zone, and this includes trying to read more contemporary romances. I often find the alpha male characters appearing so frequently in contemporaries to be quite grating, so I approached Cathryn Fox’s Leveled with trepidation, and, as it turned out, with good reason.
Jamie Owens is a construction worker and tattoo artist living in Blue Bay. When he and soon-to-be lawyer Kylee Jensen meet unexpectedly at her beach cottage, instant attraction sparks, and they can barely keep their hands off each other. The first half of this book is basically one continuous sex scene in which the dialogue is peppered with Jamie and Kylee’s odd habit of referring to each other as “girl” and “boy” in the bedroom, which I found a bit creepy. Supposedly this is to keep themselves from becoming too attached, but I wasn’t quite buying it. The sex scenes are incredibly well-written, however, and you could really feel the heat and sexual attraction between Jamie and Kylee.
Both of them are afraid of falling in love, though for different reasons; Jamie has been burned before by privileged rich vacationers like Kylee, and Kylee knows that her future as a workaholic lawyer at her father’s firm in Atlanta will leave little time for romance. While I can understand Jamie’s excuse, Kylee’s feels a bit unbelievable; there are plenty of lawyers who manage to have love lives and even families despite the demands of their jobs, something Kylee thinks she is incapable of sustaining, afraid she’ll neglect her children the way her parents neglected her. Kylee’s hang-up about not having room in her life for children seemed like an easy way to make her character seem more dramatic, and I hated the way Jamie seemed to pity her for it. I also found it hard to believe Kylee wouldn’t have told her father that law wasn’t her dream career sometime in the last three years of law school.
No, Kylee’s dream career is designing clothes, something she enjoys doing, but it takes Jamie mansplaining her dreams and telling Kylee her designs are good for her to realize she could make a success out of her passion. For much of the book it feels as though the author is trying to make Kylee seem purposefully weaker so as not to overpower Jamie’s angry, dominant alpha male personality. This even happens when they are having sex; often it’s Jamie dictating what’s going to happen and Kylee going along with it, rarely voicing her own desires or what she really wants.
This is major issue I had with the book; the characters fall too comfortably into the alpha male and submissive female tropes, and the whole storyline becomes very antiquated and unrealistic towards the end, with a conflict and happily ever after straight out of a regency romance. One of the best things about the contemporary sub-genre is that authors don’t have to follow any prescribed societal rules in order to craft their characters’ actions, but here, it seems that Cathryn Fox is still following a gender normative code where the men have to make the decisions and the women are supposed to silently nod and agree. While some of the other minor female characters – such as Jamie’s grandmother and sister-in-law – are given free rein to express their feelings, assert their independence, and maintain equal ground with the many men in the Owens family, that same privilege isn’t afforded to Kylee, and it made me lose interest in the plot overall. Even having Jamie and Kylee in slightly less predictable careers might have helped make the story more interesting, but as it stands, this is not a novel I’ll be recommending.
~ Emily K.