Searching for Beautiful
Usually, a book that keeps me up to read more of it scores at least in the B range. Unfortunately, so many things were wrong with Searching for Beautiful that I was mostly reading faster to try to get it over with. I was excited for a friends-to-lovers story and intrigued by the runaway bride opening. A relationship that felt unhealthy, uneven tone, unrealistic details, and an ultimately shallow treatment of serious issues made this story a disappointment.
Surgical resident Genevieve “Gen” MacKenzie ditches her groom David at the altar after a last-minute realization that he’s too controlling. Fortunately, her friend Wolfe (just one name, thanks) is there to pick her up (literally; she fell out a window) and whisk her away to upstate New York until the fuss dies down. Although Gen and Wolfe have been friends for years, they’ve never acted on any attraction. Now, they will, and that’s where things start to go wrong.
A heroine on the run from an abusive relationship needs time and reflection to get ready for a new relationship. Gen’s reflection consists largely of realizing that David was bad, and wondering how it had happened without her noticing. She doesn’t address her own issues (a need to please, the obsession with being perfect) and was not, in my book, ready to jump in bed with Wolfe. An author working with this type of heroine also has to be very, very careful because many of the dialogue tropes associated with “the sexy alpha” are also pretty much the same things said by “obsessive abuser.” A book about a woman recovering from controlling abuse is not the place for a controlling fantasy.
Let’s play a game. Which lines were said by stalker ex David and which by hero alpha Wolfe?
“I love you. I want to protect you and be with you forever.”
“I will not allow you to push me away anymore because of your fear.”
“To think that I hurt you, that I gave you the impression that I didn’t love you with everything I am, makes me sick.”
“You’re mine, Genevieve. Always will be.”
“I’m sorry that I hurt you. I did the only thing I could.”
“Don’t push me. You may get more than you bargained for.”
“Sweetheart, we’ll work it out. With time, things will get better, like they were. I swear.”
“Maybe you like the sort of threats I give you.”
Gen: “I’m not talking about this anymore. Get out!” Male: “No.” Gen: “Get out!” Male: “No. Did he try to make a move on you? Did you freak?”
The first four are the abuser, the second five are the hero. How did you score?
Gen is surrounded by controllers. When Gen tells her friend that she doesn’t want to discuss her hickeys or the friend’s theory that Gen has had sex, the friend responds by picking up the phone and calling three more friends to come over, whereupon they browbeat Gen until she confesses to having slept with Wolfe. When Gen says, repeatedly, that she’s not going to Italy with Wolfe because she has work obligations, she ends up in Italy. When Gen and Wolfe have sex and she tells him, “Too much,” he says, “Not enough.” Gen “shook her head but he refused her retreat, forcing her to accept all of him.” There’s this angle from the author that because Wolfe is ultimately “right” – she enjoys Italy; she has an orgasm – that his treatment of her is acceptable. And it isn’t.
Wolfe’s childhood abuse is also reduced to plot point, with the infuriating implication that once you tell the right woman about it and she loves you anyway, you’ll be just fine. That is not how surviving assault works.
Other aspects of the book were just annoying. Too many references to previous books in the series and too much time spent developing the supporting cast for their future books. There are typos, such as “fiancee” for “fiance.” Wolfe is twenty-six and has made a fortune modeling underwear, but he’s also an executive for a luxury hotel chain. Who’d have thought we’d reach the point when “millionaire underwear model” was not considered enough for the hero to be sexy? I found it implausible that paparazzi would be staking out the wedding of a surgeon and his resident. The author is surprisingly ignorant about tattoos. When Gen gets a rebound tattoo on her lower back (a rose with thorns dripping blood, which nobody but me seemed to think was totally cheesy), she has sex within about a day and lets the hero touch the tattoo. Wolfe has a tattoo from his past, a snake which winds around his entire torso and up his neck. A tattoo of this size and scale is expensive and should take multiple visits over time; broke and underage Wolfe had it done in a day.
The tone is off as well. Some parts of the book are chilling romantic suspense, as when we learn that David was not just abusing Gen, but laying the foundations to gaslight her as well (reporting that she had mental issues to the hospital; lying to her family). Other parts are cosy small-town, as when they visit Wolfe’s cheery, warm Italian family. For reasons which escape me, there are supernatural elements: Gen seems to have a tingly spidey-sense in her gut, and her friend Kate can touch two people and learn if they are meant to be together. Also, apparently the women cast a spell years ago to seek out their perfect men, and lo, Wolfe matches the list.
I’ll give Searching for Beautiful credit for being a read which sucked me in, and the sex scenes are hot if you can keep yourself from worrying that they aren’t healthy for Gen. But the more I think about it, the more irritated I get. When I started reading, the book was bouncing between B- and C+, and now it’s down to C. For the sake of the author, I’ll stop thinking.