Ship Wrecked, the third installment in Olivia Dade’s Spoiler Alert series, started off strong, and I felt confident that after a long dry spell, I might have found myself a solid A-grade read. The writing is solid and the main characters really grabbed me. Unfortunately, big pacing problems and a bit of false advertising turned this promising read into a bit of a disappointment.
Maria Ivarssons is always game for some no-commitment sex and doesn’t give it a second thought when she leaves her latest booty call without so much as a note. She has no way of knowing that her one-night-stand Peter Reedton had been deeply hurt in the past and considered her sneaking off as a form of abandonment, even if he didn’t know her last name. So when the couple finds themselves at the same casting call for the uber-successful series, Gods of the Gates, the tension between them is off the charts. They manage to channel their hostility into their performances and end up cast as Cassia and Cyprian, enemies who barely survive a shipwreck and must spend the next six years trying to survive on an isolated, desolate island.
But what is a huge triumph for their acting careers proves to be a mixed blessing, because Maria and Peter must actually spend six years on an isolated Irish island for filming. In a real-life enemies-to-friends story, they overcome their initial catastrophic meeting and become closer, never able to forget the fire they had created during that one night spent together. But Peter knows that a relationship-gone-bad between two co-stars is a sure way to make for a miserable filming set, so he’s not willing to risk moving their relationship back to the physical, no matter how much they might want each other. His career is simply too important to take that chance.
Once the series wraps up, Peter and Maria are both open and excited to explore a deeper relationship. They set out on a press tour in Los Angeles and then their respective hometowns – Stockholm for the Swedish Maria and Madison, Wisconsin for Peter. The passion that they had shared so long ago is quickly re-ignited, and as they meet each other’s families and learn about each other’s pasts, they come to understand how deep hurts have made them into the people they are now. Just when it seems that they have a future together, the successes they each achieved through their Gods of the Gates roles open up some lucrative career opportunities that threaten to divide them forever.
Apparently, the Spoiler Alert series has gained a lot of popularity because of its positive portrayal of plus-sized characters. Indeed, both Maria and Peter are fat (author’s description, not mine), and body positivity is a big theme. I was pleased that Maria’s weight was actually used as a story element due to her chosen career and Hollywood’s obsession with ideal body sizes. As a character, Maria is confident and righteous about her body and never bends under pressure.
I also really loved the concept of two actors working on a popular series. While the parallels between Gods of the Gates and HBO’s Game of Thrones series are so obvious as to be kind of silly, I did enjoy the depiction of Maria and Peter as very normal people who just so happen to have jobs that have brought them fame.
A lot of time is spent showing how close Maria is with her family, and once we meet them, you can understand why. Made up of adopted children and a very loving set of parents, I wanted to be adopted into the Ivarssons clan, too. Peter’s strained relationship with his father does so much to explain why Peter has always felt like an outsider. It makes Maria’s efforts to help Peter overcome his social awkwardness and to make friends with the film crew all the more endearing.
My biggest issue with this book is the pacing. From the summary blurb, I was excited to read about the six years this couple spent filming on an island and struggling to contain their building attraction to each other. But the book skims over this part, telling rather than showing us how Maria and Peter become friends, only to time jump forward and ‘begin’ their actual love story about a third of the way into it, AFTER they’ve finished filming and have left the island and, really, when there is no longer any tension that might be intriguing. Then things grind to an almost standstill as Peter and Maria’s backstories are explored in depth, giving insight as to why they each have their particular hangups. And then a third act drama causes problems that seem implausible given that both Peter and Maria are actors and thus know how such a career affects a person’s lifestyle and choices.
I would have loved to read about the six years the couple spent filming a hit TV show struggling to keep their hands off each other, rather than slog through what amounted to a bunch of boring psychoanalysis and sex scenes. I found myself skimming to find the next important plot point and feeling very much bait-and-switched.
As I mentioned above, Ship Wrecked is the third title in the Spoiler Alert series, and while it can be read as a standalone, I’m thinking that reading the books in order is a good idea. I have not read the other two titles, and a lot of the time I felt like I was on the outside of some inside joke. There are a lot of appearances of characters from other stories, giving one the sensation of attending someone else’s high school reunion.
This book has a lot going for it. Body positivity, appealing characters, good writing, and an interesting premise. If you enjoyed the first two books in the series, no doubt this will be a satisfying entry. I only wish Dade had spent more time on establishing the sexual tension that was promised by the book’s blurb rather than skipping over the best parts.