Desert Isle Keeper
Olivia Dade’s Spoiler Alert is a warm, witty and gorgeously romantic romance that captivated me from the very first page and didn’t let me go until the very last. Featuring two superbly crafted and incredibly relatable protagonists, a unique premise and an engaging secondary cast, it’s a fabulous tale of acceptance and self-discovery, of healing and growth, all wrapped up in a beautifully developed , sexy love story. I haven’t read anything by Ms. Dade before (although I’ve been meaning to), and what really drew me to this particular title was that fact that it’s set in the world of fandom and, specifically, fanfiction. As a former fanfic writer and reader (a looooong time ago now!), so many of the issues and attitudes the author explores in the story really resonated with me.
Marcus Caster-Rupp is the star of one of the most successful shows on television, an epic-fantasy story based on a series of novels called Gods of the Gates that is, in turn, based loosely on Virgil’s Aeneid. When the book opens, Marcus – who has played the role of Aeneas for the whole of the show’s seven-year run – is filming his final scene. The role has made him a huge star, and for that he’s grateful – but that doesn’t mean he’s blind to the weaknesses and failures in storytelling in this final season that are likely to lead to howls of outrage from all corners of the Gods of the Gates fandom. A fandom in which he’s actively participated for the last couple of years as Book!AneasWouldNever, excising his frustration with the way his character was being written by writing fix-it fanfiction. During that time, he’s formed a close online friendship with a fellow writer named Unapologetic Lavinia Stan (ULS,) whom he’s nicknamed Ulsie.
(As an aside, I never watched Game of Thrones, but I recall many a complaint that the showrunners screwed it up once they ran out of source material and that the final series was … er, not good. Gods of the Gates seems to have experienced similar problems *wink*)
Geologist April Whittier (who is, of course Ulsie) has never told any of her RL friends or colleagues about her love of cosplay or her fanfic, aware that one slip of the tongue or one stray photo taken at a Con could damage her professional reputation and see her “devolve from an experienced professional into a silly fangirl”. But she’s about to start a new job which has a completely different culture and where she won’t need to hide that part of herself, so on her last day at her old job, she decides it’s time to throw caution to the wind, and she posts a picture of herself in costume on a Twitter thread. Returning to it a few hours later, she’s not surprised to see a lot of really cruel, fat-shaming comments but IS gobsmacked to see that she’s just been followed by none other than Marcus Caster-Rupp – and not only that, he’s ASKED HER OUT ON A DATE. On Twitter. Of course, she wonders if it’s just a publicity stunt, but after exchanging a couple of DMs – in which Marcus assures her he absolutely does want to meet her – April agrees to have dinner with him.
Not long after meeting Marcus. April senses that there’s more to him than he usually allows the public to see. In the media, he always comes across as nice but dim, taking care to talk about his exercise routine or diet or grooming products, but never himself. But some of the things he says, the vocabulary he uses during their conversation, point to his being anything but dim, yet each time April tries to get him to talk about himself or his work, he deflects. But when he does at last open up a bit, he’s articulate, interesting and takes little to no credit for any of his achievements. Which is, again, surprising for a man known for being vain.
Marcus thought April was gorgeous as soon as he saw her picture, but is even more bowled over by her in person. He’s always been drawn to intelligent, accomplished and passionate women, even as he knows he can never be enough for them – whether he’s the fake him OR the real him. But he’s completely smitten with April; she’s smart and funny and direct, and he realises if he’s going to get a second date (and he really really wants a second date), his pretty-but-dim act isn’t going to cut it. He’s going to have to show her something of the reality behind the veneer. The question is – how much can he safely reveal without possibly compromising his reputation and his career?
Both Marcus and April are expertly drawn, empathetic characters who have struggled under the weight of parental expectations for pretty much their entire lives. April is a wonderful heroine; she’s clever, witty, successful, confident – and (I’m using the author’s words) fat, and sick to the back teeth of well-meaning friends and partners subtly and not-so-subtly ‘encouraging’ her to lose weight. She likes her body and doesn’t feel she has to answer to anyone about it – and the worst fat-shaming she’s been subjected to has been from her own parents; a father who has basically ignored her since puberty and a mother who is forever sending her diet and exercise tips. And Marcus – who is a completely swoonworthy hero – is the son of two academics – teachers – who failed to recognise that he was dyslexic and couldn’t understand why he never seemed able to learn the way they thought he should. Reading about the way they treated him broke my heart – he’s worked so hard and achieved so much, finding ways on his own to overcome his difficulties with written communication, and yet all they can do is snipe at his choices – they even published an article criticising Gods of the Gates from a classicist’s point of view – tell him they hated the show and thought he was wasting his time. They live in their own little bubble and nothing he’s achieved is important to them. Marcus’ character arc is amazing; he’s buried his true self so deeply as a method of self-protection that he’s almost unable to find a way out – until, that is, he finds something – someone – it’s worth risking the truth for.
With baggage like that, it’s no wonder that both Marcus and April make missteps in the early days of their relationship, but they’ve both able to take a step back and think about what happened in a mature way, and aren’t afraid of apologising when they get something wrong. It’s true that it’s easy to see the major conflict in the story coming a mile away, but that didn’t in any way detract from my overall enjoyment of it, or the impact of the serious issues the author tackles throughout the book. And she addresses all of them – fat-shaming, body positivity, dyslexia, toxic parenting, acceptance and personal growth – in an appealing, totally non-preachy way that feels completely organic and true to her characters.
Spoiler Alert is a fabulous read that works on every level. Olivia Dade explores the dynamics of fandom and social media really well, the chemistry between the leads is sizzling from the start and the writing is sharply focused and insightful. I loved the little snippets of fanfic (and scripts of some of the terrible movies Marcus made on his way to stardom) that were included between chapters – and kudos to the cover artist for properly depicting a luscious, curvy heroine.
If you read my reviews regularly then you’ll know I don’t read a lot of m/f contemporary romance – I made an exception for Spoiler Alert and I’m glad I did. It deserves to be on every romance fan’s keeper shelf.
Buy it at: Amazon, Audible, or your local independent bookstore
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|Review Date:||October 6, 2020|
|Book Type:||Contemporary Romance|
|Review Tags:||actor/actress | dyslexia | Plus size heroine | Spoiler Alert series | STEM heroine | writer|
I listened to this last night and I liked it a great deal. But I didn’t love it. There was just a little too much angst for me, and I felt the structure of the book was kind of clunky. It alternates between excerpts from fanfic, DMs, group chats, etc., and the action between the protags. Some of those could have been eliminated thus shortening on overly-long book. I did love the relationship between the h&H, however; Marcus in particular is just adorable. The narration is very good in the audio version and, miraculously, its written in third person!! Which is becoming as rare as unicorns it seems. I’d give it a B+.
I think it might be one of those times the structure works better in print than audio – especially as there’s only one narrator, so it must be difficult to differentiate between the different sections.
No, it was clearly delineated when the narrative jumped styles. It was just choppy and disruptive to the main story imo. All the fanfic flashbacks in particular were distracting for me. But, I did really like the book and certainly recommend it as something different but fun. And it introduced me to a world that I knew nothing about, which I enjoyed.
I just finished the book and I really loved it. I actually did like the excerpts of fanfic and movie scripts because I felt they were deliberately chosen to reflect and enhance the narrative. I agree that the book was a little long but I’m not certain what could have been cut out. I also didn’t feel the angst was too much or went on too long – I’ve read books where the main characters stayed apart for months! I agree that the relationship between April and Marcus was the best part. I liked that they each had significant issues to work through and helped and supported each other through them. Great review, Caz!
Excellent review Caz! I started reading it yesterday evening on the strength of your recommendation and it is already the best romance I’ve read in 2020. It’s a beautiful ode to writing, fanfiction and love. I can already tell that it’ll be a book that I’ll revisit frequently. I’m not a fan of contemporary romance in general, but this book has won me over.
I’m so glad you enjoyed it! And thanks for letting me know – it means a lot to know that my ramblings have directed someone to find something good :).
“It’s a beautiful ode to writing, fanfiction and love.” Wonderful way to put it. As someone who also is in fandoms and has even written some fanfic, I really appreciated the authenticity of its portrayal of the fandom world.
That said, I have to tell this story: I was teaching about identity online in my New Media class yesterday, and I brought up this book (I also know some of my students write fanfic/are in fandoms, so I wanted to let them know in case they wanted to read the book) and I described the premise and how Marcus’ show is absolutely based on GoT* and he is basically Nikolaj Coster-Waldau, and one of my students said, “Um, it sounds like self-insert fanfic.” And I could not disagree. Didn’t stop me from loving the book, though!
*As an aside, unlike most GoT fans, I actually liked the final episodes quite a bit, BUT the one thing I loathed was how Jaime’s storyline ended.
I can certainly relate to having your parents and siblings chastise you for your weight. Its hard enough to grow up, and when you’re the ‘fat kid’ its way harder. My sibs were allowed to have snacks, but not me, I was told no one would ever love me, that there were no attractive clothes for fat girls….on and on and on. There was no place of comfort in my life, no one person I could turn to for support. It was hell, and this was back in the 60s when there was so much more shame attached to being any brand of ‘different’.
This is in my tbr now!
I’ve almost always been big and went through a fair bit of teasing at school – fortunately though, my family weren’t judgmental and nobody ever said anything like that. (My experience was, luckily, very different to April’s in the book.) I do agree about the lack of fashionable clothes – and even things like school uniform were impossible to get in children’s sizes and the largest women’s size (this is back in the 70s) you could get was a UK 16 (which is smaller than in the US I think).
Wow Caz! That is some recommendation. It sounds fabulous. Headed for the TBR pile as I write. Thanks!
It’s so good – I’d read a couple of things before it that took ages to get going and so I was dreading another slow start – and my heart leapt when this one pulled me in straight away.
Everything about this sounds really good! I’m so glad. I’ve been looking forward to it since it was announced, and as soon as I finish the book I’m currently reading I’m going dive right into it. As someone who read a ton of Buffy the Vampire Slayer fanfiction back in the day (I was a huge fan of the show), the fandom and fanfiction aspect really appeals to me.
I wasn’t even aware that Marcus is dyslexic before reading this review. I just read the blurb and was sold. It sounds like the book handles the subject well, and I am all for well-written characters with learning disabilities. The part about his parents being teachers hits me close to home as my father is a teacher too, now retired. When it became impossible to deny that I had big problems and limitations, he was so mad. Just super angry and disappointed and somehow strangely ashamed that he’d have to face the colleagues who taught me who’d then know that his daughter was basically academically hopeless instead of brilliant as he’d always visioned. I’m almost 40 now, and while things are a lot better between us, he still sometimes grumbles about ”all the lost potential” and I’m like do you mean all the lost potential that could have been capitalized if I had not been me? I honestly don’t think he’ll ever get completely over it.
Thank you so much for the wonderful review – I am now anticipating reading this book even more!
It’s clear very early on that Marcus is dyslexic, so I didnt’ think it was a spoiler, and yes, I think it’s handled very well, as we learn how Marcus learned to cope and to realise just how hard he’s worked to get where he is. And it sounds as though your experience is very similar to his :(
It’s a great book – I hope you enjoy it as much as I did.
I definitely think it was the right decision to mention Marcus’s dyslexia. I can’t see how knowing about it could possibly negatively affect anyone’s reading experience and this way anyone wishing to read about a character with a learning disability will find the book more easily.
Thanks for sharing your perspective. I’m halfway through the book and couldn’t wait any longer to see what other readers thought of how Marcus’s dyslexia was handled.
As someone with academically pushy parents but no (diagnosed) learning disabilities, who’s the same age as Marcus, I wasn’t finding it entirely plausible that his parents — who are teachers at a prep school — wouldn’t realize he was dyslexic or think to have him tested for learning disabilities generally. Such testing was pretty common at private schools by the early 1990s. And I was thinking of my parents’ reaction when I had academic trouble: figure out why, fix it or work around it, whether it was that I was near sighted and needed glasses, or that I couldn’t make As with 7 classes a day and functioned better on a 4-courses-each-semester system at a different school.
But it makes more sense that if the parents aren’t interested in adapting for their child’s particular needs to ensure success — instead expecting the child not to have any needs, and to succeed wherever he is placed — they would not be running tests for learning disabilities. Or anything else that might detect an inherent imperfection that can’t be blamed on shortcomings in the child’s character.
Whew. I thought I had it rough with my parents’ ambitions for their children, but this definitely opens up a vista of how it could be so much worse.
What an insightful comment – thank you for sharing your thoughts!
I think people can be very different at home and to people at home (i.e. family) than they are for example at work both in good ways and bad. My father was a well liked teacher both by students and colleagues, known for being fun and fair and patient. I remember sometimes being painfully jealous of his students who got to experience that side of him, because he wasn’t like that at home. And I also think that parents always see their own children differently than others, again also in good but sometimes unfortunately in bad as well. Even someone who in their professional capacity might have no trouble recognizing something, being it an extraordinary talent or a learning disability or something else entirely, they can be blind to such things in their own children in some cases perhaps because they are too close to the person or the situation to see it objectively and in others because they can’t handle the truth for a reason or another.
But honestly, in my case it wasn’t just my father who despite being a teacher treated me like I was being the way I am on purpose and just to be a nuisance. My maths teacher seemed to take every opportunity she could to humiliate me in front of the class. And I don’t think I’ll ever forget my Swedish teacher saying: ”To me it’s all the same whether I teach you or the back wall, I’ll get paid the same amount regardless.” There were lots of others. I believe and hope from the bottom of my heart that things have changed considerably since then.
Excited to read this one! I’m still waiting for it at the library!
Darn you, Caz! Here I’m trying to make a dent in my TBR list, and you’re making me add yet another awesome entry to the pile. Thanks for the great review. :)
His parents “tell him they hated the show and thought he was wasting his time.” That is, unfortunately, true for so many people in the arts. Whether it’s family or friends, there are always going to be those people who do not recognize anything that isn’t a 9 to 5 job as being a real job. And the even sadder part of it is, it doesn’t matter if you make it big. You could be bringing in millions and those same people would sit around wondering when you’re going to get “a real job.” Of course, then you can cry on your way to the bank, but it must still sting.
I also want to say, I think it’s cool that nerd culture is finally being taken seriously instead of merely existing as the butt of a joke. Yeah, some fans can really go off the deep end- no question there- but I think there’s a little less hostility toward grown-ups having fun than there used to be. And for people who criticize cosplayers and convention attendees of being overgrown kids, I say to them, “So what? Why does their hobby bother you so much? Why does an adult have to only follow stuffy pursuits? Honestly!”
#SorryNotSorry ;) As a music graduate, I’m only too aware of the prejudice against the arts. I remember going to careers fairs in my last year at uni, (this was in the mid 80s) and the reaction from most people to the fact that I was a music student was … not positive. But it’s just as much a discipline as anything else – and nobody seemed to realise that in addition to all the lectures and seminars etc. we attended, just like students of other subjects, we were expected to do 3 hours practice a day on our main instrument, at least one on our second and an hour on keyboard skills, AND that we had to belong to at least one ensemble. Here in the UK, Wednesday afternoons are generally afternoons off – nor for me they weren’t – 2 hours in choir, 2 hours in contemporary music ensemble, And no early finish on Friday afternoons, which were 3 hours orchestral rehearsal.
Being something of a nerd myself, seeing nerd culture celebrated is always something I very much appreciate.
OMG. Buying this now.
Great review! The book seems full of the manipulative family trope that I’m having a difficult time dealing with right now, but I’m still putting this on my TBR list. It sounds too good to pass up. I may wait a while until my overall stress level decreases, but I want to read it.
I’m not quite sure where this would fit in the scale of manipulative families, but yes, do put it on your TBR. It’s the rare contemporary that works for me, but this one did – spectacularly.
I’m struggling with contemporaries right now.Most have been DNF for me this year,and only a couple have been rated higher than 3 stars. I did, however, just finish listening to Him by Sarina Brown and Elle Kennedy and loved it! It was poignant but soothing, and the narration was perfect. It was recommended on a fb group,and your review on GR pushed me over the edge to listen. Thanks as always for your great reviews.
Be sure to listen to “Us” and “Epic”, which continue the story and are narrated by the same two guys. And ” Good Boy” is Blake’s story, but a huge part of the Wesmie romance takes place during that book. (It’s f/m, not m/m, fyi.).
I love this little series, it has all the feels…
Him and Us are so good – I haven’t got around to listening to Epic yet (although I read it when it came out). The partnership of Teddy Hamilton and Jacob Morgan has become legendary thanks to those books – they’ve recorded together a handful of times, and I believe their next book together is another Lauren Blakely title, which is due out before the end of the year. I’m not the biggest LB fan (so many of her books are so same-y) but I’d listen to those two reading the phone book, so…