Wednesday, November 17, 2021

#TBRChallenge 2021: Signed Over To Santino

The Book: Signed Over to Santino by Maya Blake

The Particulars: Contemporary romance, Harlequin Presents #3439, book 2 in duet, 2016, out of print, available digitally.

Why Was It In Wendy's TBR?: I have a signed copy, which means I scored this at an RWA Conference. If you're new here, Harlequins are nearly the only books I snag at conferences. It's my last bastion of impulse reading.

The Review: There are two types of readers in Romancelandia. Those who love Presents and those who think that those who love Presents have lost their damn minds. My affinity for the line, problematic elements and all, feeds the Feral Id part of my brain that gobbled up soap operas when I was younger.  This book by Blake is a prime example. The heroine gets figuratively run over (a lot) and the hero is a Grade A possessive jealous jackass.  Can I recommend it? No. Did I inhale every glorious minute of it in less than 24 hours?  You bet your sweet bippy I did!
Carla Nardozzi is the #1 ranked figure skater in the world and she's slowly having her soul crushed by her manager father.  Abandoned by her mother, training her entire life, she grasps for one small moment of freedom when she turns 21-years-old and has a sizzling one night stand with self-made bazillionaire Javier Santino.  Naturally she was a virgin (hello, Presents) and naturally Javier blows her doors off.  Of course in the cold light of the morning after she has a mini-freak-out and bungles things....badly.  How badly?  Using true Presents Hero Logic, our hero is a big man baby who gets his fee-fees hurt.  He's a notorious playboy who changes women like he changes socks, but when a woman turns around and practically runs away from his bed the morning after?  Yeah, the shoe being on the other foot enrages him.  Also, some other Spoiler Territory stuff happens and naturally our guy is now hell-bent on revenge.
The moment arrives 3 years later.  Carla's Evil Daddy has frittered away her entire fortune and to keep the family villa in Tuscany she has to sell her soul to an endorsement deal with Javier's company.  Surely this will be OK. Maybe?  I mean, he can't still be upset about three years ago, can he?  Oh you poor, dumb bunny.  This is a Presents.  Of course our guy is out for your blood, assumes the absolute worst about you, and for added fun is jealousy possessive at every turn, even as he tells you how much he loathes you.  Ah, Twu Wuv.
I think had I read this book back in 2016 (when a normal person would have) I probably would have loathed it. But in post-COVID, constant state of mental and emotional exhaustion world?  I really felt for Carla early on.  She's just over it.  She's over Javier looking at her like she murders infants in her spare time.  She's over her father controlling the air she breathes.  She sends out some verbal volleys early on, but mostly she's past done and just doesn't want to deal.  Our girl has a serious case of ennui.

Javier is just a jackass. He's Stereotypical Presents Hero right out of central casting. He's possessive. He's jealous. He's a flaming asshole.  And of course this is all explained away because his mother was his father's mistress, he's the unloved bastard, yada yada yada.  Lather, rinse, repeat.

But I fell into this book and didn't want to come up for air.  It's a hot mess, but it's an entertaining hot mess.  Then, big sigh, it all falls apart at the end.  Javier's confrontation with his asshole father, and Carla's confrontation with her asshole father, both take place OFF PAGE, sucking out 85% of the angst from the plot with no payoff.  The third act separation (typical with Presents) is basically Carla running away because she won't talk to Javier.  Granted he's such a flaming asshole you can't entirely blame her.  But these aren't the biggest issues.  It's the fact that this is a romance and Javier and Carla are the couple.

The author does soften Javier in the final chapter, when they reunite after Carla runs away for three weeks.  But it doesn't help.  Why? Because the previous 180 pages is jackass jealous and possessive Javier.  Carla has had her entire life controlled by figure skating and her father.  She trades Daddy's dominance for Javier's dominance.  OK sure, Javier's got the gilded cage and gives her incredible orgasms, but a cage is a cage.  What should our happy ending be?  Carla getting a damn life.  Carla breaking free.  Carla kicking Javier and her Evil Daddy in the giblets so hard they settle in their sinus cavities, then running away to a tropical beach somewhere to get serviced by hunky cabana boys.  The "romance" is super problematic, super uncomfortable and doesn't hold up (at all!) to even the slightest sliver of scrutiny.

So there you have it.  Problematic Presents with a heroine who needs therapy, a jackass hero with revenge in his heart (and loins), two Evil Daddys and two Absent Ineffectual Mothers.  I don't recommend it and yet I still read the hell out of it with gleeful abandon. So maybe that is a recommendation?  Albeit in a very backhanded sort of way...

Final Grade = D+


Jill said...

Haha, glad it was a quick read if nothing else? Keeping you turning the pages is definitely a skill! I've stumbled across a few a like (Anne McAlister who writes "quirky" Presents, which I didn't think could be a thing and a few medical romance authors who crossed over), but mostly I put them in the "nice for other people" category.

I wanted to do a TBR that fit the competition category (b/c I'm nerdy and I like matching the theme), but life has been insane lately and I wanted to pick something fairly reliable and short so I picked MARRYING THE ROYAL MARINE by Carla Kelly. So maybe the Napoleonic Wars are a competition? ;-)

Seriously, it was a pretty appropriate choice b/c I think I bought this book after reading another book in the same series after finishing it for a TBR challenge. I don't looooove Carla Kelly as much as I did 10 or 15 years ago, but she's been consistently enjoyable in these pandemic times b/c she doesn't write about fluffy people with fluffy problems. Which sometimes I like, even now, but I have to be in just the right mood otherwise I just get annoyed at the characters.

This is the third in the trilogy (3 half sisters) and I don't think you have to have read all of them to follow this one, but it. does add some nice context/background. Polly, the youngest of the sisters, is off to Portugal to live with her sister who is helping run a military hospital there during the Peninsular Wars (set up in the last book). On a boat on the way she meets a Royal Marine named Hugh and he gets to know her very, very well when she gets horribly sea sick and needs tending (word to the wise, don't read this series if you're squeamish about bodily fluids). Once she's well again, there is this spark of affection and attraction between them but there is a substantial age and class difference that makes them both feel that a romantic relationship would be unwise. She's 18, he's 37, so it is substantial. And Polly does start out a bit naive, but I feel like you really got to see her grow as a person and come into her own,which I liked.

But of course, their resolution doesn't last. They get tangled up in quite the adventure in Portugal and things get really dark (think more of mainstream historical fiction set during a war than romance) but it all works out all right in the end. It might be my favorite in the series, although it was a tough read at time and without giving away spoilers, the hero did do something that is considered "unheroic" in most romance novels. It pulled me out of the story for a bit, but it didn't ruin it for me.

The thing I always like about Carla Kelly is she does a lot to show a level of affection and respect between the characters before things get physical. I like that and I feel like she knows how to infuse the story with a kind of old-fashioned *longing* filled with poignancy that I enjoy and is easy to spot, hard to write (in my opinion).

Even with the age difference, the hero unforced error ;-), and the grim, gross stuff, I'd probably give this an A. The only bad news is I think I'm close to running out of Kelly regencies to read!

azteclady said...

God, this sounds bad. Not bad enough to be good, just. Bad.

Cheating the reader of their well earned right to a glorious showdown with asshole parents is no way to endear oneself into aztec's reading graces, by god it's not!

Also, the "hero shows his ~true~, good man colors on the last two pages, after being a fucked up asshole for the entirety of the novel" is totally a rip off (or a shout out), to E.M. Hull's THE SHEIK. At 11, I sighed of it. Four decades and change later, I'd see red.

But, as you said, you inhaled it, and that can't ever be sniffed at.

eurohackie said...

My choice this month also featured a jealous, possessive, controlling "hero" and a woman who found his domination sexy and couldn't wait to be submissive to him in bed. Which is not my thing at all, but it wouldn't have been so bad if she had the backbone to call him out on his shit and push him to define their relationship beyond FWB, which she was adamantly against. This was a Kimani romance, and the way it was written makes me believe that this sort of domineering male is accepted and/or celebrated in Black culture, so I didn't feel comfortable passing judgment. Mercifully, the non-romance parts of the book were good, and I'd definitely read more by this author. I'm just a little bummed that this romance left me completely cold, as it was an impulse Kindle sale buy.

Wendy said...

Eurohackie: Speculating on characteristics and mores based off from cultural, ethnic or racial identities is very problematic. I could have applied the same statement to my read and that wouldn't have made it OK. Javier's Spanish. Does that make the conjecture OK that his brand of jackassery is celebrated in Spain? No. He's just a jackass. And like all societies, there will be some who see that as acceptable and some who will see it as appalling. Hopefully more of the latter.

Wendy said...

Jill: I didn't really get hooked into the Presents line until I had been reading romance for 10+ years. They didn't appeal in my younger days. Now? I can't gorge on them and read several in a row - but they appeal to that same part of my brain that loved prime time soap operas in the 1980s. The glitz, the glamor, the sheer over-the-top-ness. Also, while I don't necessarily read for escape, I sometimes want that "escapist" feel in a romance. Presents has that down pat.

And everything you said about Carla Kelly. That's what I like about her books too!

Wendy said...

AL: Yeah, it's not good - and yet at no point was I "hate reading" it. In general I don't understand that phenomenon. Life is too short to be reading something you hate, says me. I can't really explain this - other than there's a magic in category romance when an author has the skill set to write it. I'm chalking it up to Blake knowing the line well and hitting her beats when she was supposed to. But yeah - no on page confrontation with the terrible parents was SO WRONG!!!!

eurohackie said...

Wendy: I realize that, which is why I feel uncomfortable passing any sort of judgment on the book. It was just a strange feeling I got as I read, that I was missing something. I've read a lot of Black romance in the past without getting this feeling, which is why I commented on it.

willaful said...

I actually inhaled an old Margaret Pargeter the other day! I kind of went off Presents for awhile... life just got too real. But the old urge seems to be coming back.

Wendy said...

Willaful: Presents are very much "mood" books for me. I have to be in the mood for them and I don't think there's anyway I could go on a glom of reading several in a row. They're Fairy Tale Serotonin. I have to be in the mood for dramatic, high intensity, what is reality anymore? LOL

willaful said...

Yes, exactly. I think I really needed the catharsis. An excuse to cry.