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Wednesday, September 20, 2023

#TBRChallenge 2023: Violet Grenade

The Book: Violet Grenade by Victoria Scott

The Particulars: Young Adult, 2017, Entangled Teen, Out of Print, Available in Digital

Why Was It In Wendy's TBR?: My former Teen Fiction Selector at work was talking about this book so I grabbed the ARC copy we received - where it sat in my print TBR for the past 6 years 🙄

The Review: This is a book that is shooting for gritty and realistic but it never quite hits the mark - mainly because the author kept it firmly in Young Adult. For any semblance of realism about teen prostitution this book needed to be a whole lot uglier and marketed as adult. Does that make this a "bad" read? No. It's compulsively readable and it kept me up late at night turning the pages.

Domino Ray is a runaway, squatting in a derelict house in Detroit with "her person," Dizzy. They steal, they forage, they get by. Then one day Dizzy is nabbed by the police and thrown into lock-up.  Domino needs to bail him out but for that she needs money she doesn't have.  Then the answer to her prayers arrives in the form of Ms. Karina. You're talented, artistic, come work in my home for "burgeoning entertainers."  You'll earn money. You'll have a life.  Domino needs Dizzy out so she agrees - soon finding herself in a rambling farm house in west Texas with a slew of other girls.

We're all adults here - we know from the jump who and what Ms. Karina is and that Domino finds herself living in a brothel. Sort of. Most of the girls start out as companions or entertainers. Customers show up, the girls dazzle and sparkle, chat and perform. But there's no sex acts just yet. The higher up the ranks you work within the house means the more money you make and that's when the sex comes into play. This set-up strained for me - the girls aren't pushed into full-blown prostitution from the jump? Like really?  Also Domino, a teen runaway with a jacked up past was entirely too naïve for me in the beginning. There's part of her that suspects what she's getting into but she's a little too dense for a little too long for believability. Especially for someone who has been living on the streets of Detroit (of all places!) for well over a year.

Anyway, once at the house there's back-biting and bullying as Violet works her way up the ranks - wanting and needing to make money and in a twisted way, wanting to please Ms. Karina. She becomes friends and teams up with another girl, aiding in her goal and falling for Cain, a brooding young man who works for Ms. Karina and lives in the basement.  Soon Violet begins discovering that the house and Ms. Karina have secrets, as does Cain, and escape seems the only option.  One small problem though - Ms. Karina does not like to lose inventory.  Good thing Violet has secrets of her own and a bag of tricks to draw from.

There's a smattering of romance and suspense to keep the story humming along. Violet soon learns the hard lesson that Dizzy may not care about her as much she does him, but the attraction with Cain unfolds in a slow burn and is quite compelling given both of their completely screwed up pasts.  It's those respective pasts plus the mystery of a missing girl that Violet replaced in the house that kept me up late reading, and Violet's past (the entire reason she ran away) does not disappoint. It's a doozy and readers should expect some violence (I personally didn't find it overly graphic, but if you avoid suspense novels as a rule, then avoid this one).

Are any of these characters "good" people? Ehhhh.... Is this story a gritty and realistic portrayal of sex trafficking and teen prostitution? Ehhhh...  Does that make it any less compelling to read? No. If nothing else this was interesting and it kept me engaged, which given how my reading has gone this year is essentially a ringing endorsement.

Final Grade = B-


azteclady said...

A book that keeps one reading until the last page is a treasure when the dreaded reading slump hits, for real (this year I've had 8 DNF reviews so far--after whole years going by without a DNF).

This does not sound like my thing, but I'm glad it worked for you.

eurohackie said...

I chose Shannon Stacey's first HQN SE from July 2020, "More than Neighbors." It was fine. Not awful, not spectacular. I was very much "whelmed" by it, LOL. I won't read any more of this mini series, but I purchased her January 2023 offering, featuring a male librarian as the hero, so I will definitely give her another shot someday (maybe 3 years down the line when librarian MCs are the TBR Challenge topic? :D)

Jill said...

Long post, apparently I'm on a roll!

Reading this review tugged at the memory banks. I feel I read a few books similar to this. Maybe not in actual specific content, but that they dealt with adult topics with a softer focus. I think at the time they made me feel sophisticated. I can't remember any titles or authors (not GO ASK ALICE, that book scared me!). Not a lot of official YA then. They probably would have been called "issue books." I wonder how they'd hold up?

I squeaked by finishing this book on 6:25 AM on Wednesday ;-). I wasn't going to even try this challenge b/c I have a stack of library books a mile high (including a brand new Sarah Macclean), but I was out and about without a book to read and I started to read the Harlequin Superromance ALL I AM by Nicole Helm on the Kindle app in my phone and it sucked me in.

Grumpy guy with some emotional and physical damage collides with woman who sees herself as a party girl and a screw up who is not capable of more. I have a soft spot for both these types! This is what I want in my contemporary romance. No Navy SEALs or billionaires. I didn't even find the small town twee or annoying. Strong voice and flashes of humor, but not "wacky." Sexy times but grounded in reality and real emotions. I think one of my favorite things is how the author showed both the characters taking emotional risks and being vulnerable to each other. One of my favorite quotes is James Baldwin's "Love takes off the masks that we fear we cannot live without and know we cannot live within." Any time when I feel like a romance shows that well, it's a hit for me.

Two things, the grumpy hero is really grumpy at times (he has a lot of anxiety and poor verbal skills) and he does make a big gesture of showing up at an event somewhat uninvited. I felt like the author handled both those things well aka I don't think he came off as an ahole or stalker but YMMV.

This has been a pretty mediocre year for romance reading for me, so it was nice to find this gem. Onward!

azteclady said...

@Jill: oh, that sounds really good! Thank you for the rec!

Jill said...

@azteclady, heads up, I think used paperbacks are widely available, but on Nicole Helm's website she mentioned that she's tweaking on the ecopies for a planned re-release. Just in case that's how you were hoping on reading it and can't find it, it should be coming back!

azteclady said...

@Jill Thank you; yes, I was hoping for a digital edition, and was sad there wasn't one available.

Wendy said...

Flawed books that keep me reading - always a mystery but still appreciated because anything keeping me reading gets chalked up as "a win" this year. It's been a very up/down reading year for me.

Seconding All I Am by Nicole Helm! I read it back in 2016 and blogged about it. Gah, I miss the SuperRomance line. Special Edition and Heartwarming somewhat scratches the itch but, sigh, Supers were my jam.

Eurohackie: I haven't read widely among Stacey's work but what I have I've generally liked. I think I might have that book buried on my Kindle - and I definitely have the male librarian book because...of course I do 😂

Jill said...

@Wendy, I'm 100% certain I own this book b/c of your review! I can't believe it took me so long to getting around to reading it, but here we are . . .

azteclady said...

@Jill: true TBR Challenge inception!