Sunday, 28 August 2016

First Star I See Tonight (Chicago Stars #8) by Susan Elizabeth Phillips




TRIGGER WARNING: DUBIOUS CONSENT

I never thought the day would come that I'd hate an SEP book, yet here we are...

Let me start by saying that I really liked Piper, the main protagonist.
She was a strong woman who'd risen above her emotionally abusive childhood to become a capable and brave adult who went after what she wanted. She was also extremely concerned with doing things in an ethically correct way. I respected and liked her.

Which is why it's so appalling to me how horrible this book was. 
There's so much to complain about that I'll do it by topic.


  • POC Being Used as a Subplot to Show Us How Great the Hero Is:

We get a subplot about Faiza, a Pakistani girl who is enslaved by a royal Middle Eastern family from a country described vaguely to avoid lawsuits. 
She is beaten and forced to slave away for a princess, she's had her passport taken from her. She dreams of becoming a nurse in Canada.
This is all very touching and could have been an amazing part of the story.
Too bad this subplot's point is to endear that pos Cooper to us, and to create drama over a stolen ring.
And even then, in exchange for his help, he haggles with Piper trying to get sexual favours in return...
That being said, once Faiza has fulfilled her role in developing Cooper's character in the story she all but disappears.


  • Forgettable, Barely There Secondary Characters:

One thing I love about SEP's books are the secondary characters' stories!
There are always amazing stories within the main story where the fully fleshed out secondary characters find their own happy ending. 
In this story, apart from their names, jobs, and problems mentioned in passing, they might as well not have been there.
Take Amber and Jen, Piper's supposedly best friends.
We never get a true sense of their friendship because they rarely see each other. They rarely speak, even on the phone. We know nothing about them, except that Jen is having trouble at work and Amber is an opera singer.
Then there's Berni, her elderly neighbour who'd lost her husband but becomes convinced she's seen him wandering around the city. I was expecting a nice romantic subplot for her, but we only get a tiny scene about her!
So disappointing :(


  • Weird and Unappealing Sex Scenes:

I've never had a problem with SEP's sex scenes in her books, but for some reason she decided to just add a bunch of stuff that put me right off. Here are some things you shouldn't use when writing sex scenes: 

-- "It hurt a little as he opened her with his fingers" - I don't want any mention of pain during sex, how does this not immediately turn everyone right off?

-- "abrasion of his fingers" (while fingering her) - The last word I want to see associated with fingering is "abrasion".

-- "the sweet laceration of his mouth" And the last word I was to see associated with oral sex is "laceration".

I don't know, these seem like common sense to me...


  • Babies Ever After:

We get Piper mentioning, throughout the book, how much she likes children and how she doesn't want them. Cooper almost goes into a panic attack when she jokes about being pregnant.
That doesn't stop us from having to endure an epilogue about their twin babies...
Listen, I love kids. I want kids. But I have plenty of friends who do not, and that's a perfectly healthy and normal choice!
Why tell us throughout the book that kids aren't for Piper and then give her twins???
Are children really needed to portray a woman as happy?


  • Too Much Tell Not Enough Show:

I never imagined I'd ever encounter this problem in an SEP book...
But we get pages and pages of SEP telling us about how Piper and Cooper spent hours together talking about their lives, establishing a connection, blah blah... But we're never show this?
All it did was keep me from being in any way invested in their relationship, not that I would have been because...


  • DUBIOUS CONSENT:

For a book that made such a big deal about pointing out that rape is wrong, it did the shittiest job portraying consent.
Even in SEP's earlier books, where the male protagonists would actually slap the female protagonist if she started getting ~emotional~, this issue has never been portrayed so poorly...

We start with even Cooper being disgusted with himself for wanting to foist himself on a woman who is working for him. 
"He wanted to take her right now. Against the sink. On the counter. Strip her naked and reassert the natural order of things. Male over female.
The sting in his wounded hand restored his sanity. He was disgusted with himself. Where the hell had that come from?"

The natural order of things? WTF. What kind of Neanderthal shit it this...

Then you have Piper CONSTANTLY telling him she does NOT consent.

First he kisses her against her will and she reacts like this:
No!” She shoved hard against his chest. “Back off!”

She was furious with him, more furious with herself. “You try that again, and you’ll end up on the floor . . . like your drunken friend.” She spun away and rushed upstairs."

Then he tries to justify the kiss like this:
[The kiss] was about saving your stupid life.” He pointed one long, sturdy finger at her. “Let’s get something straight, Sherlock. I have no sexual interest in you. None. Zip. Zero. The only reason I kissed you was as a distraction from what I really wanted to do, which was strangle you. Now this conversation is over.

...Excuse me?! WHAT?! Is this supposed to be sexy? Are we supposed to want them to end up together? 

Then, of course, he does it again, even thought this time she sort of consented:

"A low growl rumbled in his throat. He lunged for her. Caught her by the shoulders. Gave her a hard shake. And then he kissed her. Again.

She felt his anger in the force of his lips, the coiled tension in his body. He dragged her against him, making her seem small and defenseless, even though she was neither."

Why are their sexual interactions always mixed with mentions of Cooper being angry? None of this is even remotely healthy.

Also his motives are written in such a disgusting way...
"(...) that was the reason he couldn’t let Piper Dove waltz out of his life. Because he wanted her, and she refused to want him back."

That's a signal for normal human beings to back off.

Also, I don't know how SEP could miss this, but rape means sex that is no consensual. A sleeping person cannot give consent. But we get this:
"She awoke in the middle of a blazingly erotic dream to find him inside her."
Of course it's treated as no big deal, and they get right on with it, but this is NOT cool.

Then we get this gem:
This is wrong in so many ways. I don’t even know where to start. Ouch! Yes, I do know! I’m calling my lawyer.”

“You don’t have a lawyer.” Another smack. “Besides, don’t you read? Rough sex is the rage these days.”
“Only between consenting adults! Stop it! Do I look like I’m consenting?”
“If you weren’t, I’d be on my ass right now.”
True. She was hardly helpless.

If someone says they do NOT consent that's it. It's over. It doesn't matter how capable of beating your ass they are. No is a full sentence. There is no reason for her to prove how non-consenting she was by beating the shit out of him.
I know this is treated in a lighthearted way, as foreplay.
But it's sickening to me how the mention of a woman not consenting, even if as a joke, doesn't immediately put everyone off the mood and leaving.
This is an insidious aspect of rape culture that needs to stop.

This whole book was full of this type of stuff, not to mention Cooper constantly putting Piper down, and when that fails , he thinks such charming things as this:
"He frowned, not liking that his deliberate put-down hadn’t made her curl up in the corner and cry."

And of course, before they end up together, Cooper starts stalking her, even after she tells him again and again that she NEVER wants to see or speak to him again. He even sends his manager to get her to agree to meeting him one more time, since she sensibly warned everyone she knew about not allowing him anywhere near her...
He even tries to justify this shit!
"(...)he kept remembering what he’d said to Jada about stalking, but trying to have a simple conversation with Piper against her will hardly constituted harassment, did it? So maybe it was a gray area."
Yes, asshole, it does! and there are no grey areas in stalking, wtf is this book even about?!
And SEP is one of my favourite authors...
I don't know, I just feel so betrayed by what she wrote...

So... If you read this, please bear in mind the warnings I gave and whether or not you can deal with this.

If you can, it doesn't mean you won't enjoy it. Maybe none of this stuff bothers you...

It just means I couldn't enjoy it.


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