Review: “Stolen Heart” by Carol Rose (TW: Abuse)

stolenheart_carolroseFinal Rating: One nasty, bitter cup of tea that tasted very much like narcissism.

Before we start, let me just go ahead and forewarn you: There are only two things I enjoyed about this book. The first was the female protagonist, even though I think her taste in men sucks royally. She had genuine emotional depth and was very interesting. The second thing was making fun of this book’s godawful, purple prose laden sex scenes with my friends on Twitter. Tears of laughter were brought to many an eye by terms like “her hot, wet delta” and “his hard length so close to her nest”. No, I’m not making those up. As an honorable mention, I also like the female lead’s “pet” cat.

But the rest of this review? Oh it’s going to be a bloodbath. Strap in.

At first, I thought that this book was going to just be a bit on the cheesy side. Bad, but in a good way, you know? It started out exactly like that:

Welp, only a few pgs. into the book, and the male love interest literally just said he wants to “plumb her depths”. Sigh. #MandarayReads

— Amanda C. (@Mandaray) December 20, 2013

Also, I looked it up. And in regard to the female protag’s supposed depths–it should be “plomb”, not “plumb”. #MandarayReads

— Amanda C. (@Mandaray) December 20, 2013

I mean, if we HAVE to go to that dark place…let’s at least use the correct word, shall we? #MandarayReads

— Amanda C. (@Mandaray) December 20, 2013

Yeeah. Not really high quality stuff, here. Unfortunately, things didn’t stay this lighthearted. In fact, I quickly realized that this book isn’t a romance novel at all, despite what the genre and the author tries to tell you. No, those are baldfaced lies…this book is, in fact, a horror novel.

What’s so horrifying about it, you ask? Well, much like the last book I reviewed was a case study in “Show, don’t tell”, this book is a case study in narcissism and male privilege. Now, it’s fairly common in romance novels for the male love interest to have a distinct “macho” vibe, because apparently that’s what authors think make our panties drop…but this guy, Ryan, takes it to a whole new level. From the very start he shows clear signs of being an obsessive-compulsive narcissist who is honestly baffled by why he can’t own the woman he’s decided he wants. (Catherine) His inner voice uses terms like “hunter’s blood” and he describes Catherine as “his remote goddess” after knowing her for about five minutes. Why is she a remote goddess, you may ask? Because she doesn’t instantly throw herself at him, of course.

Ryan is a man who is used to getting his own way. He is the epitome of the privileged, rich white male: The entire world has revolved around him and handed him everything he’s ever wanted. And here comes this bitch (yes, he actually calls her this on several occasions) who doesn’t melt into a puddle when he looks at her. It’s a typical case of wanting someone simply because he can’t have her. Privileged Jerk meets Independent Woman; Privileged Jerk wanders through every single boundary Independent Woman has without even so much as a “by your leave.”

The “I’m not interested in you” signals Catherine gives Ryan for most of the book are the exact same signals women give off when they’re being sexually harassed but have no way to escape their harasser. I have been there myself. That’s the most chilling thing about this book: I have met men like Ryan. I meet them all the time, both online and off. He (essentially) kidnaps her to take her somewhere she expressly doesn’t wish to go because HE decides it’ll be good for them. He ignores her when she refuses to spend time with him. He glosses over any discomfort she shows or expresses.

But things come to a Douchebaggery Climax when Ryan decides to force Catherine into marrying him by discovering her criminal past, and threatening to turn her into the police if she doesn’t bond with him. Yes, ladies and gentlemen, this is Carol Rose’s ideal picture of True Love: A man who tells a woman: “Marry me, or get sent to prison. Your choice.” Sick yet? I am.

His reasons behind marrying her? So that he can teach her what it’s like to be cared for and loved, of course. He’s going to show her–through force–that she can amend her criminal ways and “work through her issues.” (Actual quote) It’s at this point I start feeling nauseous because this sounds exactly like my most recent ex-boyfriend, who was equally obsessed with marrying me as a means to an end, as well as “helping” me to “work through my issues.” He and Ryan could honestly be twins.

Disgusting as it sounds, I am genuinely shocked that this book contains no rape scenes. Hell, even Catherine is surprised that Ryan doesn’t try and force her to have sex with him–in fact, she considers it “a point in his favor”. (Don’t set your standards so low, sweetie; you deserve WAY better.) I think we all know that’s not how this kind of relationship goes in real life, though. If there isn’t any straight up sexual assault, there sure is a lot of sexual pressure. (Something else I’ve experienced firsthand thanks to men just like Ryan) Romanticizing this kind of relationship isn’t just stupid–it’s downright dangerous, imo, because it makes it seem like this kind of possessive narcissism is not only NORMAL, but DESIRABLE. Fuck that.

To make matters worse, (yes they get worse) Catherine has a lot of stuff in her past that she is neither ready to confront, nor ready to share. But Ryan finds out all about it, (because he is “owed” an explanation and since Catherine refuses to give him one, that gives him the right to go digging) and proceeds to physically force Catherine to mourn at the graves of her two younger brothers. She refuses and he bodily drags her out of a car kicking and screaming, and then is angry at her for resisting him. After all, he’s only trying to help! Why can’t she just grieve really quick, get over it, and throw herself at him already? Sheesh. What a bitch.

After that happens and Catherine turns her “I hate you” lasers onto their fullest setting, Ryan does what any good coddled white boy does–he goes to ask his mommy for advice on what to do with his woman. Mom broaches the RADICAL idea that maybe he should let Catherine work through things on her own timetable. Sadly, Ryan doesn’t fully understand this concept until the very end of the book.

After the graveyard incident, Ryan and Catherine start having sex occasionally, and Ryan is frustrated by the fact that Catherine won’t fuck him face-to-face. He NEEDS to have that emotional connection that she’s denying him. He NEEDS to have all of her. Her needs? Immaterial. So he forces her into that, too. (It’s technically consensual, but barely.)

Fast forward a few chapters. When the Final Shoe of Catherine’s dark past finally drops, and someone comes to accuse her of past crimes, Ryan defends her at first, but then when they’re alone he gets angry at her AGAIN and insists that “You belong to me. If anyone is going to beat the living daylights out of you, it’s me.” THAT IS AN ACTUAL QUOTE FROM THE BOOK. I AM NOT PARAPHRASING THIS. Ryan then proceeds to basically imprison Catherine at his house. He leaves her there and, rather understandably, Catherine gets ready to steal his shit and run. She finds that she can’t, though, (much to my dismay) and he catches her before she’s through. Furious again, he pulls a classic move of abusers the world around: He takes all of her money, (what little he had allowed her to have in a weekly basis, that is) her keys, and everything else she needs in order to function as an adult. He reiterates that she BELONGS to him, and that he is now going to escort her everywhere because she obviously can’t be trusted not to run away and ruin her life. Quote, “If you need to go to the grocery store for tampons, I am going to be there holding your hand.” Yes, daddy.

BUT THIS IS TOTALLY TRUE LOVE, FOLKS!

To be fair, I should mention that Mommykins’ lessons finally do sink in, and Ryan rescinds his “restraining order”. He gives Catherine the money back and she flees. Blah blah, set your loved ones free and hope they come back, blah blah blah. The author gratuitously kills Catherine’s cat to drive this point home so that Catherine has a lot of Sadfeels which cause her to return to her abuser. Oh, sorry, I mean her true love.

By the end of the book, Catherine realizes it’s all right to love and Ryan of course changes his ways and learns that love isn’t about the person loving, it’s about the person being loved…the problem with this is that men like Ryan don’t change. They don’t have to. The world just keeps on bending over backwards to appease them, and any resistance they encounter is swiftly remedied by the application of pressure. Because the world as it stands right now rewards abusers, particularly male ones. We see it every day. Hell, this book is proof that we reward them–it’s an entire novel devoted to romanticizing a tyrant of a man who is essentially a sociopath. But he’s presented as Catherine’s One True Love because the sex is really good and Catherine feels like she can’t live without him. Funny, how a lot of abuse victims feel exactly the same way.

I hate this book with a passion, and I seriously question the sanity of the woman who wrote it. And for fuck’s sake, woman, get an editor. I lost count of how many typos and grammatical errors were in this piece of crap. If you’re going to shit on women all over the world by telling them they don’t deserve anything better than possessive manchildren ruling over their lives, at least get your spelling right, OK? Thanks.

tl;dr Don’t read this book.

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