“Living Lies” isn’t just a clever title…no, it’s a description of this entire book.
First off, let’s start with the biggest lie: That this book is anything other than a romance. Amazon informs me that it’s a “Suspense Thriller” book, and Goodreads tells me that several people felt it deserved to be placed in the “Mystery” and “Thriller” genres. These are all baldfaced lies. This book is one giant string of Lifetime romance tropes with a tiny bit of “secret agenting” sprinkled in for flavor. It is literally nothing but an endless series of dates with an endless series of stereotypical guys. (Including “hot and sexually obsessed Brazilian dude!”, because I guess we can’t make a white woman’s panties drop without that old chestnut) I don’t know who thought this was a thriller, but they are out of their damned minds.
Second lie: That this book has a protagonist. What it actually has is a Mary Sue who goes around driving every man she meets to distraction while at the same time being absolutely perfect at her job.
I might not care as much about this if Melanie had a shred of personality, but of course she doesn’t. All she does is float from situation to situation, never saying no. She almost manages to take control of her life mid-way through the book, when she realizes she has finally reached a place of emotional peace and stability in her life and is actually happy… but then she allows her shitty family (who thought she was a lesbian because she “works a lot”) and absolutely terrible friends bully and slut-shame her into making decisions that only she pays the consequences for. Yeah. And did I mention she’s also incredibly stupid and naive? Example: She willingly resigns from her job and then is shocked and horrified when they don’t take her back two weeks later. YOU QUIT, dumbass. Why would they take you back after you willingly walked away? (But it’s fine, they fly her in especially to save them all later on in the book, because she’s the only one who can do it of course)
To round out her repertoire of Mary Sue powers, once her One True Love finally sleeps with her, he’s able to heal decades of emotional trauma overnight. No, seriously. He’s spent most of his life as a contract killer and all his friends and family died horribly, but meeting Melanie shows him that he can love again!
Third lie: That any government agency in the world works the way the mysterious “CDD” does. For one thing, they seem to have jurisdiction everywhere and over everything. No one argues with them, and there are no inter-departmental politics or hierarchies. For another, they fill their ranks by recruiting random college students. They do this by “testing” them at random and if they pass, they get a job offer. I’m sorry, but no government agency with this much power would ever need to recruit in this way, because they would have mile-long waiting lists. And who needs stuff like psych evaluations? Nope, let’s just grab college students with good grades off the street and hand them the keys to the kingdom. I find it very telling that the author chooses to make up an agency rather than choose one which already exists, most likely because she knows on an instinctual level that no existing agency would let someone like Melanie Ward anywhere near it.
Fourth lie: That this author had editors. Her acknowledgements mention two of them by name, but I can’t imagine either of them have much experience, because the formatting of this book was so confusing that I frequently had to backtrack and reread pages of it in order to understand what was happening. There are no breaks between action sequences–for instance, Melanie can be having a conversation with someone in one paragraph, then in the next paragraph it’s the next day and she’s halfway across the country. No breaks.
On top of this, the first segment of the book is separated from the others by a gap of ten years. The author literally drags you through Melanie’s first relationship–every single date, every single meal, every single feeling, their first night sleeping together, their inevitable breakup–then just expects you to be OK with a ten year time shift after which every single aspect of the beginning of the book is forgotten. The only reference to Melanie’s “first love” is that she hasn’t allowed herself to get into any other relationships since then. This could have been expressed with a sentence, maybe two. Not 88 pages of nauseatingly saccharine dates. What editor in their right mind lets an author do this?
Fifth lie: That the author has ever met anyone outside of her own culture or even race. What few PoC are in this book are all heinous tropes. She seems to particularly hate Asians, as she makes a Vietnamese character flippantly use terms like “The Orient” and even names a Chinese restaurant “The House of Wang”. I can’t even. Maybe she was trying to be funny or ironic, but it just comes across as being racist as hell.
This book is awful. Don’t read it, ever. It is mindnumbingly boring and it wasn’t even the kind of bad which at least makes me laugh. My only hope is that writing it has helped Mathis work through whatever deep-seated Mary Sue issues she has and that her work will be a bit sharper in the future. She had a really fantastic premise here that I was very excited about. I’m truly sad that she chose to ruin it by making it read like the contents of a 15 year old’s diary.