***** Warning: Spoilers ahead for this and previous books. ******
Regardless of its flaws and the bumps along the way, and even though I have some mixed feelings about individual installments, 'Cut & Run' is one of my favorite series in this genre. I pimp it to anyone who will listen, re-read it at least annually (which I did again in prep for this release) and usually await each new release with eager anticipation. I love Ty and Zane, their interactions, their conversations and disagreements, their imperfections, their growth, the intense emotion, even the hawt smexxin as it often carries the plot along. I read it for them. I want them talking and growing and showing us -- and themselves -- how they have changed and how much they feel for each other, and if there are some adventures and action along the way for our hard-ass Feebs-in-love, I'm a happy camper. I even love the interjection of the quirky secondary characters since Ty and Zane have remained front and center. I want to be friends with these boys; I want to cook with Mara and Zane for a big cross-family dinner in Bluefield (while staying out of Chester's way), hang out with the guys in Baltimore, and ride horses at the ranch with Harrison. Fun and entertaining, I just have serious lurve for it -- enough lurve that I usually can ignore the stuff that doesn't work for me because of the stuff that does.
I admit, however, that I was worried about 'Ball & Chain' ever since I read the last pages of 'Touch & Geaux.' I had more trepidation at the end of that book than usual with a series title; not only did we get a cliffhanger with Ty being re-activated and -deployed, the big self-outing had me quite anxious to see how their co-workers and supervisors reacted and what consequences there would be to The Kiss. Plus I really, really wanted these two to talk about what was revealed in New Orleans and the aftermath of that (because I feel strongly that many things were left unresolved to the reader and to themselves) in addition to what I assumed would be effects of Ty's deployment and their separation. I also admit to having some fear of where this author would take book 8, because military-/war-based stories just aren't my thing and I was concerned she would have us travel with Sidewinder to wherever it is they would be going. Probably somewhere with sand.
So it was with both eagerness and anxiety that I picked up 'B&C' on pre-order from Riptide. I refused to read the blurb or any of the reviews out there (and haven't yet), not even going to GR or Amazon to peek at the average rating and closing my eyes when Roux put up teasers on her Tumblr site so I could go in with no expectations beyond my own. I sat down and read it in one sitting, staying up wayyyyy too late to finish it up and at the end I cried a little...but not from tears of joy. During and after I have had so many emotions about it -- and the majority of them were not good. Disappointment. Anger. Confusion. Disbelief. Sadness. Grief. I even read it a second time just to see if maybe I missed or misinterpreted something, but no -- felt as bad as I did the first time around. I suspect there will be readers who love this book, but I am not one of them.
I barely know where to begin with the issues I had, so I think I'll just ramble for a bit to try and get it all out into this two-star review -- one that I am loathe to write because I love these guys and the series so much, and one that I've spent almost two weeks writing. Putting my thoughts and feelings onto the page in itself was somewhat therapeutic, however, as my grief over what is really the loss of good friends is strong. Warning: it's going to be long, by far the longest review I've ever written, I think (and if you know me, that's something). And I can't really fully critique without talking about what bothered me, so note:
**** SPOILERS AHEAD; IF YOU DON'T WANT TO KNOW WHAT HAPPENS, DON'T READ FURTHER ****
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What worked for me (not a whole lot, I really had to reach deep to find things):
The welcome home first scene coming off the ship (so essentially the first seven pages).
Ty and his continued proposals (which maybe took up a total of five or so pages). This is a good and bad point for me. I loved the concept and Zane's reasoning for turning him down, which made total sense to me. To go along with this, I even liked Nick telling Ty to do it Zane's way and giving him advice on what to do to get Zane to "yes" (though I wish it had been Deuce telling him instead of Nick because, well, it was Nick (more below)). That said, I still felt like the final one -- as big as the gesture was -- should have been rejected as well based on Zane's requirements.
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What didn't (a whole heckalot):
OVERVIEW (to be explored below):
Let's be clear: this is not a 'Cut & Run' book, this is a 'Sidewinder' book. 'B&C' does little -- if anything -- to advance the 'C&R' series; it focuses entirely too much on most anything other than Ty and Zane (mostly on SuperNick), who are shoved into the role of secondary characters in their own book and barely recognizable; does not address any of the issues stemming from the previous book or their time apart; has a convoluted, overly-complicated mystery element, a plot full of holes and too many characters; contains cast who often act inconsistently and/or out of character; and is lazily written and edited, often telling us what happens instead of showing.
First, I felt that Roux missed, dare I say squandered, huge opportunities in how she handled -- or didn't, in this case -- not only all of the unresolved issues from 'T&G,' but the six months our heroes have been apart between books and how everyone was effected by that time: Ty's deception and lies; Zane's sobriety; Zane's new hobbies, job duties and independence; their coming out at work; Ty's lasting effects of the horrors he and his team apparently experienced in this recent deployment. For whatever reason, the author chose not to address any of this (and no, I don't consider any mere mentions satisfactory, it felt like glossing over at best) and I felt cheated, dammit.
There was no "I-missed-you-so-much, welcome-home" smexxin; no discussion about or description of how either of them spent their time while apart; very little talk to themselves or each other about their feelings or changes (good or bad); no getting used to each other again or Ty adjusting to civilian life. Nothing. Ty comes home, there is a very brief (albeit important, never mentioned again) scene at work, then it jumps to two weeks later and they are essentially heading to Scotland. We are told multiple times that they have both changed, but we are not shown. We barely see Ty and Zane together at all, in fact; one and a half smexxin scenes that did nothing for me, no talks when one of them couldn't sleep, no meals together, no getting dressed in the morning, no silently communicating as partners, no going out, none of the interaction we have come to see and expect that helps them grow.
I would then expand this issue to my opinion that this was a "tell" not "show" book overall, which I can't remember the other installments being. One of the things I love about this series is how Roux (with Urban in earlier installments) has made us care for these characters by giving them to us in every way possible -- good, bad, ugly -- and we do see a whole lot of their lives in the other books. That did not happen here, and as a result I didn't "feel" them at all. I felt there was no character development in this book, no conflict/resolution to lead to it (and there were several opportunities), no chemistry between them, or perhaps the worst of all, no intimacy between Ty and Zane. One of the things I was most looking forward to -- the discussions about the things I mentioned above -- never happened. And when they do talk at length, what is it about? Nick, Nick and Ty, and Nick and Kelly. Which brings me to my next point...
While there is a divide among fans regarding the shipping of Kelly and Nick, I am on the side that likes these two together, enjoyed 'Shock & Awe' and happy they are getting their own off-shoot 'Sidewinder' series. I actually adore Kelly and his laid-back attitude (and yes, I even buy his Gay-For-Nick-iness) and like Nick...okay. I feel they are a natural pairing and even found myself picturing that couple before Roux put up the freebie (that became 'S&A') on her Tumblr site. However, as I was reading and I got to the first Nick narrative which had nothing to do with the initial plot, I realized where this was headed: Nick, if not Nick and Kelly, would be sharing this book. But it was so much worse than I thought it would be; not only did we get Nick's point of view, he essentially became the main protag, forcing Ty and Zane into becoming diluted secondary characters in their own book (along with Kelly, who felt really out of character here to me based on the little I know of him and was like Funny Sidekick Guy). Nick and his storylines/issues, as well as being elected lead investigator (see more below), hijacked this book and stole the focus from our beloved main pair. I kept thinking "we're back to Nick /again/?" And it's not just Nick, it's SuperNick, who can do everything from investigate a murder, cook and clean up after breakfast, give architecture and history lessons, offer brotherly/fatherly advice whether solicited or not (and when said brother/father should have been the ones giving it), save the day, officiate weddings, and provide alternative interrogation sessions when necessary. While I didn't mind them traveling with Ty and Zane (though why Owen wasn't called in if he is supposed to be head of security for some big company I'll never understand), they had waaaayyyyy too much page and plot space, in my opinion, and I suspect Roux may have alienated a portion of her devoted fanbase in favor of furthering this new side series along (because that's certainly what this book felt like) and promoting Nick to Favorite Hero Evah. Even 'Armed & Dangerous,' which featured Julian Cross and Cameron, did not go to the lengths that this book did with the amount of page time the other characters got; Ty and Zane were still the main focus there, had the vast majority of the narrative, had many moments that moved the plot and their relationship along. There will be some fans that love -- or at least don't mind -- this new direction in 'C&R,' but I'm not one of them and my opinion is Nick and Kelly have their own series for a reason.
To carry this further, Nick and Kelly getting their own engagement before Ty and Zane -- in a Ty and Zane book no less -- made me furious. Had it happened earlier in the book, it quite possibly could have become a rare DNF for me, especially shocking for me for as much as I love this series. I don't begrudge them their own HEA -- I even welcome it -- but read my last sentence in the above para again. Roux did NOT have to let them start it here. And they get better dialog and sniffle-worthy set-up and everything and ....arghhhhhhh. Frankly I feel cheated -- again -- on behalf of Ty and Zane, and it all strongly feels as if the author has grown bored with our protags, that she is moving on as quickly as she can to Nick and Kelly while raking in the cash from her devoted 'C&R' fans. Not cool.
The last item I have for this point is that Roux makes a big ol' assumption that her 'C&R' series fans have read 'S&A' (or at least follow her on her Tumblr site) because if they haven't and start this one, they are going to be like "What?!? Nick and Kelly are together? When did that happen?" Confusion abound.
While mostly entertaining, the plots have never been the reason I read this series. Because I love our heroes and I read for them, I can -- and have -- easily overlook the over-the-top, at-times questionably-believable nature of the adventures, gaping and convenient plot holes and totally screwed-up timelines. But nevertheless I usually am engaged throughout and love my time with Ty and Zane almost no matter what they are doing. I was not engaged in 'B&C' at all, however. I think part of this is because of the aforementioned issues, but also because of the plot: it seemed all over the map, never really focusing long on any aspect and felt too loose, under-developed, disjointed and rushed. Plus in my opinion, and despite of the bizarre, out-of-left-field cartel angle ending (along with bringing Liam back), it did not advance the series. It was too much, yet not enough, if that makes any sense. Much too elaborate and convoluted, yet not enough focus or depth. Moreover, there was a slapstick/'Scooby Doo'/Agatha Christie/'Clue' feel to the whole whodunit that left me confused, rolling my eyes at the silliness and never-ending obstacles...and frankly a bit bored. Who was good? Who was bad? Who was both? Who was being framed? Who was doing what for what reason? Who cares?? Long before the end I just wanted it over.
Plus, little things about the plot bothered me as well, such as the reason Livi chose her maid of honor (so dumb and unbelievable); SuperNick considered lead when both Ty and Zane are experienced FBI agents (and pushed to the side as props); only having one sat phone when there is obvious need for more considering the regular problems they have with utilities (these people are super-rich, so cost is not an issue) and then giving that one phone to a 15-month-old to play with (really?); SuperNick deciding at that point in time to deal with the issues he as with Ty -- the Ty he has known for two decades and pretty much defended to Zane in 'T&G' for being who he is -- while people are around them dying (look, they need to work things out, fine, but seriously??). There is so, so much more, but I'll stop there.
And speaking of SuperNick -- again, because this is about Nick after all -- when did he become an honorary third Grady son? And why wasn't he automatically invited to the wedding if they were that close considering there were several cousins and their offspring that we never heard of before in attendance. He is never mentioned by name before, not his importance, nothing. This new development felt totally manufactured for this book and reconned.
So...the characters. I've already mentioned my problems with how Ty and Zane's characters were glossed over, how I didn't "feel" them, how we're told but not shown that they have changed, but it goes deeper than that because I just didn't connect to them and they just felt two-dimensional at best. They are pale comparisons of themselves; in fact, there is a statement in 'B&C' where Ty muses about Zane "Rather than illuminating the warm brown of Zane's eyes, the night seemed to sap all the color from him..." Well, that's how I felt about these two, in fact I felt that way about all of the characters we've come to know.
Regarding Nick and Ty specifically, we're told that they have become darker, that they smile and joke less, yet that just doesn't seem to be the case in what we're shown. At all. In fact, it's a chucklefest of epic proportions; many of the characters spend much of their time sniggering, snickering, snorting, smirking, grinning, hiding their laughter behind hands, even at seemingly inappropriate times. My Kindle counted 42 snorts, 28 chuckles, 63 grins, 14 snickers, 100 laughs, and 26 smirks. There were several times that there was a teenage-girl-slumber-party feel to it, which seemed just plain wrong for a 'C&R' book, and which warred with the melodrama that popped up in between the guffawing.
I think another reason I wasn't engaged or connected with the characters was because there were just too many of them. I had trouble keeping track and this was made worse because many of them seemed to have little to no purpose, having been mentioned once or twice, then never having any further function. Plus, I found almost everyone one dimensional, including Deuce and Livi (at their own wedding no less and who felt pushed into the background by simply becoming caricatures of concerned parents) and the rest of the Gradys, with whom I love spending time. Except Nick, of course.
Another character who fell flat was Dick Burns; does he know about Ty and Zane's relationship (how can he not?)? Ty's work...development (again, how can he not?)? This is all big news, in many ways affecting him directly, yet nothing is said? Did it happen off-screen? And what's up with the whole frame/murder? And when did he become Most Hated Man Evah?
I also felt that most of the characters we have grown to know and love acted both out of character and inconsistently. For a few examples, Kelly is all like "gross!" when asked to take the liver temp of the first victim, then later on he is happy to be playing with said victim's intestines totally nonchalantly. Another is that despite being told vaguely what was going on in Scotland regarding a possibly dangerous situation, neither Ty nor Zane went on that trip armed -- at all. We have never seen that before (when have we ever seen Zane without his knives?) and it felt totally wrong. Earl and Dick sit passively by as the chaos reigns around them, but barely getting involved? Then there is Zane, who takes Nick's side when Nick gets pissed at Ty, not defending his lover for some reason that I don't understand if he is supposedly so okay with Ty's lies and deceptions (but again, we really don't know because they haven't talked about it on screen at all). I think the author must hate Ty, speaking of the man himself, because here he cannot do anything right and it feels like everything was his fault -- with no defense coming from either himself or others (thinking back on it, this aspect began in 'T&G' but is worse here). And when did Owen, after all of his huffing and puffing in both 'Divide & Conquer' and 'T&G' around the whole gay thing, become fine and relaxed with yet another gay couple in their small circle? Again, there are more examples, but I'm just getting angry and confused again.
EDITING AND WRITING
The writing and editing felt so...lazy: "tell" not "show" (see above), many repeated words and ideas (see above), characters without depth (see above), and a ridiculous, silly, hole-ridden plot (see above). Added to this, the tone felt so very different than the other books, especially reading the series back-to-back in order and coming off of the heavier 'T&G,' that I can't help wondering what Roux was thinking when she wrote this. It actually felt as if someone else who has a lot less experience and skill wrote 'B&C.' And did not one editor or beta say out loud "um, Abi, I don't think there's enough Ty and Zane in this book and people are going to be pissed" or does she only have betas and editors who think the sun shines out her a**...or did she just not care? I am not sure which is worse.
In the end, I can't help but feel that this tragic farce of a story is not how a second-to-the-last book of a series should be; not only am I not excited about the final installment, I am on the fence about getting it at all (but since I've invested myself this far, I'll probably see it through to the end, even though I'll probably regret it). I fear that since none of the big issues between Ty and Zane were addressed here, that leaves the last book to cover that ground (which I can't imagine happening) or worse, Roux will pretend none of those emotions and issues happened. What I keep coming back to is that Ty and Zane deserve better than this and I am insulted on behalf of both them and the readers. And what makes it more of a travesty for me is that I know this author can do better, so either a) she didn't care enough, b) only did it for the money she knew could pull in from her snookered fanbase, c) didn't listen to any of her betas (assuming she had them) or editor(s), d) was under some kind of self- or publisher-imposed deadline and rushed, or e) someone else wrote it. I guess in the end it doesn't really matter because they are all bad options. And honestly, if the author no longer cares about her characters or her readers, and releases a product like this, then I no longer care to support her efforts. Why should I?