Tuesday, 9 February 2016

#CBR8 Book 10: "The Shameless Hour" by Sarina Bowen

Page count: 334 pages
Rating: 4 stars

Bella, the student manager of the Harkness varsity hockey team, loves sex and isn't afraid to say so. She knows that a lot of guys and especially their girlfriends frequently say uncomplimentary things about her behind her back because of her reputation, but Bella isn't ashamed of enjoying sex in all its many forms. Hence when her hot downstairs neighbour ends up on her doorstep one evening with a bottle of wine, dejected because he broke up with his girlfriend on his birthday, she cheers him up the best way she knows how, and can't quite understand why he gets so flustered and awkward the next day.

What Bella doesn't know is that Rafe was a virgin, and had been planning on losing said virginity the night before with his long-term girlfriend Alison. Discovering that she had cheated on him wasn't exactly the birthday present he was looking for and getting drunk and seduced by the gorgeous girl upstairs was certainly never part of his plans. Rafe doesn't regret what happened, but isn't interested in no-strings hook-ups every so often. His mother got pregnant with him when she was very young and Rafe has been raised in a loving, but very Catholic environment, so the idea of casual sex just doesn't appeal to him. He only wants to sleep with someone he's in a committed relationship with. Bella is most certainly not the long-term relationship type, and last thing Rafe wants is to pressure her into anything she's not ready for. He just doesn't feel comfortable telling her why he's having a hard time facing her after their night of *insert funky bass line here*

Then Bella discovers she has chlamydia and goes to inform the guy she knows she caught it from. She wakes up the next morning, naked, with her body covered in insults in permanent marker. She knows can tell that she wasn't sexually assaulted in any way, but photos of her naked body are posted on several websites and while Bella was ok with the occasional snide remark about her reputation, having been publicly humiliated in this way is something else entirely. She (understandably) has a minor breakdown, refusing to leave her room or see anyone.

She isolates herself enough that she loses her job as team manager and eventually, deeply concerned, Rafe convinces her next door neighbour to let him into her room through their shared bathroom. He insists on helping her, as much as he's able to, bringing her food, coaxing her out to go running, helping her with lecture notes, anything to make sure she actually snaps out of herself a bit. Bella doesn't want anyone's help and she's decided that she's done with men for good. Her previously iron-clad confidence has taken a heck of a blow, and Rafe hates to see her broken by malicious assholes. Allying himself with Bella's reclusive (and previously pretty judgemental next-door neighbour), he does his best to help Bella get her mojo back. Lianne, the star of a series of sorcery movies (think Emma Watson), turns out to have hacking as a hobby and offers to help Bella bring the frat boys who humiliated her down, so they can't subject anyone else to their illegal tricks.

Progressive and feminist as a lot of romance novels are, there is often a really unfortunate tendency to slut-shame and villainize sexually experienced women, while men get away scot free. Smart Bitches, Trashy Books had some posts about it as recently as January, both one complaining about the prevalence of the trope even in even fairly recent books, and one recommending sex positive romances, where Sarina Bowen featured very prominently, which is well deserved. Bella isn't doing anything that most romance heroes, contemporary or historical, are prone to do, yet she's judged by a completely different standard. She's a cheerful, outgoing and very bubbly supporting character in The Understatement of the Year, who gets hurt when the guy she considers one of her best friends, crushes on and has hooked up with on and off turns out to have been using her mainly to stay in the closet. Not that she lets that get her down for long. It's why the reader will feel extra for her when she's subjected to such a horrible fraternity stunt, which breaks her previously so strong and independent spirit.

That Bella also has a pretty comprehensively messed up family situation, with parents, a sister and a creepy brother-in-law who are more than happy to assume the worst about her and judge her for her promiscuous ways. The incident seems to make Bella believe what all the malicious people around her have been implying, and neither Rafe nor her friends on the hockey team (although she refuses to tell them the truth) can stand to see her broken.

One of the things I really like in these books are the supportive friendships that both the male and the female characters have. It doesn't feel like the protagonists exist in this bubble of only them, with the occasional token college friend popping up to add colour and verisimilitude. Both the female and male friendships feel real, with the kind of teasing but also support that is so important. While Bella and her reclusive next door neighbour start out fairly antagonistic towards one another, they grow a lot closer after Bella pretty much holes up in her room, seeing no one but Rafe or Lianne voluntarily.

I should probably say something about our hero, too, shouldn't I? Rafe is part of a large and boisterous Dominican family, whose father hasn't really been around much. He's grown up helping out in their restaurant and dreams of helping his mother and uncles improve and expand their business. His dialogue is peppered with Hispanic phrases, but since I don't know any Spanish, I can't say whether they are accurate or not. Like Andy in Blonde Date, Rafe is almost Marty Stu-adjacent in just how perfect he is. While he may have been raised in a Catholic environment that puts a very high value on purity, there doesn't seem to be so much as a judgemental bone in his body with regards to Bella's lifestyle choices. This is certainly refreshing, but I'm not sure if it's entirely plausible. I'm not going to complain, though, as I thought he was sweet and loved that his focus was getting Bella to feel good about herself again, not helping her to get to a place where they could become a couple.

I do think some of the melodrama with Bella's family was unnecessary on top of all the other stuff going on in the book, which is one of the reason I haven't rated the book as highly as some of the earlier books in the series. Most of the Cannonballers who have read this far in the series seem to suggest that the next book, The Fifteenth Minute, is best avoided. I will heed their wisdom, but will absolutely be checking out other Sarina Bowen books in future.

Crossposted on Cannonball Read

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