Sunday 28 February 2016

#CBR8 Books 26 and 27: "Beautiful Bastard" and Beautiful Bitch" by Christina Lauren

Total page count: 480 pages
Beautiful Bastard: 2.5 stars
Beautiful Bitch: 3.5 stars
Combined rating: 3 stars

Chloe Mills only has a few months left of studying for her MBA, working as an intern for perfectionist business prodigy Bennett Ryan. She gets along famously with his father, the founder of the company and his older brother, but she pretty much detests her boss and he seems to delight in finding fault with everything she does and says, demanding almost impossible things from her. But behind their seemingly mutual loathing, there is also explosive attraction as they start hate-f*cking in the board room in between yelling furiously at each other.

Neither can stop thinking of the other, and even though they can't seem to say a civil thing to one another, they keep tearing each other's clothes off every chance they get. Should Chloe really be risking her career by having a love affair with her boss? Can their angry hook-ups develop into anything more or will their furious passion burn itself out eventually?

Having just finished the final book in Christina Lauren's Wild Seasons series, which I thought got better with each successive book in the series, I decided to check out the book that started their romance writing career. I am very glad this wasn't my first experience with their writing, because it didn't really work well for me. In her review for the entire Beautiful series so far, Mrs. Julien mentions that the border between romance and erotica is a flimsy one. I would probably classify at least the first of these books as straight up erotica, as there is a whole load of smexy times from (to me at least) surprisingly early on (especially as I was given absolutely NO indication that the characters did anything but hate each other before they're suddenly getting it on on a conference table and against a window). For the first two thirds of the book, there is barely any character development, just a lot of sex (and the wanton destruction of a lot of ludicrously expensive, but flimsy undergarments) and neither character seems like they are in control of the situation - as with most Christina Lauren books, the hero and heroine has alternate POV chapters throughout the book.

Their relationship seemed badly dysfunctional, not to mention highly inappropriate, considering Bennett is Chloe's boss, who should not be making the moves on his intern, no matter how attractive she is. There was rather a lot of tell, don't show, about how physically attractive Bennett is or how everyone in the Ryan family loves Chloe and can't understand why Bennett is so mean to her all the time, but really not very much character development. The couple keep calling each other absolutely horrible names and seem to get off on it (a lot and frequently), but never calm down and speak civilly until they go to a conference towards the last third of the book, where suddenly their emotions seem to have engaged (not sure when in between the name calling and angry sex that happened) and they want to make a go of it. Of course Bennett does something unbelievably douchy that makes Chloe cut all ties for a while, but after a few months apart, they are reconciled.

Because I love it to pieces and it so excellently and expertly analyses the rather common romance trope of the alphahole, I wanted to take the opportunity to link to the article written by my favourite author team (sorry Christina Lauren) Ilona Andrews. Bennett Ryan is an alphahole of the first order:
- He is extremely good at his job and excels in everything he does.
- He has a terrible temper and such exacting standards that he is feared by pretty much all the interns of the company and when Chloe goes away, can't keep an assistant for more than a day or two.
- He loves his family, but is otherwise known to have had a string of female conquests with no apparent need to settle down before he suddenly initiates a sexual relationship with Chloe.
- There is a distinct lack in status between Bennett and Chloe: he is her boss, she is his intern. They can at a future point be equals, but are not at present.

While Bennett may seem to have all the power, from the very beginning, Chloe gives as good as she gets, and frequently has the emotional upper hand. Because we get to see whole chapters from Bennett's POV, it's clear that he's never really been in love before and is deeply confused (and therefore angered) by his new and baffling emotions and keeps saying and doing the wrong thing and then patching over it with more smexy times. 

Beautiful Bitch is a novella set about a year after Chloe and Bennett made up and the couple barely have time to see each other anymore because of their busy schedules (although they still seem to manage to have some hanky panky in Bennett's office now and then) and they are about to start a new office in New York and have a million things to deal with. Bennett decides they need a vacation and they are set to go to France, but they are separated by flight delays for several days and re-assess their thoughts about their feelings for one another and the future of their relationship while they have some time apart.

While this story had a lot of *insert funky bass-line here* and the protagonists still seem to use personal insults in lieu of endearments (to each their own), there was a lot frank communication and actual character development. In fact, in flash back, the readers are shown what happened after the grand gesture reconciliation bit, where the two actually speak about their emotions clearly for the first time (why couldn't this have been in the first book in the first place?) and while I still found both of the characters rather exhausting and a bit abrasive, I at least believed that there was more to their relationship than being very cut-throat and driven in business and quite aggressive  in the bedroom. The authors almost made me believe the couple might have a future together after all.

Crossposted on Cannonball Read.

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