Sunday 11 December 2022
CBR14 Book 46: "Ship Wrecked" by Olivia Dade
Rating: 4 stars
Maria and Peter share one unforgettable night of passion together, which leads to some awkwardness after Maria leaves without so much as a note the next morning. They then discover that they're about to become co-stars on the incredibly popular fantasy show Gods of the Gates. As their characters' storylines involved being ship-wrecked on a small island by themselves, Maria and Peter, along with a small film crew are basically supposed to stay on location for years, and after they work through the awkwardness of Maria leaving (Peter has baggage that made him react especially badly to being ghosted), they decide that while their chemistry is sizzling, it would be a terrible idea to act on their attraction while it might impact not just their own working environment, but that of their crew. So no further exploration of their pants feelings until they've finished their last scenes.
Of course, both Maria and Peter's characters end up being wildly popular, and while their friendship grows, so does their attraction. Meanwhile, their mutual pining and natural chemistry mean that fans of the show ship them just as much off-screen as on, and they get used to fending off questions about their relationship during their various press tours. Only when the show is in its final season, and their characters have finally filmed their end scenes, can Maria and Peter finally reunite as lovers. Of course, with their contracts ended, both Peter and Maria need to decide what their futures hold.
Maria is incredibly close to her big, loving family and is seriously considering moving back to Sweden to not be so far away from them anymore. Peter, on the other hand, is pretty much totally estranged from his father but fears losing the financial and professional security the role on God of the Gates has afforded him. While they love each other, they have such wildly different priorities and wants for the future that their relationship may be doomed.
This is the first time I've ever read a romance novel with a Swedish protagonist. Maria keeps peppering Swedish expressions throughout and using some pretty obscure idioms, and because Olivia Dade is married to a Swede, they mostly work. However, one of the things that kept taking me out of the book whenever it was used, was Maria's chosen term of endearment for Peter, sötnos. The term literally translates as "sweet nose" and I have never in my 43-year-old life heard anyone refer to their lover consistently as that. The book claims that it is used like "sweetheart", but it's more like "sweetie" or "cutie", and the only time I've heard the term used is with small children and maybe pets. See, if Dade had chosen älskling as Maria's endearment of choice, I wouldn't be getting persnickety. That pretty much means "love" or "beloved" and I can basically mentally search and replace all uses of sötnos for älskling and the book would be better for it. Obviously, this is not going to be a nitpick that a lot of readers of this romance object to. I otherwise pretty much loved and was greatly amused by all the other Swedish-isms, including Maria's good-natured roasting of Peter, and her near-supernatural ability to always have a jar of pickled herring around to threaten to beat him over the head with. However, this is a romance, and I would like the actual relationship bits to feel real to me.
This book, with the exception of the pretty scorching one-night-stand Maria and Peter share at the beginning, is very slow burn with a lot of pining for much of the story. Only in the final third or so do Maria and Peter finally act on their six years of pent-up attraction and lust. Then there's obviously the section where their differing priorities tear the apart for a while (I'm more and more coming around to romances without a big third-act separation) before they reunite to live happily ever after.
Both protagonists happily describe themselves as fat, and there's a running subplot about how Maria's confidence and healthy body image makes her refuse the unreasonable demands of the show's producers to lose weight or in other ways conform to society's so-called beauty standards. Peter is unwilling to risk the wrath of the producers, he needs the part too much and keeps being amazed by Maria's claims that if the job becomes too demanding, she'll just quit and return to Sweden. She acts because she enjoys the job, not because she has to or feels like she has anything to prove to anyone.
While this book does work as a standalone, it is the final book in Dade's Spoiler Alert series, and there are references to and cameos by the previous couples in the series, as well as the various actors who also star in Gods of the Gates with Peter and Maria. It's more fun to read the bits that involve the actors interacting if you have the established backstory from the previous books.
Inappropriate lover nickname aside, I really enjoyed this book and thought it was a great ending to the series. It was very strange, but also rather fun, to have Maria's Swedish expressions sprinkled throughout the story. In her acknowledgments, Dade confesses to struggling to complete the novel. I'm glad she had enough time and support to finish it.
Judging a book by its cover: I don't think I've seen a single Leni Kauffman cover that isn't amazing. She just manages to choose the perfect image to illustrate a book, every time.
Crossposted on Cannonball Read.