Tuesday, January 12, 2016

Review: The Deal by Elle Kennedy

Title: The Deal
Author: Elle Kennedy
Series: Off-Campus, Book 1
Genre: New Adult Contemporary Romance
Release Date: 24 February 2015

She’s about to make a deal with the college bad boy...

Hannah Wells has finally found someone who turns her on. But while she might be confident in every other area of her life, she’s carting around a full set of baggage when it comes to sex and seduction. If she wants to get her crush’s attention, she’ll have to step out of her comfort zone and make him take notice…even if it means tutoring the annoying, childish, cocky captain of the hockey team in exchange for a pretend date.

...and it’s going to be oh so good.

All Garrett Graham has ever wanted is to play professional hockey after graduation, but his plummeting GPA is threatening everything he’s worked so hard for. If helping a sarcastic brunette make another guy jealous will help him secure his position on the team, he’s all for it. But when one unexpected kiss leads to the wildest sex of both their lives, it doesn’t take long for Garrett to realize that pretend isn’t going to cut it. Now he just has to convince Hannah that the man she wants looks a lot like him.

What in the name of hell took me so long to read this?? I would say I don't know what I was thinking...but the truth of the matter is that I do. I was going to say that New Adult and me don't really get along, but the truth of the matter is that I'm incredibly gun-shy about it. First, I've read a MILLION reviews of NA books from friends, and they horrify me. Second, NA is - primarily - contemporary romance; not my favorite genre. Third, I'm not a fan of angst, and there's usually plenty of angst to go around in New Adult. So, I get them, because they sound good, but then they languish on my shelf for ages until I finally pick them up.

No matter how much I love Elle Kennedy's Out of Uniform series (and I seriously love that series - don't judge me that it's more sex than story, at least for the first half dozen books - it's fun AND sexy as fucking hell), it still took a friend's amazing updates to make me excited to pick this up. I have mentioned that I'm not a fan of NA, right? I want to be, I swear I do, and I've actually had pretty good luck - but that's probably because I'm incredibly picky, and only read the NA that my trusted friends vouch for.

And then, even when I'd decided to read it, I waited until I had some buddies to read it with. Because I'm a coward. And, if it sucked, I needed someone to bitch with and commiserate with.

First things first, because when I opened the book and read this sentence - on the first page - I wish I'd had a little warning.


The heroine in this novel was raped, five years before the start of the book, but it is mentioned fairly frequently. She's still dealing with it, and it comes up in discussions, thoughts, and memories in regards to some situations. And I'll talk about it a lot in my review below.

In the five years since my rape...

Now, since I started with that, let me say this: I was worried when I read the above. Justly, I assure you. Rape is a trigger for me on most days. The remaining days, it's a sensitive subject. I'm a rape survivor. And I think that's the first time I've ever said it beyond to my closest friends. Some days, watching or reading any depictions of it - no matter how well handled - is too much for me. Which is why I gave the warning above. Other days, it's ... not easier, but not as devastating and panic-inducing.

Even on those days, which are the greater portion finally, thankfully, when it's not panic-inducing, I can easily rage over how the rape, or it's resolution, or it's recovery is handled. It doesn't take much. All too often in books the heroine is raped, it's a traumatic experience, and then she's immediately jumping into bed with the hero and in love with no residual effects what-so-ever - which always makes me wonder: Why have the heroine raped in the first place? Rape is not a temporary plot-device to be used willy-nilly as an author deems for some quick trauma. Does it happen that way sometimes? I'm sure it does. No two people recover in quite the same way, so I won't discount someone else's possible reality. But from all my discussions with fellow survivors, from all my reading and research and talking, talking, talking, talking...I've never met someone for whom it was so easy.

Yet, if I were to go by rape-survivors in books? The ratio would be far skewed in the other direction. And, that will always make me rage. It diminishes the hard-won lives that we survivors have made for ourselves. It makes our efforts seem dwindled, somehow. It's been almost twenty years since I was raped, and though it's been a long time since I've shied from the subject, I've never talked about it openly. Twenty-years. And I just now find the breath to say it, beyond just to my friends and family that supported me and held me up. Doesn't sound like quite the quick recovery that a lot of fiction would perpetuate.

I'm getting off-track. It's easy to do, for me, on this subject. Back to the book: So, when I saw that sentence, I was immediately worried. Worried that the heroine would have been raped, and it would be used to further some cheap plot device later in the story. That she would be attacked again, or that the hero would do something unknown-to-him that would remind her and it would cause drama between them, or that it would be used as a reason that they couldn't be together without really exploring the trauma, or the healing. I had so many worries.

And they were needless.

I'll say that again, because I can count on one hand the number of books that have rape in them that I've read that handle it well - and this one definitely joins that number (still, one hand). My fears were needless.

Elle Kennedy not only handled this subject with care and clarity, but with respect and responsibility. Hannah was raped five years ago. And she's a survivor. She went to years of therapy (and still keeps in touch with her therapist from time to time). She found tools to help her rebuild herself. And yet, it's not some forgotten trauma in her past, it's present in her life. She doesn't drink at parties because she's was drugged at a party when she was raped. Her friend stays sober while at parties with her to ensure that she stays safe - or Hannah doesn't go. As an aside, I love Allie, her friend. She's amazing. Back to Hannah: She has dated, but there are still trust issues when it comes to sex. She wasn't "cured," but she is healing, and living.

One last thing I want to reiterate: I said I was afraid that Hannah would be assaulted at some point in this book. And - at the risk of giving a spoiler - she wasn't. I wanted to reiterate this, because the worry that this would happen did affect my reading somewhat. I was, seriously, stressing out about this. And, after everything, I should have just trusted Elle Kennedy to defy my expectations.

Let me talk about a couple of the other expectations that she denied in here, or the way she turned things I usually hate on their head. The hero - Garrett - starts out stalking our heroine. But, not for the reasons you might imagine. It's not to save her, or because he is immediately enamoured of her and must have her. It's because he needs to pass his Ethics course. If he doesn't bring his grade up, he's off the hockey team; which is all he's wanted to do his entire life. Hannah doesn't particularly want to tutor him, but Garrett knows - smartly - that she's his only hope. She calls him on it, though. And he never does anything smarmy.

Then there's the way that they actually talk, and don't let things blossom into "BIG MISUNDERSTANDING"s. I hate those. A lot. The one thing that I usually hate, that did happen here, was when Hannah decided to make a choice for Garrett. But I got it, at the same time. It wasn't ridiculous or unfounded. It was understandable. What surprised me was that it was cleared up in the way it was. It was so, immensely, satisfying.

This is incredibly long already, but I have to talk about our two main characters: Hannah and Garrett. I absolutely adore them, both. Hannah is so strong, and smart, and sarcastic - I love it. I love how they "bicker" together, and how they don't hold anything back. I love that they're, seriously, honestly, friends first before they become lovers and before they declare their love. Garrett is cocky as hell, funny, and just plain fun. That doesn't stop him from being supportive, a good friend, and incredibly protective and kind. He's smart and a good person. I'd honestly love to be in their friend circle.

Speaking of their friends: There are a good amount of secondary characters and they talk about things (other than the main-couple, surprisingly enough). I think it'd be fairly obvious - even without the two sequels already out - that there were going to be more stories in this group. I'm excited to read them. We get just enough of the friends to start getting me invested, but not enough that anyone overpowers Hannah and Garrett's amazing story.

I had a couple of minor niggles. But when I look back, they're so incredibly small that I don't even feel they're worth mentioning (I did note them in my status updates though, so you can find them there if you're curious).

This was such a fun, sexy, heart-felt read that I absolutely loved it. Every moment, from start to finish, kept me turning pages and reading about these amazing characters. I can't wait to read the next one.

Grade: A

$0.99 on Kindle

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