As a participant in the release tour, I was lucky enough to receive an ARC of Nalini Singh’s new contemporary romance, Rock Addiction, the first in a five-title series called Rock Kiss, that she’s self publishing. As most of you know, part of the deal, when participating in an author’s release tour, is to write and publish a review of the book in a timely manner. Please note that neither the author nor TRSOR Promotions, who organized all the blogger events related to the release, have asked for anything but a review, period.
However, and in the interest of full disclosure, I am a fan of Ms Singh’s Psy/Changeling series. I am not a fan of her Guild Hunter series, and up to now I have only read one of her previously released category contemporary titles, Desert Warrior–and I confess that I wasn’t terribly impressed with it.
With that in mind, this is my (quite long) review:
Rock Addiction, by Nalini Singh
A few years ago, Sarah of the ever Smart Bitches and Jane of the wonderful Dear Author created a campaign to Save the Contemporary! Why, you may ask. Well, because for a while there it seemed that single title contemporary romance had disappeared off the face of the earth. We had–and still have–plenty of contemporary category length romances, but they are problematic in their own way, as they must conform to stringent requirements specific to their publishing line. And most single title, full length contemporaries for a good long while seemed to be required to include a thread of suspense–there was a stalker, an unsolved murder, a conspiracy, a ghost, vengeance…you name it. It seemed that there could be no romance without external conflict.
(Feel free to tell me my reading is limited and list all your recommendations for good, straight up contemporary romances in the comments.)
And so, imagine my utter delight in reading a contemporary romance about two adults, with nary an external conflict or contrived plot point! Yes, reader heaven indeed.
Mind you, there is conflict, and these two people have plenty of baggage, but they deal with it, both their own and each other’s, by talking–whodathunkit, right?–and by valuing and respecting the other’s feelings as much as their own.
Here’s the blurb provided by the author:
A bad boy wrapped in a sexy, muscled, grown-up package might be worth a little risk…
Molly Webster has always followed the rules. After an ugly scandal tore apart her childhood and made her the focus of the media’s harsh spotlight, she vowed to live an ordinary life. No fame. No impropriety. No pain. Then she meets Zachary Fox, a tattooed bad boy rocker with a voice like whiskey and sin, and a touch that could become an addiction.
A one-night stand with the hottest rock star on the planet, that’s all it was meant to be…
Fox promises scorching heat and dangerous pleasure, coaxing Molly to extend their one-night stand into a one-month fling. After that, he’ll be gone forever, his life never again intersecting with her own. Sex and sin and sensual indulgence, all with an expiration date. No ties, no regrets. Too late, Molly realizes it isn’t only her body that’s become addicted to Fox, but her heart…
There are number of great things about this novel.
First, as I mentioned above, there’s the fact that this is a contemporary novel where the conflict is based on the protagonists’ feelings, history, and current circumstances. There are no assassins, stalkers, or secrets capable of leveling the world at stake. Just two people, falling in love.
Our heroine, Molly, is a librarian in Auckland. She is living her life just the way she likes it–or at least, just the way she thinks she likes it. After a very traumatic period in her life while she was still an adolescent, Molly decided that invisibility, and the most boring version of normality imaginable, are what she truly wants. The fewer people who look at her and actually see her, the better. She has her work, her life-long best friend, and has recently connected with a half-sister who is genuine, smart, and loving. What more can a well-adjusted woman want, right?
Enter Zachary Fox, known to everyone simply as Fox, head singer of bad boy rock band Schoolboy Choir (I absolutely love the band’s name, by the way 😀 ). Fox sees Molly and falls in lust at first sight. He wants, he has decided he’ll have, and plots his moves accordingly.
Here, a lot of readers familiar with the genre will go, “oh yes, the asshole alpha at his best/worst; he’ll simply manipulate/blackmail/coerce the heroine somehow into doing what he wants, regardless of what she wants.”
I’m pleased to say, not so fast, there!
Here is where Ms Singh does the unexpected. Fox is not fooling himself that he’s in insta-love with Molly. Yes, he wants to spend more time with her, he wants to get to know her, and he does his damned best to get her to agree to a month long affair instead of the one night stand Molly thought was all she would have with him. But, again, it’s not just the sex–though boy, is it hot!–and it’s not the certainty that Molly belongs to him. But the key here is, Fox wants to get to know Molly better, and while they go rather quickly from meeting, to sexxoring to relationship, there is a progression that felt pretty damn believable to me.
There are missteps, there is miscommunication, there is uncertainty–on both their parts– and there are fights, but through it all they both behave like adults. Those misunderstandings do not devolve into a contrived obstacle between them, rather they spur them to talk with each other and to communicate better.
The sex is a lot more graphic than it is in Ms Singh’s Psy/Changeling novels, and the language is a lot more raw, with nary an euphemism for either male or female body parts. Also, there is a distinct scarcity of “clenching” 😀 However, there is also a lot of sex–perhaps more than is strictly necessary to tell Molly’s and Fox’s story. And yet, in my opinion, not so much sex it turns this into a plot-what-plot-gimme-the-sexytimes sort of story. Your mileage may vary, obviously.
I like that these two characters do not live in a vacuum, and that the people in their lives are given personalities, problems and quirks beyond the stereotypical best friend, etc. Part of the page space is taken up setting up the universe–hints at the other band members’ stories, some detail into what goes on when setting up for concerts and when traveling, etc.–as well as setting up the rest of the series, but it doesn’t feel terribly forced. There is a true sense of camaraderie and friendship between the different characters, even those with relatively minor parts (such as Maxwell, “man in charge of everything” for the band).
There is, of course, a heavy element of fantasy–we are talking, after all, about a famous rock start falling hard and fast for a woman he hasn’t even exchanged a word with. And we know, this being a romance, that the protagonists will succeed in making it work. So yes, the story demands a willing suspension of disbelief from the get go, but the narrative is smooth enough, taking into account just enough of the real world, that the reader is not jarred out of the story due to blatant inconsistencies or extreme whitewashing of the realities of living in a fish bowl.
There are a couple of things that may bother other readers–they did not truly bother me, though they gave me a bit of pause when reading the first time through (I’m on my fourth re-read as I type this).
For example, Molly agrees to have a one night stand with Fox, the night she meets him–even though it turns out she’s a virgin. Personally, I really liked that there is no undue emphasis on Molly’s virginity. There’s none of that “saving herself” bullshit and no judgement of anyone who is not a virgin; the way it reads, Molly is a virgin because she hasn’t been tempted enough by anyone in her life so far. And while there’s a bit of “I’m her first, she’ll never forget me” thing going with Fox, there is no fetishization (is that a word?) of her virginity. She’s a virgin, so he’s careful with her–that night and the next day–and that’s that. No big issue, no assigning of tremendous moral significance to a bit of flesh.
Molly, acting like an adult in possession of all her faculties, insists on condoms that first night, which actually prompts a cute and funny exchange when she sends Fox to the drugstore to buy them. However, just a few days later (I’m not perfectly clear on the timing, but I think it’s something like a week later?), Fox gives her a lab report stating he’s clean of all STDs. Then, he asks her if Molly would be okay dropping the condoms. I confess that it still makes me feel a bit squirmy that Molly agrees to do so on the spot, but I do like that Fox insists that it’s her choice, and that he will not pout if she wants to keep the condoms.
I like the exchange because Fox is self assured enough to tell her what he wants, but also mature enough to let her know in no uncertain terms that he’s also man enough to take a “no, thanks” without petulance. This is not asshole behaviour, in case anyone was in doubt.
There are a couple of incidents with groupies and such that would have easily lent themselves to the traditional (and rather stupid) big misunderstanding of yore, but they are instead dealt with rather quickly. Molly and Fox fight about it, with him telling her that she should trust him, and yet accepting later on that, given both her past and his present life (hello, successful rock star!) that this will be difficult for her. At one point, after one such incident, we have this exchange:
“You can always ask,” he said at that wary sound. “I’d rather you get pissed at me, scream and yell, than let suspicion stew inside that smart head of yours.”
Trembling, she splayed her hands over his T-shirt. “You said I should trust you.” A soft reminder, her head bent, the curling darkness of her hair in his vision.
“You should.” He couldn’t keep the demand out of his voice. “But until you do, I’ll take questions.” As long as she came to him, he could handle anything; all he needed was a chance to fight for her. “We agreed on that?”
She nodded, her fingers playing with the edges of his jacket.
Clear brown eyes holding his own without blinking. “I’ll always ask,” she said. “I don’t have it in me to stay quiet–not about something like that. I’ll try to be an adult about it, but I can’t guarantee no screaming and yelling.”
“There it is,” Fox murmured, his dimple appearing as his smile lit up his eyes. “There’s my Molly’s mouth.”
Despite all appearances, I do have a few quibbles with the book, most notably some repetition in word choices. For example, the overuse of “rock star” to describe Fox. I’m sure most readers will get it before finishing the third chapter: Fox is famous, he’s rich, he’s a celebrity, he’s out of Molly’s usual sphere. Also, there are a number of rather heavy hints to Molly’s backstory–by the time Molly shares the details with Fox, the reader knows too much about it and the impact of this revelation felt a bit lessened to me.
There is one thing that bothers me a fair bit, but it happens about the halfway mark of the story therefore,
be ye warned, spoilers ahead!
So even though this does bother me, I honestly cannot really see any way around it other than what happens in the story: Fox’s base is in L.A. and he insists that Molly move in with him if they are going to try for a true relationship. In other words, in short order she has to quit her job, break her lease (or sell her apartment? that part is not clear), and pretty much uproot herself to the opposite side of the globe. What does Fox give up here? Not a single thing.
And yet, if this were a real situation, would we expect the successful musician to give away his career to be with the librarian? Or if Molly were the rock star, would we want her to pull a P!nk or to disappear in the shadow of her husband? For what is worth, I know I would rather have P!nk than a housewife somewhere, so in the novel’s universe it makes sense for Fox not to give his career up.
And yet, Molly does give up pretty much everything for the chance that their relationship will work. That does make me uncomfortable, because what if it doesn’t? Where does that leave her? (It helps a bit that Thea, her half-sister, lives in L.A. too, but still.)
Here endeth the spoiler!
In the end, I really like the characters and enjoy their story (present tense, as I keep re-reading the book!), and I look forward to reading more about the secondary characters.
Rock Addiction gets an 8.75 out of 10.