Friday, 14 December 2012

Beautiful Disaster by Jamie McGuire

Beautiful Disaster (2012)
Jamie McGuire
Grade: C+
Genre: New Adult
Sex scenes: mild
Source: NetGalley
Beautiful: (1) Beautiful Disaster

This is the sort of book that I should hate. I can’t really identify with any of the characters; Travis is an asshole; it’s much too long; the characters all take the blatantly wrong decisions when it’s clear that it’s the last thing they want, yet continue to pretend to each other that all is merry; and the emotional ping-pong is worse than an Eastenders omnibus. Yet why did I stay up until past 3am to finish it and why can’t I help but like it? Read on …

Abby Abernathy came to Eastern University with her best friend America to make a fresh start for herself, away from everything that surrounds her less-than-perfect past and family life. She’s going to keep her head down, study hard and make something good for herself to erase her ugly past. They she meets Travis Maddox …

Travis is the cousin of America’s boyfriend Shepley, and as Travis and Shep live together, it’s not unusual that Abby sees him all the time. Of course, he often has several girls hanging off his arm and every word. Trav is one of those guys who every girl’s mother warns them to keep away from, and Abby is only all too happy to do so. But it seems that playing hard-to-get only makes Trav even more persistent and however insulting or dismissive Abby is towards him, he just won’t go away. Suddenly, their (lack of) relationship is the next hottest topic of conversation at Eastern and everyone is waiting and betting with bated breath on what will happen next.

It is a bet that is Abby’s undoing. Travis is an underground fighter at Eastern which pays his rent, bills, tuition and more. He remains unbeaten and when America drags Abby along to one of his fights, suddenly Travis decides she is his lucky charm and needs to be at all of them. When she makes the mistake of making a bet with Trav about his abilities and subsequently loses, she finds herself having to move into his apartment for a month to keep up her side of the bargain.

Rumours are abound as Abby, Travis and their unconventional living arrangements become an even hotter topic of conversation. Abby wants nothing but to be friends as she knows that a relationship with a guy like Travis who reminds her so much of her dad would be a disaster, however beautiful. But with so much time spent in his company, Travis doing a complete 360 by giving up girls, drink and fighting, and everyone convinced that he’s in love with her, when her month is up, Abby can’t help but think about what life would be like with him …

When Abby’s dad, Mick, makes a reappearance in her life, desperate for money to pay off his latest mafia loan, Abby promises that this will be the last time. With Travis, America and Shep in tow, they head off to Vegas where the Abby that she’s tried so hard to keep buried in the past comes out to play in order to save her father …

I feel guilty for saying it, but given the cover, title, blurb/plot description and context in which this book was released and just my overactive, quick-to-jump-to-conclusions mind, I honestly, honestly thought that this was going to be an erotica of Fifty Shades ilk. It’s not and I’m so glad; they are nothing alike. There is no BDSM, no sexual dominance, a strong female heroine and the ‘light-touch’ in the sex scenes is that which you see in YA novels.

Taking a step back, the story is a classic: your feel-good love story, but with a modern twist complete with the requisite angsty bad-boy hero who finds himself tamed by this innocent, virginal heroine who not only is not instantly attracted to him, but has secrets and a chequered past of her own. When you add in all the personal details of the characters, writing and dialogue, then it starts to get interesting.

Abby was a great heroine, but at times, she appeared a little dense and verging into TSTL territory – dangerous. There were some little things that made me cringe, but they’re not really important. What is, is that she could be as stubborn and impulsive and down-right stupid as Travis. Not criminal in itself, but when she was blatantly in the wrong, or doing something totally against the grain, I just wanted to smack her. Too often, she tries to seek what she thinks she needs when it’s obvious to everyone but her that it’s not. I love that she stands up for herself, doesn’t take any shit from Travis, knows her own mind, and her friendship with America is brilliant and genuinely written, but she just grates on my nerves a little.

I can’t not mention Travis’ nickname for Abby: Pidgeon. ‘Pidge’ for short. I have no idea where it came from; he came out with it in the first chapter, gave no reasoning and it sticks for the rest of the book. I find it endearing (it grows on you, believe me) but I can’t help but associate it with the pesky, ugly grey bird, ubiquitous in the streets of London. Abby is a much nicer example.

There was too little emphasis on Abby’s amazing poker skills. The girl won eighty-nine hundred dollars in six hours – is that not something to goggle at? It was utilised for that part of the story where she needed to save her father, but too readily discarded when no longer relevant. That sucks. Travis’ fighting runs as a constant theme throughout the book, but Abby’s talent (not including the first half of the book where she was keeping it a secret) isn’t given the same treatment? Sexism or what?

America is awesome. A little too eager to jump to conclusions (like me) and make rash decisions to protect Abby when need be, but that’s not necessarily a bad thing. She’s there gunning for Abby and Travis from the very start, much to everyone else’s horror and she was right all along. Ms McGuire writes their best-friend-bond exceptionally well and they’re reliant on each other without it being parasitic. I want that. Shep is similarly amazing and I would have loved to have seen more of him.

Travis is your typical bad-boy. He’s covered in tattoos, a walking one-night stand, legendary fighter, yet (of course) is cruising through his degree like the clever-clogs he is. He’s the type that’s asking to be tamed and Abby has just that effect on him. I think he did genuinely just want to be friends at the start when he realised that she wouldn’t sleep with him; Abby is the only girl that is immune to his charms and good looks and treats him like a human being and he craves that. Travis’ growing dependency on her could be seen as a little unhealthy, but it is here that he realises that he loves her and he does everything in his power to become the type of man that he thinks she needs. I love this scene where he tries to justify his feelings for her:

“You know why I want you? I didn’t know I was lost until you found me. I didn’t know what alone was until the first night I spent without you in my bed. You’re the one thing I’ve got right. You’re what I’ve been waiting for, Pigeon.”

What girl’s heart wouldn’t melt at that declaration?

The amount of violence that Travis is capable and willing to inflict is shocking. Yes, he’s a fighter and it’s fine and even exciting in that context, but he thrashes several guys in the book for making innuendos towards Abby which yes, were insulting, but his reaction was entirely disproportionate (my EU law coming in here). Worse, Abby mostly lets him and doesn’t step in until he’s pretty much done. Even more sickening is that because of Travis’ reputation, nothing is done to stop it or report him. I have nothing against violence in the appropriate contexts, but Travis just went that step too far.

I was convinced in the last few chapters that it would end horribly, terribly sadly. I don’t know where this premonition came from, but if you read the book, when you get to the end, you can see where I’m coming from. To make matters worse, there were several events that I thought might be the sources of the disaster, hence why I just had to keep on reading to find out. When you also factor in that the book itself is called ‘Beautiful Disaster’, it’s really no wonder that I expected the worst.

I’m a little iffy about the idea of Beautiful Disaster in Travis’ P.O.V. It’s set for release in April 2013 and is called Walking Disaster. However apt the title and beautiful the cover, I’m not one-hundred per cent sure that I want to be in Travis’ impulsive, irrational head for three-hundred whole pages (if it runs completely parallel to Beautiful Disaster). Don’t get me wrong, like many others, I’m tempted by the allure of the bad boy and there are times in Beautiful Disaster where he is unbearably sweet. At other times, he’s just an asshole. He’ll suddenly get mad and smash things up/throw a temper tantrum etc for what seems like no reason and while I realise that Walking Disaster will help to clarify these situations the idea is a bit of a shock to the system while I’m still fresh from finishing Beautiful Disaster. Still, I’d love to see how Ms McGuire tackles it and if she pulls it off.

I’m intrigued by what I presume is the US cover of Beautiful Disaster. It’s nothing like the UK version and I’d be interested to contrast the official reasoning behind each cover. My thinking is that the tattoos on the tongue represent Travis and his decadent lifestyle before he met Abby. The girl and the red lipstick are also evocative of the type of girl he went for before Abby. The way I see it, the symbolism of the stuck-out-tongue is a way of Travis sticking up his middle finger at his old way of life now that he’s leaving behind to make a fresh start. I could be spouting crap; I have no idea. Any other alternative  interpretations are welcome.

I had trouble figuring out what genre Beautiful Disaster would fall into and admit to googling the answer. ‘New Adult’ popped up and I remembered an article a little while ago on Heroes and Heartbreakers that I immediately went in search of. The post doesn’t go into much detail, but as it says, it bridges the gap between YA fiction and full-blown romance. Abby is in her freshman year of college and in the book turns nineteen (scary when I think that I’m just about to turn twenty), which makes her too ‘old’ for this to be a YA book, but too young for her to have enough life experience for this to be a romance. The sex scenes definitely fall into the scope of New Adult and now that I think about it, there have been other YA books that I’ve read in the past that have come close to verging into NA-territory, but haven’t quite made it. NA is fast becoming the next big thing (according to Heroes and Heartbreakers at least) but I have to say that I haven’t seen much of it. Admittedly, I’m not entirely sure what I’m looking for, but I’d love to read more.

Overall, the grade I gave wasn't great, but this is a good book. It was all the little things that added up negatively in its favour, but I would still recommend it anyway. The writing style and genre in general might not be for everyone, but it was a compelling read and refreshing to boot. If this type of book is going to be the Next Big Thing in publishing, then get in there early.

Images: Beautiful Disaster (UK), Walking Disaster and Beautiful Disaster (US?)

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