Candace Parker is the only child of wealthy parents. Her mother has always seemed more interested in appearances than in her own child's well-being, and both her parents have been pressuring her to get a "real" education. Candace wants nothing more than to become a professional ballerina, so she has defied them by going for a performing arts degree. She's always been a hard-working, straight-A student, but now in her senior year of college, she decides it might be time to finally let loose and have a little fun. However, the fun is short-lived when the guy she's been casually dating brutally attacks her one night, following a party. Afterward, Candace is a broken shell of her former self, struggling to complete her final year of school, while dealing with serious anxiety and nightmares. The only person she feels she can turn to is her best friend, Jace, until several months later, Jace's boyfriend introduces her to Ryan Campbell, a successful bar owner. At first, Candace is a little gun-shy around Ryan, but before long, she finds in him another shoulder to lean on. Things gradually turn romantic between them, and although Ryan never pressures her for anything, she still can't bring herself to reveal the truth of what happened to her months before. Once she does, she may discover that Ryan is harboring some secrets of his own that could threaten to tear them apart.
I seem to recall that Fading was brought to my attention a while back by someone on GoodReads. After reading the cover blurb, I thought it sounded good, so I put it on my TBR list. When looking at my list recently for something that really sparked my interest, this one jumped out at me, so I decided to give it a try. Unfortunately the ebook version is only available on Kindle, which as a former Sony and now Kobo reader, I always find irritating. Since this is an indie published title, I also couldn't find it at my local library or through inter-library loan, so my only choice was to pay $15.99 for the paperback. Since it has phenomenal ratings, I decided it might be worth the risk, but I should have known better. I can't think of a single book by an untried author that I've paid full price for that ended up being a winner, and sadly neither was this one. I guess I should have paid a little more attention to my GoodReads friends ratings rather than the ratings of the GoodReads and Amazon communities as a whole, because I definitely concur more closely with the former's assessment of this book.
I'll start by saying that I give the author some positive credit for daring to tackle such a difficult and emotion-laden issue as date rape. I had mixed feelings, though, about the rape actually occurring in real-time during the course of the story. I'm pretty sure this is the first book I've read where that was the case. While I'll admit that it was handled pretty well, this also meant that the heroine spends the lion's share of the story getting past this traumatic event, or perhaps more accurately, trying to brush it under the rug and simply forget about it. It also means that she doesn't meet the hero until well over a hundred pages into the story. This made their relationship a very slow burning one that isn't even consummated until very late in a book that is on the longish side at 450 pages, and to be quite honest, the love scenes weren't particularly descriptive and simply didn't have the emotional spark they should have after waiting so long to get there. They do spend a fair bit of quality time together, and while it was nice to have them building a friendship, rather than leading with sex, it did make things pretty slow-paced. It takes an almost agonizingly long time before Candace even confesses to Ryan that she was raped. What I thought was going to be a lovely story of two broken people helping each other find peace from the pain of the past, ended up being all about Candace's long, drawn-out avoidance of her issues, with very little insight into Ryan's thoughts or feelings.
I did enjoy many of Candace and Ryan's interactions, so I might have been OK with it anyway and been able to give the book a higher rating, except that I found the ending to be pretty unsatisfying. Up until the last fifty pages or so, I was prepared to give the book 3.5 stars, but the denouement definitely left something to be desired. For starters, the way the author handles Candace's attacker was far too easy and not a very effective way to give the reader or Candace any real closure. I know that most women in real-life don't get closure, but this is fiction, meaning the writer has the prerogative to give us that if she so chooses, and in this case, IMHO, she really didn't. I was expecting this guy to get what he deserved, but that doesn't happen. I also didn't fully understand Candace's unwillingness to press charges. I know that she somehow felt like it was her fault, but regardless of her guilty feeling, she knew that what he did was criminal. Also it wasn't some case of "he-said, she-said." She knew the guy, had plenty of physical evidence, and an eyewitness to corroborate. It was merely a case of her constantly worrying about herself and what others would think of her if they knew, rather than her thinking of what leaving this guy on the streets might mean for other women, which I couldn't help feeling was rather selfish.
More importantly, though, I felt that the last fifty pages were nothing but manufactured conflict that ended up leading to a several month's long separation for Ryan and Candace and other events to which Candace doesn't give much thoughtful consideration. *************Spoiler Alert*********** It's just Candace jumping to conclusions about why Ryan didn't tell her he was the one who found her after the attack, not allowing him to explain himself, and breaking up with him instead. Even after he finally does explain and tells her he still loves her, she won't take him back. Then she suddenly decides it's time to finally go to counseling. (Gee, why couldn't she have done that a couple hundred pages sooner.) Then she graduates from college and gets all kinds of job offers, including with a prestigious ballet in New York that had always been her dream job, which she accepts. Then she has an eleventh hour epiphany that she still loves Ryan, ditches her supposed dream, and goes running back to him.*************End Spoiler Alert*********** All this was giving me whiplash on top of making the ending feel rushed. I was actually starting to think it might be a cliffhanger, so I'm glad that it did actually have an HEA ending. Otherwise, my rating would have been even lower, but I simply felt that all this conflict came from out of nowhere, didn't carry the weight that it should have, and was largely unnecessary.
Candace, an only child from a wealthy family, is the exclusive first-person narrator of the story. She has a contentious relationship with her parents, particularly her mother, who is more concerned with appearances within her social circles than her own daughter's well-being. They don't support her dream of becoming a prima ballerina, so they're constantly shrugging it off as nothing but a temporary diversion, fully expecting her to settle down and pursue a "serious" career at some point. Candace's only real family are those she's chosen: her best friend, Jase; Jase's boyfriend, Mark; and her roommate, Kimber. Normally Candace is a pretty straight-laced girl. She maintains a 4.0 GPA, works her tail off in dance class, and has only had sex once with a high school boyfriend on graduation night. Deciding to let loose a little before starting her senior year of college, she gets a tattoo and accepts a date with a guy she meets at her parents' country club. The guy turns out to be a total jerk and ends up brutally raping her, leaving her feeling like it was her fault for somehow leading him on.
I know that every woman is going to react differently to a sexual assault, so I try very hard not to pass judgment. I'm sure that Candace's reactions are all very normal within that spectrum, but it was still rather frustrating to read about sometimes. Even though she's an emotional basket case, she completely shuts down, refusing to talk with anyone about what happened, not even a professional counselor. She also relies entirely on Jase, while destroying her previously close friendship with Kimber. I probably wouldn't have batted an eyelash about all of this, though, if not for the fact that Candace goes on ad nauseum about how she misses Kimber, when all I wanted to say was, "Then fix it! Because you're the one who shut her out and you're the only one who can." She constantly makes excuse after excuse for why she can't do things, instead of taking control of the situation and trusting in the people she cares about. I felt like she relied a little too much on Jase, and later Ryan, when they begin to get closer. Although both men are incredibly accommodating, I sometimes couldn't help feeling like she was using them as a crutch and needed to trust in herself a little more, one of those things about which she has a last-minute epiphany. I also felt like she wasn't giving back full measure, because although Ryan tells her a little about his own abusive past, she never really talks to him about that or takes his feelings into consideration.
While I understand that Candace went though a harrowing experience that no woman should ever have to face, and I had sympathy for her because of it, I couldn't help feeling like she was a little too self-centered sometimes. I also felt like she exhibited some immaturity in her decision-making processes toward the end of the story and was also too quick to judge Ryan's choice to not tell her that he was the one who found her after the attack and called for help. Again, she seemed to only be thinking of herself and her own embarrassment, and viewing it as a betrayal of trust, when I thought she should have been more grateful for his assistance, considering that she'd been unconscious at the time in a back alley, late at night. Not to mention, after all his incredible kindness and patience with her over the months they were together, I simply couldn't fathom why she'd think the worst and not even give him a chance to explain.
Ryan was an absolute prince among men and exactly the kind of romance hero I love to read about. From the moment they meet, he's very gentle in his pursuit of Candace, working to build a friendship with her first and never pushing her to do anything she's not comfortable with. He helps her to open herself up to a relationship with him and gives her nothing but kindness, tenderness, and complete support, even before she fesses up about the rape. I have to admit, though, that I couldn't help wondering what was going through his head during this time since we don't get anything from his perspective. Did he wonder why Candace was being so prudish and stand-offish? If so, he certainly doesn't say. I simply had a ton of unanswered questions like this about him. For example, he has a reputation for being a playboy, going from one woman to the next -- something that he definitely doesn't deny -- until he meets Candace and clearly falls head-over-heels for her. What was it about her that drew him to her and made him fall for her when he'd never been in love before? Why is she different than all the rest? How can a man who was very sexually active prior to meeting her suddenly be content with a basically celibate lifestyle while waiting for her to come around? Then there's his entire backstory about growing up with an abusive, alcoholic father which is presented as little more than a mere fact about him. I wanted to know how that affects him now. Does it play into his relationship with Candace in any way, and if so how? As much as I loved and adored Ryan for his gentleness and infinite patience, I still couldn't help feeling as though he was a very underdeveloped character. I've read plenty of novels written from the heroine's first-person perspective and still felt like I fully got to know the hero, but this wasn't one of them.
In addition to the weaknesses in plot and character development, the writing itself was so rough that it became a huge distraction, which seriously detracted from any enjoyment I was feeling and made the book a real chore to read. The only way I was able to power through was by rewriting it on the fly in my head to make it flow better. For starters, many authors have a pet word that they unconsciously use over and over while writing a particular manuscript. I freely admit I've done this myself, but I've also had beta readers and editors to help rein those in. Ms. Blair has not merely one, but numerous pet words that appear repeatedly such as just (I kid you not, I would sometimes find this one three or four times in the same paragraph or a dozen or more times on the same page), that, what (usually used as an interjected question accompanied by both a question mark and an exclamation point which is bad form; the correct form would have been italicizing for emphasis), walk (these characters did so much walking they could have crossed the entire country:-)), look, and set (they're constantly setting one thing or another down). These were a few of the more egregious examples, but there were times that the author repeated other words in close proximity, making me wholeheartedly wish she'd made use of a thesaurus. Another one was say (eg. I say, she says, he says). Now I admit that dialogue tags are sometimes necessary, but the number of times this author uses them became ridiculous. When a writer is properly blocking their scenes, many of these throwaway tags are simply unnecessary. Then there's the extreme under-use of contractions, which made much of the dialogue laughably formal and kept the narrative prose from flowing properly as well.
Moving on from word analysis to sentence analysis, the author engages in passively wording an untold number of sentences, leading to an extreme amount of the dreaded telling rather than showing. A lot of this was caused by her insistence upon using continuous perfect tense (eg. am working, is carrying, etc.) and also in the same vein, verbs such as start pushing, begin walking, etc. Sometimes these forms are appropriate, but most of the time simple perfect tense (work, carry, push, walk) would have made the narrative really pop and given it a greater sense of immediacy, as well as being less wordy. Sometimes the passivity was in the form of the object becoming the subject. Still other times, it was the use of phrases such as I see, I hear, I feel, when all I wanted was to know what that looks like, sounds like, and feels like. I kept thinking, "Show me how that looks instead of simply telling me." Occasionally the author suddenly mentions something that hasn't even been discussed in the storyline yet with only a passing explanation, when showing those things as they happened would have made the story richer. There were a lot of run-on sentences, as well as sentences with clunky wording that didn't make much sense as written. Lastly - and this one nearly drove me to distraction - the author frequently uses this type of sentence structure: "Looking up, I see that my toothbrush is still next to the other sink..." It has to be possible for the narrator to perform both actions - in this case, looking up and seeing - simultaneously, so this particular sentence is fine. But oftentimes they aren't, such as with this one: "Getting into bed, he scoops me in his arms..." in which it's not really possible to get into bed and scoop someone up at the same time. Also there are lots of little zingers like these. "Pulling me into her arms, I savor her embrace..." or "Resting my elbow on the bar, Roxy does the same..." which are also incorrect because two characters' actions are being mixed without a proper conjunction. This is quite frankly one of the roughest books with regards to the mechanics of writing that I believe I've ever read.
The bottom line is that, despite my extensive critique of Fading, I liked Ryan and Jase quite well, and I sympathized with Candace enough to derive sufficient enjoyment out of the story to give it three stars. However, the weaknesses in both plot and characters, as well as the rushed ending and the extremely unpolished nature of the writing itself were all major detractors. In many ways, I felt like this book read more like a first draft than a finished manuscript. If the author had shined it up by smoothing out all the numerous grammatical errors, built Ryan into a fuller richer character, and brought Candace to a place where she was stronger much sooner, I could have easily seen this book getting keeper status from me. But as is, it simply had too many problems for me to genuinely love it the way so many other readers apparently have. There are two more books in the series, the next one, Freeing, is Jase and Mark's story, which I assume will run concurrently with this book since they're already a couple here, and the final one, Falling, appears to be a rewrite of Fading from Ryan's POV. I loved Jase and Mark, and while it might have been interesting to see how they got together, I don't think I can bear another read as frustrating as this one to find out. And as much as I loved Ryan and felt that he needed more development, IMHO, it should have taken place in this story and not have been left to another book that appears to be little more than a rehash of this one. So unless some compelling new information comes along to change my mind, I'm pretty sure this will be both my first and last time reading Ms. Blair's work.
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