Ordinarily, romance isn't a genre that I would pick up on my own, but I received an offer of a free ebook copy from Cate Masters and agreed to review this book. The premise sounded interesting to me, and I enjoy historical fiction/romance, and from the description that I read and the title, there seemed to be a certain element of danger that would make the story appealing to someone like me.
I am always willing to give genres outside my "comfort zone" a try, so I went into this one with an open mind, and a little excited, truth be told, to read something different than my usual. Unfortunately, this book did not really work for me. It had definite potential to be great, but it just seemed to fall flat.
I love characters. The characters are the key to whether the book works for me or it doesn't. For any book to engross me and make me believe in the story that is being told, I need to first believe in the characters. I need to feel as though I know them and understand them, even when they don't really understand themselves. This is especially true, I would think, in a romance, specifically one in which the characters are said to have such defined and rigid preconceived notions about life and love themselves. I wanted this story of Livvie and Sam to grab me and not let go, but in my opinion, the characters lacked the depth to make me believe in them, and by extension, to invest myself in their stories or their battle of wills.
There was a lot of background hinted at, but not very much actually conveyed, and what was conveyed was always told to the reader, not shown. Because of this, even though there technically was enough information to make an educated guess at the reason for the character's action, it didn't feel honest, it felt convenient and contrived. So much of the story was conveyed by telling rather than showing that I found it extremely hard to care about the characters. For instance, Sam is said to have been kept awake several nights by thoughts of Livvie, but other than needing coffee, there are no symptoms of exhaustion, there is no description of him lying awake thinking of her, etc. Just the brief mention that again he'd been kept awake by thoughts of her. Or another example is that he was hurt previously, and reluctant to be hurt again. Aside from his saying so, and his reluctance to commit to anything with Livvie, there isn't anything to suggest that this is the reason for his reticence. Especially not when in the beginning of the story he considers her a conquest to be had and cast away like any other, so the heartbroken Sam seems a new and convenient shift to make him more sympathetic, except that I couldn't really completely believe it. The characters did not ring true for me, so it very much hurt my enjoyment of the story.
I must also say that the story felt repetitive to me, and that the pacing was off. In a story this short (under 200 pages), repetitiveness is not good. Yet Livvie and Sam would meet, they'd flirt, they'd restrain themselves, they'd argue. Sam would work, Livvie would chat with the maid in the boarding house, Sam would drink with Liam, Livvie would lament her lack of freedom. In between these things were chapters of filler which were usually about Sam's work on a shipwreck salvage & rescue schooner. I say that this is filler not because it was uninteresting - it was actually quite interesting, honestly. The concept of rescue and salvage divers intrigued me - but because it did not move the story along, or serve any purpose that I could determine. I feel as though these scenes were supposed to show the risk and danger of this type of work, but so often there was nothing going on at all except waiting, so the men would swab the deck and chat, and the story would just come to a halt again. These scenes just stalled the story, and served as a distraction to me more than anything, because I'd be expecting and waiting for something to happen in vain.
The last point that I want to mention was the dialogue, which seemed very stiff and incongruous with the characters. Livvie is described as independent, a girl who doesn't need a man to save her, who doesn't need a husband to provide for her or "own" her. Yet when she gets into trouble, she screams, "Sam, save me." It seems unrealistic for her to choose these exact words, considering how she defines herself, especially when a piercing scream or calling "Sam!" or screaming "Help!" would suffice and feel more natural.
There was a bit of sarcastic humor sprinkled throughout the story, particularly from Sam, that I quite enjoyed. And I love the setting of the story, being a Florida-raised girl myself, but again I wish that it had been allowed to come alive and show the character the state has in abundance.
All in all, I think that this book had great potential, and a great premise, but needed a lot more characterization to flesh it out and make the characters come to life, and a bit of editing to make sure that the story flowed without unnecessary stops and starts.