I read this book for the Unapologetic Romance Readers' New Years 2017 Reading Challenge. For more info about what this is, click here.
You know when you're ordering a really strong drink from a bar, and it's got a lot more alcohol in it than you thought, to the point that you can almost taste the hangover over the rum and artificial fruit, and you think to yourself, "This is a bad idea" but then drink it anyway, and order another because YOLO? That's me every time I pick up a new adult book. I tell myself, "Nenia, you're going to regret this, don't do it, you're not going to like it."
But trashy erotica novels, like booze, are easy to do to excess.
This is my second book by Penelope Douglas. The first I've read from her was CORRUPT, and that was lent to me by a kind GR friend via Kindle. I thought CORRUPT was okay, with reservations. I don't normally go in for erotica, especially erotica that reads like straight-up porn. All the men in that book were misogynistic and rapey, too, which added another level of nope. But the plot was decent and she was good at setting a decent pace, so I sort of half-enjoyed, half-wtf'd my way through the thing and at the end of the book, I wasn't mad. It was a flawed but decent read.
PUNK 57 I bought myself, which already means that I'm going to be an eensy bit more critical of it because I'm spending my hard-earned money on the book and judging it accordingly. PUNK 57 was our book of the month in the Unapologetic Romance Readers group for April, and as someone who had read her work previously, I was interested in seeing how it had changed from CORRUPT.
***WARNING: SPOILERS FROM HERE ON OUT***
PUNK 57 is about two characters, Misha and Ryen, who are both in high school. They are also pen pals, although they have never met face to face before. Misha is punk and in a band and has piercings. Ryen is a cheerleader and preppy and into things like TWILIGHT and HARRY POTTER. After a tragedy happens in his life, Misha ends up going to Ryen's school under the name Masen for reasons that don't actually have anything to do with Ryen. When he realizes that she's not what he built her up to be on his imaginary pedestal, he gets angry and embarks on a mission to make her life hell. This, I actually didn't mind so much. It reminded me of Hana Yori Dango. A-hole heroes are actually a weakness of mine provided that a) the heroine reacts to this behavior accordingly and b) it takes a heck of a lot of groveling before the characters finally end up together.
This does not happen in PUNK 57. Ryen is attracted to this mean behavior, despite herself, and the two of them have several sex scenes that have this really uncomfortable element that was also present in CORRUPT that is neither healthy nor entirely consensual (at least, that's how it felt to me). And it wasn't the fact that it wasn't 100% consensual at times that bothered me so much as the fact that Ryen seemed to be embracing this behavior as natural and something she needed. Example: at one point Misha/Masen breaks into her house while she's sleeping and catches her in bed naked. He assumes, naturally, that any woman who is naked must be entertaining male company, and makes an effort of looking around for that Other Man. When he realizes that she was actually masturbating, he asks her if she was thinking of him. Me, I'd be on the phone with the cops well before that point, but she lets him watch. Ew. He's also constantly getting physical with her and making her feel bad about herself, whether it's berating her for being fake or criticizing her clothes for being too sexy - because how dare she bring male attention upon herself. Like it's her fault for them looking or some BS. In keeping with this "me man, woman mine" caveman attitude, the sex is always big man alpha sex, of the cervix-slamming variety (you know the kind I mean) and I know some people enjoy this, and that's fine, but that isn't my cup of tea at all. I rolled my eyes a lot. Especially when they try anal - without lube - and all she feels is a tiny burn. Ha! Woman must have Superman's butthole if he can go in dry and not cause her any pain, that's all I'm going to say.
I will say that the twist at the end with Misha's mom took me off-guard. I wasn't expecting that, although in hindsight it explains a lot. Like I said before, with CORRUPT, plotting isn't a weakness of Ms. Douglas's. But the confrontation and the way it was carried out left a similarly bad taste in my mouth, because it was a perfect mirror of his behavior towards Ryen and how it was actually pretty abusive. Misha is one of those guys who expects women to behave in certain ways, and if they violate that way at all, they are automatically bad. Ryen failed to live up to his sweet nerdy girl fantasy, so she becomes the whore in his eyes. Misha's mom couldn't take motherhood, so she becomes the horrible bitch who is responsible for all the problems in his life. It's the Madonna/whore complex, and I hate the Madonna/whore complex. Also, I'm realizing that I kind of hate Misha. I didn't want him to have an HEA with the heroine, because in my opinion, he never redeemed himself. He played the "Baby, I'm damaged" card and she completely bought it, final sale.
Two things I did like (so this review ends on a positive note): I like how the author incorporates music into her stories. That was something I liked about CORRUPT as well, especially since her taste in music is pretty similar to mine. I also liked how she had characters from CORRUPT cameo in PUNK 57, even if it was the creeps. Am I surprised that Misha knows/is friends with those creeps? No. He's a creep, too. Creeps of a feather flock together. (No, bad Nenia - stay positive!)
I didn't hate this book. I was afraid I would, but I didn't. Bar a few typos, it was fairly well written and had an interesting story. As much as I gripe, I must admit that I wasn't bored while reading it. It also has a Colleen Hoover-esque title whose meaning becomes clear at some point in the story, which is cool. Like Colleen Hoover, I think this author is capable of writing something some day that I will really enjoy. I like dark fiction, and I like suspense novels. She just needs to fine-tune the way she writes her heroes and sex scenes, and then we'll be golden.
2 to 2.5 out of 5 stars