Grand Central Publishing, $5.99, ISBN 978-1-4555-3604-7
Romantic Suspense, 2016
Contrary to what the cover may lead you to think, that dog isn’t going to get married to the hero anytime soon. That dog is Atlas, a Belgian Malinois trained by the hero David Cruz before he bonded with David’s buddy… who was then killed in a suspicious “accidental friendly fire” some time before the story begins. Atlas is now stricken with doggy PTSD, which manifests in his listless and “no more feelings” behavior. Cruz tries, but he isn’t getting through to Atlas as much as he’d have liked. Then comes Evelyn Jones, a dog whisperer whose presence he initially resents, at least until Atlas quickly bonds with her. Alas, someone soon tries to kill both the dog and Evelyn, and now, David and buddies at Stereotypes and Dogs will have to come to the rescue.
When I first read the synopsis at the back cover, my first thought was: “Dogs and hot action men? Sign me up!” Well, now that I have read this book, I’m more like, “Eh, maybe I should un-sign instead?”
The problem with Extreme Honor is that it is littered with classical debut author mistakes. Which, usually, is okay, because for most people, the only way you can go after the first time is up. Things are not so okay here because Piper J Drake is not a new author – she has some titles out already under the name PJ Schnyder.
I get classical debut author mistake vibes here because the author tries very hard – too hard, actually – to impress me with her characters by telling me how awesome they are, when she should have focused instead on showing me. As it is, a lot of times I’m told that so-and-so is the most awesome thing ever, but what I get on the page is the so-and-so floundering like a carp out of water. It’s like me screaming at your face that I have a hot body like Rihanna – as much and as loud as I scream, alas it’s still not going to happen. All that energy is best spent instead on sitting on that magazine with Rihanna on the cover and defiantly eating another slice of chocolate cake.
Evelyn is quite a hard character to pinpoint, as her behavior can be inconsistent. Then again, the same applies to David. On the surface, he is another standard “My brooding face… is carved in stone and my stubble is like thorns dripping with angst!” action man, while she is the usual emotional damsel, who loves dogs and hot guys and tries very hard to be tough and spunky sort. But their actions can go from one extreme to another, often for no rhyme and reason other than because the author wants some mini-conflict to happen. Hence, these two act all weirdly hot and cold almost all the way to the end, and I never get this impression that they even like one another. What they have seems more like hate-foreplay and hate-sex to me, mostly because the chemistry is barely there. It’s pretty sad when Atlas has more chemistry with each of them than the two of them have with one another.
The author’s writing style is also a distraction. She has a writing style that reminds me more of an online blog entry – short curt sentences mixed with meandering long, running sentences to give me this impression that the whole thing is like a stream of consciousness thing. Then again, if the author wants to adopt a more literary style of writing, she should have just had the hero or the heroine end up with the dog. The resulting love scene may even have the folks at the respectable literary circles to gush about how daring the author can be in pushing the ethereal boundaries between preternatural taboos and the symploce of mundane reality and fragmented dementia. Because this is a genre catering to the great unwashed heathen, alas, I am rather annoyed by the messy narrative that often makes it hard to figure out who is doing the talking or thinking in that particular moment. No, really, there are point of view changes from one paragraph to the next without addressing whose heads we are hopping from and to.
At one point, the POV jumps from the heroine to that freaking dog, or so it seems (honestly, it’s hard to tell with the author’s writing style – I think it’s the dog) and even then it took me two rereads to get that. The first time, I thought the heroine was referring to herself as a Belgian Malinois, and I was like, eh, given how the author is bizarrely fixated on reminding me of how shapely and sexy the heroine’s rear end is, I’d have thought a big-assed lady like Evelyn would equate herself to the more curvy-rumped rottweiler.
One more classical debut author mistake I need to point out: the author wants her heroine to be seen as strong and sassy so much that she makes the common error of equating inappropriately inserted sarcasm as evidence that the heroine is just that kind of person. At best, I get the impression that Evelyn must be as high as a kite, and at worst, I think she’s crazy, because that poor darling can’t seem to show any believable emotion in a realistic manner. Okay, she was briefly traumatized after she was attacked and nearly raped, but blink and she’s back at trying very hard to be a Joss Whedon heroine. She also goes “Ugh!” and such, coming off even more than ever like a bratty teenage girl trying very hard to convince the world that she is an adult.
At the end of the day, everything about Extreme Honor feels like a rough cut of someone’s first draft. The only good thing here is that this book, for all its flaws, is not particularly awful enough to warrant a one-oogie dunce cap. That doesn’t mean it’s good, however, as it falls awfully short of qualifying even as an average read. It’s just… flailing.