Wow, why did I wait so long? I’d bought This Man ages ago because everyone recommended it, but I never got around to reading it. Story of my life. But now the series is being released in paperback, so I snapped up an ARC of the second in the series, Beneath This Man, releasing November 26 (today!). Which meant it was time to finally read this.
Ava’s an interior designer who’s been called out to a country house for a consultation. When she meets Jesse, the lord of the Manor (that’s what the place is called, “The Manor,” so the whole “Lord” thing shows up more than it needs to, but oh well), she’s thrown for a loop. He’s mesmerizing and she knows there’s no way she can work for him if she’s going to melt into a puddle every time she sees him. So she tries to keep away. But he’s pretty persistent. Like, really fucking persistent.
Ava’s the best. I love her character so much. She’s easygoing and no-nonsense, and she knows the whole time that getting involved with him is a colossal mistake that’s only going to break her heart. She does everything she can to keep away from him, but he’s had an epiphany. He needs her, and it’s pretty obvious she wants him, so he’s not going to let a little thing like her better judgment get in the way.
Which means that sometimes this book goes into uncomfortable territory. He wants her, she wants him but she wants to stay away, he won’t let her. He’ll do everything he can to show her he knows she wants him. Whether she wants him to or not. All that convoluted explanation to say that sometimes consent is dubious. Well, this is fiction, folks, so no one gets hurt, and it’s in first person, so we know exactly what Ava is thinking the whole time, and it’s nothing horrible, but I’m just warning you. Jesse does not take no for an answer.
That said, for me the sex went back and forth between “that’s all?” and off the charts. But there’s loads of it. And Jesse is pretty damn convincing when he isn’t just plain weird.
You might be wondering why I’ve got a book hangover if so many things bugged me. (Another thing that bugged me: so obviously influenced by “that” trilogy as to be almost fan fiction at times. Except for the virgin thing, thank gawd.) Chalk it all up to Ava. Her careening back and forth between “I’ve got to stay away from this lunatic” to “I can’t resist this adorable man” may be a bit crazy-making, but I was with her every step of the way, torn between wanting them to be together and wanting her to kick him in the nuts and be done with it all. And every time she defied him or ignored his calls, I didn’t think, “Why are you winding him up when you know he’s going to go ape shit on you?” I thought, “Of course any normal person who is fed up with being treated like a child would do that.” She’s very much her own person all through the book, no matter how much Jesse tries to control her rebellious behaviour or manage her spirit within an acceptable range. How could I put up with Jesse, though? Well, he has his reasons for acting as he does. They’re not excusable so much as understandable.
This Man ends with things up in the air, as you do. So I was pretty eager to move onto Beneath This Man to have many of my questions answered: How will they sort all that stuff out? Will they have sorted the punctuation out? And mainly, for me, how will Ava capitulate and still be the Ava I fell in love with? Also, is it weird that I’ve fallen in love with the heroine? Shouldn’t I be all hot and bothered over Jesse? I’m not “hot and bothered” over Ava; I just want her for a friend. None of my friends remember to pick up a bottle of wine every time they come to visit. Jesse, on the other hand: I would not want that guy in my life. I don’t care a lick about his business. We’ve all got to make money somehow. I’m sure I could overlook his past once I recognized the benefits it had for me in the present. But holy unstable. That’s hard to ignore.
I had so many other things to do the day I finished This Man and decided to start right away on the sequel. Work, study, supper, my own writing. But no. I couldn’t stay away. That’s why this book made it into the “obsession” category: when all you want to really do is read it, and when you’re not reading it it’s all you can think about, it’s done its job. That was so true with this book. So I had to start straight away on the next, and I had to bargain with myself: if you work on so many pages, you can read one chapter. If you do the dishes, you get another chapter. Ha! Bargaining never works. The reading always wins.
By the end of Beneath This Man, I didn’t need to move onto the third, This Man Confessed, right away. Good thing, because the list of neglected tasks was growing by the minute. Beneath ends on a supposed HEA, although you know it can’t possibly last. So I was able to take a break. Also, with the second, I was kind of growing weary of the back-and-forth “I’ll never leave you”–“I’m leaving you” drama. And the yelling. So much yelling. And Ava: as I feared, she’s losing herself. As Snow Patrol’s “Run” plays in the background, as it always does when one questions one’s sanity, she acknowledges she may have tipped into his territory: “I remain still and stare blankly at the profile of my handsome, troubled man and wonder whether I could be classed as troubled now, too…I was a normal, sound-minded girl. I definitely don’t qualify for that anymore.”
But in Beneath This Man many questions are answered, very much sex is indulged in, and the obsession between the two characters grows. And wouldn’t we all want an obsession like that? Well, maybe not so much, after reading this series. (So far; keep in mind I haven’t read the final book yet. Real life calls, bitch that it is.) But I’d do almost anything for an Aston Martin DBS, personally, so I’m afraid for me the answer is yes. And that’s why I keep reading. Not because of the car — now that would be bizarre — but because of that all-consuming, destructive, obsessive love that fascinates and scares us like a car wreck we can’t look away from.
FYI, for fabulous playlists and Jesse POVs, you must pop by Jodi Ellen Malpas’s website, jodiellenmalpas.co.uk.
Beneath This Man reviewed from ARC, published in paperback by Forever on November 26, 2013.