Wednesday, April 24, 2013
Book Review: Extreme Love by: Abby Niles
My Review: First I want to thank NetGalley and Entangled Publishing for providing me with an ARC copy of Extreme Love in exchange for an honest review. I've been reading a lot of boxing/MMA fighting romances lately so I promised myself I would take a break and read something else before delving into another one. I'm glad I did because I honestly don't think I would have been able to appreciate Abby Niles labor of love as much as I do now. I had no idea going into this book that our female protagonist, Caitlyn, had been a BBW (big, beautiful woman) and that the heart of the story would be about her struggle with accepting the new body she has worked so hard for. I guess I missed the first line in the synopsis: "New body. New clothes. New men."
There are so many significant themes that the author addresses in regards to Caitlyn's weight loss journey. One example is struggling with body image; although she has lost 80 pounds and is a size 12, when Cait looks at herself in the mirror, she still sees herself as the fat girl with the double chin. There is one topic that Abby Niles focuses on that made me quickly realize the theme of weight loss was something personal and not just a random plot device and here it is: just because a person is overweight does NOT mean they are "unfit". HALLELUJAH! Someone finally hit the nail on the head and truly gets it! We live in a society where people automatically think that if a person is fat, that means they eat nothing but junk food, and never exercise because they are lazy. While that may be true in some cases, there is a huge majority of overweight people that struggle to lose the pounds for a variety of different reasons. Genetics is one thing. My best friend and I are exactly the same height, 5'2. Doctors say that at 5'2, I should weigh around 108-120 pounds. While that may work for my best friend since she has a smaller bone structure than me, I would look like a skeleton due to my larger bone frame. Also, people suffer from hormone conditions, such as myself. I have always had a weight issue. In my early teens I learned that I had a condition called POS (Polycystic Ovarian Syndrome). Women with this condition struggle with losing weight. I will never forget my doctor saying, "losing weight for you will be like riding a bike up a hill." Before learning this (and before all of my back issues), I was a very active girl. I rode a bicycle, went out in the woods and built forts, learned to hunt with my dad, etc. But no matter how active I was, I always was a big girl. I felt self conscious at school, especially going to gym class. It wasn't so much my peers that made me feel bad, but the gym teachers. Boy do I have stories, but the point I am trying to make is, Cait is truly a relatable character and I knew before I even read Abby Niles's Acknowledgement page that Extreme Love was written with some sort of personal experience. Even though Cait struggles with body image issues which affects her love life (or lack there of), she doesn't let it deter her from her goal: to create an exercise program for people like her called "Altering Assumptions". It's a program not just for individuals struggling to lose weight, but also to help "alter" the misconceptions that many people have about those who are overweight.
You can't have a romance without a hero, and Dante is one sexy alpha MMA fighter. While he may not be as extreme as some other possessive, alpha male protagonists I've read in the past (he is not moody or brooding which was a bit refreshing), I loved his story and what motivated him to become the fighter he is. I also liked the fact that while Dante finds Cait and her curves a turn on and sets out to pursue her, he also has misconceptions about overweight people. Yes, our hero is far from perfect! I've read quite a few romances with BBW as heroines and the males love them for who they are, extra curves and all. But I don't ever recall reading one where the male hero actually thinks the same as most people do, that losing weight isn't hard and all a person has to do is go on a diet and go to the gym. This of course pisses Cait off. But to see Dante's preconceived notions fall away as he gets to know Cait was touching and added a sense of realism to the story.
I also thought Abby Niles did a great job with the secondary characters in Extreme Love, such as her best friend and roommate Amy and her friend Paul. Cait truly had a wonderful support system. But it was Sentori, Dante's nemesis, that stole the spotlight from time to time. He is the type of villain that we've seen before, but still a well written character. Oh the things he does to distract Dante from his training! By the end of the book, I couldn't wait for them to get in the cage so Dante could kick his ass!
So why only a 3 star rating? The characters are good, the story is good, but could have been better. There was just something missing, a few pieces that could have made Extreme Love amazing. I didn't walk away from it yearning for more because I didn't want it to end. I yearned for more because it left me feeling a bit unsatisfied. While I loved Cait and Dante together and they definitely had chemistry, I was disappointed that there were only basically 2 major sex scenes in the book. Now, I've read books like this before, so I don't necessarily need a book saturated in sex. But this all depends on if the author can build the right amount of tension. And I think that is one of the weaknesses of this book. I feel like the tension was just building-- hell, I thought the pool house scene where Dante has Cait pinned up against the wall with her bathing suit top down was HOT, HOT, HOT. But by the time I got down to the last few pages of the book and realized there was not going to be any more Dante and Cait lovin', I felt a bit...bereft.
Another thing that kind of rubbed me the wrong way is Cait's weak stomach concerning Dante's profession. I understand Cait's reservations about getting into a relationship with Dante because of her insecurities. I've often felt I only deserve a certain kind of man because of my weight issues. I even get the author trying to show Cait's misconceptions about the kind of career Dante has as a fighter (especially considering his misconceptions about her weight loss struggle). But I couldn't help but roll my eyes a few times whenever Cait mentioned that she didn't think she could accept Dante's violent lifestyle. I tried to be open minded because I am not the girlfriend/wife of a boxer, or wrestler, or MMA fighter. But I am a fan of all of those things-- I still remember watching boxing fights with my dad when I was little, watching PPV wrestling events as a teenage girl with my best friend (come on, all those half naked male bodies can do crazy things to a girl's teenage hormones!), and will always be a huge 80's-90's martial arts action movie fiend-- I love me some Jean-Claude Van Damme, Dolph Lundgren, Sylvester Stallone, Arnold Schwarzenegger, Steven Seagal, etc. Maybe Cait's reservations about Dante's career was just another excuse to push him away because of her own insecurities. But I couldn't help but be irritated with her at times.
I also was disappointed with the whole Santori vs. Dante show down. Not the cage fight, that was okay. But something else that happened. I don't want to ruin the ending for everyone but come on, I wanted to see Santori and his goons get arrested or something! You will see what I mean when you get there. He does something so shady that he deserves more than Dante just kicking his ass in the cage!
Despite these things, Extreme Love has a lot of heart. It may not be one of the best MMA/fighter romances out there, but it is a good romance with great characterization. Cait is the kind of female protagonist that women will relate to. She is the type of character that will inspire you and maybe in some cases, like Abby Niles has said on her blog, be a hero to those who have struggled with weight loss and the humiliation of those who make assumptions.