My Review: Against the Ropes by Sarah Castille was a very generic read for me. It's another MMA fighter erotic contemporary romance with a twist: our hero, Torment, is not only an underground fighter, but also a billionaire!!! Oh...wait. We've read that one before. Nevermind. Anyway, it's a formula we are all familiar with: Good girl (Makayla aka Mac) meets bad boy (Torment aka Max Huntington) at Redemption, a full service gym/training center that also serves as a place to host unsanctioned underground fights. Torment, who just so happens to own the place, offers Makayla a part time position as a way to get to know her. At first she declines, but after being threatened by a collections agency over school loans, she decides the 2nd job might just be a blessing. Or is it because she can't stop thinking about the hot owner of Redemption? Add in the promiscuous best friend (Amanda) and a male character (Dr. Drake) that serves as an illusion for a love triangle when we all know he doesn't have a shot in hell of getting the girl and you have yourself another generic new adult romance. Against the Ropes also suffers from a few inconsistencies and unrealistic situations. But despite all of this, Sarah Castille was still able to create an entertaining story with a sexy alpha male, spunky heroine, and smoking hot chemistry/sex scenes.
Here is what I liked. The author was able to infuse well paced humor throughout the story. Once Makayla starts to get to know the other fighters at Redemption, they slowly form a bond. I enjoyed the camaraderie, and there were quite a few laugh out loud moments, especially when Mac gets drunk and Torment walks in on her playing strip poker with the guys. Even though I sort of had issues with her promiscuous best friend Amanda, I couldn't help but laugh when Mac and Amanda were on the phone and Amanda was relaying some of the kinky things Dr. Drake was...
doing in the bedroom (long story, but definitely funny).
Castille definitely knows how to write some swoon worthy chemistry and sexy time. Torment was a true alpha male. I loved all of his growly moments and I liked the fact that Makayla didn't always take his crap. She was sure to let him know when he crossed a line. From the very beginning there was a great build in sexual tension, especially the scene where Torment teaches Mac some submission holds in the ring...*fans face* Other than one very awkward sex scene (I'll be getting to that in a moment) the rest was hotter than hot. And who doesn't love an alpha that talks dirty? >=)
I also liked the serious turn the story took once Torment and Makayla's backgrounds start to unravel. Without saying too much about their troubled childhoods, they both have control issues. Because of Torment's devastating past, he fears not being able to protect the ones he loves, so he thinks controlling Mac and choosing what she can and can't do is the best way to keep her from harm. On the flip side you have Makayla who, because of the skeletons in her closet, has always dated safe, boring guys. Being attracted to and dating Torment is out of her comfort zone and his dominate, controlling behavior scares (and excites) her in and out of the bedroom. She values her independence and fears being controlled. So the author deserves some credit for giving her characters some depth, even though their troubled pasts are nothing new to the genre.
I had quite a few issues with Against the Ropes, most of which were annoying for the simple fact that the inconsistencies and unrealistic situations took away from the heart of the story. I'll start with the small problems and work my way to the bigger ones. First, the beginning started off a bit awkward. Makayla is at Redemption, working as a ticket booth person when she meets Rampage, the manager. The author gives Rampage every kind of clichéd characteristic to make the reader think he is a creepy douche bag: he smells, he's dirty, has horrible breath, missing teeth, tight clothing that stretches over a "keg sized belly"-- you get the mental picture. Although he pulls a prank on her, Makayla eventually learns to like the guy. So what's the problem? Maybe it's just me but for some reason the characteristics don't fit the person. Torment didn't strike me as the type of person that would allow someone with bad hygiene or a complete creeper to manage his "training center". Another odd thing I noticed in that beginning scene of the story is Makayla never mentions taking her shoes off, yet when she is forced to walk into the ring, she is barefoot. When did she kick off her shoes? Furthermore, why in the hell isn't she resisting? If some creepy dude came up to me and told me I was going to have to get in the ring to fight, I would be flipping out. Yes, I get this was the author's brilliant idea to get Makayla and Torment to meet face to face. But really? This is the best Castille came up with? It felt forced and unrealistic.
Another thing that didn't quite make sense is Makayla's career choice. She is a certified EMT and is bouncing back and forth on whether she wants to become a doctor. Yet she can't stand the sight of blood or violence? Okay, MAYBE violence I can believe, but she gets sick and starts to dry heave when one of the fighters describes a submission hold in detail??? VERY unrealistic.
I also had issues with the suspicious collections agency called Collections R US. Makayla had some student loans and one day out of the blue she gets a call from Sergio Martinez, a supposed collections agent. The guy harasses her, calls her from his cell phone, etc. Later in the novel another agent calls and actually physically threatens her. This was the one plot vehicle I couldn't swallow. It was not only unbelievable, but it makes Makayla--who I overall admired-- look extremely stupid. Why didn't she call the police? File a complaint? Oh, wait. That's right. It was just another way for the author to give Torment an excuse to flex his wallet and pay Mac's debt. But did she really owe that much??? Was it really a collections agency calling her or frauds trying to take advantage of her? Yeah, makes no sense.
Oh, let's not forget the awkward first sex scene. I have no problems with BDSM, or alpha males being dominate and in control. But what I couldn't quite wrap my head around is Torment creating this awesome romantic dinner at his place for Makayla...and instead of taking her upstairs afterwards, he takes her for a ride on his motorcycle, procures rope, and ties her face down on the bike. But when she expresses her discomfort and shows fear since they barely know each other, instead of untying her and apologizing for freaking her out, he disappears for several moments to "punish" her for displeasing him. WTF??? It just totally didn't work for me. If the scene maybe took place later once they knew each other a little better...needless to say, it was one of those awkward scenes that I was happy to forget about once they moved onto the next sex scene which was MUCH better.
My last major issue I had was a definite "roll your eyes" moment. Towards the climax of the story, something traumatic happens to Makayla. Torment comes to the rescue. But instead of consoling her, he drags her to a shed and tells her to take all her clothes off. He doesn't give her an explanation and when she refuses, he barks out the order again. Scared, she starts to undress and then Torment suddenly starts to take his belt off. Makayla freaks out in fear. He gets angry that she doesn't trust him. Ready for the blow-your-mind explanation for his actions? Torment wanted her to disrobe so he could see if she was injured underneath her clothes and he was taking his belt off so his buckle wouldn't hurt her...umm, REALLY??? Like Makayla or any other recently traumatized woman would draw those conclusions???
Against the Ropes was one hell of a roller coaster ride. It had its laugh out loud moments, a sexy alpha hero, likeable heroine (for the most part), and very hot sex scenes (if you can skip over the first one). Unfortunately, it's a story riddled with unrealistic scenarios the author conjured up without much thought process. Sloppy is a word that keeps popping in my mind. In a genre that is overly saturated in MMA fighter romances, authors need to be a bit more conscious of not necessarily what they are writing but how their stories are being written. It's cool to use the formula, after all, it's popular for a reason. But remember, it's not about quantity. It's about quality.