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REVIEW: Bender by Stacy Borel

Dear Ms. Borel:

I read this because it was on the Kindle bestseller list for a couple of weeks. I try to stay up on the market by reading up and down the Kindle list. I kind of get why the book is selling well but not entirely. There were two large problems with this book. First, the heroine was quite irritating. I think I texted a reader friend and said I’d like to reach through my screen and slap her around a bit. Second, there were a number of storylines introduced, then forgotten, only to be brought around when there was a call for drama.

bender stacy borelThe story opens with twenty year old Keegan living at home with her mother and her eight year old sister. Keegan is portrayed as world weary but loving. Her mother is constantly working and Keegan has all but raised her younger sister.  The distractions of home are causing her grades to slide and imperiling her chances of getting into nursing school. At the advice of her slutty sexually active, better looking, thinner, more outgoing best friend, Keegan searches for a roommate. Out of all the places she finds on her meager budget is a bedroom in a two story apartment rented/owned by Camden Brooks.

Camden starts out by pulling a Tate as I am now calling it. That’s where a male protagonist says something insulting about the female protagonist within the hearing of the female protagonist, usually a disparaging comment about her weight. Camden refers to Keegan as chubby.  He does this because he likes her so much. And no, Camden is not in kindergarten. He’s twenty-six.

Why he needs a roommate is never made clear. He is, after all at age twenty-six, the owner of a successful local gym. How he is successful isn’t clear either because at one point, he asks everyone in the gym to leave so he can screw Keegan. That doesn’t seem to be the actions of a successful small business owner.

The initial interaction between Camden and Keegan consist of little talk, glares, and Keegan internally bemoaning that she’s short, unattractive, and possibly overweight. Given that she wore a size ten jean and had a nice rack, the chubbiness was a tough sell for me. I get that most women are self conscious of their weight and certainly Keegan had self esteem issues but calling her chubby seemed excessive.

Surprisingly Camden is not the worst character in the book. That role belongs to Keegan. She is one of the most immature characters I’ve read in a long time and she was written in such a way that I felt she needed serious anger management therapy.

For instance, Camden discovers she is sleeping on an air mattress and buys a bedroom set. Keegan is offended by this generosity and decides to take a baseball bat to the furniture. Fortunately Camden is able to wrestle the bat away from her in time, but seriously, what the hell? “You jerk, you did something nice for me so I’m going to ruin it and cost you a shit ton more money.”

In another scene, Keegan sees Camden do something she doesn’t like and goes ballistic on his car,

I was in my own little bubble. I’d hoped that it would give me some relief, some sort of reprieve from the need to go over there and hurt him. I never said anything about what I was doing was right, but all sense of reason had left my body. When it wasn’t enough, I dropped my bag and started using my feet. … Have you ever been so angry that you saw red? His gesture repulsed me. I kicked everything that I could lay my eyes on; the bumper, the door, the hood. I was running around it like a mad woman.

A mad woman is the perfect description. Keegan continues her ridiculous behavior right up to the end of the book, each ridiculous and immature action topping the last.

Camden’s characterization as a mild dom was weird as well like unexpected anal. Whoops, was not prepared for this. Yes, I got that he liked to be in control but the way it was introduced in the bedroom came off as forced.

The story had a weird amalgamation of a bunch of different popular tropes–the big misunderstanding, the young alpha who likes to dominate in the bedroom, the downtrodden heroine who doesn’t understand how beautiful and sexy she is, the sexually active best friend, and the unattractive girl misused by the frat boy.

I didn’t understand what Keegan saw in Camden other than he was hot. I didn’t see what Camden saw in Keegan. Keegan’s mother was initially portrayed as a hard worker but absentee mother. Later the mother turns the corner into horrific neglect due to the mother’s relationship with a man. The plot lines that opened the story such as Keegan being her sister’s caretaker and the importance of nursing school is set aside for a great portion of the book, only to be trotted out at the end.

I liked that the heroine tried to date someone early on and even had a relationship with someone before hooking up with Camden. The sex scenes weren’t bad at first but I started skipping them in the latter part of the story. There was a readability about the story but by the time I reached the end, I disliked Keegan so much I felt she needed to be drop kicked into therapy. D

Best regards,

Jane

 

 

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Jane Litte is the founder of Dear Author, a lawyer, and a lover of pencil skirts. She spends her downtime reading romances and writing about them. Her TBR pile is much larger than the one shown in the picture and not as pretty. You can reach Jane by email at jane @ dearauthor dot com

31 Comments

  1. Donna Thorland
    May 04, 2014 @ 11:36:56

    “Camden starts out by pulling a Tate as I am now calling it. That’s where a male protagonist says something insulting about the female protagonist within the hearing of the female protagonist, usually a disparaging comment about her weight. Camden refers to Keegan as chubby. He does this because he likes her so much. And no, Camden is not in kindergarten. He’s twenty-six.”

    I wonder if this is the contemporary version of: “She is tolerable, but not handsome enough to tempt me.”

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  2. Jane
    May 04, 2014 @ 11:39:05

    @Donna Thorland: Oh no, he intentionally insults her because he knows upon seeing her that he’s so attracted, she’ll change his life.

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  3. Nessa
    May 04, 2014 @ 11:53:32

    Is anyone else frightened by the increasing number of immature heroines in romance novels that get super popular? Not infantalized or without agency as they used to be but actually immature. I’m so tired of 20-25 year-olds acting like they’re 12 and hormonal; and I’m fucking scared by how many people like these books

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  4. CC
    May 04, 2014 @ 12:46:45

    Thank you, Jane, for saving me from this one. I loathe immature heroines like this.

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  5. Lorenda
    May 04, 2014 @ 14:00:56

    @Nessa: This is why I can’t marathon-watch some of the television series on Netflix. I find myself yelling at shows like Grey’s Anatomy, because by the end of a couple of seasons, every single character on the show has made the same boneheaded decisions that another character just went through.

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  6. jane
    May 04, 2014 @ 14:05:01

    @nessa . . . Yes. I have a hard time getting into New Adult stories because the women just seem SOOO immature. They’re 20 or 21 and bemoaning their life . . . that has barely started! I’m just not a fan of this new genre.

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  7. Mzcue
    May 04, 2014 @ 15:04:54

    It irks me that New Adult and Young Adult are well established categories, while marketing stories for Older Adults would surely be the kiss of doom. If only I could think up a better name for a romance sub-genre of people 30 and 40+. “Older adult” is simply a non starter, and “Mature Adult” sounds like retirement communities. I feel certain that there’s a market here, don’t you think?

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  8. stacy
    May 04, 2014 @ 17:05:14

    Jane,
    While I truly appreciate you taking the time to read and review my book, I’d like to point out the genre in which you were reading. It’s a coming of age story. The characters come across as immature but grow as the story progresses. I’m completely understanding of peoples distaste for Keegan. While I applaud those women who are capable of feeling good about themselves or have a stronger backbone than most, I wrote a character that resembled a lot of women and their insecurities. How do I know this? Simply put, I wrote a character based off of myself. Her insecurities are my own. How she speaks, deals with situations, etc, is how I deal. So for those to say that she was annoying or immature, I guess she/I wouldn’t deal with things the same way that you would. Different strokes for different folks, huh?
    But here-in lies my biggest frustration with people reading stories these days. Can’t we just let fantasy be a fantasy? Why does it have to be an issue that Camden, a successful small business owner, chose to close his door to screw his girlfriend? So it likely wouldn’t happen in real life. Why is it an issue in a fantasy? (All I can picture is Fifty Shades of Grey. Fuck the paperwork.) Also, he takes one look at Keegan and knows she’s it for him. May not have ever happened to you, and it may not have ever happened to me, but again, it’s the beauty of losing yourself in a story that is based off of fictional characters. When I pick up a book, I like to lose myself in a world that isn’t my own, one that let’s me feel emotions different from my day-to-day living.
    I suppose this is the beauty behind books. While you may be looking at Bender as a book with an annoying protagonist, and plot lines that aren’t realistic, I’ll keep writing books that make me feel good. Reading is subjective. And despite one of the most harsh reviews I’ve ever read, I hope others who may come across this review will still choose to give Bender a chance. I’m sorry you didn’t connect, or enjoy it.

    Sincerely,
    Stacy (the author)

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  9. Stacy
    May 04, 2014 @ 17:05:55

    Interesting that I am trying to respond to this review and it keeps spitting it back as spam. What gives?

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  10. Jolie Jacq
    May 04, 2014 @ 17:11:33

    @Mzcue: Maybe something about “life experience”? Whatever you call it, please add my name to the mailing list. Some of my favourite books are about older protagonists and I’d love to read more.

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  11. Kathleen
    May 04, 2014 @ 19:20:25

    Welp, I’ll stay away from this one. I’m curious though, which book/character does “pulling a Tate” refer to?

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  12. CC
    May 04, 2014 @ 20:13:22

    Mzcue: Yes! I love books with characters in their 30s and 40s and would be happy if there were lots more and if they were better labeled. There just isn’t anything identifiable to me anymore in the New Adult category and I avoid them at all costs. And yet that’s nearly all that’s out there nowadays.

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  13. CC
    May 04, 2014 @ 20:14:20

    @Kathleen: Sweet Dreams by Kristen Ashley.

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  14. Sarah M.
    May 04, 2014 @ 20:16:58

    Thanks for the review! I was debating purchasing this one, and I’m going to pass.

    @Kathleen – I believe the comment references the hero in Kristen Ashley’s Sweet Dreams (Colorado Mountain #2).

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  15. Kathleen
    May 04, 2014 @ 20:35:29

    Thanks, CC & Sarah M! It reminds me of the tactics of pick up artists, not that a Kristen Ashley hero would need help picking up women…

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  16. Jane
    May 04, 2014 @ 21:00:55

    @stacy: Thanks for commenting. We have an aggressive spam filter so I apologize for your comment getting stuck in spam.

    I have heard this argument about how because romances are fiction that ordinary rules of the universe don’t need to apply or, as you put it, it’s fantasy. But in contemporary romances (as with any genre) a story must be authentic for me to buy into it. If I am presented with a wealthy, successful character then I need to see that character act in ways that are consistent with what the author is telling me. His actions must meet the description otherwise the character’s description becomes like swiss cheese.

    In your own comment, you ask me to both believe in the authenticity of your character – Keegan as immature – and the not based in reality fantasy – Camden as a successful small business owner.

    I agree that in a coming of age story that the character can come across immature but grow as the story progresses. The problem for me in Bender is that Keegan actually does a Dorian Gray. She starts off with someone with character growth and becomes increasingly immature as the story goes on. The taking the baseball bat to the furniture, jumping to conclusions and destroying a car, and then her behavior at your dark moment (with her sister and Camden) doesn’t reveal character growth to me. It led me to believe that Keegan was devolving. She didn’t exhibit these violent, off the charts rage, in the first half of the book.

    That her first choice when confronted with a good deed is to cause destruction does not read to me like someone achieving growth or stability in their character.

    You ask me to lose myself in a story and I want to do that. But when things aren’t grounded in reality or realism, I’m jolted out of the story. I’ve read and enjoyed plenty of New Adult books. I love the coming of age story but when I enter the fictional world, I rely on the author to create a world that is fully immersible. When there are things that take me out of the story–such as factual inaccuracies or even an experience that doesn’t ring true–then I’m no longer able to lose myself.

    I didn’t take issue with the fact that Camden, at the age of 26, is a successful small business owner of a gym–a business that has a high fail rate. Or that he lives in a two story “apartment”. Or that he even wants/needs a roommate. Or any of the other small implausibilities. I accepted those in furtherance of the story. But there were just too many implausibilities and Camden closing down his business, one that relies upon the patronage of individuals, was just the icing on the cake.

    Realism, authenticity, believability are all important to me when I read romance stories.

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  17. Jane
    May 04, 2014 @ 21:03:15

    @Kathleen: Yes, as the other commenters noted, Tate is the hero in Sweet Dreams. I remember reading that scene and audibly sucking in my breath when Tate made some really unlikeable comments about Lauren. He did not intend for her to hear them though.

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  18. Melissa K
    May 04, 2014 @ 21:31:48

    @Jane: “Simply put, I wrote a character based off of myself. ” Oh Shit Jane… you better park your car in the garage tonight.

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  19. hapax
    May 04, 2014 @ 22:13:45

    I am baffled by authors who feel the need to come into a comment thread to pick a fight with a review. Does that EVER work to the author’s advantage?

    I am both arrogant and rude, so would not be intimidated by an author intruding on my reader-space. But I do know that many readers are nicer and better-socialized than I am, and find all discussion shut down by these author fly-ins.

    And — from a purely marketing standpoint — such author comments had better be masterpieces of prose, both from a technical and aesthetic standpoint, to overcome the considerably negative initial impressions that this behavior creates. (it CAN be done, to both graceful and hysterical effect, but never, ever, from a position of defensiveness).

    I know that all regular DA readers know all this already, but it bears repeating for both this author’s sake (if she’s still monitoring this thread) and any author who thinks about doing it in the future. Not only will I not read this particular book, the author’s name is now branded into my brain as a “Do Not Buy, Ever.”

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  20. Jane
    May 04, 2014 @ 22:29:03

    @hapax – I don’t know if it was an attempt to pick a fight and it gave me an opportunity to talk about the issue of fantasy in contemporaries. I see this defense a lot from authors and it’s one I don’t agree with. But obviously it’s not an issue for many readers.

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  21. Kaetrin
    May 05, 2014 @ 00:46:23

    “Pulling a Tate”. LOLOL

    I agree with you Jane about fantasy. If a book is set in our world in a contemporary setting, it had better make sense. Even a book in the fantasy genre (where an author can make up her own rules) still has to be internally consistent for a reader to buy it. “It’s just a fantasy” is no excuse for sloppy plotting. I’ll pass on this one too.

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  22. Willaful
    May 05, 2014 @ 01:01:39

  23. SonomaLass
    May 05, 2014 @ 01:29:55

    @Mzcue: I enjoy older main characters, too. Maybe it’s my own age showing. But romance is definitely possible for women no longer in their 20s, and I seek out those books.

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  24. Kierney Scott
    May 05, 2014 @ 02:45:42

    I wear a size 10 (US) jeans and I suppose I could be called chubby, but any man who dared would not be my hero. Not because there is anything wrong with being chubby or fat or even obese, but there is something very wrong with shaming a woman about her body. And if you need to insult a woman to get her attention or make her vulnerable to your advances, you’re kind of a weeny.

    And why did he have to close the entire gym? Does he not have an office? Why interrupt people’s workouts. Seriously, don’t mess with my workout.

    And who is this Tate you speak of?

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  25. Jane Lovering
    May 05, 2014 @ 05:25:06

    Over here in the UK there used to be a publisher of women’s fiction particularly featuring the ‘older’ heroine. It wasn’t exclusively romance, to my recollection, but many of the books did feature a romantic situation. Transita folded in (I think) 2009, so maybe there isn’t the market for ‘older romance’ that you think… Many publishers, my own included, do have some titles which feature an older couple though.

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  26. hilly
    May 05, 2014 @ 10:04:13

    The discussion here is very illuminating, and I’d like to add my opinion that (as Jane touches on) there is a difference between contemporary fantasy and contemporary romance. If one chooses to write a fantasy, then one has to world-build the alternative universe’s rules. If one chooses to write a contemporary story, then one must abide by our own world’s rules. It is an author’s obligation to the characters (as well as to the reader) to maintain those rules consistently throughout.

    I have to disagree with the author’s assertion that the word “fantasy” overcomes discrepancies. The fact that every work of fiction can be credited to an author’s imagination (or “fantasy”), does not equate with the reader’s expectation of the author’s due diligence.

    An active Reader questions why any reader should care enough (or put any money into) reading a work that the author apparently doesn’t care enough about to put the necessary effort into writing. (That includes the appropriate use of Editors, Beta readers and Proof-readers, BTW.)

    Coincidentally, I just gave up on an author (entirely), because after sampling several of her books, I was put off by her lack of basic knowledge of our actual world. Turns out, that’s a deal-breaker for me.

    Thanks for a thought-provoking — and timely — commentary!

    P.S. – I am reading Meljean Brook’s The Kraken King serial [See? I flip between many genres.], and (again, timely!!) there is An Overheard Aspersion that radically changed the protagonists’ interaction and remains unresolved as of III ! I’m on tenterhooks!

    P.P.S. – Last minute decision to tell you the author who disappointed me: Jessica Clare. Fun sounding titles, but she didn’t know enough about anything that she mentioned.

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  27. Anna Richland
    May 05, 2014 @ 10:07:20

    Re older heroines:

    I’m 43. I like to read romances featuring 30 year olds. Not early twenties, b/c I recall that age as being very confused. But 30 – I had my head on straight, met the love of my life AND my knees and butt were still good. It was a nice time.

    So I suspect that a lot of women in their 40s/50s like to read heroines in the late twenties to early thirties range, or at least women they can picture as being in that range. But I don’t really want to read about a woman my age b/c I know her joints can’t do what they used to and she struggles with last year’s pants, shall we say. Sure, here and there an older heroine – remember Amelia Peabody aged across her series? But mostly I try to read fantasy … !

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  28. hilly
    May 05, 2014 @ 10:15:00

    @hilly:

    Edit above to read: “enough (or pay money) to read”

    So:
    An active Reader questions why any reader should care enough (or pay money) to read a work that the author apparently doesn’t care enough about to put the necessary effort into writing. (That includes the appropriate use of Editors, Beta readers and Proof-readers, BTW.)

    Thnx!

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  29. hapax
    May 05, 2014 @ 13:09:05

    @Jane: I’m sorry, I didn’t mean to police your space for you. The comment just punched my buttons.

    But it did give you the opportunity to make an important point about grounding fantasy in realism, so that’s good.

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  30. Donna Thorland
    May 05, 2014 @ 16:45:12

    @Willaful:

    That is a terrific post!

    It seems the Tate and Darcy examples (but probably not the book reviewed here) are both about seeing. If the romantic partner is the person who sees us clearly for who really are–who sees through masks/constructs/ facades we hide behind, then the overheard slight in these cases performs of the function of establishing a starting point for character change. The hero starts off not being able to see the heroine clearly. It’s only through the action of the story that he comes to really see her for who she is.

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  31. Madeleine
    May 06, 2014 @ 07:16:17

    Oh good lord, nothing worse than an author who responds to reviews. You published it, you asked people to pay money for it, your relationship with the buyer of your product ends there. You do not get to defend your book against the way buyers interpret it. That crosses a lot of boundaries.

    If the sound of the heroine wasn’t bad enough (baseball bat wtfffff) that would be enough to stop me from buying this book.

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