REVIEW: Twist by Kylie Scott
Dear Kylie Scott,
I really enjoyed Dirty last year (with one caveat) and I was very much looking forward to Joe’s story – which is what I got in Twist.
Alex Parks is a graphic designer from Seattle who has been corresponding online for the previous six months with (who she thought was) Eric Collins – a co-owner of the Dive Bar in Coeur d’Alene, Idaho. After much prodding from her BFF Val, Alex takes the risk and visits Idaho to surprise Eric for his birthday. Only the “surprise” is on her. Eric has no idea who she is.
It turns out that Joe, Eric’s brother, has been the one she’s been baring her heart to. Eric is the GQ hottie – Joe is more the blonde lumbersexual type and not Alex’s usual dreamboat by any means. Plus, Joe is a lying liar who lies because he’s been pretending to be Eric so Alex is not inclined to cut him any slack. She’s embarrassed, hurt and angry. Surprising “Eric” was a big step out of her comfort zone. Now Alex is thinking she’s better off with no strings one night stands to scratch the sexual itch rather than risking her heart on any kind of relationship.
Joe is extremely apologetic. He hates that he hurt Alex by pretending to be his brother. Eric had (with Joe’s help) set up the dating profile and then, as usual (because he has the attention span of a toddler) abandoned the site. Joe, used to cleaning up Eric’s messes, went onto Eric’s profile to email those who might be waiting for a response and tell them that Eric was offline. Only, he saw Alex’s message and couldn’t help himself. After a while, he was in so deep, extracting himself seemed impossible.
Some of the messages between Alex and “Eric” open the beginning of most of the chapters and they show the burgeoning relationship, particularly from Alex’s side of things, as she starts to open up and invest in the man with whom she’s corresponding.
After the unmitigated disaster of Alex’s first visit to the Dive Bar, she leaves, determined to go home to Seattle on the first available flight. Only, leaving necessitates a long walk in the rain and the next morning, she wakes up with a terrible flu (yes, I know you don’t get flu from walking in the rain but there is something true about colder temperatures making the germs breed faster so there is a link, even if it is a little tenuous). Joe, in penance, is determined to look after Alex until she recovers and hopefully, earn her forgiveness.
At first, Alex’s and Joe’s interactions are fractious. Alex is hurt and angry and she’s not letting Joe off the hook. But he’s being really nice to her since she got sick and even though he’s not at all her type (nor she his apparently), she finds herself drawn to him. She puts up a good fight though.
“You’re too hairy for starters.”
“Who needs that much hair? On your head, your face, the bits on your chest … it’s all too much.”
His brows drew tight. “That so?”
“Why, I bet there’s a jungle down there. Tell me, Joe, have you had any complaints? Is the tiger getting lost?”
Tongue in cheek, he stared back at me.
“I’m just worried about you.” I shrugged, all innocence. “Friend.”
“Kind of you to be so concerned about my dick. Friend.”
I smiled benevolently.
“See, this is why I prefer blondes. Brunettes are just so high-strung. You can never tell when they’re going to turn nasty.” He wrinkled his nose. “And not in the good way either.”
I put my hand to my head. “You’re hating on my hair color?”
“Just calling it like I see it.” Stupidly muscular thick arms crossed over his broad chest. “Also, I like women with a little color. Ones who occasionally go out in the sun. You’re so pale you make Casper look alive. I’d be too fucking scared to touch you. Anything I do would leave a bruise.”
“Do you think maybe that’s because you’re so freakishly large it’s hard to relate to normal-size people?”
Teeth gritted, he gazed down at me. “Now that I come to think about it. I’m not real keen on your eye color, either. What do you call that shade of green? Fungus?”
I gasped in outrage. “Yeah, well, yours reminds me of dirt after the rain. You know, when there’s mud everywhere. Or maybe wet manure.”
“Has your chin always been that pointy, or is that because of some childhood accident?”
A beat of laughter burst out of me. Actually, that was a good one. But I wasn’t done yet. “Your toes are so furry,” I said. “Is it a hassle having to shave them all the time?”
“And I think it’s wonderful some women have a Hobbit foot fetish,” I continued. “Works out damn well for you.”
“That one wasn’t very good.”
“It was too.”
“No. You just keep coming back to body hair and my size. You’re being lazy,” he chided. “Come on. You can do better.”
“I win,” I said. “Again. And I am in no way ever interested in having sex with you. That was just all a sad misunderstanding. I mean, look at you…” I made a fake moue of distaste.
“Sure. Whatever makes you happy, Little Miss.” He held his peace for all of about three seconds. “I don’t want to have sex with you even more.”
God, he was so petty. Juvenile, even. Just the same I ignored him. An act of charity he probably didn’t deserve. But it’s important in relationships, even just friend ones, to show that you’re the better person.
There is an element of affectionate fun in their snarky banter which softens the harshness of some of their words. To his credit, Joe takes responsibility for his actions in lying to Alex by pretending to be Eric and Alex, after spending some time with him, sees that honesty is the norm for him, not subterfuge. In fact, she sees that he is the one who steps in for everyone else, who never says no to someone’s request for help, often to his own cost. And even though he is so not her type, she can’t help but be impressed by his character.
I watched the streetlights cast shadows on the angle of his cheekbone, the furrow of his brow. Strange how his manly beauty had grown on me, redefining or rather stretching my usual boundaries. Perhaps some people’s allure came from the inside out. A good thing. Their ways and their words did the wooing instead of their physical appeal. Not to diss Joe’s impressive physique. As nice as a pretty face was, though, the personality, the person beneath the skin, should matter more. Anything else was pretty shallow and unlikely to last. Guess that was the difference between my scratching an itch with a stranger and the way this man had me tied up in knots. And not even neat, sea-worthy knots. I’m talking, haven’t washed or brushed your hair in forever and there’s a big old mess back there.
Hilariously, Joe’s friends, (Lydia, Vaughan, Nell and Eric) are all determined to fan the flames of what they are determined will be true love. Despite their bumbling efforts, Joe and Alex get together anyway. Alex is very introverted and risk-averse when it comes to relationships. Joe is very open and challenges Alex’s boundaries when it comes to intimacy.
Once my guard was down, due to complete and utter exhaustion, Joe had cuddled me. It was terrible, disgusting. Fingers caressing me, lips pressing soft kisses to my shoulder and the back of my neck. Normally I’d never allow it, but it felt so good. Plus, I was almost comatose. His surprise attack of intimacy slipped straight though my usual defenses.
Even online, Alex and Joe were able to share parts of themselves they kept largely hidden from others. In person, it doesn’t take long until Alex is able to reveal something from her past (relating to Valerie) which has affected her (Alex) ever since, making her mistrustful of most people and even more shy of social interactions. Joe is emotionally mature (basically the polar opposite of Eric actually) and listens with empathy but without platitudes.
“Yes. But prepare yourself, there’s going to be a lot of cuddling tonight.”
“Ew.” I scrunched up my nose at him.
“I know, I know. But you’re going to have to be brave and put up with it.”
After a little while they make a deal: Alex will stay in Coeur d’Alene for a while and she will say yes more often – to socialising. In return, Joe will say no more often and start to do things he wants to do – such as renovating the apartments above the Dive Bar and going against his fathers wishes in so doing. Also, they will have amazing sex together.
As things do in romance novels, things fall apart after that and Alex challenges herself even further. The story is told entirely from her point of view and there is a wonderful growth to her as she steps out of her apartment and embraces life in all its messy glory. In a bit of a twist (heh, see what I did there?) it is Alex who is the brave one and Joe who falters. Until she can’t be brave anymore. This was the bit that was the least successful for me. Only because I was expecting Joe to take some action and I felt their reunion had a little too much of her having to cope with his hurt man-feelings. That said, Joe did have reasons for his reactions but Alex had been so brave, I wanted him to be a little more bold as well. It wasn’t a major issue for me though.
I said earlier that I had one caveat about my enjoyment of Dirty – and that was the representation of queer characters. In Twist, there is another queer character and I’m happy to say she was represented very positively. Valerie is a trans woman. She is presented as more than her gender identity. Her role in the story is more than to be a queer character. She clearly has a life outside of the story of Joe and Alex. That Val is a trans woman is part of her story but it is not the only part. She is happy, healthy and partnered, living a life she enjoys. At least, that’s how I saw it. I’m not trans so I can’t say for sure how Val would be perceived in the queer community but from what I could tell, the representation seemed well done.
I enjoyed the developing friendship between Lydia, Nell, Rosie and Alex – something which showed Alex’s growth and also that Coeur d’Alene would be a place of community for her should she decide to stay. Val also fitted into the group seamlessly, albeit that her life was in Seattle. And to Lydia, goes the best line in the entire book.
“Best of luck, my friend.” Lydia clinked her champagne flute against my glass. “And remember, when in doubt, get the girls out.”
I cocked my head. “What?”
“Tits,” whispered Rosie.
“Ah.” I checked out the small amount I had on offer. “I’m not sure that’ll work in my case.”
“Apparently size doesn’t matter,” said Lydia, who had enough going on for two women with some to spare. “If they’re into breasts, then all are great.”
Maybe. “I think Joe’s more of an ass man, actually.”
Lydia sighed dreamily. Dreamily or drunkenly. Tricky to tell which. “Nothing says I love you like anal.”
Really. I think there’s something in that for all of us. :P
On a side note, I had been expecting that the Nell/Pat/Eric… issue (complication?) would get it’s own book. Given my druthers, I wanted Nell and Pat to sort things out and get remarried. As Nell was pregnant with Eric’s baby (the result of a drunken one night stand) I was looking forward to how it was all going to pan out. I liked the idea of the biological paternity not excluding Pat from being a father to the child and I liked the idea of him getting past the fact that Nell had sex with someone else (even if it was Eric) when they (he and Nell) were separated. I won’t say exactly what happened in Twist because spoilers, but it seems that Nell and Pat are not destined to get their own book (maybe a novella one day?) as their story seemed pretty much wrapped up here. The way it worked out was bittersweet to say the least (plus there’s still a lot that the reader doesn’t know) and it covered a topic I try and avoid in novels because it’s a hot button for me. (Some DA readers who know my tastes will probably guess what I’m talking about here.) It wasn’t the main story however and therefore I didn’t mind that some aspects were only lightly touched upon rather than being given the treatment I’d have expected if Nell was a main character.
Ultimately, Twist was about Joe and Alex. Their romance was funny, sexy and hella entertaining. I enjoy your humour and your writing style – as is most often the case, I sank into the story from the beginning and found excuses to keep reading until I was done. Unlike chocolate or cake or any of the foods that I’m often tempted to binge on, binge-reading Twist didn’t leave me with a tummy ache and a mountain of regret. Rather, it left me with a smile and a happy book sigh.