REVIEW: Spoiler Alert by Olivia Dade
Marcus Caster-Rupp has a secret. The world may know him as Aeneas, star of the biggest show on television, but fanfiction readers call him something else: Book!AeneasWouldNever. Marcus gets out his frustrations with the show through anonymous stories about the internet’s favorite couple, Aeneas and Lavinia. But if anyone discovered his online persona, he’d be finished in Hollywood.
April Whittier has secrets of her own. A hardcore Lavinia fan, she’s long hidden her fanfic and cosplay hobbies from her “real life”—but not anymore. When she dares to post her latest costume creation on Twitter, her plus-size take goes viral. And when Marcus asks her out to spite her internet critics, truth officially becomes stranger than fanfiction.
On their date, Marcus quickly realizes he wants more from April than a one-time publicity stunt. But when he discovers she’s Unapologetic Lavinia Stan, his closest fandom friend, he has one more huge secret to keep from her.
With love and Marcus’s career on the line, can the two of them stop hiding once and for all, or will a match made in fandom end up prematurely cancelled?
CW – fat shaming and parental emotional abuse
Dear Ms. Dade,
The blurb for this book grabbed me as I love me an unapologetic romantic comedy as much as the next reader. For the first third, that’s what I got. And I loved it. It had me floating on a fluffy cloud. Then the pain of fat shaming, dyslexia, and parental expectations appeared. Okay, I was good with this as it explains the MC actions, the way they view life, move through life, and have gotten over what other people think. Unfortunately to paraphrase secondary character Alex, past that point the sponge got claggy.
Marcus and April have both hidden their true selves most of their lives. Marcus because he has severe dyslexia (and why didn’t his teacher parents figure this out? That made no sense to me.) April has been fat shamed since puberty, not only by the world but by her (asshole) father who was aided and abetted by her mother whom he has kept on a short leash about maintaining her own weight. No matter that April’s mother and Marcus’s parents might have loved them, they all failed their children.
Marcus has worked hard for his career (the tidbits about the gawdawful past “straight to DVD” movies, including “ManMaid” and “Sharkphoon” in which he earned his acting chops in are hilariously funny) and has devised the best way he knows in order to avoid probing questions from journalists. If the world considers him a genial, smiling, handsome face and nothing more, well so be it. He’s poured his heart into what he’s done and tried to give value for the money.
April is cool and intelligent. She’s a geologist who loves delving deep beneath the earth and getting soil samples. She can also look at a location and, just as if she’s reading a book, tell exactly what has geologically happened there in the past. Marcus is enthralled by all she tells him about her chosen profession and why she went into it. April, in one of the funnier scenes of the book, finds her well publicized dinner with Marcus starting off as a bore when faced with his charming “Golden Retriever” persona. Then she begins to notice things he lets slip in conversation. This man is not the idiot he is playing in real life.
As their relationship continues and begins to deepen, I was delighted with how their characters are so much a product of how their backstories were written. What they do, how they think, their reactions are part of their core beings. It all makes sense. I didn’t mind when what I thought was going to be more a fluffy story took on pain and angst.
Then I realized that there was still about half the book to go and beyond what I knew would be the third act conflict, what was going to fill the rest? Marcus and his co-star friend Alex love binge watching that show about British Baking and will razz when someone’s sponge goes wrong. Yeah, a lot of the last section of the book, up until the conflict I knew was coming, was like a claggy sponge. It just kind of sat there in a lump and wasn’t the light and airy showstopper beginning of the book.
The conflict, as conflicts do, came out at the worst time for the other character to absorb. I knew it was going to happen and that it needed to happen for these two to have a future together. One thing that I did like about the book was that Marcus and April talk out their problems in the first half. In the second half, emotions swirl (as emotions should by this point) and drive a deeper wedge between them. It takes an outside force for one of them to appreciate the truth behind the other’s worries regarding what caused the lie by omission. At this point, the lie-ee quickly realizes this but I’d like to have seen them come to that on their own.
There were a few other things that seemed off to me. Marcus and April are supposed to be in their late 30s but they often seemed to behave as if they were much younger. The relationship between the MCs is very instalove which is not a personal favorite of mine. Marcus has so many moments of losing faith in himself, collapsing in on himself when faced with conflict and sort of, yes I’ll say it, milquetoastiness that I wonder how balanced the relationship with outwardly tougher April will be in the future. It also seemed to me that many of the other secondary characters were little more than short, thumbnail descriptions: the cold parents, the lesbian coworkers, the foul mouth actors. Very few of them felt like fully realized characters. April’s geology career basically disappears once past the early set-up of her character.
I also lost interest in all the fic and fandom aspects. At first it helped set the stage for a lot of April’s and Marcus’s backstories but after a while, the inclusion of bits and pieces between chapters only detracted from the main story. Since I don’t read fanfic or visit fandoms, I had no idea what a lot of the abbreviations were. And I have to be honest about the fact that Marcus writing fanfic about a series that he is in and a character whom he plays is creepy even if he doesn’t include sex in his fic. The epilogue is full on rainbows, unicorns, and fluffy bunnies.
I wanted to totally adore this book for putting fat-shaming out there and calling it what it is. The way that Marcus and April finally call their parents on all the emotional abuse they’ve endured and say enough, no more is fantastic. The initial way that these two discover that they are drawn to and interested in each other is lovely. Then alas the shortcomings became more apparent and the second half of the story fizzled out for me. C
I just read this and quite enjoyed it… though I’ll admit that I’m hardly an analytical reader. I can appreciate all your points, Jayne. I could see the dyslexia slipping by Marcus’ parents since they were instructors in Ancient Greek and in Latin, but their exclusion of him (taking walks while he had to keep working, for example) was sad. April’s friend from her first job was only mentioned once after she left the job which did seem surprising. Still, despite those and other issues, I’ll happily read this again.
@Kareni: I know that Marcus’s parents were focused on ancient languages but what surprised me about them is that by this point in time, most of the general public have usually heard of dyslexia. If their child were having trouble learning to read, that diagnosis ought to have at least crossed their minds. If the rest of the book had been working better for me then this, I admit, minor issue wouldn’t have bothered me much.
Marcus is my age and while dyslexia was known when I was in school, it (and several other learning disorders) weren’t generally considered when classmates were having issues. They were generally just told to try harder. Options like switching fonts, audiobooks, etc. didn’t really exist in any practical sense.
As a fanfic reader, I did think that those bits were handled well. Aspects of the story definitely reminded me of fanfic–such as the snowball effect lie and mutual grand gestures.
Overall, the story was engaging and kept my attention. I’m looking forward to the follow-up book.
My husband was not diagnosed with dyslexia until he went into the army.
@Christy: @Jennifer Wolfe: Thank you ladies for your input.
Jayne, can you say why you thought his writing fanfic about his show and character was creepy? Narcissistic I can see but it doesn’t sound creepy to me–was there something specific about his writing that made it so for you? Also, what was his motive for choosing his own character and show to write fanfic about?
@Janine: The whole reason he got started writing fanfic was because of his dissatisfaction with some of the scripts and storylines for the show. The TV show he’s in is based on a series of books (similar to Game of Thrones but this is about Aeneas after the fall of Troy) and of course the writers eventually change things, switch things, and later about-face on those. Many of his castmates are pissed but Marcus takes to fanfic to get this out of his system.
Anyway, lots of the fanfic has sexual elements (mentioned as being carefully tagged with warnings as to adult content). Marcus doesn’t write any sex into his stories but as he’s actually the cofounder of this particular group (along with April though they obviously don’t know who the other is in real life), he’s got to see some of it. If he’s invested enough in the show/books/his character that he decides to vent his frustrations via this massive involvement in this fanfic group, to me it would be creepy to write about a character who is essentially “him.” Others describe “Aeneas” in their stories using Marcus’s actual physical looks (he’s blond but the book character has dark hair).
@Jayne: I thought it might be something like this, frustration with how the show is being written. It doesn’t seem creepy exactly to me but it does seem immature and unprofessional. I doubt it would endear him to the show runners if it came out.
I see what you mean about the sex scenes—it’s got to be weird to read and the sexual fantasies people you don’t know in real life have about you. I suppose they would have them even if he weren’t here since he’ a star and the show is popular, but this forum would put it right in his face. Are we told if he reads these and if so, what he thinks about them?
@Janine: He mentioned to April’s online persona (remember at that point he didn’t know who she really was) that he didn’t want to read adult content stories (she had him beta read a lot of her stories) so she would excise those parts out of what she sent him to read. I assume he either skipped sections of other stories or didn’t read the whole story if it was marked with adult content but I can’t remember if this was actually stated in the book.
@Jayne: If he doesn’t read the sex scenes then it doesn’t seem that creepy to me. It does seem really unprofessional though.