April 3, 2012

Review: Rules of the Game by Sandy James

Source: we received an e-ARC of the book through NetGalley for review purposes.

Note: this review has two parts, or two different reviews. The first one is spoiler free, the second one spoils the whole plot. If you don't like spoilers there's a mark that separates both reviews.

The reason I picked this book was because the blurb hit all the right notes. I love Contemporary Romance and this one looked like a cute story about a shy woman trying to get over her issues by confronting her fears with the help of a bad boy hero. What’s not to love, right? If you are like me, then it will only take reading the blurb to see how appealing this book is. Unfortunately, the blurb was pretty much the only thing that worked for me.

Maddie Sawyer is shy, insecure and pretty much settled for a life alone. But she’s also Kathryn West, the pseudonym she uses to write bestselling romance novels that have brought her fame and wealth. When she is Kathryn she has it all, including confidence and security. So when her High School reunion approaches she decides to behave a little bit more like Kathryn to show everyone that she no longer is that plain girl they used to ignore. Part of her plan involves getting a date that will leave everyone speechless and envious, so she goes from bar to bar in search of the perfect bad boy.   

Who she finds is beyond everything she was hoping for. Scott Brady is hot, rough around the edges and rides a motorcycle, the perfect guy for the job. So she offers him a deal: if he agrees to go with her to the reunion and act the boyfriend part, she will pay all the expenses and also pay him. In turn, Scott offers her a different deal: he will go with her only if she agrees to pose as his girlfriend in front of his matchmaker annoying friends. In order to pose as a couple they must know each other first so they begin spending time together, and of course feelings get in the mix. 

Until this point everything was working perfectly for me. Maddie was slightly annoying but I could see where she was coming from and it was nice to see her realize that she was missing out by hiding and that she needed to start living. The hero was mysterious and appealing, I wanted to know all his secrets. There were a couple of fun scenes and overall I was enjoying the book a lot. And then the High School reunion happened and I realized that this book suffered from everything and the kitchen sink. There are so many tropes in this story that it became too much.  I can’t give more details about it without spoiling the book, so if you want to stop reading now these are my closing thoughts:

Ms. James has a compelling voice and the general idea was good and entertaining. This book could easily be described as fun and sexy, that is, if Maddie’s issues and Scott’s secrets had been kept as the main focus. However, the addition of unnecessary and poorly handled plot devices ruined a story that had great potential for character development. The hero is the book’s highlight because he was refreshing in his willingness to commit and support the heroine no matter what (and there’s a lot of what in here), but it wasn’t enough to save this story for me.

Grade: 1.5
Sensuality: McSexy

Having said that, here is a detailed explanation of why this book didn’t work for me. This will spoil the whole book for you, so don’t read unless you don’t mind knowing what happens.

As I said, this story has so many different tropes and clichés that it became ridiculous. I don’t mind overused tropes, but I don’t want to read them all in one book. Also, they weren’t done successfully which didn’t help my overall impression of the book.

Trope #1: Uggly duckling turned swan: the heroine used to be fat and plain in High School. Now she’s beautiful but doesn’t realize it. Doesn’t matter because the hero does and helps her be more confident.

He made me feel sexy, something I’d never imagined I could be. His reaction to me freed something deep inside and made me want to please him, because I was discovering that in pleasing him, I also pleased myself.

Trope #2: Heroine leads a double life with a secret, confident alter ego: shy, insecure woman, writes successful romance novels under a secret pen name. How can being so successful and talented not help her be more confident? No idea, but I give her some credit for realizing that she was using it as a façade to hide behind.

Here in the Big Apple, I was Kathryn West. That’s how I signed all my books, the name I dropped at parties my publisher liked to throw, and how I introduced myself at book conventions where I met people who loved me even though they didn’t know who I really was. (…) 

(…) But what about Maddie Sawyer? She would be a proverbial wallflower. She would wear an outfit from Target and shoes from Payless. She would laugh at other people’s lame stories, and no one would even remember she’d been there. Once a geek, always a geek. I’d wished I was Kathryn West more times than I could count. Then it dawned on me like a smack upside the head. Why in the hell couldn’t I be Kathryn West? I’d invented that persona, after all.

Trope #3: Hero in disguise: yep, Scott is hiding something. His friends don’t match his blue collar background, he isn’t clear about what he does for a living, he doesn’t want her to see his apartment and he gets repeated phone calls that he won’t answer in front of Maddie. Maybe he’s a drug dealer, or a puppy kicker, or he kills mommy cats in front of their kittens. Judging by how the heroine reacts when she finds out about it, one would think it was all of that and more. But alas, that’s not the case, he’s a, wait for it………………………………… Lawyer! *clutches pearls*. (More of this later) 

Cliché #1: Cute dog: did I mention there’s a dog in this book? He is the cutest thing, one of the best things in the book. 

Cliché #2: Dead brother: the heroine has a dead brother. He got hit by a drunk driver and died. Now he haunts her nightmares and she hates lawyers, why? Because the guy didn’t go to prison thanks to his fairly competent lawyer. This is where I explain trope #3. Poor Scott doesn’t want Maddie to know he is a rich lawyer because at first he wants a girlfriend who will love him for who he truly is (Trope #4: Rich hero posing as poor to find a non-gold-digger soul mate). Then he finds out about the brother and after Maddie says that if you are arrested you’re obviously a criminal and lawyers are the devil, he kind of freaks out and decides not to tell her until later. Obviously this backfires.

 “What happened to him?”  

“Damn drunk driver.” Another bolstering squeeze.  

“It’s not right. You know what? The asshole who hit him didn’t even serve a single day in prison. A couple of weeks in the county lock-up, waiting for a trial that never happened, then nada. Not a damn thing. 

And then:

What happened to innocent until proven guilty? 

I shook my head. “Yeah, that guy was soooo innocent. Failed the breathalyzer. No, if you get arrested, you’re guilty. No one who’s innocent goes on trial”

Trope #5: Heroine was raped: yes, when she was in high school her sister’s boyfriend seduced and raped her. She didn’t say anything about it but now she’s back and wants him to see how happy and successful she is with her fake boyfriend and her secret career.

Honesty, Maddie. Honesty. “More like date rape.” 

Trope #6: Secret baby: after the rape, Maddie finds out she’s pregnant. She hides it so everyone thinks she’s just fat (!), and then tells her parents she’s going away to camp when instead she’s having a baby and giving it away. Her sister helps her, she’s the only one who knows, so at least she doesn’t manage to do this all by herself. But really, how can her parents be so clueless?

When I gave birth to Eli in Indianapolis, my parents thought I was at a creative writing camp. Mom had been thrilled I came back so much thinner

Cliché #3: Secret baby becomes vindictive genius teenager: in the middle of the High School Reunion from Hell secret baby shows up. Now a resourceful teenager (he finds out who his birth mother is even though it was a closed adoption) he demands attention from his mother because his adoptive father died and his adoptive mother is evil. 

The kid fixed his hard eyes on Scott and then shifted them to me. He knew then he’d found Madalyn Sawyer, just as I was sure exactly who he was.  

Elijah Tyler Robertson.  


Those eyes. Oh, my God. I knew those eyes. The same ones looked back at me every damned day in the mirror as I combed my hair and brushed my teeth.  

An accusing finger rose to point at me, trembling every bit as hard as I was. “Because,” Eli said in a voice as brutal as the winter wind, “that bitch is my mom.”

She isn’t really evil, but Secret Baby is a brat and so he decides he wants to go live with his birth mother. This brings us to:

WTF Moment #1: the adoptive mother accepts! Instead of grounding him for the rest of his life she lets him go to New York with the woman who gave him up, a woman they don’t know, but she says yes?! But wait, there's more:

WTF Moment #2: Maddie accepts!!! 

WTF Moment #3: Secret Baby smokes pot, trashes Maddie’s apartment and gets arrested. They help him, he starts calling her mom, she starts thinking of him as her son, then he gets jealous and worried when Maddie and Scott get married (Cliché #4: Insta-love and insta-wedding) and they live happily ever after. And where is the real mom?! Because the adoptive mom IS the real mom. She’s working, her boss didn’t let her go to New York to attend her teenage son’s trial. So convenient.

In the middle of all this Scott is supportive and helps Maddie. He’s clearly in love, although the book is told in first person POV so we don’t know for sure until he actually says so. But when Maddie finds he’s a lawyer she freaks out, that’s the big misunderstanding, that’s what brings them apart. After secret baby, and teenage brat and the rape, she can’t forgive him that? She can’t see how ridiculous and irrational she is? This, right here, was the main reason I didn’t like the book. All the other things were amusing and weird, but I wanted to keep reading, after this I almost didn’t finish it.

So there, the book started great and it has some redeeming qualities, but not enough for me to recommend it, unless you like ridiculous and convoluted plots, then go for it.  

Review by Brie
Grade: 1.5
Sensuality: McSexy


Kathryn West has it all--she's a confident, bestselling author living it up in New York City. Too bad she doesn't actually exist, and is only timid Maddie Sawyer's pseudonym. Determined to attend her high school reunion with a man right out of one of her racy romance novels, she plots to find a sexy bad boy who's up to Kathryn's standards. 

She finds Mr. Perfect shooting pool in a biker bar. He's a blue-collar hunk who just happens to look great in leather. But the mysterious Scott Brady has some rules of his own: he won't agree to her deal unless she poses as his girlfriend in front of his family and friends first. 

As the reunion nears, Maddie tries to maintain her carefree façade, knowing she'll soon face some old ghosts. She's torn between her growing attraction to Scott and the nagging feeling that he's hiding something important. Will she still want him when she finds out his secret? What about when he discovers hers?

Carina Press. April 2, 2012


  1. Way to take one for the team Brie!

    1. Ah well, you win some and lose some ;-). Had great hopes for this book and really wanted to like it but it had too much of everything!

    2. Oh I forgot to tell you! I'm reading another book by R. Lee Smith, The Scholomance. So far so good, wacky but no rape. Well, maybe some rape... but nothing like in Heat LOL. Anyway, I'll probably review it, I know Heat didn't work for you but since we do share that experience I wanted to let you know that I was reading another of her books.

  2. Oh wow this one just has too many things going on. If there were just one or two (I read the spoiler) it would be fine but wow...total overload. Thanks for the honest review.

    1. Those spoilers are difficult to resist! LOL. Yep, all over the place and not in a good way ;-)

  3. That's too bad the book didn't work for you, Brie :( And I wonder, how come it takes her so long to find out that Sam is a lawyer?

    1. Ha! Because he wears t-shirts, jeans, boots, rides a bike and once went to a bar (oh my!). So obviously he can't be a lawyer because you have to be rich for that, and also because he's so secretive, so she assumes that he's either unemployed or ashamed of his job...

  4. I felt the same way. Thank you for expressing it better than I did. I think I was too generous with my rating. ~dixie


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The books reviewed here were purchased by us. If the book was provided by the author or publisher for review, it will be noted on the post. We do not get any type of monetary compensation from publishers or authors.