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Book Review: Firewall, by Sierra Riley

Firewall

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“You got me fired!”

“I made more enemies than friends.”

Justin West is one of the world’s most sought-after IT security specialists. His skills as a network penetrator are renowned, but in meatspace he’s cold and awkward. Online he’s at the top of his game, and who needs soft skills when you’re top dog? But in a cutthroat industry, enemies abound, and Justin is framed for a massive security breach. Soon it’s not just his job on the line; his very life is in danger.

“If I can’t keep you safe, what good am I?”

Bodyguard Calder Lesley takes pride in his career protecting others. In contrast to his geeky hotshot best friend, Calder uses body language and psychology to excel at his job. He only ignores his instincts when it comes to Justin. Even though their friendship has been long distance for eight years, Justin’s feelings for him are obvious. Calder’s afraid of nothing… except losing a friend to pursue a new kind of love.

“We’re both in danger unless we act now.”

It’s a fight to the death to keep Justin’s fledgling firm alive. He’s eating humble pie a few bytes at a time, and needs the help of someone he can trust with everything, including his life. For the first time in nearly a decade, they’re back on Calder’s turf: face-to-face. As his new PA and bodyguard, Calder protects him and stops him from making more enemies. The sparks fly as jealous enemies beat down the door. Opposites might attract, but can they last?

Firewall is a steamy, standalone gay romance novel with a HEA and no cliffhangers.

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Book – Firewall

Author – Sierra Riley

Star rating – ★★★☆☆

No. of Pages – 282

Cover – Very nice.

POV – 3rd person, dual POV

Would I read it again – No!

Genre – LGBT, Contemporary, Friends-to-Lovers, Crime, Geek

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** I WAS GIVEN THIS BOOK, BY THE AUTHOR, IN RETURN FOR AN HONEST REVIEW **

Infuriatingly misinformed! This is a friends-to-lovers, gay-for-you story, with a criminal element.

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I have to admit that, straight off the bat, it felt almost like a carbon copy of Someday, which I read recently. The use of the Prologue to show a heated moment between the two MC’s; the formula of having a romance take center stage, with a crime in the background; even the process of having one character gay, the other questioning and their interactions feels the same.

I hate the Prologue idea. I hated it in Someday and it doesn’t work here, either. I know nothing about these characters, so why do I want to jump into them getting it on, on the first page? I don’t know, care or have any interest in these people at the moment, so throwing me into this emotionally charged moment is disorientating and doesn’t give me any information about them.

There’s also a major problem – for me – with the way the author treats aspergers syndrome. Having two cousins who are high on the spectrum, I know what it’s like to live with the syndrome and the difficulties that they face in life. Unfortunately, the majority of the story treats aspergers more like a social disease than a real syndrome.

I’ve curbed some of my anger since writing my first review of this, so I’m going to bullet point the numerous ways the author mistreats Justin, who is the character with aspergers, and makes out that he’s wholly defined by his syndrome, while at the same time misrepresenting it.

  • The terms used to describe Justin. Socially awkward, difficult to deal with, challenging, distracted. All of these and more were used either by Calder or in the text, and, sadly, a lot of the times in Justin’s own POV, until I became convinced that he considered all of these to be valid “faults” and complaints.

  • We’re told a million times that Justin is selfish, self-absorbed and only talks about himself. Only once is there a mention of the fact that he has difficulty picking up social and facial cues.

  • This quote → “Sure, Justin was a bit hard to be around sometimes but he wasn’t a bad guy.” I can’t even… I mean…I don’t even know what to say to that! All I could do, when I read it, was highlight it and move on because it’s left me speechless. This is not the way to treat anyone with aspergers.

  • This quote → ““Because you’re standoffish when you’re awake to most people. I just figured when you’re sleeping is when all the neediness would kick in.”” Because, when Calder says stuff like this, I’m being given no reason at all to like him or the way he treats Justin. I certainly don’t want him to be the romantic lead.

  • Justin is not “cold and awkward”. Limiting aspergers to such calculated examples is insulting.

Justin – and others with aspergers – aren’t selfish people. They can be uncomfortable in social settings and the best way to make them feel comfortable is to talk about what they know and like. Yes, sometimes that means talking about themselves, but it frustrates me the way that Calder is portrayed as someone who – even after knowing Justin his whole life – doesn’t realise this. Where has he been? Has he never realised what is so obvious or did he never, in all of his bodyguard meticulousness, research aspergers to figure it out?

Also, why have eight years passed since they last saw each other in person? The minute Justin needs him now, he’s there in a flash. Sure, it’s a long drive, but why have they never had a weekend or week off together? Have their jobs never taken them even remotely close to a location where they could linger, when the job was done, and visit with each other? Perhaps it’s for this reason, or maybe just because they barely know anything about each other, that I find the “best friend” label suspect. They don’t act or talk like best friends.

And, why, when Calder keeps talking about how he’s always had feelings for Justin, is his first reaction to Justin’s kiss to ask “What’s that about?” As if he has no clue and is laughing it off.

Not to mention that one moment, Justin is incredible, firing all of Calder’s buttons, then when it’s over, his technique is lacking and the mighty Calder will have to help him improve. Wow, that’s some ego and, on top of everything else he’s done, I’m done with this character.

I don’t approve of the use of quotation marks for the term “invisible disease”. Seeing it here, even, makes my teeth itch. An invisible disease is a real thing and relegating it to quotation marks implies the complete opposite. As though it’s something made up and not accepted. Also, calling it a disease makes me want to scream. It implies infectious, abnormal and unwanted. It’s an invisible disability – something that was done to this person against their will, by no fault of their own, that affects their day-to-day life. Yes, it often prevents them from being considered “normal” in society’s eyes, but it’s not a death sentence or a contagion.

Plot wise, I found it really hard to imagine a hotel mixing up their rooms, since Calder books in advance, especially since no one warned them of the “mistake” at the desk, when they checked in. It felt a bit like a contrived effort to get them into the same bed. Calder accepted it way too easily, too.

There are a few spelling and grammar mistakes, mostly with apostrophe’s being added before or after words, when there’s no need. Example: ‘have and would’. There are also a few instances where sentences have been cut in half –

As Justin finally broke the pacing to head upstairs and make sure the guestroom was tidy. He only hoped that this wouldn’t turn out to be the biggest mistake of his life.”

There’s also quite a bit of repetition – either in exact phrases being used multiple times, far too close together or in actual statements, from the author, such as the constant reminder of how amazing and brilliant Justin is at techie stuff, that he’s got aspergers, and that he and Calder have a will-they wont-they, friendship/relationship. Add in a few moments where characters claim things that are wrong (Justin says Calder’s never told him if he’s been with a man before, when he has told him) or know things they’re not supposed to, and it needed a bit more editing.

I found the blurb to be completely misleading. There is no “fight to the death”, no real danger. What danger there is happens in the last 10% of the book, in a flash of action that never really implies danger. There is a split second life-or-death moment, but that’s it.

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Honestly, it could have been a great story if Justin didn’t have aspergers syndrome, as the author didn’t have the first clue what it really meant. He was constantly mislabelled as socially awkward, selfish and self-involved, completely dismissing his aspergers as a cause of those things. The dismissive attitude didn’t end there, as Calder – his best friend! – was often the conduit to display this misunderstanding of the syndrome. He persistently considered Justin bothersome, difficult to deal with, awkward and self-involved. It was infuriating.

If I set aside my anger with that aspect of the story, I’m left with a decent romance novel, with a touch of crime and a good knowledge of techie stuff, that mostly flew right over my head.

The relationship lacked chemistry, but that might be because I absolutely hated Calder. He was overbearing, egotistical and a control freak. Putting aside how he treated and spoke to Justin, these were enough reasons for me to hate him.

Overall, not for me. It just…fell flat. The formula (I can’t think of another way to put it) that the author uses for their stories is fine. I get it and it works for them. But it just doesn’t work for me. It worked (mostly) in Someday, which is my only previous experience of this author. But, this time around, Justin was the only character I actually liked. And it’s really hard for one character to pull off a book nearly 250 pages long on his own.

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