This is a difficult one to rate for me. It has good parts and bad parts that force me to choose between what I have learned as a creative writer and reading it as a reader. This book review was requested by Stacy McWilliams, the author of Destroyed by Deceptions.
Let me start off by saying that only books I fail to engage with get one star; so this book was never going to get that because it managed to hold my attention all the way through. I was actually tempted to give it three stars just for that.
However, there are many things wrong with the story. The first one is the writing.
The written story is poor. Many words are used excessively – which all writers, including me, do in their work – but it is usually edited out before publication. At one point, the word ‘door’ was used in almost every sentence for over a page that all my head took in that there was a door … or several doors. It’s not the only word that is repeated like this either.
I also felt that McWilliams told too much rather than showed. We’re told the snow globes are sentimental to Ella because of her mother, we’re not shown why—flashbacks should be used sparingly, but this would have been a perfect opportunity. Not to mention we are told this after something has happened to them. Whereas, if we knew before something happened, we’d be able to understand the scene more. So I didn’t get any emotion from this. We’re also told that no one believed her, including her family and I felt this should have been shown.
However, as I said above, my interest was kept, unlike the other romance story, I read recently, The Selection. I think it was the plot and the tension of the story, because while the actual writing itself is poor, McWilliams is able to keep the tension going which is an important asset to any story because if the reader isn’t interested, it doesn’t matter how good the writing or the plot is, the reader won’t read it.
There’s only really one character I like in the story, which is Miami, the love interest’s grandmother. I get a sense that she is a strong, independent woman who takes no nonsense. However, I question many of the other character’s existence.
The main one is Olivia and Racheal. You hardly see them apart, and if you do, nothing happens to show their different characters that they may as well be the same character. I also feel that the reason that Olivia hates Ella is weak, and her actions are an overreaction that would probably have happened with more irritating behaviour from Ella other than Ella moving Olivia’s stuff out of Ella’s room. I understand why Racheal hates Ella, although she hated Ella before Abe because Olivia did. But finding Ella, not only in Abe’s room but also in his bed justified Racheal’s hatred of Ella. I think the story would have been better if the two characters were merged into one and everything that they did to Ella happened because Racheal thought she slept with her boyfriend, strengthening the pull between the love interests.
Abe is supposed to be a good character, but he’s a jerk. He runs away the second Ella swears at him after not believing her that his girlfriend, Racheal, attacked her after finding Ella in his room. Most friends aren’t put off by mild swearing and don’t join in on the bullying after it. These characters are supposed to be at university but they act like they’re in secondary school (high school in the US). Yes, that often happens at uni, but after the first year, people grow quickly and only Ella was in her first year of university. Surely Abe could handle two mild swear words, especially as most friends use them as banter or to show they are having a bad day.
This is a general question, do the years at American University mix modules? So you’d have a first year and a second year in the same module. The only reason that’d happen in the UK was if one student was part-time. However, if a part-time student was taking first-year student modules, they’d still be classed as a first-year student. So I’m really curious about this.
Another issue about Abe is that he fell in love with Ella despite being a ‘loyal’ character. If he was really loyal, he’d not have felt that way by appearance, but turn once he knew her personality. He also comes off quite manipulative and creepy at the beginning which was clearly not the author’s intentions. At one point, he kisses a barely conscious Ella, which I think we were supposed to think was affectionate, but considering they barely knew each other and she did not give her consent, I see it as a bit rapey.
There’s a part of the story that becomes like the Pretty Little Liars situation. Ella is receiving texts from ‘L’ who she believes is her dead ex, Liam—sound familiar?
But then, I suppose it wouldn’t be so obvious if ‘-L’ didn’t blackmail all of Ella’s friends into hurting her through email and text. One blackmail is that Abe has to pretend that he loves Rachel and not Ella in order to protect Ella from ‘-L’
It’s mental torture for both Rachel and Ella. Ella’s ex-boyfriend, Liam, supposedly killed Ella’s mom and himself. This has led Ella to be a victim of her own family, who try and push her away because they believe it was Ella’s fault that her mother was killed. So either Liam has a twin brother or her friend Lacey (who just so happens to be another ex-boyfriend’s cousin before the death of her mother) is sending her the texts.
However, only Riley, a friend of Ella’s that is seen three times, and Abe act on this and nothing happens to Ella while her friends ignore the threats, so why would it if Abe or Riley did? Speaking of Riley, she really deserved some representation. If Riley was any character out of PLL, it’d be a very weak version of Emily Fields. She’s a transwoman, the only LGBTQ character that is made obvious and all she does is appear three times and distances herself away from Ella because of an email… why add an LGBTQ+ character if they’re not going to developed or represented in any way?
Abe could have told Ella what was going on in the car back to college, but he didn’t and he also becomes physically violent which was not needed at all as the messages he received only told him to get back together with Rachel. It was violence there just for the sake of it.
I feel this is the same with the sex scenes. They weren’t subtle and there was quite a few of them. I’ve never written a sex scene myself but can appreciate that they’re hard to write. I just feel that unless it’s significant, it shouldn’t have been used. There are two that I felt would have worked if written properly, which was the one where Racheal walks in and the one where she gets pregnant. Maybe, if Abe got to know Ella before the first one and their friendship grew naturally, the two could have been merged, justifying Racheal’s jealousy.
Ella’s friends are seen so little and in a group that they may as well not exist or merge into one. Every character that is a major part of the protagonist’s life needs to be developed, otherwise, they need to be cut.
The last character is Trixie, Abe’s cousin. Honestly, I’m confused as to what kind of doctor she is. Is she a medical doctor and so she can stitch a cut and know the symptoms of a miscarriage or is she a psychologist? In this story she seems to be both, treating Ella for a mental illness that has never been named and stitching up a cut Ella received after being attacked. Also, before Trixie learned about Ella’s past, they were friends, would she really turn against her that quickly?
I just don’t believe in her character or her character arc at all.
Not to mention, I think a good doctor would send Ella to the A&E (ER) if her concussion was that bad that she couldn’t function – just to get her properly checked out. Especially as she’d be seen as not able to think straight and unable to make a rational decision when she denies to go and the person accompanying her has only known her for perhaps a week. I’m not one hundred percent sure on this though as I’m not a doctor, and things work differently in America but let me know what you think. However, if Ella did go to the hospital, the university would have investigated and Olivia and Racheal would have been removed.
Overall, I think a lot of the characters could have been merged into one, saving time to actually develop the character’s personality and their arc. I feel this would have made the story stronger and emotional, therefore highlighting the key themes in the text. Abuse and mental illness as well as love. As it is, the character’s spread, not developing and so the themes are stretched too. I feel this can be the same with some of the scenes. It felt like quite a few of them were repeating just to make up the words, like Abe’s violence and behaviour towards Ella – which I wouldn’t forgive regardless of whether he was being blackmailed but some girls might.
The story didn’t feel like it had a resolution- happy or sad, every story needs one. Because the police were involved it should have centred around the investigation not to mention if they’re involved, I don’t think Ella could go to LA. I think it could have ended with Ella’s innocence being proven, ‘L’ being found or something different. Yes, I know it is meant to be a cliffhanger, but even a series of books have some kind of resolution and growth ready for the next book. I’m assuming the next book is going to continue with the PLL theme and drag out who ‘L’ is…
However, despite all these flaws, I feel that Stacy McWilliams had something in this story that is worth potential. If a book can keep me reading to find out what happened next amidst writing flaws then there is something that is done right, so if you don’t mind all of the above and want a fast book to read, then this one isn’t too bad. I just felt it was too much like a first draft to be published as it was but I am hopeful of Stacy McWilliams future work. I believe that they’ll still hold their potential more and as she grows as a writer, the story and characters will be developed. I’m not sure if I’ll read the next book in this series, but I’d read another book written by this author from a different series.
Anyone writing romance books, particularly thriller, high school or university romance, I recommend these books:
- Amy and Matthew by Cammie McGovern
- The Fault in Our Stars by John Green
- Behind Closed Doors by B A Paris
- The Host by Stephanie Mayers
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