Giving It Up starts out as a perfect, dark fantasy. The heroine, Allie, is at a club looking for anonymous, rough sex. She's a rape survivor, a young mother, and the combination of emotional damage and ongoing stress has left her with a craving that she chooses to satisfy rather than question.
But then she picks up Colin, who manages to treat her well while scratching the itch that sends her to the club. He's taciturn and a little scary, but also observant and thoughtful.
Allie resists his kindness, but he pursues her. She's moody and he doesn't mind. She insists that her daughter is her first priority and he only wants to help, in whatever manner she permits.
This is all beautifully done. Even the sweet parts are painful, during this phase, because we see how much it hurts Allie to hope. But even the painful parts are sweet, because we're hoping for her.
But then the novel transitions into a whole new phase, a different kind of story.
Instead of walking off into the sunset hand in hand, Allie moves in with Colin and the book follows them through the difficulties of trying to make a life together.
It turns out Colin has flaws, and they're not insignificant. He's involved in criminal activity, and he's willing to use underhanded methods to get his way--in business but also in the domestic sphere. He manipulates Allie in ways that are almost impossible to forgive...or maybe just straight up impossible to forgive.
While Allie, for her part, isn't magically fixed by true love. She's still got damage, and nothing Colin gives her--not a comfortable home, not money, not a shoulder to lean on--can change that. Allie has a whole host of defense mechanisms that threaten to destroy the relationship at every turn.
You'd think it's that first scene, when Allie is cruising for rough sex, that would be the ugliest part of the book. It's not. It's the easiest and the simplest.
The 'warts and all' phase was much harder for me to read. It strips away the fantasy and leaves you with two very imperfect people who--for reasons that are very clear and understandable--know what they want and are unable to make choices that would lead them in that direction.
I'll be honest: the happily ever after here was not that happy for me. I was not completely confident that this couple would last, or that I wanted them to last. Colin became less sympathetic to me throughout the book. At the end, when I needed him to finish strong, his behavior struck me as childish.
And yet. I like reading a romance novel that gets to the traditional Happily Ever After pretty early on in the book and then keeps on going. I like reading a romance novel that supplies the hero and heroine with all the sexual chemistry they could ever want, but insists that chemistry--attraction, hot sex, etc.--can't solve the biggest problems that ultimately make a relationship sink or swim.
Giving It Up is obviously not everyone's cup of tea. But if this sounds good to you, give it a try.