Book editor Hannah Levinson couldn’t be happier. This “Nice Jewish Girl” is ready to marry the man she’s longed after for half her life. When her fiancé suggests they audition for Last Fling, a steamy new reality show for engaged couples, she lets herself be swayed. Maybe she’ll learn a thing or two.
Vlad Shustov’s fall from a once-bright career as a competitive figure skater was swift. Now trapped by a shameful past and an uncertain future, “Vlad the Bad” strips for cash. Joining the cast of Last Fling could earn him a fortune—or at least enough to finally leave stripping. But to win the show’s prize, he must seduce an engaged woman, something he can’t even bear the thought of.
Hannah’s not like any woman Vlad’s met before. Betrayed by the man she thought she loved and relegated to the ugly-duckling role she’d worked so hard to shed, can she trust there’s more to Vlad than meets the eye? With sleazy TV tactics shattering the last shreds of the contestants’ confidence, they’ll have to believe true happiness is not only possible…it may be looking right at them.
Source: ARC from Carina Press via NetGalley
Everyone in this book is awful. Seriously, they’re all so nasty – apart from poor Hannah, surprisingly sweet Vlad and a couple of the reality women (literally just two of them). Everyone else is mean. Even the supposedly nice-guy Eric is a spineless, selfish jerk who wants his career and his teenage crush and doesn’t care if he stampedes over one of his oldest friends along the way. Then again, this is about reality TV – and we all know how “real” those shows truly are.
In fact that’s an aspect that this book does really well. Almost too well, because the way Hannah is treated is just terrible. You can see right from the beginning what they’re trying to do with her and it brought all my raging protective feelings to the fore. Jack is a complete jerk. It’s obvious from the start that he doesn’t love Hannah and he’s with her purely because their families want it that way. It’s bad enough how he treats her, but then there’s Eric, a supposed friend who stands back and lets the production team humiliate her again and again. I wanted a tropical storm to strike the hotel and wash off everyone except Hannah and Vlad (and Cristal and Alison… and okay, the regular staff deserve to survive too). I mean it’s a great story, but wow did it make me angry at times.
Okay, yes, Hannah is a terrible doormat. She near enough turns herself inside out to make Jack happy, even before they end up on the show. She’s nice and she’s sweet and has no self-esteem and has been in love with Jack practically her whole life, so getting to marry him is a dream come true. Apart from the fact that he’s an awful person who is jealous of her career, not to mention a petty, small minded, selfish, dog in the manger who treats her like dirt. Did I want Hannah to stand up for herself and dump his ass the moment they reach the island? YES! Did I really expect that to happen? Sadly, no. Though I think more could have been made of why Hannah felt the way she did, I did understand that she’s spent her life being unfavourably compared to her perfect older (adopted) sister, while people made negative remarks about her looks. It’s enough to make anyone self-conscious.
Which is one of the reasons why I loved Vlad so much. Not just because he saw how beautiful Hannah was, but he made her feel beautiful too. He didn’t just give her a makeover and expect that to fix things, he taught her act sexy by making her feel sexy – starting with the underwear and working up through her confidence levels. He made her stronger by giving her an extra boost of confidence, while also respecting her brain. So yeah, it annoyed me that she still clung to Jack when she had such a perfect guy in front of her, but it was understandable.
If stupid! I mean, c’mon, Vlad’s a super hot stripper with a sensitive side, who writes dystopian novels about werewolves and monsters, and has a tragic past. What’s not to love? He also has serious self-doubt issues, particularly surrounding his background and lack of education. He’s adorable. Sure, there are things in his past that he’s not proud of, but he has his reasons, and I loved he way he respected Hannah.
Away from them the book is mostly populated with villains and empty reality TV characters. There are a couple of women – Alison and Cristal – who provide momentary support for Hannah, but mostly everyone else is there to make things worse. The whole Last Fling shenanigans reminded me again of why I love to read about reality TV rather than watch it. So much staging, so many lies and manipulations, and enough backstabbing to rival the Ides of March. If I hadn’t been so busy raging at the injustices dealt out to Hannah and Vlad I would have loved every faked-up second of it while I awaited the delivery of the just desserts so richly deserved.
Which sadly, don’t really occur. I’m pretty vindictive when it comes to my fiction, so I have to say I found the nicey-nicey prologue a bit heavy-handed (especially as the only person who comes out badly is – that’s right – the other woman. Why not Jack? He’s the one who really deserved his life to go to hell in a handbasket). Also, if you’re hoping from some sexy, behind-the-scenes moments, you will be disappointed. There is one sex scene right at the end, and it’s not great – especially given the cute romance that grew between Vlad and Hannah.
So it’s not perfect. Instead it’s a mostly fun reality TV tale with an adorable romance at the heart of it. Hannah is a sympathetic character who will either make you shout angry things at the people around her, or angry things at her to get her act together, while Vlad is just wonderful. There are villains aplenty, silly set-ups and even a secondary romance (with an exceedingly undeserving hero). It’s fluffy and fun and perfect for summer. I think I need more of these Red Hot Russians in my life!
Turning It On is out June 29th!
Visit Elizabeth Harmon for more details.