Don't be fooled by one of the best covers I've seen all year.
Review originally posted on Jessewave.
A story with prevalent themes and a brave MC, unfortunately let down by an overcooked plot. The cover is intriguingly beautiful, and James’s disability inspired, but the rest of the book is a bit of a mess.
Let me start of by saying I really loved and admired the premise of this book. Characters with physical and mental disabilities are all too often ignored, or caricatured in fiction and any author with the balls and respect to write an MC with a disability of any kind gets my vote.
James is the MC with the disability, and though it was obviously mentioned a lot (and rightly so, it’s a huge part of his life) it was described in a way that meant his disability didn’t define his whole personality. Nor did it make him weak. He lived independently and did absolutely everything he could to take care of himself.
Kudos for that. I came away from this book with huge respect for James, (in that sense, at least. He annoyed me in other ways) and I liked James as a character too. He was sweet and shy, and I loved the image of him with his paint splattered crutches. In the beginning, the author does a really good job of describing him and getting inside his head. In a plot littered with hysterical melodrama, James still shines through as a decent character.
Unfortunately, the rest of the book was a big hot mess. The plot was scrappy and crowded, and the writing simply not strong enough to carry it through. There were a lot of themes competing for attention, and in the point of the book (whatever it was) was lost in a sea of clumsily bad dialogue and a completely off the wall sprinkling of BDSM.
Now, I want to talk about the BDSM element here. I admit I’m no expert on the subject. It’s not that I don’t like it…I just don’t get it, and unless it’s written superbly by someone who really does understand the psychology behind it, it just doesn’t work. In this book, it didn’t work. It wasn’t woven into the plot or characterized well enough to resonate and make any sense. For me, it seemed the characters would be having a perfectly mundane conversation and then one of them would throw in the word ‘submissive’ and we’d have ourselves a cringeworthy BDSM moment. The book would’ve been far better for just removing the vague subplot and concentrating on the basics.
The second MC, Seth, was a little overbearing anyway, and the BDSM compounded that for me and made him difficult to like. His establishment in James’s life is massively rushed, and though I’m sure his demeanor was intended to come across as protective, he just seemed controlling and manipulative. He irritated me from the moment he ordered James’s food for him, and unfortunately, I couldn’t get passed it.
James: Paired with a more likeable MC, James would’ve fared much better and the plot could maybe have worked out. As it was, this book had a lot of great ideas, but they weren’t explored properly. There were lots of unresolved strands floating about, and I just feel that an editor should’ve stepped in and made some real cuts…like, iron fist cuts.
In fact, I think this book could have done with another two or three rounds of edits anyway. The dialogue was awful in places and the overuse of pet names hugely annoying. There is nothing attractive about two men who’ve literally just met calling each other ‘pet’ and ‘baby’ every other sentence. Typos. Laborious prose. Eye twitching sentence structure. Eleventy different plot holes.
I could go on, but I won’t. I’m going to stop being ornery now, but I’d like to point out that one of the reasons these things get my goat so much is that they are so easy to fix. In this case, of the twenty highly unrealistic, unresolved plot elements: take out twelve and write those that remain better…much better. Overhaul the dialogue, removing about half of each sentence and dropping the incessant pet names. Cut out the lightbulb popping exclamation points. Doing just half of that would make this book far more readable.
I did enjoy the secondary character of Chase. The guy (though he suffered from some of the worst dialogue. Poor guy ‘practically squealed’ a lot) was very sweet. The way he looked out for James was totally endearing. I think everyone needs a friend like that…one who won’t take no for an answer and helps you anyway. Everyone needs a little help sometimes, and though Chase had a few moments when he needed a slap, overall he was a strong character. I also got something positive from some scenes toward the end of the book, particularly those with James’s mother. The writing here was much stronger than the rest of the book and the scenes were emotive.
James’s disability aside, the strongest element of this book was the clear demonstration of how damaging an unsupportive childhood is to any child, let alone one struggling with the added complication of LGBT. James grew up in a household where abuse seemed to be actually encouraged and as a result was plagued by low self-esteem and self-doubt. Seth, on the other hand, grew up loved and supported, and with a family that stood by him in every way they could.
The differences in the two men as a result are startling, and a message for all. Love your kids for who they are, not who you want them to be.
So, to sum up, Designs of Desire has a wonderful cover and a promising premise, but unfortunately the execution and editing are extremely poor. I wanted to like this book far more than I did, and I felt let down by the way its relatively strong start fizzled away into a rather flat kind of chaos. Good ideas, but ultimately, not good enough.
Two point seven five stars.