Title: Acts of Creation
Series: Evergreen Grove #2
Author: Elisabeth Staab
Format: eBook, 240 pages
Published: August 18, 2015 by Elisabeth Staab
Links: Goodreads | Amazon | B&N
Rating: 3 out of 5 Wine Glasses
He’s living a lie.
Dante Ramos: Champion. Ladies’ man. Party animal. Women want him, and men either want to be him or put his lights out for sleeping with their girlfriends. It’s all an act. Inside, he’s so full of self-loathing he’s on a fast-track to self-destruction.
She’s living in the shadows.
Meeting Michelle at a support group for assault survivors shows Dante a new world of possibilities. Finally, someone in his life might understand him, and she creates in him a fierce need to protect. Trouble is, Dante lives his life in the spotlight, and the only thing Michelle wants is a place to hide.
Michelle hides by wearing baggy clothes and doing her best to fade into the background while Dante hides with aggressiveness and fueling a “you either want to be him or sleep with him” reputation. No one knows who they truly are and the pain that is buried deep but one chance encounter in a meeting designed to expose and heal hurts have Dante and Michelle yearning to stop hiding.
Second in the Evergreen Grove Series, Acts of Creation stars Michelle and Dante who we briefly met in At the Stars. The first book alludes to Dante having a darker past but here is where we get the full story; reading the first in the series is not a requirement. While Dante appears to be a muscle head with a talent for boxing and a one night stand kind of guy, the veil is lifted. He boxes because he does have a natural talent and to prove he can make it without his old coach, Arlo, but he doesn't necessarily enjoy it. He also may bring a different woman back to his hotel room every night but he doesn't necessarily do anything but sleep with them. Dante has created this mirage of who he is but cracks are started to show as his past demons rise. Dante was a tortured character who’s self-medicating of booze and fighting wasn't working anymore. The abuse he suffered from the hands of an adult who was entrusted with his care was painful to read about. The shame, self-doubt, guilt, and anger were exposed realistically and without a sense of sensationalism. He was a character learning to overcome, live with his past, and build a future with Michelle.
Michelle's past was just as painful but felt somewhat glossed over at times. Rape and abuse seem to be very popular painful past experiences in the New Adult world and while Michelle's experience could have been ripped from the headlines, I felt like it was only added to her storyline so she could be shy and add angst. Angst in New Adult seems like a requirement and here it almost felt self-indulgent, the first half of the book is all about wallowing around how our leads are closed off individuals who couldn't possibly think they deserve love. Now, rape and abuse are clearly serious topics but when dealing with them in the context of New Adult romance, I'm going to discuss if the author brought anything new to the over saturated table, she did not, I'm going to ask if it added to the story, not really, and if it felt like these topics were used to forcefully add heaviness to the story instead of organically coming from the characters, yes it did.
As I mentioned, the first half of our story deals more individually with Dante and Michelle, while the last half is having them learning how to come together. It made for a slower moving story but did make the romance more believable as our lead's relationship starting from a friends standpoint and growing to love. I really liked our lead's friendship and found myself more tepid to their romance. The growing suspense with Dante dealing with his former coach seemed somewhat off as his interactions with Dante felt forced. Michelle’s grandma and Dante’s mother in the nursing home threads also felt like they were swinging in the wind. There was a storyline here but threads meandered in a way that left things feeling weak, slow, and at times directionless.
I liked this story because of Dante and Michelle's friendship and the author's willingness to show Dante's pain and reactions, whether right or wrong, to his abuse. I would be hesitant to recommend this as a straight up romance read but would for someone looking to avoid overly aggressive alpha males and slut-shaming in their New Adult reads.