Too Beautiful to Break by Tessa Bailey
Book Four of the Romancing the Clarksons series
Publisher: Forever Romance
Publication Date: September 26, 2016
Rating: 2 stars
Source: eARC from NetGalley
Summary (from Goodreads):
A love of a lifetime . . .
Leaving Belmont Clarkson is the hardest thing Sage Alexander has ever done. From the moment they met, she knew Belmont was the one, and getting up close and personal with him on his family's epic road trip has taken her desire to a new, even hotter level. But there's no way she can go there---not without revealing secrets that could devastate them both.
Losing Sage is not an option. Belmont's heart is hers, has always been hers. He knows she's hiding something from him, but nothing will stand in his way of telling her just how much she means to him. Finding her is easy---saving her from her past could cost him everything.
What I Liked:
I have so many mixed feelings about this book. On the one hand, it wasn't horrible, and I can see readers enjoying it. On the other hand, I didn't really like it. I love Tessa Bailey's books, and I have been a huge fan of hers for a long time. But this book just didn't do it for me.
This is the fourth and final novel in the Romancing the Clarksons series, and it features Belmont Clarkson and Sage Alexander. They have been circling each other during this entire series, but never together romantically. At the start of this book, it's just Belmont and Sage, since the other three Clarksons have taken detours during the trip, and will meet Belmont in New York for the Plunge. But Sage knows she can't stay with Belmont for this trip - she needs to take care of some business at home. Business that she knows Belmont won't like. She uses their dependency on each other as an excuse, but really, she needs to go back to her sad, terrible life in Sibley, Louisiana, so she can make things right. But Belmont will follow Sage to the ends of the earth, and he stops at nothing to help her when he learns of her situation. They both have a lot standing between them, but their love is stronger than they know.
Things I liked about this book: the characterization. I may not have loved Belmont like most readers of this series, but I can really appreciate how unique and different he is. Bailey has made him stand out completely, compared to the rest of her heroes of her various romance books, and in the romance world in general. Belmont is one of a kind. We can clearly see his character development in this story; he goes from putting Sage on a pedestal, to understanding her and loving her all the same. He overcomes some of his fears, and begins to understand his own self better.
The same can be said about Sage. She goes through a lot in this book, and she learns a lot about herself, and about Belmont. From start to finish, she is working towards a healthier, stronger relationship with Belmont. She also works through a lot of feelings she had stored up from her past, dealing with her parents and her childhood. She didn't have a traumatic or "terrible" childhood, but let's just say she had to come to terms with forgiving her parents, for a lot.
As always, Bailey writes a good romance. The chemistry between these two was always there, from the beginning of the series. This romance was interesting because Belmont and Sage clearly already love each other, but they were never together, so it's not a second-chance romance. They are a simmering fire together, and there is a pretty awesome part of the romance that I loved (but I won't say because it's something cool to discover). I wouldn't say this is one of Tessa's hottest books, but the chemistry is still good.
I liked how the book ended, for Belmont and Sage, and for the rest of the characters. We always expect a HEA from romance novels, but this book (and series) had a great HEA, and for everyone. This book was a quick read and while I didn't totally love it, I'm glad I gave it a chance.
What I Did Not Like:
If I'm being honest (which I always am!), I never really loved Belmont, like most readers I've seen. People were dying to read his story and I was just... kind of ambivalent? I didn't really care to read his story. The whole I'm-so-devoted-to-her thing that Belmont has going on was strange and sometimes a turn-off, because it was too intense. You'd have to read one of the books to know what I mean. Belmont is obsessed with Sage's well-being, her happiness, her family's situation. All of this sounds good on paper, but it's weird and a little unhealthy.
Cue my next complaint: how Belmont decides to take on Sage's burden himself (and the fact that she let him). The whole thing is that Sage goes home because her father is physically unwell, because his mining job is too demanding. So Sage goes to his employer (a mean, spiteful man) and offers to work in her father's place. And guess what Belmont does, when he shows up to Sibley? He offers to take Sage's place. I hated this. Keep in mind, Sage felt responsible because she borrowed money years ago from the man in order to get out of Sibley and to San Diego, and didn't pay him back. Her father took on her debt, as well as added his own, and he worked for the man in the deep of the mines.
It seemed incredibly unfair and unrealistic that Belmont would take Sage's place in the mines. And the fact that she let him? That's honestly ridiculous. I would never in 1000 years let a friend or a friend's brother do that (which was what Belmont was to her, at the time - not "boyfriend" yet). I definitely wouldn't let my boyfriend or husband do that. It's my responsibility, and no one would talk me out of it. Not even creepy Belmont who was obsessed with Sage's well-being. He'd have to suck it up and deal with the fact that I will pay off my and my family's debts. By myself. I would never endanger my partner like that, especially knowing he hates underground.
And to begin with - there were SOOOO many options such that Sage wouldn't have to take her father's place and work in the mines? Like, get a loan from a larger bank? From Sallie Mae? Bring in law enforcement or a legal team? Better yet - take your family and move? Or even better - pay your debts? It would be hard to leave family to suffer, but that's an option too (not a good one, obviously). My point is, there were so many better options than offering to take someone's place in the mines. And then there is the fact that Sage got a day's worth of training, before going into the mines. You need licenses and certifications to operate heavy equipment and machinery and whatnot... Sage couldn't have obtained any of that in a day. That just isn't plausible. And even if the owner were doing some illegal/shady business by letting Sage go into the mines with one day of training, that's when I would bring the law into it. You see how this makes no sense?
AND there is the fact that Belmont ended up working for MONTHS in the mines, while Sage went back to San Diego to do her wedding planning business thing. (I think? This wasn't entirely clear but that was the impression I got.) You're joking, right? I wouldn't let anyone replace me for any of my debt to begin with, but even if I did, I wouldn't just leave the man in my hometown and go? I would stay with him? This literally made no sense.
In essence, nothing about the plot made sense. This whole plot could have been dismissed, had Sage paid the debts back, or called the police, or simply walked out of there and let her parents reap what they sowed (most of the debt came from her parents and their alcohol addiction).
Would I Recommend It:
I don't really recommend this book. It's not a steamy, swoony love story. It's not even a satisfying story in general. The story frustrated me to no end and I couldn't connect with Belmont, or Sage. I liked how Tessa Bailey developed their characters and shed a lot of insight into their personalities and minds, but I just didn't connect. This romance novel didn't do anything for me. It wasn't enjoyable and I don't even know how I would recommend the book (like, in what situation or context). I feel like only fans of Tessa Bailey would try this book? It's not that compelling of a story if you're not a die-hard Bailey fan. Which I am. I'm so sad I didn't really like this book.
2.5 stars -> rounded down to 2 stars. It's a shame. I started the review thinking that I would give this book a 3-star rating. But the more I think about it, the less I enjoyed the book. I wanted to like it, but I pretty much knew, as soon as Sage offered to take her father's place, that I wouldn't enjoy this book (because I knew that Belmont would offer to take hers, and the whole story was doomed from there). At least the story ends well... to a point. I'm glad this series is over because I don't think I would read the next book (if there were a fifth book).
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