I thought that Nutshell would be my least liked book this year, which I read solely for the purpose of being able to cross off another initial from my challenge list. I distinctly disliked Nutshell, not enjoying the experience of reading it at all. But Nutshell had a few things going for it. It actually had a plot, for example. It was also written by someone who has appreciable skill at writing. Havoc, another book which was chosen solely because of the initial of the author, had neither of those saving graces. It was, frankly, the worst book I’ve read so far this year.
Havoc – Xavier Neal
When Clint “Grim” Walker, started Operation: Save Haven Davenport, the beaten, bruised girl who fell into his life, he had no idea it would turn him into an unbalanced, enraged, insecure idiot.
The mission objectives seemed simple:
Make her feel safe in his home. Fail.
Protect her from the neighborhood playboy. Fail.
Shelter her from the ex girlfriend. Fail.
Not fall in love with her. Epic fail.
And while Clint could learn to live with those failures, there’s one he can’t. And that’s the objective that matters most. More than his side duties of making amends with his father, more than accepting motherly love from his meddling neighbor, and more than attempting to relate to his brother’s in arms off the field.
That objective is life or death.
I bought this book entirely because the author’s first name starts with an X. I spent no money on this book, because it’s currently free on Kindle. I still feel like I wasted money on this. The time I spent reading it was a waste of my time, and I wish I could have it back, to be honest. If X wasn’t such an unusual initial, I would have abandoned this book and found another instead, because I didn’t enjoy a single page of this. It is 312 pages of dross, and I wouldn’t recommend anyone go anywhere near it. Not even if it was the last book on earth.
Several of my issues with this book were issues which could be solved by a decent editor. It’s poorly structured – Clint’s backstory, Haven’s background, Clint’s fractured relationship with his father and the strange codependent neighbourly relationship he seems to have are all hinted at, but never explained, simply thrown in to make this feel like it’s a story which has depth. I’m assuming that these are more fully explained in later installments in the series, but there wasn’t enough in this intro to satisfy.
Secondly, it’s really, really poorly proofread and edited. Syntax issues run rife throughout the book. Synonyms and homonyms appear with regularity. Simple spelling mistakes litter the pages.
Thirdly, the structure of the book was set up so that it ended on a cliffhanger. This was obviously a tactical decision to get readers to buy the second in the series, but for me it was a complete failure. There was an absolute lack of development leading up to this moment, which meant that it fell totally flat for me. Who cares about what happened in the end of the book when you haven’t actually learned to care for the characters in the first 99%? Certainly not me.
Finally, the chapter structure – each chapter is headed with a countdown of number of days ’til deployment. I’m fine with books that have countdowns, and also fine with books that continue their storyline past the end of the countdown – Looking for Alaska and the Gone series all do this, and it’s very effective. However, finishing the book with 30-odd days still to go on the countdown was a bizarre decision which I couldn’t get on board with.
The three issues above could have been solved by a decent editor, however. So if they were the only issues, I might have been more willing to give this book a chance. But they’re actually minor quibbles when compared to my complaints about the actual book.
Firstly, Clint is an awful main character. He’s totally unbelievable and utterly dull. Tragic backstory meaning that he tries to shut off his feelings, and this is all changed by the appearance of a beautiful, damaged young woman. Yawn. Clint is supposed to be smart – he’s 21 and a Marine, for Christ’s sake. He’s heading for special ops. And yet he doesn’t seem to understand what feelings are, and wonders what it means when his stomach feels funny as Haven looks at him. Butterflies in his stomach is, apparently, something entirely unknown to him.
Beyond that, Clint is incredibly misogynistic. His assessment of women essentially falls into whores and Haven. Every female character who we see through his eyes is discussed only in terms of her physical attributes, her mode of dress, and her level of makeup. They’re also referred to as ‘females’ at all times. I actually stopped midway through this book to check if the author was a man or a woman, because I couldn’t believe that a woman writer would be able to stomach writing this way about her fellow women. And to my surprise, Xavier Neal is a woman, and yet still only seems capable of writing about other women as sex objects and cheap tarts.
Besides being ignorant and sexist, Clint is also deeply problematic in terms of his behaviour. A fractured relationship with his father gives him some explanation for his uncommunicative and surly nature, but his tendency towards violence and inexplicable hatred of his own best friends didn’t endear me to him as a character.
Haven is no better. Presented only as a traumatised, vulnerable, perfect young woman, she becomes, a mere 20 days into the book, a desperate sex kitten, eager to please and seduce Clint, with no sign of the apparent years of physical, sexual, and psychological torment wreaked on her before she reached the age of adulthood. A few weeks with Clint and she’s eager to rip his clothes off – but not in a way which might suggest that she’s bearing scars, the way many victims of child sexual abuse display hypersexuality. No, Haven is apparently healed, and it was all Clint’s doing.
Clint and Haven’s relationship is deeply unbelievable. Clint, the unfeeling, unthinking, emotionless military man, apparently turns into goo at the mere sight of this woman, and is able to forge a deep and lasting love connection with her – before he even knows her name. He constantly refers to her as his ‘angel’, before he knows anything about her, and treats her as some almost-divine presence, more than human, and failing entirely to understand or appreciate her very human needs.
Haven’s part in this relationship? Well, who knows. Passively silent, she plays almost no role in this book, except to conveniently get into trouble when it’s needed, so that Clint can ‘develop’ somewhat.
Plot-wise, I got no satisfaction out of this book. It’s not the story of the slow recovery of a woman who escaped a traumatic past. It’s not a love story of two damaged people finding each other and helping each other to heal. It’s not a revenge story. It’s not anything. It’s a crapheap of loose plot threads that are dangled and unresolved, clearly setting up for a second book, but without any appeal to drag me onto the next installment.
Avoid avoid avoid.
Generally, even when I absolutely hated a book, I can appreciate that someone else might like it. I cannot think why anyone would ever want to read this book. There are so much better romances out there. There are better love stories out there. There are better abuse survivor stories out there. I’m sure there are better military romances out there (even though I’ve never read any). There are many books out there which can actually resolve their plotlines, rather than truncating the book to pull in readers.
Havoc was three hours of dross, and hours I’ll never get back. I cannot think of a single redeeming point about it, and wouldn’t recommend people read it even if they were paid to.
Goodreads won’t let me give no stars, so it has one star on there.
But here on my blog, I can rate whatever I want.