Lead is the third instalment in Kylie Scott's highly addictive Stage Dive series.
This is my second review because after I read the second one, I was in such a crazy, euphoric state I couldn't write and then I put it off and never got around to it. Which is fine because now I have an excuse to read it all over again so I could give it a proper review as it so rightfully deserves.
I was so looking forward to Jimmy's story that I called up a dozen book stores within three cities to see which one would have it on launch date and then I had my husband drive us in crappy winter conditions to pick up a copy. It was worth it.
First of all, the whole cast of the series is a fun, cool group to hang out with so I was looking forward to seeing the lot of them again in this book. It was good to see familiar characters in the periphery without their stories flooding this one. I've seen it happen before and it's painful (Beautiful Oblivion, anyone?)
Now, Jimmy and Lena immediately intrigued me when there were glimpses of them in Play. For one, Jimmy was such an a**hole in Book 1 that it made me curious what it would take to turn his world on its ear. And Lena had me piqued with the cool chic-nerd glasses and the unflappable attitude towards Jimmy.
Jimmy did not surprise me that he was still the same jerk he was in the first book. He was clean but he was still a bit of a crude ass. While I personally do not care for the swearing and mulish attitude, it fit in with Jimmy somehow. He wasn't kidding when he told Lena he wasn't a great guy. But what I do find commendable in all of this is that Scott actually integrated Jimmy and the flawed, impossible and infuriating character that he's supposed to be in one seamless persona. He didn't read like a character with multiple personalities (the one the author wants him to be and the one he comes across as). I was quite convinced that Jimmy really was the kind of guy you wanted far away from you if you weren't ready for an exhausting non-relationship-relationship. That conviction is important because I wasn't sitting there thinking, 'God, Lena. He's the perfect guy for you and here you are just being dumb and clueless about it. What are you waiting for?' I really felt like, 'God, Lena. He is not going to be easy. Life with him isn't going to be a walk in the park? Are you sure you're ready for this? I'll hold your hand, okay? And call me the moment shit hits the roof and I'll come smack him.'
Jimmy, up to the last page of the book, remained the gruff, brusque, no-niceties kind of guy and that was alright with me. Lots of people wouldn't agree because love is supposed to transform that kind of guy. In reality though, love doesn't always have the magical powers of romantic fictional prose. I'm saying this and I write guys readers want to order off Amazon because they are modern-day princes. Some guys will always have a tougher exterior. Jimmy was neither prince nor poet. He was crude a lot but he didn't strike me as evil. Some days, you wanted to run him off the road but deep down, he cared and in time, we could only hope that his relationship with Lena, and the kind of stability he'd missed in the first twenty-something years of his life, would soften those rough edges. Doesn't mean he'd be polished and shined then.
It takes a certain kind of girl to take Jimmy by the horns because while in this modern day and age we like to say that looks don't matter, they do, at least superficially, and since we have layers to the soul, there will always be a superficial side to us. And Jimmy's rockstar looks and bad-boy vibe make a combination potent enough to at least distract you from seeing the full picture right away.
I actually really enjoyed Lena's character. She made me laugh so hard so many times. Her voice was vibrant and rich and highly entertaining. Her dry wit, self-depracating humor and sparkling comebacks made her the perfect antidote to Jimmy's overly brooding character. She spoke plainly, stirred him up and out and gave him sh*t when he deserved it. I loved how she was as a person. She knew her vulnerabilities and was very human about them. She had insecurities but didn't seem that hung up on them. She had bad relationships and terrible taste in picking people to surround herself with. While I couldn't directly relate to her exact example, I understood that many of us are like that in life in general—prone to the things we know aren't good for us but unable to stay far away for good. Sure, she gushed and pined for him but let's be honest here. Who doesn't do that (at least internally) when thrown in such close quarters with someone you want but can't have? I'm less sentimental than most people but I'm not made of wood. Lena wants love but she's had to toughen up. Anyone who'd suffered tough blows and got herself back on her feet because she deserved better would always be a bit of a contradiction that way. Lena knew she wasn't perfect but she was comfortable with herself and I liked that, no matter what body type her character may have been given. It's so easy as an author to decide to write about someone with body issues. You can tell a reader that. But it's an entirely different thing to make a reader feel what the character feels about who she is. There's an honesty to Scott's writing that makes her characters very grounded and relatable—even the rockstars. Lena embraced who she was, even her sexuality which I know lots of other authors write about in their books nowadays. I've read a book where someone's sexual liberation was so overly emphasized it felt like I'd stuck my nose right on an open bottle of very strong perfume. I get it, I get it. This doesn't have to sound, or read, like an oration of just how much you want to 'bump uglies' and how you should be able to do it all the time because you are empowered, etc, etc. Go, do it, whatever. I won't judge. But I won't sit here and have the knowledge of it crammed down my throat either.
So, back to the book before I start ranting about something else entirely... I loved how seemingly ordinary it started. I know some people seem unimpressed that there was no dramatic first meeting (although I personally thought their first meeting was quite amusing) or any grand falling in love twist. When they started out, they weren't heading there, which was a great thing sometimes because then it didn't feel too.. inevitable (which is a little ironic for me because I do want my romance books to feel a bit inevitable). It was like you could see it coming but with so many ups and downs, you could almost be certain that it might just not happen. I liked that it kept me on the edge, which was pretty much what Lena and Jimmy did to each other.
I enjoyed this story a lot because it made me feel a lot of things. The sex was pretty blunt and there was no shortage of dirty talk but that only made it more interesting than most. The dialogue was well-paced and felt easy and natural, even when they were saying incredulous things.
The end, while it was not the kind of declaration scene worthy of a blockbuster romantic comedy, felt pretty appropriate actually because I could just not picture out Jimmy doing it smoothly and perfectly. It would be too big a gap from who he was as a character if he suddenly swooped down in a horse like a white knight. It's just not Jimmy. But it doesn't mean he shortchanged Lena. While we mutter about his less-than-sterling manners, Jimmy really felt like he was struggling for ground when it came to dealing with people, not just women. You could feel him fumbling and finding no purchase sometimes, even with his brother. He still had a long way to go but coming to Lena like that was no small step. It was no big leap to prince charming either but it humbled him enough to own his actions this time around.
Ben's story is next and I think I know where it's going but as with the three Kylie Scott books I've read this year, I might still be very pleasantly surprised.
Read more reviews about it here in: Lead by Kylie Scott