Book: Hidden Sins by Selena Montgomery (aka Stacey Abrams)

Reviewers: Bethany and Jeriann

Age/Genre: Romantic Suspense

Preferred Reading Environment: Somewhere private, where throwing a book in frustration won’t endanger strangers

Reading Accoutrements: pillows, for throwing the book into. And for snuggling with when you’re actually reading. Maybe a white wine, too, for those who feel like indulging.

Content Notes: rape, references to rape, and general rapiness; also additional gendered violence as well as references to child abuse

Jeriann: After the State of the Union (SOTU), I was seeing a lot of articles (and tweets) about Stacey Abrams, the up-and-coming politician who gave the Democrat’s SOTU response. I’ve been following Abrams a bit since her gubernatorial race in November, and was delighted to find out that she is also a romance novelist! Under the pseudonym Selena Montgomery, Abrams has published five novels. Immediately, I knew I wanted to have a review of one of her books on the blog, and since Bethany is the romance novel fan, she was the obvious choice.

Bethany: Best laid plans and all that…

Jeriann: Of course, if I was going to make Bethany suffer through a possibly ridiculous book, she was going to bring me along with her. So, for one of our co-reviews this month, we’re talking about Hidden Sins by Selena Montgomery.

The prologue throws us into a world of intrigue, following a train heist in 1939. The band of robbers conveniently tell us, the reader, what their complicated plan is for securing their fortune and making sure no one betrays the others. We also meet Aiko, a badass circus tattoo artist who I was really hoping we’d learn more about once the main plot in 2006 started.

The story in 2006 follows Mara Reed, a con artist – though she prefers the term “confidence woman” – and granddaughter of one of the 1939 thieves. She is on the run after thwarting a murderous rapist and stealing the journal he was after…along with $50,000 that he really wants back. The journal turns out to belong to one of the other train heist descendents – and it holds clues that lead her back to her Texas hometown in search of a safe full of Spanish gold and the keys to open it.

Fleeing for her life, Mara gets shot immediately after arriving in home sweet home, only escaping because of the quick thinking of a strong, handsome man, who just happens to be her ex. Ethan saw Mara’s pursuers chasing her and pulled her into the world’s most secure warehouse where he’s conducting his forensic anthropology research. The goons are kept out for a few days while Mara heals from her gunshot wound and the two ex-lovers reacquaint themselves.

Here is where we learn that Mara is a dick. And Ethan is completely clueless. These two have no subtleties to their personalities at all. Mara avoids commitment, even friendship because she doesn’t trust anyone (and believes that she’s a bad guy because of her genetics). Ethan is insecure because he was an orphan, and has worked to build a stable, successful life, but is willing to throw it all away for Mara, who gets him hot.

Now for the coincidences: Ethan is working for Davis Conroy, trying to decipher the meaning of symbols found on corpses buried mysteriously near Mara’s childhood home. Conroy is – dun dun duuuuunnnnn – the man behind the thugs pursuing Mara. Conroy has no idea that Ethan and Mara have a history together. Ethan has no idea Mara (or Conroy) is hunting for treasure and is, in fact, in search of a manuscript that was stolen in the same train heist…without Conroy’s knowledge…

Bethany: It’s kind of hard to believe…not to mention that the language in this book is SO FORMAL. A sheltered con artist from Texas who uses words like “viscous” to describe traffic, or “obsequious” to replace a curse word…because apparently she doesn’t curse…was so unrealistic to me. Her GRE vocabulary was impressive, but it didn’t fit well with her character or backstory.

Jeriann: I was so drawn into the 5 billion things that were going on in this plot, that I just accepted the language. I’d already suspended so much disbelief that the vocab didn’t distract me too much. I hated the “cutesy” curse words Mara kept coming up with though. It’s supposed to make her endearing and “complicated” because she’ll steal but she won’t curse, but to me it’s just an annoying overused trope.

Speaking of overused tropes, what’s a romance novel without a love triangle? The gods of coincidences have made sure that Mara popped back into Ethan’s life at the exact moment Leslie, his current ersatz relationship, is coming to visit.

Jeriann: I was impressed by how straightforward Mara and Leslie were with each other. They basically accepted that they both were interested in Ethan and went about what they needed to do like adults. The whole love triangle plot seemed pretty pointless because of how easily it was resolved.

Bethany: But Jeriann! They needed Leslie to solve one of the clues for a key!

Jeriann: Add that to our list of coincidences. How lucky that she had a key card to the exact location where some guy hid a key over 50 years prior. What they really needed Leslie for was for her to get kidnapped so they had an obligation to face off with the villain at the end.

Bethany: Spoilers!

Jeriann: It’s not a spoiler if a toddler could predict it ten pages before.

Bethany: Fair point…Not that I’d recommend this book for toddlers. There is a sex scene in this book…

Jeriann: Not too mention several steamy moments. This book builds sexual tension like Donald Trump wishes he could build walls (SOTU tie-in). Ethan and Mara are constantly touching each other’s thighs and breathing heavily through droopy eyelids. These two can NOT think about anything except for sex when the other is in the room. Which of course, makes it really frustrating to wait over 3/4s of the book for the sex to finally happen. WE KNOW THEY’RE GOING TO BANG! LET THEM DO IT ALREADY!

Bethany: I got to a point where I stopped reading every time a steamy make-out session happened because I knew it wasn’t going anywhere…At some point, one of them would “realize that they weren’t meant for each other” or some other bullsh*t –

Jeriann: psh. Don’t censor yourself. This deserves some cursing.

Bethany: Fair point again. Fine – Bullshit. They kept coming up with bullshit reasons why they didn’t belong together. Mara would think, “Oh! I’m just a con artist because of my genetics and I’ll drag him down with me,” or Ethan would conjecture, “She’s just gonna leave again because she can’t love a ragtag orphan who follows the rules.”

It was mindblowingly annoying. Especially by the fourth time.

Jeriann: Speaking of annoying, can we talk about the elephant left out of the room? What happened to my badass tattoo artist?

The treasure hunt leads Mara to deal with her past in other ways besides Ethan. In order to find a clue, they have to visit Mara’s grandma, who she abandoned 12 years ago when she ran away to become a big city psychic. Mara, being a dick, hasn’t written at all, because “she didn’t know what to say.” Since Mara’s convinced herself that she’s an asshole due to genetics, she manages to excuse herself for her dick moves pretty easily.

Of course, Grandma (Aiko is back!) is super understanding, and is just glad Mara is back and safe. She’s also a “cool old woman”™ who can make semi-raunchy comments about Ethan’s attractiveness without being seen as a pervert. And she also conveniently disappears never to be heard from again once they have the clue they need. Talk about entitled kids these days.

Bethany: In case you hadn’t figured it out already, we had mixed feelings about this book.

Jeriann: I was really drawn in by quite a few of the plot points, but I thought it was pretty outrageous. I mean, they blow up a warehouse. Like it’s no big deal – they just blow it up. No, they’ve never blown up buildings before, but they just execute a controlled demolition and move on to their next task. Also, the characters were beyond frustrating. But, I have to say, when I got to the end and saw that there’s a book that follows Sebastian (a side character- literally didn’t matter at all), I was intrigued.

Bethany: I guess I was expecting more Indiana Jones and instead I got the remake of Jumanji. I probably wouldn’t have had as much trouble suspending disbelief had the language not pulled me out of the story so often.

Jeriann: There were definitely frustrating bits about this book. But I think that if you’re a fan of ridiculous sensual treasure hunts, that this is a fun escapist read. I mostly just think it’s cool that Abrams is open about being a romance novelist, whereas many authors hide behind their pseudonyms. #moreromancenovelistpoliticians

Bethany: #morelongwindedhashtags

Have you checked out Selena Montgomery’s books? What did you think? #letusknowinthecomments

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