Book: Sparrow by L.J. Shen

Reviewer: Bethany

Age/Genre: Mob Romance

Preferred Reading Environment: In the bubble bath! Maybe with green bubbles…

Reading Accoutrements: Celebrate St. Patty’s with a Guinness…or a green beer, if that’s more your style. I’ll only judge you a little.

Content Notes: Adultery

I got Sparrow, by L.J. Shen, as a free book on Kindle. This one intrigued me because it made the Amazon International Best Sellers list and those books don’t often make my radar. I decided to review it because St. Patrick’s Day is upon us and this one’s all about the Irish mob in Boston. Seems fitting, right?

Sparrow is a stubborn redhead, born and bred in Boston, and daughter of a low-level mob crony. She is struggling to make ends meet, working at a diner while attending night classes at a nearby cooking school. When Troy tells her they are going to get married, she’s flummoxed. She knows who he is – anyone connected to criminal activity in Boston does – and that you can’t say “No” to him. But Sparrow hasn’t spoken a complete sentence in Troy’s direction in her entire adult life. Why would he want to marry her?

Troy made a promise to his father a long time ago to marry the little redheaded girl down the street and he intends to make good on that promise. His past has made him jaded – an ex-girlfriend who cheated on him while in rehab, his father’s murder, his mother’s dependence on Troy’s income to maintain a lavish lifestyle, and a job as a fixer for the elite of Boston (doing everything from covering up murders to making blackmailing mistresses disappear). To him, Sparrow is just another job.

Except Sparrow doesn’t cower and bow to his wishes like everyone else. She’s determined to remain independent and follow through with her own life plans. The two butt heads at every turn while they learn to live with one another. Can they fall in love? And when Troy’s history threatens their lives and relationship, can they survive?

I mentioned in a couple of my other reviews that I really like the girl power romances. I like it when a female protagonist stands up to the intimidating people around her, and Sparrow is really good at standing her ground. But I get the sense that Sparrow isn’t really sure what she’s standing for. She maintains that she wants independence from Troy throughout the book, and she says that it’s because she won’t fall in love with someone she can’t trust…or because she wants to be a chef and run her own business…or because she wants to prove to herself that she can rise above what her parents did…or, well, you get the drift. The thing is, she could be independent for all of those reasons but she feels the need to keep making excuses, which makes me think she actually wants independence because she doesn’t want to be codependent and THAT is making her hold back and play it safe.

Both Sparrow and Troy tend to mistake codependence in other people’s relationships as love, so they both “refuse” to fall in love (I put refuse in quotes because, let’s be honest, in a romance novel you have no control over whether or not you do). The two are so stubborn in their independence that they spend a good deal of the book not even talking, despite the fact that they’re in a relationship. It frustrated me a lot, but not enough for me to stop reading. That really wasn’t the biggest pet-peeve trope in this book for me.

Just a warning: I’m about to hop on a soap box for a second, y’all.

Sparrow is what I call an “ends justify the means” romance, meaning one or both characters is involved in illegal activities but no one seems to mind. Somehow, in the worlds of these novels, it’s completely normal and even accepted that criminal activities – including murder – take place. As long as you stick to the dubious moral rules constructed by whatever criminal organizations hold the power, these criminal acts are okay. In the world of Sparrow, Troy’s activities are generally accepted as “how it is.” Sparrow and her friends are alternately afraid of and awed by his tenacity and power. She is upset with the idea that Troy kills people as part of his job – until she finds out that his job doesn’t involve outright murder. Then, all of a sudden, she’s fine with his job…until she thinks he betrayed her. The back and forth of “it’s terrible that he does this” to “this is completely acceptable now that I know…” in this trope is exhausting.

I will say that the sex scenes between Sparrow and Troy are fantastic and I like the verbal sparring between the two characters. The sex scenes between other pairings were difficult for me to enjoy because the people were making sex a selfish enterprise – focused solely on what they could get out of this interaction – and that always pulls me out of fictional intimate moments.

If Troy and Sparrow had been completely unaffiliated with the mob, I would have liked the story more. This one required a specific mood and a specific motivation (aka the suspense had me hooked and I was reading it for the blog) for me to get through it, but it’s pretty good in the realm of “ends justify the means” romance books. The dynamic of the relationships are engaging and the suspense actually had me holding my breath in parts.

What do you think about “ends justify the means” romances? Share and example of your favorite or the one that frustrated you the most in the comments!

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