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Sunday, May 3, 2015

'The Shameless Hour' The Ivy Years #4 by Sarina Bowen

From the BLURB:

The girl who’s had everyone meets the boy who has no one.

For Bella, the sweet-talking, free-loving, hip-checking student manager of the Harkness men’s hockey team, sex is a second language. She’s used to being fluent where others stutter, and the things people say behind her back don’t (often) bother her. So she can’t understand why her smoking hot downstairs neighbor has so much trouble staying friends after their spontaneous night together. She knows better than to worry about it, but there’s something in those espresso eyes that makes her second guess herself.

Rafe is appalled with himself for losing his virginity in a drunken hookup. His strict Catholic upbringing always emphasized loving thy neighbor—but not with a bottle of wine and a box of condoms. The result is an Ivy League bout of awkwardness. But when Bella is leveled by a little bad luck and a downright sinister fraternity stunt, it’s Rafe who is there to pick up the pieces.

Bella doesn’t want Rafe's help, and she’s through with men. Too bad the undeniable spark that crackles between the two of them just can't be extinguished.

‘The Shameless Hour’ is the fourth book in Sarina Bowen’s contemporary New Adult romance series, ‘The Ivy Years’.

Readers met the protagonist of ‘The Shameless Hour’ a while ago, Bella had a particularly big role in third book ‘The Understatement of the Year’ as the occasional hook-up and best friend of closeted hockey player, Michael Graham. Upon first meeting Bella, some readers probably formed opinions of her. She likes sex, and isn’t ashamed of that – furthermore, she loves hockey and hockey players and she’s shared her bed with a few of the Harkness team.

When we meet Bella in ‘The Shameless Hour’ she’s still her carefree, cheeky and sexy self – if a little bruised over Graham’s rejection of her (regardless of his sexuality, it still hurts) and his blissful coupling with John Rikker. It is in this mind-frame that she stumbles across her handsome neighbour, Rafe, who is drowning his sorrows in a bottle of champagne on their House doorstep.

Turns out Rafe’s girlfriend had been cheating on him, as he found out on the night they were meant to share a special birthday celebration …. Unbeknownst to Bella, Rafe is a virgin and he was planning to lose his virginity to his long-term girlfriend Alison. Sharing tales of their heart-wounded woes, Rafe and Bella fall into an easy camaraderie and eventually into Bella’s bed. And though the seeming casualness of the hook-up bothers Rafe (whose Ma taught him better than that), miscommunication leaves Bella thinking that Rafe wants nothing more to do with her.

Though she feels an intense attraction to Rafe, Bella refuses to mope over their fleeting moment. Instead, she keeps on enjoying herself just fine … until an encounter with a Harkness frat leaves her hurt, humiliated and staring down an all-too common campus assault that shakes her confidence to the core.

There’s an endorsement quote for this book which I just love;

“The Shameless hour is a gift to any girl or woman who’s ever been slut-shamed. It’s magnificent.”
   Tammara Webber, New York Times bestselling author of Easy and Sweet

That’s it. Right there. Sarina Bowen’s book is goddamn brilliant on a lot of romance levels – Rafe and Bella are both complex and intriguing characters in their own right, but when they come together their heat and easy camaraderie makes them truly enjoyable characters to read and root for. The sex scenes are steamy, the build-up even more so … but all the sexy stuff aside, Bowen’s ‘The Shameless Hour’ is a commendable romance because she flips gender roles in her protagonists and confronts slut-shaming head on.

I wouldn’t call Rafe a “beta” hero, but he is a virginal hero to Bella’s sexual confidence, which in itself is a refreshing flip. Bella gets whispered about by some hockey girlfriends, and is aware of her “reputation” in the close-knit Harkness sporting community. But she doesn’t give a shit. In a scene with her GP, Bella asserts control over her sexual health and talks freely about her sexual appetite. I loved her. And I loved Rafe for her – especially after a certain reference he made …

“Why? Who was he?” 
“Never met him before. But some rich dude in a fancy suit. Your basic nightmare.” 
I let out a hoot of laughter. “Rafe? Did you just quote When Harry Met Sally to me?” 
His gaze slid into mine, and a slow smile began to overtake his face. “I might have. My mom really likes the chick flicks.” 
Then comes Bowen’s portrayal of the fallout of sexual harassment on campus. I finished reading this after Amy Schumer’s brilliant takedown of rape culture through a ‘Friday Night Lights’ parody, and it was kind of great that between reading ‘The Shameless Hour’ and seeing Schumer’s skit go viral, there was just so much material tackling this subject which was once barely on society’s periphery.

Sarina Bowen does tackle Bella’s harassment in a myriad of tender and thoughtful ways. It really made me heart-sick to read the funny and confident Bella shrink into herself because of what happened to her; 

The people around me were oblivious – tapping on their phones or talking to friends. What I wouldn’t give to go back in time just a few days. I wanted to be oblivious too – to walk around campus like I owned the place. But now I didn’t know what to do with my eyes whenever we approached someone. Harkness was a small school, and even the people I didn’t know looked familiar.
Every time we passed someone, I looked down at my shoes. And I couldn’t help but wonder, Have you seen the picture? Have you read the caption?

In Bowen’s ‘The Understatement of the Year’, two gay hockey players don’t want to be defined by their sexuality, and I think Bowen carries a similar message in ‘The Shameless Hour’. Bella doesn’t want to be seen as a victim after her assault and harassment. It’s a powerful message to be sending, particularly to the romance community for whom these truly gritty explorations rarely form the basis of plot.

I also loved a secondary character in ‘The Shameless Hour’, Bella’s next-door-neighbour Lianne who has an Emma Watson-esque storyline as an actress (from a famous fantasy franchise). The same way Watson went under-the-radar at Brown University, Lianne has similar hopes at Harkness. I really hope we get her book soon;
 Lianna shook her head. “I finished kindergarten in a regular school. After that, my mother dragged me to whichever continent she thought would amuse her most. I had private tutors. And then I worked all the way through high school. The only people I saw every day wore capes.”

Sarina Bowen’s ‘The Ivy Years’ is one of my favourite series. They’re sexy and titillating to be sure, but Bowen is tackling big stories in this series too and I love her for it.


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