Author: SJD Peterson
Publisher: Pride Publishing
Length: 165 Pages
Category: Contemporary, Multiple Partners, M/F/M, M/F, some M/M
At a Glance: Shallow, uninteresting characters combined with not much of a storyline made this a rough read for me, but there is room for redemption in the series if the second book delivers.
Reviewed By: Cassie
Blurb: The competition is on when two sexy players set their sights on one woman who has no intention of being anyone’s prize. Will the ultimate challenge be true love?
With too many relationships ending in heartache under her belt, the new and improved Symone Adams is loud, proud and on the prowl. She has removed the heart she’s normally worn on her sleeve and tucked it safely under lock and key. What she wants now is to explore the appeal of meaningless, mind-blowing sex. After six months of self-imposed celibacy hell, she heads to Menjo’s and directly into the path of two very determined players.
Zander and Marco are pros when it comes to seduction, yet each has grown bored with their conquests. When these two strangers set their sights on the same stunning beauty, the competition is on. Both embark on a full balls-to-the-wall effort to win not only Symone’s body, but her heart as well.
What none of them can predict, though, is where their chance encounter will take them, especially Marco and Zander. While the men focus on winning Symone, it’s the electricity arcing in the air between them that will be the real challenge.
Review: I feel like I need to start this review with a PSA. Ladies (or gentlemen, since creeps don’t come in one gender or orientation)—if you are at a club and you and your friend(s) leave your drinks and table unattended to dance, do not—DO NOT—come back to your table (which has miraculously stayed empty) and CHUG DOWN YOUR UNATTENDED AND POTENTIALLY-DRUGGED DRINK. I thought we all knew that in this day and age, but our heroine, apparently, missed that memo. The girl doesn’t actually get drugged, but that little bit of action threw me out of the of the story so hard I got whiplash on the bounce.
Now, let’s return you to your regularly scheduled review.
This story is definitely the Symone show. And while I’m not opposed to taking some F/M with my M/M, or M/F/M as the case may be, I need to actually like the character. I didn’t in Essence of the Challenge. In fact, I didn’t actually like any of the characters much.
Symone’s been hurt before, so she’s not looking for serious commitment, just serious fun. But she immediately runs into problems maintaining her distance when she simultaneously meets Marco and Zander on a night out at the club. For some reason, this heroine—who at one point describes herself as average—is so thirst-inducing to these two men that they begin a blatant competition to get her into bed. She thinks this is charming, somehow, so she eggs them on. Symone also has a best friend, who is only slightly annoying. Symone spells her name with a “y”…and that’s basically all there is to Symone. She’s not interesting, or insightful, or particularly intelligent. I’m honestly not sure what these guys see in her.
I’m also not sure what she sees in these two guys. They aren’t any more fleshed out than Symone. Marco has a hobby as an artist and is hot. Zander is just hot. That’s really all there is to them. They’re actually so interchangeable that I had trouble remembering who was who the whole time I was reading the book, because neither really has a distinct voice. They’re both “players” who have made it to age twenty-eight or so without having a single real girlfriend between them. They are not turned off or discouraged by the fact that Symone is pitting them against each other; seemingly because they are both so conceited that they each think they’re the one who is going to win smexy times with Symone.
As we can all predict, during the competition both men realize that Symone is more than just a candidate for wham-bam-thank-you-ma’am. She’s actually THE ONE. Symone also starts to realize these two are THE ONE for her (shhhh, just go with it—that made perfect sense). She just needs some convincing to give the non-traditional arrangement a go. Marco and Zander end up forming a truce so they can work more with each other than against each other to convince Symone to stick around.
The most intriguing part of the whole book doesn’t get much traction; it’s the suggestion of an attraction between Marco and Zander. All it ends up boiling down to is that Marco makes Zander nervous because Marco flirts with him, and Zander notices Marco’s hotness. That’s it. Don’t let the last line of the blurb fool you; it’s a total tease. There’s no pay off between Marco and Zander, and because that’s where all the decent conflict and character development potential is coming from in the story, the lack of resolution is extremely, noticeably anti-climactic.
Other than the plodding dance of getting these three together, there’s not much storyline. And the final resolution of the relationship comes together without much of a climax, even in the bedroom. The love scenes actually felt pretty monotonous, even with the bonus body in play. Basically, the same thing happened every time, and too many words were spent on what amounted to not much action.
I spent the first third of the book annoyed at the characters, who were more caricatures than people, then the last two thirds waiting for something more interesting to happen. I was actually surprised when the book ended, because I thought things were still just getting started. I wanted more relationship building and character exploration, but this story was clearly supposed to be mostly about the sex. Because there was nothing new or noteworthy in the love scenes to make the book stand out, everything just fizzled out.
As a standalone, this book is 2.5 stars. It is, however, billed as book one of a series. If the second book can make me more interested in these characters and deliver on some of the tease from this book’s blurb, my impression of this book within the series arc could maybe get pulled up to 3 stars. Ultimately, though, I expect the first book of a series to get me invested in what happens next for the characters it’s introduced to me. In this case, I’m not sure I am.
You can buy Essence of the Challenge here: