Rating: 4.5/5 stars
Length: 320 pages
Genres: Romance, Contemporary, New Adult, Adult, Fiction, Dark, Politics
Publication date: January 6, 2019
I found my bride sitting in front of her vanity mirror, wearing a tight black velvet dress – it looked like we coordinated something other than trying to stab each other – a lit cigarette dangling from the corner of her luscious lips. She was shoving mud into a pot, gardening in the middle of her bedroom, in a Chanel evening dress.
She was crazy.
And she was my crazy.
Francesca believed that a first kiss should be earned, not stolen. That the vows you make on your wedding day should be cherished, not broken. That your heart only beats for one man. That it isn’t split and bled for two rivals who’ll fight until the bitter end. She believed that all great love stories have a happy ending, but found herself erasing and rewriting her story until the very last chapter.
Francesca Rossi wanted nothing more than to marry her first love, Angelo Bandini, heir to one of the most powerful families in the Chicago Outfit. Yet instead she finds herself taken by Senator Wolfe Keaton who held her father’s sins over his head. Somewhere in the middle of this mess, she’s going to have to find her forever.
It took me a while to get into this story, and I’m very glad that I stuck it out until the tale had its claws stuck into me. I picked this book up because I was interested in its premise – who wouldn’t be interested in reading a modern day romance surrounded by the mob and political ambition? What, not everyone? Okay then. – but I wasn’t really sure what I’d gotten myself into. After all, the synopsis of this story doesn’t really let you know what’s in store for you.
This turned out to be for the best as I had no expectations going into the read, which allowed me to be blown away with what I found in the tale. Too often a synopsis will over promise things, leaving me feel let down when the story doesn’t blow me out of the water. The way that Shen left her synopsis purposefully obtuse allowed the story to do all the talking and I loved it.
Having taken a couple of Classics courses myself, I adored the casual use of Greek mythology in small ways throughout this tale. While the story of Nemesis and Narcissus isn’t the most well known, it’s a great tale and I encourage everyone to look it up if you don’t already know it. Having this myth play even a small role in this story made me smile and enjoy it that much more.
The thing that I most enjoyed about this read is the way that Shen made the relationships and characters messy. Too often I find that books try to make their characters seem perfect and infallible. Not here. Instead, Shen does a fantastic job at having the characters undermine and underestimate each other. She uses the lens of youth as a tool to allow the characters to make mistakes, while traditions help force people down paths that they wouldn’t otherwise have taken. These tools allowed the people and their interactions to feel more real than they would’ve otherwise.
I’d recommend The Kiss Thief to someone looking for a romance that deals with heavier topics such as political corruption and the mobster mentality. While I can understand that this read might not be for everyone (my earlier joke aside), I really did enjoy my time in this world. I think it was a great standalone romance, creating the perfect amount of world and character to fit into this tale to leave me satisfied without craving for more.
However, I’d like to give a quick warning about a near-rape scene in the story. If something like this is hard for you to read, I would look elsewhere. While the scene in question is not considered rape by the characters in it, it’s close enough that I’m sure some people will be uncomfortable reading it.
There are also scenes of domestic abuse in this tale. While these do not take the forefront of the story, they do play a role in it. If these scenes make you uncomfortable, you might want to find another read.
I really enjoyed reading about how Francesca and Wolfe got to know each other. While they were certainly frustrating, it was great getting to see these two strong personalities butting heads all of the time. Being someone who prefers reading about a building relationship before people become a couple, their interactions with each other were fantastic. They both saw the other in a certain light, being unwilling to waver in their assessment of the other for a long time. They were constantly challenging each other, pushing the boundaries and seeing what they could get away with.
I personally think it’s a good thing to find someone who’ll push your boundaries, to test the limits and bring you outside of your comfort zone. Of course, I don’t suggest that you push things quite as hard and far as Francesca and Wolfe. You shouldn’t threaten you partner or cheat on them. But you shouldn’t be someone for them to walk all over.
Francesca pushed Wolfe’s view of her – an easily breakable doll, made to be pretty but not useful for anything else – right from the beginning. He thought that a little hunger would make her break, that she wouldn’t be able to starve herself long enough to make a real point. Instead she proved that she was willing to do anything that she put her mind to. Francesca had a backbone and said backbone was able to make Mr. Rigid come to the table to compromise.
I adore that even though Francesca’s father explicitly said that she was not to go to school in order to keep up appearances this is exactly what Wolfe bargained with. It’s the one thing that Francesca wanted more than anything but had kept to herself knowing that the life her parents were leading her down did not include this. Upon finding out that this is the one thing that Francesca wanted – even while thinking that she was still a useless doll – he didn’t pause to give it to her. Sure part of him was doing it to stick it to her father, but he was also willing to do it simply because it would make her happy and get her to eat. He cared that she wasn’t taking care of herself, even if she was still his prisoner and collateral damage to the war he was raging against The Outfit.
Their relationship might not have started on a good foot – or even a decent one – but it ended on a surprisingly happy one. From dismissing each other to adoring the other, Francesca and Wolfe made huge strides with one another. They went from looking down on each other to respecting and even loving the other.
Of course stealing Francesca’s first kiss was despicable, especially knowing that the kiss that night was important to her if even he didn’t know that it was her first kiss. And sure it was low of Wolfe to send her chocolates after reading her second note just to mess with her. But he worked hard to make up for it.
I can understand why Francesca worried about having Stockholm’s Syndrome when she started to stop hating Wolfe. He was awful to her for the longest time and didn’t trust the words coming out of her mouth. Heck, she repeated herself three times that she hadn’t slept with Antonio and he didn’t believe her. She ended up tricking him into taking her virginity as a way to prove to Wolfe that she hadn’t been cheating on him like she’d claimed earlier in their relationship. Yet she was determined to show him that she wasn’t lying to him, that she was telling him the truth and wouldn’t cheat on him. She was honestly starting to have feelings for him so going further than she ever had was her way of showing him that she actually wanted to be with him.
The situation between Wolfe and Francesca’s father definitely made it hard for them to trust each other. While Francesca didn’t know what Wolfe had on her father, she knew that it had to be something huge in order for her father to give in to his demands. And after everything that Wolfe had gone through both with his brother and his adoptive parents, it was no wonder that he had a hard time not judging Francesca by the sins of the father. It’s hard to believe that such a sweet young thing could come from that monster. Boarding school certainly helped.
Over all, I’m glad that the monster that is Francesca’s father ended up getting thrown in jail and losing his empire. While being a crime lord isn’t the best thing in the world, it’s the other things that he did that make him a monster in my eyes. Treating his daughter like property and abusing her verbally and emotionally, beating his wife for years… the list goes on. I certainly hope that nobody has to deal with situations such as these. Or, if you find yourself in something like this, you manage to get out.
Everyone deserves happiness, even if the road to it isn’t straight forward. In fact, especially if the road isn’t straight forward. Life can be boring if it’s too easy. I hope you find a relationship that challenges you and keeps you honest, that you feel comfortable and loved in.