Lacey is an ex-NASCAR photographer haunted by her memories of a fatal crash. Kip Sellars is a troubled NASCAR driver with a bad reputation and a death wish. The two have almost nothing in common except their mutual contempt, lust, and complimentary backstories (both involving witnessing the brutal death of a loved one in a racing accident).
When they are forced to work together to rehabilitate Sellars’ public image, Lacey and Sellars have no choice but to confront both their traumatic pasts and the undeniable attraction between them.
The first thing to mention is that – as a title for a romance about racing – Dangerous Curves is a great title. It’s been used by authors many times before (fair warning, there are some bizarre books at that link), but I think this is probably the best context for it.
This book bills itself as “erotic romance”, but that’s not strictly accurate. The argument over the fine distinctions between romance, erotic romance, and erotica is an intense and ongoing one that I have no desire to get in the middle of, but broadly speaking, for a romance to class as an erotic romance, sex has to play a central role.
That’s not the case here. While the characters are very much in lust with each other from the off, sex does not really get much time or focus in the story. Instead, the author and characters keep on getting distracted by backstory and side-plots. It’s actually quite endearing; the author clearly had all these intentions of sizzling prose, but each time two characters start smouldering, she suddenly remembers a key piece of characterisation that simply can’t wait and must be addressed right now. This rapid shift in focus isn’t just confined to the bedroom either – it also happens in the middle of death-defying late night races.
This means that a lot of the narrative consists of flashbacks or ruminations with the occasional slightly jarring reminder that a character is either half-naked or seconds from crashing into a tree. You can feel the author’s warring intentions as you read through, attempting to turn up the heat but then deciding that – unless you fully understand Lacey’s work with the homeless – the passion is all a bit wasted. In the very, very nicest possible way, it’s a bit like reading a romance written by the dog from Up.
I’d like to stress again that I don’t think this is at all a negative trait; romances genuinely don’t work unless you care about the characters and understand them as people, so I have no issues whatsoever with the focus being on that rather than on what the book thinks it’s about. I did find it quite amusing though, every time the narrative shifted course so rapidly. There is passion without the flashbacks in places, of course, but it’s clear that the author was far more interested in other aspects of the story.
At its heart, this is a redemption story: two damaged people realising that they need to teach each other their own ways of coping in order to heal. It’s not just a book about love, but about racing, photography, family, and – more in depth than I was expecting – the social issues of homelessness and the corrupting power of guilt. It handles these ideas sensitively and effectively, with some allowance made for the scope of the book and the rosy-spectacled resolution that romance demands.
The book’s biggest problem is the amount of exposition. As already mentioned, I don’t mind it interrupting the action, and I generally have a lot of patience for backstory (not everything needs to start in medias res, and things that do still owe their readers an explanation at some point), but it goes a bit overboard here. Almost anything serves as a trigger for Lacey or Sellars to drift off and reminisce about their career choices, childhood holidays, or close (but mostly irrelevant) friendships. Sometimes this works – there are traumas and moments that the narrative needs to explore – but sometimes its just a gentle trip through details that don’t really support the core plot.
Coupled with the amount of exposition comes a second problem: it’s not always the right exposition. On several occasions, a character’s actions or reactions caught me off-guard, despite having spent the last several pages in that character’s head while they pondered about similar situations. The details that I thought were going to be relevant just didn’t connect, and the reasons behind a character’s emotional surge were dismissed in a single line. When Lacey first meets Sellars, she’s absolutely furious and it’s not really that clear why; already, you know a huge amount about the character, but not the core piece guiding the current scene.
It sounds like I’m complaining a lot here, but I don’t really mean to; I quite liked this. It was a little confused in places, and definitely tried to jam too much complexity into the space available, but I did find the main characters quite compelling and fully-realised. They’re definitely rounded people with complexities and edges, and that’s really what I look for in a romance. I found my mind drifting back to this quite a bit after finishing it – despite the swaying focus, there’s a solid core here and the final resolution is actually very sweet.
Dangerous Curves is a deeper and more thoughtful book than it wants you to think, trying to be sultry but constantly diving sideways to grapple with trauma and how to cope with loss. It’s a quick and slightly disorienting read, but it hits all the points a romance needs to hit and is best described as “endearing”.
In the interests of full disclosure, I must mention that I received a copy of this book through NetGalley.