Wow! Starting a brand spanking (is there going to be spanking?) new series! I always feel a tiny wave of anticipation before meeting new characters. I can barely remember not knowing (and hating) Ana, Christian, Gideon, Eva, Cary, and all their idiotic parents and friends! I wonder how these characters will compare, how often I’ll confuse them with the protagonists in these other books, and how many times I’ll wish I had a physical copy of Beautiful Disaster to throw at the wall.
And so it begins. [Matthew says: BATTLE OF THE SEXES. BOYS RULE GIRLS DREWL. Wow, I already got way too into character.]
Chapter 1 [!!!]: Red Flag [uh oh!]
Everything in the room screamed that I didn’t belong.
Do these books start any other way? Insecure protagonist struggling to find her way when she’s seemingly in over her head – sounds about right. [Matthew says: Mine starts with an overconfident protagonist getting what he wants, so… battle of the sexes?]
Abby and her best friend America are at a sketchy place. From her introduction, I can pretty much peg America as the archetypal best friend we’ve seen in the likes of Cary (Crossfire), Kate (Fifty Shades), and V (Hush, Hush). So far: Stupid name? Check. Obligatory BFF forcing the protagonist out of their comfort zone/into A Situation? check? Sass levels of said best friend? Yet to be determined.
America and Abby follow some guy named Shepley further into this place, and listen as his friend Adam sort of explains what’s going on to both the reader and a room full of people.
“Welcome to the bloodbath! If you are looking for Economics 101 . . . you are in the wrong fucking place, my friend! If you seek the Circle, this is Mecca! My name is Adam. I make the rules and I call the fight. Betting ends once the opponents are on the floor. No touching the fighters, no assistance, no bet switching, and no encroachment of the ring. If you break these rules, you will get the piss beat out of you and you will be thrown out on your ass without your money! That includes you, ladies! So don’t use your hos to scam the system, boys!”
To be fair, Shepley seems to find Adam’s choice of words pretty cringy, but come on? We’re barely a page in and there’s already misogyny! Beautiful Disaster, welcome to Bad Books, Good Times, I think you’ve found a home. [Matthew says: It’s like our underground fight club can’t just be an open-minded, non-discriminatory environment.] We also get loads of “cool” sounding yet vague, expository information. Apparently, our new band of characters is in a fight club type place.
We also learn a shocking amount of details in one paragraph (aka how Travis, ooooh love interest, connects here, and how Abby (who is wearing pearls and a pink cardigan! Oh Abby! You look so out of place!) has gotten to this crazy fight clubbin’ world.
Because I ran in somewhat tamer circles, I was surprised to learn of an underground world at Eastern; but Shepley knew about it before he had ever enrolled. Travis, Shepley’s roommate and cousin, entered his first fight seven months before. As a freshman, he was rumored to be the most lethal competitor Adam had seen in the three years since creating the Circle. Beginning his sophomore year, Travis was unbeatable. Together, Travis and Shepley easily paid their rent and bills with the winnings. [Matthew says: Not that I’m an expert on fight club gambling rings or anything, but if he literally always wins, how does he make any money? No one would ever bet against him and the economy will go stagnant.]
America is dating Shepley, America and Abby are friends, and you know, one thing leads to another and they’re all hanging out at the fight club.
The fight between Travis and expendable character Marek ends almost as quickly as it begins, with Travis the victor. [Matthew says: Want to know what’s really weird? The parallel novel from Travis’s side of the story starts after this scene. No, it doesn’t make any sense, and I was super confused what was going on.] More importantly, we see another author that doesn’t quite know how to use the word ‘detonate‘.
Adam threw a scarlet square of fabric onto Marek’s limp body, and the mob detonated. Cash changed hands once again, and the expressions divided into the smug and the frustrated.
At least it’s not being used to describe an orgasm, but it’s still an odd coincidence. I’m not even entirely sure what it means here. I thought maybe the crowd was cheering, but the next sentence makes it sound like everyone is just pulling faces to represent how well their respective bets went and then just like calmly handing the money over to one another. Everything detonated…peacefully?
It’s time for Abby and Travis to meet cute…sort of.
I was shoved from behind, and Travis caught me by the arm before I fell forward. “Hey! Back up off her!” Travis frowned, shoving anyone who came near me. His stern expression melted into a smile at the sight of my shirt, and then he dabbed my face with a towel. “Sorry about that, Pigeon.”
Meeting in which female character falls and male character must catch/help her up? Check. Stupid fucking nickname to add to the Angel/Ace/My (poor) Fifty collection? Check. I mean, where on earth did Pigeon even come from? Is it the pink cardigan? The pearls? Does Abby look like a bird? Did she poop on someone’s head when we weren’t looking? [Matthew says: You’d think the answer to this would be in the book from Travis’s perspective, but this scene isn’t even in it. He just immediately starts calling her “Pidge”, which makes even less sense, because he’s calling someone we don’t know he’s already met a nickname of a nickname.]
I didn’t mention this before because I didn’t think it was important, but during the fight, some blood landed on Abby’s cardigan, and Travis is all, “That sweater looks good on you, sucks there’s now blood on it,” before he disappears. What a mysterious guy! [Matthew says: He mentions that he sees “the girl with the bloody cardigan” in his story, but – you guessed it – doesn’t mention why there’s blood on her cardigan, or that he knows her. He just sounds like he suddenly went British.]
Then, because apparently blood on Abby’s cardigan (and the fact that she is wearing a cardigan, lest we fucking forget) is SUPER important, this happens:
America followed me into my dorm room and then sneered at my roommate , Kara. I immediately peeled off the bloody cardigan, throwing it into the hamper.
“Gross. Where have you been?” Kara asked from her bed.
Maybe there’s a history here, but it seems pretty fucking bizarre that America would just sneer at this Kara girl completely unprompted. Her response to Kara’s sensible (albeit insensitive) questions is equally as baffling.
“Nosebleed. You haven’t seen one of Abby’s famous nosebleeds?”
Kara pushed up her glasses and shook her head.
“Oh, you will.” She winked at me and then shut the door behind her.
I…what? Hilarious? You see it’s funny because Abby doesn’t really get nosebleeds, and nosebleeds are funny because blood comes out of your nose which is like LOL blood isn’t supposed to come outta there! And it just gets even more hilarious because Kara ISN’T going to get to see Abby’s famous nosebleeds which aren’t even real, which means they can’t be famous, and which means Kara will never actually get to see them!
The next day at lunch it all starts to kick off!
Shepley nodded, and America and I both turned to see Travis take a seat at the end of the table. He was followed by two voluptuous bottle blondes wearing Sigma Kappa Ts. One of them sat on Travis’s lap; the other sat beside him, pawing at his shirt.
“I think I just threw up a little bit in my mouth,” America muttered.
The blonde on Travis’s lap turned to America. “I heard that, skank.”
America grabbed her roll and threw it down the table, narrowly missing the girl’s face. Before the girl could say another word, Travis let his knees give way, sending her tumbling to the floor.
“Ouch!” she squealed, looking up at Travis.
“America’s a friend of mine. You need to find another lap, Lex.” [Matthew says: This line isn’t in Travis’s version of the story for some reason. The story from Travis’s perspective does a worse job characterizing Travis.]
“Travis!” she whined, scrambling to her feet.
Travis turned his attention to his plate, ignoring her. She looked at her sister and huffed, and they left hand in hand.
Woah, that Travis sure keeps it real, yo. It don’t matter if she’s blonde with big boobs; there’s no place for her in his lap if she calls his friend names!
Travis comes over to chat with the crew, but he doesn’t recognize Abby at first. When they remind him he ruined her sweater (IT WAS A MOTHERFUCKING CARDIGAN) last night (THE BLOOD), he’s all, “I ruin a lot of girl’s sweaters
CARDIGANS.” Classy guy! But don’t worry, we all know the power of Abby’s love and cardigans will save the day. Cardigans 4eva. [Matthew says: These lines also aren’t in Travis’s version of the story. Travis is a really shitty storyteller.]
Travis displays lots of interest in Abby, but she’s not having any of it. She doesn’t want to be like all the other girls that fawn over Travis! [Matthew says: TEAM TRAVIS! Abby’s a biiiiiitch!] He won’t make her blush! No way no how. He calls her pigeon a bunch more times because apparently that’s a thing we’re supposed to like about this series, and he leaves. Don’t worry, he doesn’t leave before telling America to bring Abby to his apartment.
Shep warns Abby that if she falls for Travis and then gets burned, she can’t take it out on him and America, and Abby is like, “As if.” She heads to class and gives us vague and mysterious details about Her Past.
Eastern was exactly what I hoped it would be, from the smaller classrooms to the unfamiliar faces. It was a new start for me; I could finally walk somewhere without the whispers of those who knew— or thought they knew— anything about my past.
I have a feeling it has something to do with sexual assault, and I also have a feeling that if I’m right, Travis is going to go apeshit when he finds out. Nothing else can ever seem to happen to a woman in these books when they have a dark secret in their past.
Abby gets to class and, what do you know, turns out Travis has been in there this whole time! But he usually sits a few rows ahead of her, so Abby never noticed him before…so I guess this isn’t like how Gideon and Eva have a sexual charge whenever the other one walks in a room?
I just really don’t get how Travis has never noticed Abby with America and Shep before. Or how Abby never noticed Travis in her class even though he’s so popular and sexy. I mean really, “A small group of girls was staring at me, and I noticed an empty chair in the center.” This doesn’t even happen in real life where gaggles of girls are constantly trying to sit in a guy’s lap, rub his chest while another girl is sitting in his lap, crowd around him in class…why are all these authors so completely out of touch with what life is actually like for people? [Matthew says: I have no idea what you mean. This pretty much describes my life in college.]
Abby is a total bitch to Travis, which he loves, so they make plans to hang out tonight. You know, just so he leaves her alone. It’s always a good idea when you want a guy to leave you alone to go to his apartment.
After class, America and obligatory-male-friend-who-might-have-feelings-for-Abby (Finch) show up and are like, “OMG Travis?!?! Are U Going 2 Sleep W/Him???” Abby’s like, “We’re totes all going 2 hang 2nite.”
Here’s where I realize my post is WAY too long and this chapter still has a bit more to go (and why is so much fucking happening in the first chapter! Let a girl ease into things a bit, will ya?) [Matthew says: My first chapter already ended. Point for Team Travis!] Abby goes to the apartment looking totally fugs hoping this will deter Travis (because this somehow makes sense), and instead he is just super nice, offers to help in her class if she needs it (he has all As) and explains he fights because he needs more money. He also explains he learned to fight because his dad drank and hit him, and he had four older brothers who were dicks and also hit him.
Abby talks about how uncomfortable Travis makes her feel the more he tries to hit on her. Again, this is probably a sign that she should just not be there at all. ”
I didn’t know how most girls felt around him, but I’d seen how they behaved. I was experiencing more of a disoriented, nauseated feeling than giggly infatuation, and the harder he worked to make me smile, the more unsettled I felt.
So this is our new male love interest, ladies and gents. A man to contend with Christian and Gideon! And I guess fucking Patch too.
The next logical step is to get onto Travis’ motorcycle with him to go get pizza, so that’s exactly what happens. Travis is super impressed by Abby’s lack of interest and finds her hilarious and declares they must be friends.
Abby agrees and says they won’t be having sex. I guess that’s a new kind of start to these romance novels. Despite the qualms I already have with this book, having the characters actually be friends and like each other before all the sex begins is kind of a nice change of pace. [Matthew says: I can’t wait to learn that this is totally the opposite from Travis’s perspective. Yaaaay Team Travis…]
Abby and Travis chat about their lives. Abby and America have been friends since high school, and Abby came to Eastern to get away from her parents (oooh mysterious), and Travis tells us a little more about his horrible older brothers.
Also, the whole soccer team is apparently eating at the same pizza place and having a chuckle about Travis taking a girl out to dinner first.
“Oh, Travis! You normally just stick your penis right in without buying dinner first! But this time you are buying dinner first!”
Does no one in this book actually understand what a joke is?