Book Review: Fortitude Smashed by Taylor Brooke

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Summary:

After scientists stumbled across an anomalous human hormone present during moments of emotional intimacy, further research created the ability to harness the direction of living energy and pinpoint when two lines will merge. Personalized chips are now implanted beneath the thumbnails of every infant, where glowing numbers count down to the moment they will meet their soul mate. Fate is now a calculation.

But loving someone isn’t.

When Shannon Wurther, the youngest detective in Southern California, finds himself face-to-face with Aiden Maar, the reckless art thief Shannon’s precinct has been chasing for months, they are both stunned. Their Camellia Clocks have timed out, and the men are left with a choice—love one another or defy fate.


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Fortitude Smashed is the first and only book I have ever read for review that I re-read and took notes in the margins of with a pen and a highlighter. That I loved so much I wanted to wallow in on every level I would be allowed to. That’s been sitting on my nightstand for months just so I can keep savoring tiny moments.

I read the book in one go; I fell in love with Aiden and with Shannon, I fell in love with them falling in love.  The beauty of the conceit of fated people learning to be together in Brooke’s hands is this: These men are both ready and not, are willing and unwilling, and prickly but open. Their Rose Road gives them the space to struggle, as we do, but with the safety of understanding that this is meant. In this way, we are privileged to witness Aiden and Shannon as they go through a particular journey of personal growth that only this situation, this Rose Road, this circumstance could bring.

In Fortitude Smashed Brooke built a family of secondary characters that I both adored and was incredibly irritated by at times — in short, she gave these men family and friends that were fleshed out humans, not just foils or plot devices to move particular aspects of the story around. A great cast of secondary characters is hard to pull off and Brooke does it. I love the gender/sexuality/identity representation we see thus far in this series — I’m excited to see what comes in the next few, as I’ve seen the author address questions related to this in blog tour interviews and on her twitter. I’d like to articulate my feelings on this well, but my friend Annie at From Top To Bottom Reviews has done a better job of capturing it here in her review.

I read this book the first time fully knowing there was even more to the story under the layers Brooke created, but unable to stop because I was so caught up in the story. The point of this being: if you don’t feel like you want to do any literary analysis to enjoy the shit out of a beautiful book, you don’t. This book, I promise, will be a lovely experience regardless.

That said…the first time I read Fortitude Smashed, I knew it was special. I knew I loved it a few pages in, but it was on page 26 when Aiden first speaks to the Empty Man that I knew that what Brooke is crafting in this series is literature.

“Aiden thought the heart of the world, like fate, was buried in the sea and, despite his hunger, he would never find it.” (26)

Fortitude Smashed is filled with some really heart stopping prose. I mean, the kind of phrase turning that makes you stop and re-read just to enjoy the sheer poetry of it. None of Brooke’s words or images function as still art alone. Rather, she deploys every image with precision.

“Spread out on the bed with a blush creeping from his chest to his face, Aiden was still a cluster of knives. Shannon’s willingness to bleed defied every shred of control he had left.” (135)

The second time I read this book, I had a pen, a highlighter, and lots of quiet. I savored it. I really let myself look at how Brooke used images, names, words, flowers to tell us more about Aiden (whose name, consequently means “little fire” or “ardent”) and Shannon (whose name means “wise river” or “possessor of wisdom”) (I’ll just let you sit in that lovely tidbit for a moment, take it with you when you read the book and it’ll just add a lovely layer).

Brooke’s use of metaphor and imagery, particularly in reference to the two pieces of art, Fortitude Smashed and Catalyst, as well as the Empty Man Aiden meets on the beach at the beginning and near the end of the novel, are brilliantly situated, used, and executed.  We begin the book with Aiden and Shannon meeting just as Aiden is attempting to steal Fortitude Smashed,  a piece of art made of flowers and flower parts (lilies, dandelion and baby’s breath, all of which represent particular things. For example, lilies represent restored innocence after death). Aiden later tells Shannon he wanted to steal it because it reminded him of himself. When Shannon goes to buy it for him, after they’ve fallen in love, he actually sees it for the first time, and in it:

“…a containment of life in death in one piece…The lily’s stem was snapped from the rest of the petals, which gave the flower a sense of detachment. It was nature’s grenade in the midst of detonating, a slow-motion explosion…” 147

It is in this moment that Shannon really understands — this was who Aiden was in the moment they met. This is how Aiden understood and saw himself.

As fate would have it, Shannon is unable to buy Fortitude Smashed — instead he buys another piece, which we don’t get to see until the end of the book: Catalyst, which is made of ivy and dandelion, calla lily and tulip: flowers that represent youth, rebirth, perfect love, fidelity, affectionate attachment. What I loved so deeply about this is that Brook doesn’t tell us any of this — she doesn’t give the reader the meanings. She’s given the reader gifts inside her prose. Aiden and Shannon’s struggle to understand, walk, and love one another as their Rose Roads is done gorgeously, with care and depth and understanding. And underneath it all Brooke infuses her language and images with depth and symbolism that make the story all that much richer.

Before I finish with my high high praise for an #ownvoices story about mental illness, I want to go back to the Empty Man and how he functions as a catalyst at the beginning of the story when Aiden is really struggling with the idea that his Rose Road is a cop; when he’s struggling with his self worth and his demons; when we’re learning that despite his hard exterior, Aiden is terrified of not finding his heart. How deeply he wants that Rose Road and love.

“‘Someone told me I would eat the heart of the world one day,’ Aiden said….’I’ve always loved the world, but I never thought I’d find the heart of it, the best of it, the center of it. I did though. I found it,” he added quickly. ‘Or it found me, I’m not sure which.’

‘I don’t know either, but you’ve completely consumed it.’

Aiden offered a shy smile, one of his gentle rarities, and he kissed Shannon again.” (315)

To summarize there, thank you Taylor, for this really heart wrenching, human, gorgeous love story.

And now, the part I really, really want people to leave with. This is an #ownvoices story in regards to mental health rep, with both Brooke (author) and Aiden having mental illness.  Personally, as someone who also not only struggles with but survives with mental illness, Aiden’s story and representation meant the world to me. Shannon doesn’t cure Aiden. Fate, love, romance, sex — none of it “fixes” Aiden –– because there’s nothing to be fixed. Aiden is beautifully imperfect, he’s human, he has a mental illness, but he isn’t his mental illness. People living with depression or bipolar, with dysthmia or cyclothemia (me) or any other number of MI — our MI’s don’t define us. Stories where love “cures” or “fixes” characters with MI really bother me because that’s not how life works. My husband loves and supports me, his presence has helped save my life, but at the end of the day, I save my life. I make it through each day. I am the center of my survival and recovery. Brooke writes a love story with healing, with hope, and where the characters are ultimately the primary agents of change and wellness in their own lives, which they then bring to each other and their love. I can see this theme in Daisy’s story; I can see this agency in Chelsea’s story — I look forward to what Brooke will do with them in future books in this series with utter trust in her skill.


About the Author:

After fleshing out a multitude of fantastical creatures as a special effects makeup professional, Taylor turned her imagination back to her true love—books. When she’s not nestled in a blanket typing away on her laptop, she can be found haunting the local bookstore with a cup of tea, planning her next adventure, and fawning over baby animals.

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