Better by S. Walden
Series: Too Good #2
on November 19, 2013
Genres: Contemporary Romance, New Adult, Romance
Amazon • Goodreads
Their relationship has been exposed, and now their lives are changed forever.
For Cadence Miller, the fast track to adulthood proves intimidating and frustrating. She’s a little girl lost—abandoned by her family and uncertain of her future. She doesn’t think she “fits” anywhere. She’s eighteen. She wants to be older. And the result is both comical and heartbreaking.
Mark Connelly will do anything to provide Cadence a stable, loving home—to be her protector. But he’s just as broken and lost, and his heart won’t let go of his past so easily. He knows he should share his secret with Cadence. He should trust that she’ll understand. But what if she doesn’t? What if their love doesn’t grow stronger?
What if it doesn’t get better?
DISCLAIMER – I will be discussing some things from the book that may or may not spoil the experience for you. I will mark them so you can skip if you choose.
So you’ve read Good and now you’re trying to decide whether or not to take the chance on Better. I understand. Good was challenging. Good made us question. Good made us squirm. Good made us wonder what the hell the author was thinking. Most either LOVED or HATED Good. You can read my review here.
What I want to discus in my review other than the that fact that I did indeed enjoy Better just as much as Good, is the affect this story has had on our reading community.
So many of the books we read in the New Adult (NA) genre are, lets face it, superficial. They’re basic boy meets girl, boy and/or girl has secrets, insanely rushed, sometimes intense, sexy stories. That’s not what S. Walden writes though. I’ve been wondering if maybe NA isn’t her genre at all. S. Walden books are layered, intense, emotionally charged, even challenging reads. Her books are meant to make you think. They’re meant to make you question. They’re meant to not only entertain but to push your boundaries. Take you out of your comfort zone. You aren’t supposed to take pieces of this story and come up with a conclusion. You need the story as a WHOLE, both books are what make this particular story complete. I’m not saying there aren’t other NA books that make you feel or push you because there are. I’ve read some fantastic ones. But none of them are quite like these.
I’ve heard a lot of complaints about the religion in this book. Again I had to wonder why that was an issue. One of my conclusions was that readers, specifically of this genre, don’t want to mix morality with their fantasy love/sex story. I understand that, I really do. There are certain authors I read purely for the relief from all the angst we find in a lot of NA books. I’m not saying those books don’t have angst either but most of them veer closer to erotica. It’s a way to turn my mind off and just enjoy the smut. That’s what works for me. But then I have certain authors that I read because they can write and they do it well. They weave wonderful stories about young love and overcoming obstacles that plague them in either childhood or high school. They’re the typical coming of age books that fit so well in NA. S. Walden takes all of this and kicks it up a notch. She explores specific “real” life issues and weaves these stories with complex characters, controversial plots, realistic scenarios, and turns them into really good writing. She pushes the reader to ask questions, not just of the characters but of the story line and maybe even of themselves. Why do we react so strongly to a certain story line? Why do we tend to be so hard on female characters? Why do we allow male leads to get away with things they would never get away with in real life? What is your limit, what pushes your buttons? Why do you like one book about a student/teacher relationship but not all books on the subject. Do books along this story line have to have certain limitations? Can they not discuss religion? Should they not teeter so close to the age of consent? Should the heroine NOT be innocent? Would it have been okay if they’re closer in age? What if the teacher is female? Is that a hard limit?
I want to digress a little bit because while I’m writing this I keep thinking about the male perspective. A lot of men have a student/teacher fantasy. Some of you may have even fulfilled that fantasy for your guy. Dressing up like a teenage school girl while he holds his ruler and wears a bow tie and corduroy blazer. It’s all fun and games with consenting adults. Right? There is a whole lot of porn out there depicting this exact scenario. I’m sorry but we’ve all scene the ads on the internet or even on late night tv. Where the women are called ‘teenagers’ or ‘teens’ and we know that means they’re 18 or 19. We also know that men like the innocence. They like the idea of having a woman who’s not been around the block. The reason I mention this is mainly because I don’t understand why when in book form this is so hard to digest. I could be totally off base here. I know Good and Better are not porn. This is not a male fantasy come to life. I’m just using that as an example of what we women accept as okay from men. We play up to those fantasies. But what about real life? We’ve seen this all over the news. We know that teachers have relationships with their students. Most of the time they’re way younger students than Cadence. The majority of the teachers in the news are women. Surprisingly they don’t all go to jail either. Cadence WAS a consenting adult in Better. She was a consenting adult in Good.
Let me try to get back on track. Religion. I honestly think that if religion was taken out of this book S. Walden would have sold more, gotten better reviews, been accepted into the fold easier. I also think it would have ruined this story. Cadence’s beliefs, her faith, are what made her Cadence. For people raised in a religious house I’m sure you understand. I can only speak for myself in this situation, as I was raised in a religious household. I was taught that sex before marriage was a sin. My father convinced me, convinced me, that no man would want me if I wasn’t a virgin. I seriously struggled with that when I did lose said virginity while still in high school. I thought I was ruined. I thought that I was destined to be single for the rest of my life. As a double whammy I was also in a military family, so the pressure to maintain “appearances” was HUGE. We were to do nothing wrong. My parents were very strict. My father drilled it into us that we would be punished severely if he was called into his commanding officer’s office because of one of our transgressions. So for me, I could totally relate to Cadence and her struggles with her family.
And guess what I did?
Every single chance I got. My only goal was not to get caught. I wanted to do all the things I was told I couldn’t. Always in the back of my mind though, I knew what I was doing was sinning. I knew I was going to hell. I just couldn’t stop. My struggles also caused me to question my relationship with my church and my God. It took me many years to come to terms with my faith. It took many drunken nights and I’m ashamed to say waking up in strange places, to realize that wasn’t the life I wanted for myself. I was out of my mind crazy my first year at college. Again, I could totally related to Cadence.
Better is a continuation of Good. We literally pick up right where Good ends. Better is more the story of Mark and Cadence building a relationship together under extreme circumstances. Cadence was thrown out of her home. Forced to run to Mark whom, let’s face it, was instrumental in her having no home. They begin to co-habitate and Mark finds himself not only being a boyfriend but also a ‘parental’ figure. Some may find this creepy. I didn’t think it was creepy per se, I thought it was unfortunate. I thought it was really a shame that Cadence had to learn about taxes, bills, etc…from Mark. Instead of focusing on being in love, they were forced to focus on Cadence becoming a responsible adult. I was saddened that her family abandoned her at such a crucial part of her maturity.
Mark clearly has a past. A past that ultimately led him to Cadence. Mark’s secrets are heartbreaking. Once they’re revealed I was able to fully understand his motives in wanting someone innocent like Cadence. Everyone handles life altering events differently. For Mark is truly broke him. He turned his back on God and his own faith. Yet he continued to search for something to shine light on his darkness. He wanted innocence, purity, love, and goodness in his life. For him that was Cadence. She was his healing.
When Mark’s past is revealed to Cadence, it doesn’t go over well. For one Mark is upset that he’s not the one to tell Cadence himself. He’s not really upset with her he’s angry with himself yet he does take his anger out on her. Cadence is confused, frustrated, and also angry about being in the dark. But it’s the words Mark uses on Cadence that sends her on a downward spiral. My thought here is that in a normal relationship between two adults the situation would have been handled differently. However, Cadence is only 18, she’s not had a lot of relationships, hell she hasn’t had a lot of life experiences. The ones she’s had have all been traumatic. She’s not even really an adult yet. She’s certainly not a mature adult, capable of making rational mature decisions. Cadence’s reaction, I thought, was somewhat normal. She began rebelling, she began to run from the pain, unfortunately she also ran from Mark, ran from their relationship. She was numb yet angry and she used her anger to justify her actions. She made some seriously poor choices. And through all of that I was right there with her nodding my head. She chose to drown her sorrows in alcohol. She partied excessively. She refused to let Mark know where she was or when she was coming home. She lied to him. She ignored him. She acted like….a child. I was okay with all of it. It fit Cadence perfectly.
Mark allows the behavior for several reasons but I believe mainly because he feels guilty. Mark isn’t stupid. He knows he said things he shouldn’t have said. He knows he should have been honest with Cadence about his past. He also knows that he’s partly to blame for the situation with her parents. So he allows Cadence to work out all this anger towards him. For two months, he allows her craziness, until he’s finally had enough.
I consider this next part to be a bit spoilery so please don’t read the colored text if you don’t want to know.
There is a scene in the book that MANY people are having trouble with. Mark has already established himself as liking control. We saw this in Good and he’s the same in Better. But he also loves Cadence fiercely and he needed to show her just how much. So they begin to fight. Things had gone on long enough and Mark was tired of Cadence’s bullshit so he calls her on it. In doing so he tells Cadence to hit him. He allows her to take out her anger and hurt on his body and she does. In fact, she beats on him so much that even I began to get uncomfortable. I felt like she was very close to crossing a line. Marks lets her get it all out of her system even though he’s physically in pain. This is where things get touchy for people.
He then tells Cadence it’s his turn. She immediately cowers away afraid of exactly what that might mean. My immediate thought was she could dish it but not take it. Mark tells Cadence to come over to the bed and bend over. She refuses and he makes it clear that one way or the other she’s getting spanked. Several things happen during this spanking.
1. Mark need to take control. Mark was at his breaking point and he really needed to establish his role again in their relationship. He craves control and he needed to control her. (There is absolutely nothing wrong with that. Lots of our leading men are like this.)
2. Cadence needed to have her resentment beat out of her. Yes I said needed. She was too far gone. She would have never reeled herself in. She wasn’t mature enough to be able to do it for herself. AND it worked. She finally cried, something she hadn’t been able to do since this all started. She was finally have to FEEL. She also responded to the spanking both physically and sexually.
3. Mark needed Cadence to know just how much he loved her. Just like a parent disciplines a child with spanking out of love, so did he. I know this is hard to understand. Our instinct is to pull away and say NO NO NO that’s too creepy. That crosses the line. But Cadence HAD to suffer the consequences of her actions in order to learn a lesson. REMEMBER, Cadence is not an adult, but also not a child. If Cadence was an older woman this would not have worked at all. But this is their life. Allowing her to hit him and then holding her and telling her he loved her was NOT going to work for them.
4. Mark did not lose control while spanking her. He did not abuse Cadence. Yes it did turn him on, but it also turned on Cadence. We can’t point a finger there.
5. Finally, they make love afterwards in which Cadence is in control. This was monumental for me as a reader. If Mark flipped Cadence over and took her, continuing to dominate and establish control, I’m sorry S. Walden would have lost me. That’s not what happens at all. This was so profound for me so monumental. Allowing Cadence to control the sex by being on top spoke volumes. It was just an added layer to show that Mark wasn’t trying to hurt Cadence. He wasn’t trying to be a brute. He wasn’t trying to be abusive. He loved her. He just wanted her back. He wanted her forgiveness. He wanted her to love him.
To all the readers who’ve either heard negative things about the books or are just unsure let me leave you with this. Please go into this story with an open mind and heart. Read the synopsis and decide if this will work for you. Read my review of Good. Because this is a story of two individuals who come together unconventionally and not only pay the price but have to learn and grow and hurt and forgive. Every single one of us experiences some sort of strife in our lives. It’s how we handle it, what we learn from those experiences, our own personal growth that matters. What works for one may not work for another. I think that in one way or another we can all relate to the internal struggles of both Mark and Cadence. We don’t understand completely because we haven’t walked in their shoes. But as adults we have our own experiences we can pull from. It’s my opinion that S. Walden tells Mark and Cadence’s story perfectly. It may not be perfect for you or for myself for that matter, however it’s perfect for Mark and Cadence.
I truly hope you take a chance on this series.
*A copy of this book was kindly provided by the author in exchange for an honest review*
Cadence turned left out of the elevator. She wandered down the dorm hall looking for Room 24. But the numbers were too low, and she realized she went the wrong way. She was just about to turn around before glimpsing a message left on a tiny whiteboard attached to someone’s door:
“Student union at 5 sharp. Got someone I want you to meet. – Lindsay”
Cadence stared at the smiley face beside the word “meet.” She wondered if it was a blind date set-up and if Lindsay’s friend would be happy about it. She knew Michael was waiting, but she decided to read a few more messages.
She strolled the hall in no particular hurry, stopping at each door, reading the notes of students who were experiencing college in a very different way from her. She had no idea how long she stood in front of Room 8 staring at the hearts someone drew on the board. She had no idea why she couldn’t control her impulse to draw her own hearts, and reached for the pink marker hanging by a string. She gripped the marker like it was her lifeline to this other world.
She traced the outline of a heart in the lower corner of the board, then colored it in carefully.
Cadence jumped back, dropping the marker. It slapped against the door in the deafening silence of the hallway.
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