tl;dr: too little explanation for character hangups
The fourth and final book in the Romancing the Clarksons series, Too Beautiful To Break, finally gives us the romance between Belmont and Sage, a relationship that’s been simmering since book one, so obviously, I was looking forward to it.
But I was a little disappointed by this book. I felt like a lot of the trials in the previous books were handled better, but in this one, Belmont and Sage both have mental anguish and hang-ups that aren’t clearly defined in ways that make sense.
Let’s start with Belmont. He had a horrible event happen to him when he was young, where he spent several days at the bottom of an abandoned well. Belmont closes himself off from his family, and more specifically his younger brother, because of this. The reasons for why he feels like he has to do this make sense, but what doesn’t track is why Sage of all people can magically cure his anxious episodes. Aside from her being slight and pretty and somewhat dainty, she doesn’t seem to have a specific thing that makes him calmer. I also feel like Belmont’s general “I hate change” phobia doesn’t make as much sense as his apparent and understandable claustrophobia.
Sage, on the other hand, feels guilty for leaving her parents behind in their addiction and poverty, using the money given to her from the family nemesis to move to California. She tags along with the Clarksons on this four-book road trip, intent on leaving them near the end of it to return home to Louisiana, and take care of her ailing parents. She is attracted to Belmont even though he seems to only need her for comfort, which also sits poorly with her, because she wants him, dagnabbit! But when he kisses her, she realizes that he does feel attraction, he just had her up on a perfection pedestal and didn’t want to, I don’t know, damage her with his carnal appetite?
This is the essential problem that I had with this book. I really wanted to like it because Belmont and Sage were such mysterious presences throughout the other books, but the mysteries were hardly solved here, or at least not to my satisfaction. From the way Sage referred to her ‘past’ in this book and previous, I thought she was part of the mafia or something. And Belmont just seemed emotionally broken until he wasn’t. Then he was again. And then not.
Both of these characters just really needed some quality therapy. Their neuroses were ill-defined and seemed esoteric rather than real.
Other than the issues pertaining to mental health and character development, the plot moved along nicely and held my interest. There’s a lot of plot about Sage’s hometown life, and how growing up the way she did molded her personality. Part of the conflict for her is about how co-dependent and enabling her parents are to each other, and she doesn’t want her and Bel’s relationship to turn out the same, since she can clearly see how unhealthy it is. I thought that made sense, and Bel’s insistence that they were different from her parents, and using ways to show it to her by trying to reign in those impulses, I thought was excellent.
The book ends with all four siblings and their significant others at the polar swim on New Year’s Day in New York, just as their late mother wanted as her last wish. It’s a nice bookend to the four-book saga.
While I was reading this, I just kept waiting for the other ball to drop on Belmont and Sage, wondering what the catch was, and what major obstacle was going to befall them. The villain of the book is barely a threat, and there’s no point where I wondered how the two would find their HEA. The conflict was a little contrived and seemed like it came out of nowhere.
Find it at your local library!
I don’t have a specific recommendation, but here’s a list of neurodivergent characters in romance novels that hopefully are better defined.