Book Reviews

S K Lessly, The Over-Traumatized Heroine, and The Alpha Male Lead

I figured "S K Lessly and White Saviorism" might have been too striking of a title.

Recently, I made the decision to read the entirety of S. K. Lessly’s Loving an Alpha Male series because I had a theory that she liked to kill off the main characters’ best friends. Lessly started to change it up a bit in the latter books, but by that point I had figured out the real tell: most of Lessly’s heroine’s had an overly traumatic past, and the alphas were all a bit too rough for reasons that have nothing to do with their upbringing.  

I don’t know if that’s just Lessly as an author – though I have intentions on reading the paranormal part of this series, Controlled – but it was definitely prevalent here. So without further ado, here’s a breakdown of S. K. Lessly’s currently-unfinished Loving an Alpha Male series. 

The series starts off with Ruined, where Maxine Shaw meets the man of her dreams in Mason West, but he breaks her heart when his quest for vengeance leaves him too dark to be loved. Later, when Maxine’s life is threatened, Mason dives back in to save her, but will Maxine risk having her heart broken again?

Of course she does. Why else would we be here? 

To be fair, despite this being the first book in the series, it’s not the first one that I read. So, when I ultimately gave it two stars, it was for all of the proofreading mistakes that were much more rampant in this book than were in the second book. That being said, I actually somewhat liked Maxine and Mason, though I had quite a few questions. 

Nothing in this world could make me believe that S. K. Lessly didn’t name her series’ first heroine after Living Single’s Maxine Shaw. Absolutely nothing. Homegirl is too iconic. However, this Maxine Shaw was nothing like the other.

I had to question the amount of trauma that Maxine was subjected to in the course of this story. Not only was she neglected by her father, abused by her father’s girlfriend, and almost molested by her father’s girlfriend’s brother, but she would also later be beaten up by her ex. In my personal opinion, Maxine Shaw did not need all of this on top of a devastating heartbreak. 

I also questioned Mason’s roughness. I understand that Mason was in the army, and had some anger issues, but I just couldn’t understand how he was supposed to be this CEO type but acted like he was the roughest of roughnecks. Forced military diversity could not explain why I couldn’t see the rich, Texas white boy in him. 

As I said before, I was of the belief that S.K. Lessly had a thing for killing off best friends, as she had actually done it to both protagonists in Ruined. Mason’s best friend is killed toward the latter end of the first half in a move that didn’t quite fit his characterization. Maxine’s best friend’s death is a whole gut punch, because the girl was pregnant and recently engaged. 

To be fair, Mason’s best friend’s death was a plot device that pushed him down his “dark path”, but Maxine’s best friend’s death was just hurtful. However, I think that S K Lessly just likes that kind of stuff. 

Next up, in Desired, Georgia Sayers is a runaway bride cashing in her honeymoon in Cabo after she finds her groom with her maid of honor. Drake Logan only came to lay low, but ends up saving Georgia’s life. In the whirlwind that is their romance, can the two find safe harbor with each other? 

Boredom saved me from DNFing this book, but I was honestly not a fan of Drake Logan in the beginning. Logan was way too crude, and really seemed to have a chip on his shoulder. Also, considering how he talked to his cousin’s henchmen, I wasn’t too sure that Drake Logan actually liked black people. I’ve since come to realize that, beyond his one good cousin, Drake Logan doesn’t really have friends. 

I know nothing about people from Philadelphia, but I’m assuming that Drake Logan is everything that one would expect them to be like. S.K. Lessly’s need to have her white male leads say “best believe” all the time is beyond cringe-worthy, but it really fits Drake Logan as a character. Which is probably why it’s not nearly as obvious in Desired.

Georgia Sayers, in all honesty, deserved all of the sympathy because homegirl really didn’t do anything to get any of the bad vibes coming toward her. She didn’t ask to be born, abandoned by her dad, neglected by her mother, or ultimately left in the foster care system because the previously stated father couldn’t get it together enough to come back for her. And then, when he does get it together, Georgia’s siblings link up with her boyfriend to really set her up, and it’s just pity city. 

Thankfully, Drake Logan knows about trash family members, so Georgia really did pick the right one by accident. 

Looking back, I would honestly say that Desired and even Desired Too were the best books in this entire series. The characters were believable, and the storylines were surprisingly good. This book is what made me feel like S. K. Lessly was worth getting into. 

(Just in case you were wondering, the best friend dies here too, but she wasn’t the best friend at this point, and her death is only a shock to Georgia.)

Because I like to keep things in order, I will talk about Obsession because it is the next book in the series. However, I feel it necessary to say that the Obsession story line technically takes up half of the series and does not connect back to the other three. 

More on that later. 

So, in Obsession, “Summer Dean, or Kenya Winters, kept a low profile for a reason, but that doesn’t stop her from catching Josh Cooper’s eye. It’s a little bumpy at first, but the two manage to make their way into a relationship. However, jealousy abounds when the world tries to keep them apart.”

I felt like my Goodreads review has a pretty good summary, so I had to make use of it. I think Obsession was the point at which I felt that S.K. Lessly was overkilling the use of “best believe” by her white male leads. Again, I know nothing about people from Philadelphia, but Drake Logan was the only character I could see saying that naturally. He was just as suburban as the rest, but, with everything he had been through, his roughness made all of the sense, so nothing he said ever stood out as out of character to me.

But back to Obsession, I’m not sure if S. K. Lessly ever fully explained what it is exactly that Josh Cooper does. Like, he works for a government agency that basically doesn’t exist, even in the confines of this book. His older brothers specifically didn’t want him to be in the military, but he has military training. He’s basically a spy/ forensic accountant in this book, but it also seems to be more than that. 

In retrospect, it’s a bit hard to separate the first Obsession from the larger storyline in the latter two.  

Ultimately, as far as this book is concerned, Summer Dean is a victim of colorism, domestic violence, and jealousy. Her real name is Kenya Winters, but she’s Kenya Cooper by the time you care to remember. Summer Dean/ Kenya Winters is not nearly as annoying as Kenya Cooper turns out to be. I expect it’s because we spend all of Obsession wondering why her past life was so trash that she had to change her name. 

I should also note that Josh Cooper, as a person, seems like a great guy in Obsession. This does not stand up at all in the rest of the series. 

Obsession is the point where my “best friend killer” theory dies, because Kenya doesn’t have a best friend, and Josh’s friend that dies is barely a friend when he does die – in Obsession 2.5.

Moving on, Desired Too picked up on a fake kidnapping plot that left Desired on a cliffhanger. In this book, Raquel Waters felt absolutely stifled at home, and left to get away from it all after one weekend of freedom with Angelo Leonetti. Five years later, she’s back in town and trying to stay relatively under the radar, but she just can’t help but catch the eye of the one that got away. Except Raquel is running away again, and her trouble and Angel’s trouble seem to meet in the middle. 

To be quite honest, I’ve forgotten most of what went on in Desired Too as far as character criticisms. Raquel probably had the least pitiful life of all of the heroines: her mother died, her dad and brother were overbearing, and her one ex was trash. Raquel was just a regular girl who liked a bad boy, and she got exactly what she was asking for. 

Angelo Leonetti’s introduction was terrible. We come in at the end of a sex scene that was apparently so rough that you wonder how it’s not rape. Surely that girl didn’t consent to all of that. Maybe it was just aggression from dealing with his backstabbing older brother, or the fact that he and his one good cousin, Drake Logan, were not on speaking terms at the time, but Angel really didn’t need to work that girl’s body so hard. 

I like this book, because it brought back Drake and Georgia, and reintroduced Mason and Maxine (moreso Mason than Maxine), but my one criticism is that a plot was randomly dropped. One of Angel’s two main “henchmen” was made to look like he was going to betray Angel. In the end, he doesn’t, but it’s never cleared up as to why. We’re never even told what that scene was about, so it’s ultimately wasted. 

I will also note that Angel being always one step ahead of his brother tends to come off as too smooth at times, but Lessly at least bothers to seed some of the grunt work so it’s not as bad. 

To be honest, I would have preferred if Lessly had stopped here and let us be. Obsession would have been the odd one out, but I could have gone on about how S. K. Lessly likes her damsels overly distressed, and her male leads rougher than their backgrounds suggest. 

However, Lessly just could not leave the Cooper family alone, and I can’t say I blame her. Let me explain. 

In Obession, we were introduced to one Misty King (later known as Grace Michelle King), who is described as a truly gorgeous woman that only sees Josh Cooper as a brother. The feeling is mutual, but somehow unbelievable, and I wondered if Lessly meant to come back to Misty King. She does, but not how I expected. 

Obsession Too and Obsession 2.5 are all about Grace Michelle “Misty” King and her not-relationship with her boss, Shane Marcello Cooper.  Grace has been a part of the Cooper family for years due to her close friendship with the youngest brother, Josh. However, she never expected her crush on middle brother, Shane, to be reciprocated. But when Shane decides that Misty is the one for him, can Misty get over her fears enough to try?

Publication wise, there’s about a four year gap between Obsession Too and Obsession 2.5, and it shows because Obsession Too drags like S. K. Lessly wasn’t even sure what she wanted to do with it. It’s not even immediately clear that the Cooper brother that Misty has a crush on is Shane. My bets were on Malcolm until the reveal came about 10-15% of the way into the book. 

(It can be argued that we know it’s Shane because he’s the one that does the most talking, and Misty notes that he never lets her go on solo missions since he took over the team, but it reads like Lessly intends to fake us out.)

Misty King is not S.K. Lessly’s usual damsel in distress simply because all of her drama is internal. Misty has great parents, no siblings to be trash to her, one bad first relationship, and one traumatizing experience that ends up having no real consequence toward the plot. Misty’s life is so drama free that Lessly had to bring in Kenya Cooper to annoy my soul. 

Kenya Winters, in Obsession, was just trying to stay under the radar and survive. Kenya Cooper, in Obsession Too and Obsession 2.5, learned how to fight and immediately decided that she could try everyone’s patience. Part of me tends to forget that Josh Cooper was walking into people’s houses and beating the crap out of them in Obsession, but Lessly was happy to remind me.

Shane Cooper had no big drama – besides not telling his family that he had broken up with his ex and started seeing Misty – so he spends the first book getting Misty used to the idea of giving them a shot, and the second book actually trying to have a (still undercover) relationship. He is described as having the worst temper of the 3 Cooper brothers, but Josh is still somehow the Boogieman in the end, and Misty is the Grim Reaper.

It is ultimately Josh and Kenya’s drama that brings majority of the action to the plot, so I will thank Lessly for not having them have sex every time they’re on screen – though she does tend to forget their baby.  

Speaking of babies, Misty points out that Shane “has his nephew more than [the nephew’s] parents”. Problem is, Lessly never shows us this. Lessly doesn’t even tell us this until the argument where this comes up. I’ll admit that Lessly isn’t flaunting children all over the place, but there were points in Obsession 2.5 where it’s quite obvious that Lessly forgets about Kenya and Josh’s child because she randomly refers to him at the end just so you won’t think his mother left him. 

Compare that to Desired Too, where Georgia’s baby is organically in the scenes, and you never have to wonder about his safety. 

Part of me wants to say that the Loving an Alpha Male series is an ode to the black damsel in distress, because we so rarely get to be that. The problem is, it took four books for Lessly to finally decide that her heroines did not need to be overly traumatized for the story to work, and she still ended up feeling like she had to return to it in the last two books. 

I’m almost afraid to read Obsession 3, partially because I don’t know if I’m truly invested in Malcolm Cooper’s relationship, but also because I don’t know if Lessly will be okay with letting Isabel Fuentes’ life as a government agent be all the extra drama she needs. 

It can be argued that all of Lessly’s male leads are white saviors, but, in the current state of Romance where everyone is marrying billionaires, every male lead in a BWWM romance is going to come off as a white savior. I will admit that the Leonetti and the Cooper families being Georgia and Kenya’s respective saving graces is a bit suspect, but Raquel isn’t abandoning her family anytime soon and Misty’s parents are perfect. Mason West only cares about his twin brother, so we are left to assume that he and Maxine made their own family in Philadelphia.   

On the one hand, I like S. K. Lessly. This is exactly the type of book that I want to get lost in at the end of a hard day. On the other hand, I honestly only got this far in the series because I’m a completionist and I wanted to talk about it at length. I wish that Lessly had kept the best friend killer thread, if only so her more of her leads had actual friends. I wish the female leads could have had their Happily Ever Afters without the extra drama. I wish the male leads didn’t have to be so hard. Black girls like regular white guys too. 

I wish that the entire series connected better, since the whole thing was set in Philadelphia. I thought it was so wild that the Coopers didn’t run into at least one of the Logan siblings while working for interconnecting government agencies. And for Josh, Shane, and Misty not to run across a mafia case that was tied to the Leonettis? Or go to that bar that Mason and Maxine liked to frequent? I know Philly is a big city, but it just didn’t seem realistic. 

Maybe I’m asking too much of these Kindle published romances, but I really want everyone to be great. It’s quite possible that S.K. Lessly could fix my little grievances in Obsession 3, but I can already see Kenya and Josh’s drama infecting another couple. 

Here’s hoping that the Controlled series let’s black girls be great with their werewolf boos.

If you would like to keep up with me and my adventures in appreciating the many different types of literature, please be sure to subscribe to this blog. If you just want to chat with me about these S. K. Lessly’s Loving An Alpha Males series, make sure to hit me up in the comment section.

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