If you look up the term “alphahole” on Urban Dictionary, it will tell you that it is an “alpha male who is also an a$$hole.” What you should find with that dictionary entry is a picture of L.J. Shen as she is the queen of writing this type of character. Her newest offering, The Kiss Thief, keeps that crown firmly placed on Shen’s head.
“With Wolfe, I felt as if I was on fire. As though he could end me at any given moment, and all I could do was hope for his mercy. I felt safe, but not secure. Desired, but unwanted. Admired, but unloved.”
When you look at her Facebook fan group, the comments rave over Wolfe Keaton, the male protagonist of this newest book. Many have said he is their favorite Shen “alphahole.” And there is credence in that. However, as far as I can see, he is similar to Celian in Dirty Headlines or Vicious in Vicious, the leader of the “Hotholes.” They are men with intent, willing to do anything to get what they want. If it means verbally and emotionally abusing their heroines because they have built emotional walls erected through personal trauma, then they do it. They will bulldoze over anyone to any end. And we love them for it (it turns us on). There is something dirty and romantic about these men because we know, we trust, they will be redeemed, usually by an unassuming woman. Sometimes, this redemption will be great, changing their entire demeanor. Other times, as is the case with Vicious, it shows only in his relationship with his heroine. We love to hate L.J. Shen’s alphaholes; it is what I will call the Shen Effect. Once again, with this book, we love her newest alphahole, Wolfe Keane. He is handsome, brash, arrogant, prideful, self-controlled to a fault, and gives zero “f@*ks” about anyone. Until he meets Francesca, his Nemesis.
What oftentimes gets overlooked (at least in her FB groups) in L.J. Shen’s books is the women. The men dominate the story, but they are only allowed to do so because the women allow them. These are not weak women. No, they are created solely for the alphahole of their story as a way to insert change, bring about retribution, and redirect the hero’s direction. This is no different in The Kiss Thief. By all accounts, Francesca is a caged bird, created solely for marriage and partnership in The Outfit: “I was born into a gilded cage.” From the outside, she appears spoiled and naive. At least, this is Wolfe’s initial impression of her. However, Francesca is power. She is Nemesis, her identity and costume for the gala in which she meets Wolfe for the first time. Through her story, she inhabits Nemesis, the goddess of retribution, the goddess who brings balance to those whom pride drives motivation. Wolfe becomes her Narcissus, needing to be brought low. With her spirit, her garden, and her sacrifice, Nemesis eventually defeats her Narcissus and wins her HEA. This image, woven through Shen’s book, is powerful. She frames her entire book with it, and we need to pay attention to Francesca’s power even when she seems powerless (in fact, my favorite moment of this book comes midway through, and it shows Francesca’s power over Wolfe in a way that will gut you. It made me cry full tears). She is my favorite part of this book.
“Wolfe Keaton was a kiss thief, but it wasn’t only a kiss that he stole. He stole my heart, too. Ripped it from my chest and put it in his pocket.”
Many of my L.J. Shen peers are saying this is Shen’s best book. I’m not sure about that because I am a personal fan of her Hotholes. However, I do think this book is a top 3 or top 5. It will be one of the best books you will read this year, for sure, and Wolfe and Francesca will stay with you for days. It took me over a week to put this review together because I have struggled to find the words to write about the impression of this book. Ultimately, The Kiss Thief is redemption and acceptance and a reminder to keep hubris at bay, especially in the realm of love.
“We were co-dependent, and we had to co-exist. One without the other was a dormant being. To be alive and not really living was a terrible curse.”
In love and romance,