Sarah Morgan’s Ripped is a just-published Christmas themed novella. You can read an excerpt on her blog. I bought this from Amazon for $3.03 because I didn’t want to pay her full length title, Sleigh Bells in the Snow at $6.15. I know. Totally irrational, but there it is. Luckily, I enjoyed Ripped, like so many other readers in Romanceland.
Ripped is set in the world of hip London professionals (the heroine lives in Notting Hill) and has a bit of a Bridget Jones/Four Weddings feel with a kooky mishap in chapter one that leads to an ill-timed and embarrassing sexcapade with the hero, Nico Rossi, sophisticated, condescending, unsmiling Italian. The story is told from heroine Hayley Miller’s first person point of view. She’s self-deprecating, funny, and perpetually off balance around Nico, while his stern, indifferent demeanor hides strong passions and deep feelings.
Morgan imported a lot of the sensibility she developed as a Harlequin Presents author into the flustered Hayley/cool Nico dynamic, but when the story shifts into second gear, deeper layers of heroine strength and hero vulnerability emerge. If you like the care taking alpha, a lot of sexual tension (notably in an excruciating Christmas party scene), and some surprisingly sweet emotional backstory, this is the story for you.
Ruthie Knox’s Room at the Inn (.99 at Amazon) is another contemporary Christmas themed novella, this one set in upstate New York. Carson Vance, world traveler, ball of barely suppressed energy, is home to see his recently widowed father in small town Potter Falls. He’d much rather be building buildings all over the world. But he’s home to check in on his dad, who hasn’t been taking care of himself since his wife died. Carson feels antsy whenever he’s home, having a fraught relationship with his father and a lot of unresolved feelings for his first love, Julie Long. When their college romance ended, and Carson left, Julie stayed in Potter Falls, and became a vital part of the community and of Carson’s family. She turned an abandoned home into a beautiful inn, threw herself into civic and charitable activities, and even donated a kidney to Carson’s mother.
Carson stays at the inn, and he and Julie give in to their sexual feelings for each other. Julie has never stopped loving Carson but she’s built a full life for herself. It’s Carson who really needs to grow up, who seems to be always running and deeply unhappy. Or at least this is what readers will have to focus on if they don’t want to worry too much about whether Julie’s altruism isn’t a little too doormat-like.
I did think the kidney donation was overkill, but on the other hand, I recognize that Knox has written a heroine who always wanted small town life, domesticity, a husband and children, and who created that for herself in Potter Falls the best way she could. She did have other (unfulfilling) sexual and romantic relationships in Carson’s absence, but she was usually available to Carson in between times, something that may put her in doormat territory for some readers. So, whether you like this book will depend on your tolerance for grown men who have adolescent commitment issues and grown women who tolerate them until they wise up. I happen to be a sucker for those stories, and I really enjoyed this one. I thought Carson was given much less sympathy by the author than by Julie, and that his relationship with his father was handled very well.
I picked up Driving Her Crazy by Amy Andrews because (a) it was recommended by @Vaveros on Sydney radio, and (b) because I had read and enjoyed a couple of other Andrews books in the past. This one is set in the Australian outback, as 24 year old journalist Sadie heads out with 36 year old taciturn, world renowned photojournalist Kent to meet with a reclusive artist, Leonard Pinto, and get a story. Kent experienced significant trauma when working in Afghanistan years prior (with two years of physical recovery) and hasn’t taken a job since. Sadie has a secret of her own: as a young art student, she had an affair with Pinto that left her devastated and crippled her own ambitions as an artist.
I loved the setting and the setup. I think Andrews is a very good writer. I did have a hard time with some of the gender dynamics. Sadie is terrified of a spider, she crash diets to please Pinto (but gets over it at least), then feels ashamed by her quick orgasm with Kent:
She wanted the earth to open up and swallow her. The man had barely touched her and she’d shattered into a thousand pieces like some seedy porn queen.
Andrews, Amy (2013-10-15). Driving Her Crazy (Harlequin Kiss) (Kindle Locations 1946-1947). Harlequin. Kindle Edition.
She doesn’t just reject Pinto because he’s an abusive asshole, but equates his career with his masculinity:
[Kent] looked so good, so he-man, so not arty, she almost threw herself straight at him.
Andrews, Amy (2013-10-15). Driving Her Crazy (Harlequin Kiss) (Kindle Locations 1665-1666). Harlequin. Kindle Edition.
I liked the idea of a story of a curvy woman who comes to understand and appreciate herself, but I did feel like Kent was a bit too much of the savior:
Thankful more than he’d ever probably know that he’d rescued her from a mindset that had held her prisoner too long.
Andrews, Amy (2013-10-15). Driving Her Crazy (Harlequin Kiss) (Kindle Locations 2071-2072). Harlequin. Kindle Edition.
I thought Sadie was at her most interesting when she perceptively and empathetically got Kent to open up about the combat pictures he took while wounded and surrounded by dying soldiers. Unfortunately, and maybe this is down to the limits of the genre, any real ethical issue was dodged when Kent explained that the dying soldier himself begged Kent to take his picture, because people should know what war is like. I found that very hard to swallow.
At the end, they both do terrible things to each other. The worst is Kent, who puts a half-naked photo of Sadie taken at an intimate moment up in a big exhibition without her permission. They have this bizarre exchange:
[Sadie:]‘No. You were supposed to delete those pictures. I did not give you my permission to use a half-naked picture of me in an exhibition that thousands of people will see.’
Kent undid his jacket buttons and thrust his hands on his hips. ‘But a fully naked portrait is perfectly fine?’
Andrews, Amy (2013-10-15). Driving Her Crazy (Harlequin Kiss) (Kindle Locations 2499-2501). Harlequin. Kindle Edition.
Here Kent is suggesting that because Sadie once agreed to Pinto’s public display of nudes of her, her body is fair game for any artist. Kent agrees to remove the photo, but never apologizes.
I just had a hard time with this one. I enjoyed the setting, and the journeys of each character separately, but I can’t say I believed they were good for each other in the end.
And that’s my recent romance reading!