3 Recent romance reads

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!

8 responses

  1. As a fellow arachnophobe I can sympathise with Sadie. I don’t think arachnophobia is gendered is it? I know lots of people who are the same way and I’ve never particularly associated it with gender. Plenty of females I know have the shudder ability to remove them from the house with their hands (WHY??) and let them live (WHY???). I’m in the “all spiders must die by the hand of someone else immediately” camp myself!

    I loved Ripped too and I enjoyed Room at the Inn when I read it a while back. I was a bit let down by the ending IIRC because I thought the explanation for the hero’s wandering ways was a bit of a cop out but I did enjoy it. Haven’t read the Andrews but I think I would have found the bit about the nude picture pretty annoying too.

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    • It was described as a pretty large spider… lol. In my personal experience, in a heterosexual couple portrayed in fiction or film, if one of them is terrified of an insect, it’s the female. Given the rest of Sadie’s very gender conforming characterization, it came off as just one more signal of how feminine she is (along with the teeny diamante pink underwear, etc. etc etc).

      .

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      • Regarding spiders and who is scared of them: in Nora Roberts’ Sign of Seven trilogy, is one of the heroes (Fox) who is terrified of spiders.

        (Nothing else to say, as I haven’t read any of these)

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  2. Nice roundup! I haven’t read Ripped yet, I’m saving it for one of those times when I need to read a romance I know I’ll like. But it sounds really fun. I DNF’d Room at the Inn because I didn’t like either the hero or the heroine, but then I don’t like It’s a Wonderful Life either, so I am definitely not the target audience.

    Amy Andrews was an autobuy author for me; I have a dozen books by her and the first half-dozen I read in the Medicals series made me go out and buy the rest. But then the levels of lusting and UST got too high; in one Medical the heroine is the caregiver for the hero’s son, and they’re sneaking around to have sex in the house with the kid in the room down the hall. They haven’t even decided they’re having a relationship at that point, if I’m remembering correctly. That was too far for me. I feel as if the Medicals have become both more sexed up and more full of angst and trauma, but that’s a topic for another day.

    I don’t know what the Australian privacy and copyright rules are off the top of my head, but if Kent is showing at an exhibition, presumably his photos can be purchased (he’s a professional photog anyway, so it’s a commercial enterprise), and in the US he’d need Sadie’s release to use those in his profession. So he’s violating civil law in addition to being an a-hole.

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    • I hope you enjoy Ripped. Nothing too new, but an interesting mash of couple of different romance styles.

      I’m not sure about the It’s a Wonderful Life comparison. I saw it once, and didn’t much care for it. I prefer the bizarre SNL “Lost Ending” parody. I have read a number of romances in which a character has left a small town, seemingly forever, but come back, for a funeral, or an inheritance, or some other plot contrivance, to find love. I think that narrative is much broader, and has more variation, than the IAWL narrative, which is specifically of the “you’d be better off if I never loved so I am going to kill myself” variety. Carson is too egocentric to ever consider such a thing.

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      • I didn’t read enough of the book to speak to how well it tracks with the movie. I’ve seen the movie a couple of times but not for many years. But the comparison is one Knox made herself, and readers/reviewers were referring to it when the book came out. She said in an interview and also on her blog that the book was an homage and inspired in large part by the movie, which she said is her favorite Christmas movie. Maybe she saw them both as sharing the “you can go all over the world but the best things in life are found right under your nose, at home” trope?

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        • oh, I am so glad I didn’t know any of this when I read it. I really didn’t like the movie at all. This is one of those cases where knowing more about the genesis of a book would have turned me off. But I agree completely that “the best things in life are right under your nose” is applicable to both stories. Thanks for the links!

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