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Summer Rain anthology

Summer RainWhy I read it:  This book of “novelettes” contains offerings by some of my favourite authors and proceeds go to a worthy cause.  Which is a bonus but not why I bought it. (Does that make me a bad person?)

What it’s about: (from Goodreads)  What happens when love gets caught in the rain?

In this romance anthology, RITA-Award winning author Molly O’Keefe shows us the power of a city thunderstorm from the top of a skyscraper, while Amy Jo Cousins soaks us in a rain in Spain. New York Times bestselling author Ruthie Knox’s heroine is devastated by a winter storm, while a summer thunderstorm grants Alexandra Haughton’s hero and heroine a second chance at love. Rain sparks self-awareness in the robot in Charlotte Stein’s story and allows Mary Ann Rivers’s heroine to fall in love with her hero and her own art. Rain causes romance between the college students in Audra North’s and Shari Slade’s stories, while romance causes rain in Cecilia Tan’s myth-inspired tale of a sacrifice to a demi-god. Nine romance novelettes, edited by Sarah Frantz.

All proceeds from the volume will be donated to the Rape, Abuse, and Incest National Network (www.rainn.org), the largest anti-sexual violence organization in the United States.

Note:  Some of the stories deal with issues of abuse, sexual and otherwise and/or violence.  Some readers might find them triggering to read/read about.

Redemption by Ruthie Knox:  There is a “Dear Reader” letter in the front of each of the novelettes.  Ms. Knox says Redemption is a sad story. And it is.  Both Jessie and Mike are sad. They’ve been beaten down by life and are just about at the end of their respective ropes.  Unfortunately and partly because the story is short, I found the characterisation, especially in relation to Mike to be a little thin and I didn’t see what attracted him to her and from her side of things, what made him someone more than she wanted to have sex with. Because for a year, they didn’t talk and he didn’t smile and they didn’t share anything important apart from some good sex and in the end, I didn’t buy the commitment because I didn’t see enough of those things within the story itself. The writing has a kind of haunting melancholy quality to it and there were parts which we quite lovely.  Short stories often work better for me when they are about people who already know each other. But this story seemed to take pains to tell me they didn’t know each other that well really so I was left a little unconvinced.

Making it Last by Ruthie Knox

Why I read it:  I received a review copy from the publisher via NetGalley.  I read and enjoyed How to Misbehave a while back (this marks the start of Tony and Amber’s relationship) and I have the other two Camelot books on my TBR.  But I am a sucker for marriage in trouble stories so I decided to read this one out of order after being assured by the author that doing so wouldn’t spoil the other books. I don’t think it’s absolutely essential to have read How to Misbehave first but I do recommend it.
What it’s about: (from Goodreads)  A hotel bar. A sexy stranger. A night of passion. There’s a part of Amber Mazzara that wants those things, wants to have a moment — just one — where life isn’t a complicated tangle of house and husband and kids and careers. Then, after a long, exhausting “vacation” with her family, her husband surprises her with a gift: a few days on the beach . . . alone. 

Only she won’t be alone long, because a handsome man just bought her a drink. He’s cool, he’s confident, and he wants to take Amber to bed and keep her there for days. Lucky for them both, he’s her husband. He’s only got a few days in Jamaica to make her wildest desires come true, but if he can pull it off, there’s reason to believe that this fantasy can last a lifetime. 

What worked for me (and what didn’t): It has been 14 years since the events of How to Misbehave.  Tony and Amber now have three sons, the youngest of whom (Jake) is 6 and has recently started school.  Tony is working 80 hour weeks and far from home because the housing industry is in the toilet – he’s gone by 5.30 and doesn’t get home until around 10 most nights.  If they’re lucky, he and Amber have half an hour to talk before they fall asleep.  Amber is feeling particularly lost and lonely – the kids are all at school, she barely sees her husband and somewhere along the way her sense of self has disappeared in what she is to everyone else in her life.  Tony and Amber still love each other but that isn’t enough.

Big Boy by Ruthie Knox

Why I read it: I had this pre-ordered from Books on Board but the download failed (and this was just around the time that the news hit that BoB was bust.  The author kindly sent me a copy when she saw me lamenting on Twitter that the download link was broken and no-one from customer service was responding.
What it’s about: (from Goodreads)  He’ll be any man she wants–except himself.A Strangers on a Train storyMeet me at the train museum after dark. Dress for 1957.

When Mandy joins an online dating service, she keeps her expectations low. All she wants is a distraction from the drudgery of single parenthood and full-time work. But the invitation she receives from a handsome man who won’t share his real name promises an adventure—and a chance to pretend she’s someone else for a few hours.

She doesn’t want romance to complicate her life, but Mandy’s monthly role-playing dates with her stranger on a train—each to a different time period—become the erotic escape she desperately needs. And a soul connection she never expected.

Yet when she tries to draw her lover out of the shadows, Mandy has a fight on her hands…to convince him there’s a place for their fantasy love in the light of day.

What worked for me (and what didn’t): Sometimes a book can be unexpectedly moving.  Mostly, I don’t expect a novella to pack an emotional punch.  I do think it is a special skill to write short and to have fully realised characters when there’s a limited word count.  I’d read the blurb so I was expecting a sexy short and I did get that.  What I wasn’t expecting was that it would have undertones of melancholy and an emotional resonance to it.

How to Misbehave by Ruthie Knox

Why I read it:  I received a review copy from the author.
What it’s about:  (from Goodreads)  What woman can resist a hot man in a hard hat? Beloved author Ruthie Knox kicks off her new Camelot series with this deliciously sexy original novella, in which a good girl learns how to misbehave . . . with all her heart.
 
As program director for the Camelot Community Center, Amber Clark knows how to keep her cool. That is, until a sudden tornado warning forces her to take shelter in a darkened basement with a hunk of man whose sex appeal green lights her every fantasy. With a voice that would melt chocolate, he asks her if she is okay. Now she’s hot all over and wondering: How does a girl make a move?
Building contractor Tony Mazzara was just looking to escape nature’s fury. Instead, he finds himself all tangled up with lovely Amber. Sweet and sexy, she’s ready to unleash her wild side. Their mutual desire reaches a fever pitch and creates a storm of its own—unexpected, powerful, and unforgettable. But is it bigger than Tony can handle? Can he let go of painful memories and let the force of this remarkable woman show him a future he never dreamed existed?


What worked for me (and what didn’t):
I enjoy Ruthie Knox’s style of writing, the sharp wit in particular.  Amber is a “good girl” who wants to be a little bit bad and who gets and opportunity after she’s stuck in a shelter during a tornado, with bad boy Tony Mazzara.  I liked her descriptions of Tony:
He wasn’t a big talker, and maybe that was because his voice was such a valuable substance, he had to ration it. 

Room at the Inn by Ruthie Knox

Why I read it: I picked this up from NetGalley.  I have only read the Ruthie Knox story.
What it’s about: (from Goodreads)  ROOM AT THE INN by Ruthie KnoxCarson Vance couldn’t wait to get out of Potter Falls, but now that he’s back to spend Christmas with his ailing father, he must face all the people he left behind . . . like Julie Long, whose heart he broke once upon a time. Now the proprietor of the local inn, Julie is a successful, seductive, independent woman—everything that Carson’s looking for. But despite several steamy encounters under the mistletoe, Julie refuses to believe in happily ever after. Now Carson must prove to Julie that he’s back for good—and that he wants her in his life for all the holidays to come.

What worked for me (and what didn’t): Having read and enjoyed Ride with Me and About Last Night, I was keen to read the Christmas novella I’d heard a lot about on Twitter.   I was prepared, from Brie’s review for the main characters to be flawed.  I read somewhere (where I cannot now remember) about it being possible to perceive Julie as being somewhat stalker-y given that she moved to Potter’s Falls, donated a kidney to Carson’s mother, nursed his mother, took over all of her roles in the community etc. I suppose, partlybecause of all my prior reading, I didn’t find those things as problematic as I might otherwise have done.  Perhaps, because of it, my take is a bit different to the other reviews I’ve read. 

About Last Night by Ruthie Knox

Why I read it:  I won this at Romance Around the Corner back in July (I had to collect it from NetGalley, hence the tag).  (In fact, it is on the special side because that marked the beginning of my online friendship with Brie – everyone say awww!)
What it’s about: (from Goodreads)  Sure, opposites attract, but in this sexy, smart, eBook original romance from Ruthie Knox, they positively combust! When a buttoned-up banker falls for a bad girl, “about last night” is just the beginning.
 
Cath Talarico knows a mistake when she makes it, and God knows she’s made her share. So many, in fact, that this Chicago girl knows London is her last, best shot at starting over. But bad habits are hard to break, and soon Cath finds herself back where she has vowed never to go . . . in the bed of a man who is all kinds of wrong: too rich, too classy, too uptight for a free-spirited troublemaker like her.
Nev Chamberlain feels trapped and miserable in his family’s banking empire. But beneath his pinstripes is an artist and bohemian struggling to break free and lose control. Mary Catherine—even her name turns him on—with her tattoos, her secrets, and her gamine, sex-starved body, unleashes all kinds of fantasies.When blue blood mixes with bad blood, can a couple that is definitely wrong for each other ever be perfectly right? And with a littlle luck and a lot of love, can they make last night last a lifetime?

What worked for me (and what didn’t): This was a sexy read but quite different from the style of Ride With Me which was much more light-hearted.  I think possibly I wasn’t expecting that.  I can’t quite put my finger on why this one didn’t work better for me than it did – as much as I liked it – it had all the ingredients I’d have thought would make it an A read. Interesting characters, a great sense of place (I loved the modern London setting), witty banter and strong dialogue, a to die for hero and a prickly but sympathetic heroine.  But, for some reason, I felt somewhat disconnected and my enjoyment (and I did enjoy it dammit) was somehow muted, like I was reading from behind opaque glass or something.I was left with the conclusion that it was something about me, either at the time (my mood) or in general, rather than a problem with the book.  It’s not the writing, because I connected just fine with the characters in Ride With Me.  And while this story is different, it is obviously written by the same person, because the writing voice is familiar and I like it.

Cath tried to ignore the flush of pleasure that washed over her at the sight of him, but it was hard. Half a dozen different places on her body were reminding her of what he’d done to them on Saturday, and not one had a bad word to say about him. Stupid body.

The story was sexy and there were some wonderful light-hearted moments which had me smiling as I read.

“You’re just trying to get me back into bed with you.” 

Nev’s mouth curled up at the corners, and he lowered his voice, leaning closer. “Of course I’m trying to get you back into bed with me. I loved having you in my bed. I’d like to chain you to my bed.” He trailed a finger down her bare arm, leaving a trail of sighing nerve endings. “But I’d also like to have lunch with you.”

As I’m a hero-centric reader, it is integral to my enjoyment of any novel for me to like the hero (at least by the end of it).  I liked Nev straight away.  I liked his thoughtfulness and his patience.  I liked how he never denied how turned on he was by Cath but he made sure she always knew it was much much more than just that.  I liked how there was more to him than the “City” Cath dubs him at the Tube station.  I did not like his cowardice.  And, it was cowardice.  A smart, healthy, educated man, he would well be able to make his own way in the world, but for much of the book, he chose to be under his mother’s (and his older brother’s) thumb rather than striking out on his own.  And I never really understood why he didn’t.  I’m not all that sure I ever did actually. (Plus, his “scheme” was just a bit silly.)

Because I’m a forgiving kind of person, I did forgive Nev for being a coward and he did strap on a pair by the end of the story.

The story felt to me like it had 2 distinct parts. First there was Cath holding back because she was convinced a relationship with Nev would be a mistake but unable to completely walk away. (I thought her capitulation was kind of sudden actually, but at the same time I was getting a bit tired of the distance she kept also so I was happy to see the end of it).  Then, the next part was about Nev – his relationship with his family, growing a pair, not hiding anymore.   I was sort of unprepared for the right turn the story took when Nev and Cath decided to travel to Leyton – what had been about Cath was suddenly over, or it felt like it.

I liked Cath and I could relate to her.  I feel like I should have felt more empathy for her than I did.  Perhaps it’s that some of her issues hit a little close to home.  Perhaps it’s that she had just so many issues and disasters in her past, that I felt tired.  Perhaps it’s how she wears them on her skin but hides them as well which seemed kind of passive-aggressive and that sort of thing tends of piss me off.  Perhaps all three.  I didn’t dislike her, but I felt I should have liked her better than I did.

Having said all that, I did enjoy the book.  I have a thing for British heroes anyway and I do love Ms. Knox’s writing voice, her sense of humor and the way she writes sexy men.

“… I didn’t know you owned clothes with colors.” She’d worn a sheer, short-sleeved red blouse with a black camisole and a black skirt to work. It was nothing fancy, but she’d hoped it would pass for both office and dinner attire. And, okay, she’d also hoped he’d like it.

“I have a few things that aren’t black.”

“Of course you do, darling. Only all the ones I’ve seen are very small, and I get to take them off with my teeth. You’ve trained me to salivate at the sight of color, like one of Pavlov’s dogs. Your top is making me very hungry.”

 

What else? 
 
As I’m writing this, I think the underlying theme for me was cowardice.  Both Nev and Cath were cowards when it came to pursuing that which made them happy and both were incredibly brave at the same time – but just in different ways.  Cath was brave in seeking out her career fortunes but cowardly in love, Nev was the reverse.

Leaning close to her ear, he murmured, “I promise you, whatever we are together, it’s not a mistake. It’s too good to be a mistake.”

By the end, they had both strapped on a pair.

I liked this one.  I’m glad I read it. It was absolutely worth my time.  But I’m left with the nagging feeling that I should have liked it more than I did.

In any event, with this and Ride With Me, Ruthie Knox has made my autobuy list.

Grade:  B

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