He wasn’t the kind of guy a woman wanted to pin her hope and dreams on.
Of course, he turns out to be exactly the kind of guy a woman might pin her hopes and dreams on, because this is a romance.
Let me describe the setup as briefly as possible.
May, a young woman from the Wisconsin, is involved with a Packers quarterback. He proposes in front of a huge crowd in a way that makes it crystal clear to May that he values her because she doesn’t distract him from really important things like football, she rejects him in a dramatic manner, walks out, has her purse stolen, and winds up in NYC, on her own, with five bucks and no phone or ID. That’s the immediate backstory.
Awkward situation, you will agree.
So she asks this guy for help, and he happens to be feeling like he really needs to practice playing the role of the white knight, so that’s how this story gets off the ground.
I liked this novel a lot, partly because of the great descriptions of food – Ben is a chef, or was until recently – and partly because it’s a pretty darn good book. Characters are good. There’s lots of great relationship stuff besides the romance part: May and her sister, May and her mother, the sister and her fiancée, Ben and his father. Lots of the relationships are screwed up; getting (nearly) everybody to a better place is a big part of the story. Breaking off a relationship that’s not working is almost as important as getting a new relationship off the ground and counts as getting everybody to a better place.
The writing is very good, very smooth, lots of nice moments like this:
“The thing is, May said, “I’m not as sad as I should be. And that makes me sad, because it makes me realize I was being a dope. And then I wonder what’s wrong with me, and then I go into this whole mental spiral, and that’s no good.”
She turned her head sideways, resting it on her knee. All wrapped around herself, gold hair and red sweater, long legs and black boots. She looked gorgeous and disappointed. He wanted to fix her, but he was the wrong person. Ten times more broken than May was.
“I have a suspicion that I’m in the middle of one of those really important life lessons,” she said. “I’m just not sure what the lesson is yet.”
Pretty good, right? This is a great look at a moment that feels absolutely real, with bonus great description. I can picture May perfectly in this scene.
I like Ben a lot. He’s got real problems – anger issues – and he hates it and he’s trying to find other ways to deal with things. Very nicely handled, because you get these layers: a good guy underneath, and then the angry guy over that, and then the pose of the white knight over that, and then on top of that a realization that when you play the role of the white knight, you don’t get to stop:
There was simply no way he could go now. Not if it meant leaving her here to deal with this – her sister’s wedding, her mother’s expectations, Dan – when she seemed so ill-equipped to handle it.
Christ. Evidently you couldn’t just play at being a white knight. Once you put on the armor, you had to carry the fucking lance.
All these great, important moments as they both sort out their lives, or start to. Important life lessons, definitely. I like how Ben is angry and May tells him that’s okay. I like how she sets limits and sticks to them. I like how he stops being so self-protective and starts being able to reach out.
This is the third Ruthie Knox romance I’ve read, and by far my favorite. Partly the story itself and partly, yes, the fantastic descriptions of food. I wouldn’t have minded toning down the sex scenes a bit. Though that’s usually the case for romances, and in this case I didn’t actually skip them, quite.
This is quite the romance year for me, so far, though of course it’s early days yet. Still, at this rate, by the end of the year, I’ll have to write a post sorting out my top ten romance authors. Sure wouldn’t have seen that coming ten years ago, or even five.
Next up, will be a fantasy, though: I’m in the middle of Magic’s Poison by Gillian Bradshaw.