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REVIEW: The Story Guy by Mary Ann Rivers

I will meet you on Wednesdays at noon in Celebration Park. Kissing only.

Carrie West is happy with her life . . . isn’t she? But when she sees this provocative online ad, the thirtysomething librarian can’t help but be tempted. After all, the photo of the anonymous poster is far too attractive to ignore. And when Wednesday finally arrives, it brings a first kiss that’s hotter than any she’s ever imagined. Brian Newburgh is an attorney, but there’s more to his life . . . that he won’t share with Carrie. Determined to have more than just Wednesdays, Carrie embarks on a quest to learn Brian’s story, certain that he will be worth the cost. But is she ready to gamble her heart on a man who just might be The One . . . even though she has no idea how their love story will end?

Dear Ms. Rivers,

Reading a good novella is a wonderful treat for me. To get a complete, perfect story that encompasses beginning to HEA and does it well and convincingly is such a joy to receive. And this is such a great story. Such a great damn story that it makes me happy thinking of it again as I write this.

The STory Guy by Mary Ann RiversThe writing brings you in close to what these people are feeling. I don’t just feel as if I’m being “told” what’s going on, I feel it. I see it. It’s like I’m there watching and experiencing it – not in a kinky voyeuristic way but in a deep, connected way. The writing is also great in a subtle and elegant way. It shows instead of merely telling. When Carrie and Brian pull apart after a kiss, Carrie talks about the sudden little chill that is between their body heat now and how she wants to chase it away. I feel that along with her.

Carrie is normal – which is such a relief. She doesn’t have hang ups. She isn’t frustrated with her life or determined to do something totally wild. Just a little wild and different and daring. She has a normal job, normal friends who aren’t kooky or trying to matchmake her or anything else. She’s real.

The hook up is slightly offbeat. Wednesdays in a public park for one hour just kissing. No last names, little personal info and either one can break it off at any time by merely not showing up the next week. A tenuous start with nothing anticipated for long term – just the “here and now” of it. But it begins to branch into a bit more. IM exchanges and then phone calls and then brunch as Carrie pushes a bit to discover why Brian has set these boundaries, why he won’t accept more and ask for more from a relationship, what there is in his life that makes him unable to risk more. So the weird beginning morphs into a closer connection upon which their relationship can build.

And it does build and grow and meld together two people. Little by little, brick by brick it’s built and solid despite the starts and stops and issues. They talk – as Carrie tells Brian later in the story, “You do talk well.” By the time the sex finally arrives, in all its messy, moving, glorious, glasses smudging way, it was a culmination of the slow, hot acceleration build up and also the exquisite emotions these two feel for each other and care they take of each other.

The issue that initially Brian is initially dealing with is real, and deep and such a part of his life. It also helps show the loving, bedrock kind of man he is – needed in a first person POV book. But it’s presented in such a way that it didn’t feel like a made up excuse for angst. When Brian confesses to Carrie what he hoped for when he first saw her and why, I wanted to just bawl because he deserves so much.

Warning: Having said that, when I go back and think of the story, I do feel that it probably wouldn’t impress readers who are disabled. [spoiler]The person who is disabled is a secondary character and the story focuses mainly on how this affects Brian.[/spoiler] For that, I’m knocking my grade down a notch.

I love a story that moves me at times to tears – just as Carrie does, and BTW that’s a sexy, librarian tattoo she has – and this one does it many times in ways both dramatic, sad and happy. In the end, though, the resolution of Brian’s issue is done realistically and the situation is hopeful which is a great way to end a book. When I sent my list of recommended books to Jane this month, she said she’d heard this one is good and I replied to her “I just finished it and as I’m sitting here jotting down thoughts for the A review, I’m crying and smiling.” I still am. A-

~Jayne

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Another long time reader who read romance novels in her teens, then took a long break before started back again about 15 years ago. She enjoys historical romance/fiction best, likes contemporaries, action- adventure and mysteries, will read suspense if there's no TSTL characters and is currently reading very few paranormals.

22 Comments

  1. Dabney
    Jul 12, 2013 @ 08:33:03

    I had forgotten about the librarian tattoo. That is hot and perfect for Carrie.

    Nice review!

  2. Kaetrin
    Jul 12, 2013 @ 08:46:00

    I loved it too. I thought Brian was trying hard to do the best he could in difficult circumstances, that he struggled and felt guilty and selfish sometimes only made him seem more real to me. His struggle as carer felt authentic to me.

    I liked Carrie too. She was a bit too pushy at first, but I loved that she was prepared to fit into his life without making him feel guilty about it and without it seeming like a pathetic or weak choice for her. Or, at least, that’s how I saw it.

  3. Jacqueline
    Jul 12, 2013 @ 09:26:20

    Nice review – you completely summed up most of my own feelings. As short as it is, it managed to be a very fulfilling story and I loved it.

    Unlike you, I didn’t have any issue with the fact that the story focuses [spoiler] on how Brian’s sister’s disability affected him over her. As a romance, the story is supposed to revolve around the development of Carrie’s and Brian’s relationship. Considering that the story is a novella, and has to work within the inherent space confines, I feel that it would have been straying from its purpose and taking away from the romantic focus had much more attention been paid to Brian’s sister. She wasn’t ignored at all, both Carrie and Brian contemplated and/or spoke about her losses and challenges due to her disability.[/spoiler]

  4. Jayne
    Jul 12, 2013 @ 10:10:41

    @Kaetrin:

    that he struggled and felt guilty and selfish sometimes only made him seem more real to me. His struggle as carer felt authentic to me.

    Yes, I appreciate that Rivers allowed him to feel guilty/selfish. It’s a common human reaction even if it doesn’t show a person in the best light. Most people aren’t selfless and saintly.

  5. Ren
    Jul 12, 2013 @ 10:18:30

    I loved this story despite a number of predispositions to the contrary (I generally don’t like novellas, single POV in a romance, OR present tense).

    Caregivers are expected to be saints who cheerfully forfeit every moment of their lives for the sheer saintly joy of caring for those dependent on them. The most moving thing in this story was that Brian actually said That Which Must Never Be Spoken, and Carrie didn’t scream, “Oh my god, you’re a MONSTER!” and abandon him.

    It’s rare for a full-length novel with less-substantial conflict to convince me the relationship stands a chance of lasting, but I crawled out of the end of this novella believing these two had sufficient strength and endurance to make it happen.

  6. Lindsay
    Jul 12, 2013 @ 10:40:25

    I think you perfectly captured my enjoyment on this, this was a one-day read of stolen minutes because I couldn’t sit with the heartache of not knowing how it turned out.

  7. SusanS
    Jul 12, 2013 @ 10:52:25

    @Jacqueline – please use a Spoiler alert in your comment next time. Thanks.

  8. LeeF
    Jul 12, 2013 @ 11:04:05

    Not a general fan of novella format but this one is exceptional. So much honesty and beautiful language packed into a too brief story. I made the mistake of finishing it on break at work and had to hide my tears!

  9. Jayne
    Jul 12, 2013 @ 11:10:23

    @SusanS: I added one to the comment and another to my review – which I should have done in the first place.

  10. Jayne
    Jul 12, 2013 @ 11:13:55

    @LeeF: Luckily I was at home and could cathartically sob away.

  11. Jacqueline
    Jul 12, 2013 @ 11:16:34

    @SusanS: My apologies. I read the review on a feed reader that got rid of the spoiler tags, so I thought the secret was out already.

  12. Sunita
    Jul 12, 2013 @ 13:47:54

    I wasn’t going to read this because the excerpt didn’t work for me, but then I saw you had recommended it, Jayne, and since we are so often book twins I started it the other night. But sadly, it was a DNF for me. Partly because of the way that Brian’s circumstances are a plot point (I have problems with minority characters who are plot motivators or ways to develop and provide nuance for other, non-minority characters), but also because I had a lot of trouble with the heroine. Carrie tells herself and the reader that she is contented with her life and pretty normal, but she didn’t come across that way to me at all. And Brian felt like Dream Man With A Big Issue, which I didn’t think the novella wordcount could do justice to.

    I can see why it worked for so many readers, but it reminded me of why I find so many novellas, especially those that tackle major real-life difficulties, to be unsatisfying and frustrating.

  13. Ros
    Jul 12, 2013 @ 14:10:43

    I did finish it and liked it a little better than Sunita. But my big problem was the same as hers – Carrie. I find it particularly problematic if I don’t like the heroine when the book is written from her point of view in first person. I found her incredibly selfish and entitled. Perhaps if we’d seen her from Brian’s perspective I might have understood why he loved her. And actually, now that I say that, I think my biggest problem is that I’m not really convinced he loves Carrie at all. I think he might just love what she represents for him – an escape from his responsibilities.

  14. Julia Gabriel
    Jul 12, 2013 @ 15:23:00

    I just finished this book the other day and absolutely loved it. It was a smart and very sexy romance with real people characters who have real jobs and real problems (instead of twenty-something billionaires who own companies that somehow have them practically ruling the world). And it was very well-written, from a language and style standpoint. I definitely want to read more from the author.

  15. Laurie Evans
    Jul 12, 2013 @ 17:24:37

    I agree, I loved it! Loved the real characters with real jobs. Loved the writing, loved the kissing and sex scenes. I don’t usually read short novels but I loved this one. Can’t wait for more from this author!

  16. Kate Hewitt
    Jul 12, 2013 @ 17:32:23

    I’m another one who bought this book based on the reviews here and while I enjoyed the lovely writing and the fresh take on a romance, I wasn’t convinced by the premise. I didn’t really get why Carrie agreed to the premise, or why she was always so understanding of Brian without knowing the situation.
    [spoiler]
    Spoiler: (sorry, I don’t know how to make a spoiler otherwise!!) I also didn’t get why Brian wasn’t upfront about his situation from the first. Why did he have to hide from Carrie the fact that he was the primary caregiver for his sister? Why did it have to be a big secret? I would have preferred for him to be upfront from the start and for Carrie to have to accept what that means–that in some ways she’d be second in his life. [/spoiler]That would have been a more interesting conflict to me than her constantly wondering what Brian’s story is, and then just basically thinking how awesome he is when she finds out what it is.

  17. Sunita
    Jul 12, 2013 @ 18:10:11

    @Kate Hewitt: I buried the spoilerish bits.

    To bury a spoiler, type “spoiler” with brackets “[ ]” around it, then at the end type “/spoiler” with brackets around that (without the quotation marks I used).

  18. Kate Hewitt
    Jul 13, 2013 @ 04:23:50

    Thanks Sunita!

  19. NBLibGirl
    Jul 13, 2013 @ 13:55:10

    Read this and After Hours by Cara McKenna thanks to reviews here and really enjoyed the “real people, real lives” aspect of both. I’m not sure I could agree to meet with someone I don’t know for the express purpose of nothing but making out but once over that hurdle, I think The Story Guy worked. Thanks for highlighting both of these “new to me” authors.

  20. The Story Guy by Mary Ann Rivers | Love in the Margins
    Aug 15, 2013 @ 15:08:48

    […] write.  I follow the author on Twitter and had high hopes for this book. It got great press with not one, but two glowing reviews at Dear Author. Everyone in my circle of reader friends was reading it, […]

  21. Mina Khan
    Dec 30, 2013 @ 11:33:54

    Hmm, just from the review and comments…this reminds me a lot of Broken by Megan Hart. I love, love, love that story!

  22. Ridley
    Dec 30, 2013 @ 12:01:37

    @Mina Khan: It is a lot like Broken: It appropriates disability to tell a story about an able-bodied person then shitcans the disabled character to make way for the HEA.

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