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REVIEW: How to Misbehave by Ruthie Knox

Dear Ms. Knox,

Your 30,000 word novella, How to Misbehave, charmed me to my toes. How to Misbehave takes place in the college town of Camelot, Ohio, in the year 1999. This then is Amber’s opportunity to flirt with Tony and see if he’s interested in her. Amber knows it, but she is as afraid of this chance as she is glad to have it.

Ruthie Knox How to MisbehaveNot only is Amber a squeaky-clean, fresh-faced 24 year old who graduated from a Christian college, her two experiences of sex were both disastrous. Tony, on the other hand, is trouble, or so she has been told. Amber is afraid her life will atrophy from too much good behavior, but she doesn’t know if she can handle Tony, or even get up the nerve to ask him to teach her how to misbehave.

Tony is aware of Amber’s crush on him – his younger brother, who works with him, has been teasing him about it. Tony is also attracted to Amber, and as they seek shelter from the tornado in the basement, he grows more conscious of that pull.

So Tony flirts with Amber, but he has no intention of following through on the flirtation. It seems like a bad idea to actually take Amber to bed since Amber wears her dewy-eyed youthfulness on her sleeve to a point where Tony calls her “bunny.” At 28, Tony has nothing to offer someone as sweet as Amber, or so he believes.

But when the storm knocks the power out and the basement goes dark, Tony is defeated by something unexpected: his fear of the dark. For Tony, the dark is scary, and Amber’s voice, her conversation, is the only thing that keeps his panic attack from blossoming into complete terror.

For Amber, the dark is liberating in that it allows her to claim aspects of herself that she has repressed or shut away. Amber knows what people see when they look at her exterior isn’t who she is, and she wants to be the person she feels she can be– someone bolder, stronger and more directed than she has been until now – both externally and internally.

Amber introduces the topic of the difference between people’s exteriors and interiors, and Tony grasps it like a lifeline. In the darkness, Amber feels safer and braver, Tony more vulnerable and open, and this forges a connection that leads them into each other’s arms when the lights come back on.

But Amber still has those painful experiences of sex to contend with, and there is something in Tony’s past that he has not shared with Amber, something he still carries with him and which may come between Amber, Tony, and the happiness they could find together.

How to Misbehave hews to romance tropes that have been around for a long time, yet it manages to read like something fresh and new. As I was reading, I reflected on the reasons for this, and I think they have to do with specificity of detail and a willingness to go to places that we or people we know have gone, places where the genre itself rarely ventures.

Take, for example, Amber’s sexual past. Amber is cast by Tony and to a lesser degree, by the fact that this is the story of how she learns what sex can be like with a good lover, in the role of the innocent. A common enough trope, though Amber is not a virgin (She has had sex with two men, and both were traumatic experiences in different ways).

This too is not new in romance – the heroine who hasn’t achieved orgasm in intercourse due to a traumatic sexual experience. But when this comes up in the genre, it generally has to do with rape. That isn’t the case here. I don’t want to spoil all the details for readers, but one detail revealed early on in the story is that Amber’s first sexual experience was with a fellow student from her Christian college, a boy who felt that premarital sex was sinful and who cried after they did the deed.

As someone who has been reading romance for a long time but hasn’t read that many contemporaries, I found this background thrilling because it reflected a type of sexual experience I haven’t come across in a romance before.

I don’t want to go into the nature of Tony’s own trauma, since it’s revealed quite late in the story, but his too was something that fell into the spectrum of human experience but that I haven’t often seen depicted in the pages of a romance novel. That description also fits some of the smaller details of the story, such as Amber’s living arrangement (she lives in an apartment complex owned by her parents) or her degree (Sports Management).

I did have a few niggles. One was that except for a brief mention of Y2K, the time period aspect of the setting isn’t utilized much. The story could just as easily have been set in 2013, and that was a bit of a disappointment.

Another issue was that although Amber gained in confidence and her hang ups in bed were resolved, her hang ups outside of bed were not completely. At one point, in a moment of unhappiness, Amber thinks, “There were word for […] what she’d done, too. Spread for him. Slut.

This comes pretty late in the novella, and while it makes sense that someone with Amber’s background would look at it that way, I would have loved to see her grow further past this self-shaming view. It’s unlikely, but I hope to get a glimpse of something like that in the upcoming novel, Along Came Trouble, the story of Amber’s younger brother.

Also, while I felt I knew Amber quite well (and loved her, too) by the time the novella ended, I had less of a bead on Tony. His backstory indicated that some early experiences led him to behave irresponsibly, but the irresponsibility went on into early adulthood and I felt that there had to be something more that led to it than just what we were told about. I found myself feeling curious about the dynamics of his family prior to the tragic event that changed his life.

Even though this kept me from loving Tony quite as much as I loved Amber, I thought he was pretty wonderful with her. The sex scenes between Tony and Amber were smoking hot largely due to his generosity and sweetness, and I loved that he was such a good guy yet still had something significant to angst about.

I also loved the themes. One great theme was how hard it is to “misbehave” to the right degree. The novella made it clear that acting out in excess can lead to bad things but too much “good behavior” can also lead to bad things. The just right amount of “misbehavior” that Tony and Amber found with each other was liberating to them both and made them click as a couple.

Another terrific theme was that of exterior/interior and the importance of matching the two to achieve congruence, integrity, and a full life. With Tony, Amber learns to be more true to her confident inner self. With Amber, Tony learns to give himself permission to be happy.

Like your novel About Last Night which I read and loved last year, this was a buoyant story. I will be rereading it, I think. B+.

Sincerely,

Janine

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Janine Ballard loves well-paced, character driven novels in historical romance, fantasy, YA, and the occasional outlier genre. Recent examples include novels by Katherine Addison, Meljean Brook, Kristin Cashore, Cecilia Grant, Rachel Hartman, Ann Leckie, Jeannie Lin, Rose Lerner, Courtney Milan, Miranda Neville, and Nalini Singh. Janine also writes fiction. Her critique partners are Sherry Thomas, Meredith Duran and Bettie Sharpe. Her erotic short story, “Kiss of Life,” appears in the Berkley anthology AGONY/ECSTASY under the pen name Lily Daniels. You can email Janine at janineballard at gmail dot com or find her on Twitter @janine_ballard.

27 Comments

  1. Readsalot81
    Jan 30, 2013 @ 12:29:09

    @ Janine: This has to be my favorite novella I’ve read in a really long time. I admit, I expected Amber to be somewhat of a cliche, but I was very happy with the direction that the author took. I would’ve liked to have had Tony’s experiences elaborated on a bit more, so I can’t argue with you there. However, that sex scene between them was stellar. Not to get too TMI – but I loved how he asked what she liked and wanted direction. Just made it seem very believable and super sexy :)

  2. SonomaLass
    Jan 30, 2013 @ 12:32:36

    Without major spoilers, does this novella manage to get the main characters together in a way that feels balanced? I’ve had some issues with that in other things I’ve read by this author, either public “big gesture” endings that risked embarrassing the heroine or resolutions where I felt that the heroine gave up something that had seemed really important to her.

  3. Janine
    Jan 30, 2013 @ 12:46:10

    @Readsalot81: I’m starting to think that Ruthie Knox’s strength is that she can take tired, overused tropes and breathe life into them. In that sense she reminds me of historical romance author Julie Anne Long.

    I also agree with you about taking directions in the bedroom! It made the scene sweet as well as sexy.

    @SonomaLass: It felt balanced to me. Without giving spoilers, I don’t think you’ll have the same issue, but I can’t be certain. FWIW, my track record with this author is that I loved About Last Night, enjoyed Ride with Me but was disappointed in Room at the Inn.

  4. Molly O'Keefe
    Jan 30, 2013 @ 12:55:01

    Buoyant is such a good word for this novella. At the beginning, reading it I had that trapped giggle feeling in my throat. I felt like this novella was really balanced and rooted in details that felt so authentic. There was also a lack of melodrama which was really fresh. I had no idea it took place in 1999.

  5. Jane
    Jan 30, 2013 @ 13:01:40

    Take, for example, Amber’s sexual past. Amber is cast by Tony and to a lesser degree, by the fact that this is the story of how she learns what sex can be like with a good lover, in the role of the innocent. A common enough trope, though Amber is not a virgin (She has had sex with two men, and both were traumatic experiences in different ways).

    This too is not new in romance – the heroine who hasn’t achieved orgasm in intercourse due to a traumatic sexual experience. But when this comes up in the genre, it generally has to do with rape. That isn’t the case here. I don’t want to spoil all the details for readers, but one detail revealed early on in the story is that Amber’s first sexual experience was with a fellow student from her Christian college, a boy who felt that premarital sex was sinful and who cried after they did the deed.

    Lots of women haven’t had orgasms in romance stories. I don’t think one of JAK’s heroines did in that period in the late 90s to early 2000s. In fact, the origination of the magic peen comes from the commonly used rope that the heroine has her first orgasm with the hero.

    Ruthie Knox is a good writer with a good voice but she’s not breaking any new ground with her characters, tropes, backgrounds. It’s recycled stuff and it’s done well, but it’s all stuff written before lots and lots of times, particularly within the category lines. One great thing about the categories is that there is a huge range of professions and backgrounds.

  6. Rosie
    Jan 30, 2013 @ 13:05:09

    1999?? Is that as random as it seems or is there a reason, like it was supposed to take place pre 9-11 or something?

  7. Janine
    Jan 30, 2013 @ 13:06:50

    @Molly O’Keefe: I think I had the same giggle feeling. Which is pretty impressive considering that there’s some serious angst in the characters’ pasts (Tony’s especially). I agree with what you say about Knox’s use of details.

    The date (Friday, July 16, 1999) was listed at the very beginning of the novella, but other than briefly touching on the Y2K anxieties (in a way that felt a little forced IMO) there wasn’t much sense of the time period. 1999 wasn’t that long ago so maybe it’s a challenge to get that across, but I kind of wish she’d referenced one or two current events from then.

  8. Janine
    Jan 30, 2013 @ 13:18:13

    @Jane: I completely agree that lots of women in romance haven’t achieved orgasm or are sexually traumatized — it’s practically a cliche. I tried to make that clear in my review.

    What made Amber feel fresh to me was the specific experiences in Amber’s past — the detail of her first time being with a perfectly nice guy who thought premarital sex was sinful and who was so conflicted when Amber came on to him that he cried afterward. That’s what I haven’t seen in romance.

    And SPOILER SPOILER SPOILER ditto her second experience — the guy who bought her a TV set so that she’d have sex with him. END OF SPOILER. Haven’t seen that in a book before, but it’s sadly not uncommon in real life.

    So, I’m not talking about new tropes but the specific backgrounds of the characters do read fresh to me because of details like the ones I mentioned in this comment. Like @Readsalot81 above I was afraid that Amber would be a cliche at first, but ended up loving her portrayal. I’m so glad you posted your thoughts though, so readers could have a different perspective on this.

  9. Janine
    Jan 30, 2013 @ 13:21:02

    @Rosie: I think the reason is just that Amber’s younger siblings get their stories told in the novels that follow, and those stories take place in our current time. My understanding is that Amber and Tony are married with a family in those books (which were written first), so when Knox backtracked to tell the story of how Amber and Tony met, she had to set it in 1999. Still, I feel that a story set in 1999 should read like that’s the setting.

  10. Rosie
    Jan 30, 2013 @ 13:52:41

    @Janine: thanks, that makes sense.

  11. Bronte
    Jan 30, 2013 @ 14:39:33

    Sold. I just finished reading Ride with Me (based on your recommendation Janine) and really liked it. This novella sounds like just the way to spend a snowy day cooped up inside the house.

  12. Janine
    Jan 30, 2013 @ 14:59:17

    @Bronte: So nice to hear my Ride with Me rec worked out for you. Thanks for letting me know!

  13. Robin/Janet
    Jan 30, 2013 @ 15:36:32

    This is the second novella of Knox’s I’ve read, and I was really hoping this one would work for me. It’s well-written, certainly, and I know that Knox is very intelligent, but I had a number of issues with the characters that kept me from really enjoying the story.

    First and foremost, I really felt that Tony’s blue collar background was being somewhat fetishized. You see a lot more working class people in category Romance, and I really appreciate Knox’s decision to write two people who seem solidly Midwestern middle class. But in riding that fine line between Amber’s appreciation of Tony’s, er, assets and a broader level fetishization, I felt that the novella slipped over the line. In fact, I physically winced when Amber referred to him as “A blue-collar hunk of an Italian Stallion,” because I never felt that objectification of Tony was transformed in the story. I get that we’re supposed to see past all that as Amber learns about his past and about who he really is, but because so much of that is tied up with the sexual attraction between them, and because the sex between them is the thing that decidedly shifts the course of their relationship (and Tony’s self-penance), the objectification of Tony felt somewhat problematic to me. Then there was a moment late in the story where Amber says that Tony’s “ass looked delectable” that felt like it was pushing Amber too fast, too far into her new sensibility, especially because it came right before the Italian Stallion reference. Some of those things that I think were supposed to deepen my appreciation of the characters (like the “big words” thing).

    Also, I kept having Lightning and Lingers flashbacks, and not in a good way. That’s not one of my favorite Curtis books to begin with, but there was a vibe to How To Misbehave that made me feel the story would be better suited to an 80s setting than the cusp of 2000. Again, I admired the category feel of the story, but I struggled with what I felt were certain stereotypes that were more reinforced than questioned. For example, the self-conscious reference to Tony needing to grovel from Amber’s mother (and that change in her character felt completely artificial to me, even though I perceived intellectually that it was supposed to fit into that ‘see someone a new way/realize they are more than they seem’ groove of the story), along with that cutesy pirate/princess joke in the cellar, and those Romance novel in-jokes (aka meta-narrative) created for me a sense of artificiality and a feeling of being manipulated, rather than brought deeper into the story and the characters.

    I had the same sense in that Christmas novella, but it was only after reading this one that I had a clearer handle on my response. And it’s super-frustrating to me, because Knox is clearly a good and intelligent writer, and I’m a big fan of category Romance. Maybe the longer works are different, and if so, I’m open to recommendations there.

    @SonomaLass: I felt like the resolution was massively rushed (that’s sometimes the case with novellas, though), and there was a big of the grand gesture, although not in the same way the Christmas novella was staged. Still, given the depth of Tony’s trauma and grief, I did feel a little like he got a healing dose of the glittery hoo haw of love. Even though, intellectually, I understand it was supposed to go beyond that — for me, it still ultimately came down to Amber’s innocent trust somehow causing him to make a pretty big change, pretty darn quickly.

  14. Janine
    Jan 30, 2013 @ 15:59:40

    @Robin/Janet: You bring up some good points. I do agree with you that Tony’s blue collar background was somewhat fetishized. That may be another factor in why I wanted more of his backstory. He did not transcend type as fully as I could have wanted, though I wouldn’t say he was just a stereotype either.

    I also agree re. the change in Amber’s mother being unconvincing. There wasn’t enough transition there. This novella could have benefited from more pages.

    I don’t get as much of the sense of artificiality that you describe though, and I don’t feel manipulated when I read Knox. Maybe it’s just because her voice really clicks for me? But I think it also has to do with what Molly O’Keefe mentioned above — that grounding in details.

    I also honestly didn’t feel that the change in Tony was about the magic hooha. I mean, I can see why it would read that way to some, but to me it read like Amber’s willingness to be so vulnerable with Tony made him want to reciprocate by opening up about his own vulnerabilities. That wasn’t stated anywhere in the novella, but that’s how I read it.

    ETA: As to Knox’s longer works, I think there’s a chance they’d appeal to you more, but I really can’t be sure. I think someone else might do a better job of recommending which one you might want to try read next, if you want to try another.

  15. Ros
    Jan 30, 2013 @ 17:09:55

    The main issue I had with the novella was that the conflict and resolution both seemed to me arbitrary. I liked the set up, I liked the banter, I liked the vulnerability of the hero in the dark and the heroine in her sexuality. I really liked the first half of the novella. And then it was just, huh? They can’t be together because… why? And now they can be together because… why? It didn’t feel to me like there was a story there.

  16. Dabney
    Jan 30, 2013 @ 18:30:55

    In general, I’m exceedingly fond of Ms. Knox’s work. Where Jane and Robin see her not breaking new ground, I see her taking traditional stories and making them interesting and compelling. Furthermore, I see, in her work, an acknowledgement of the stresses/demands/rewards of parenting in a way that doesn’t create the sense that mothering is the be-all and end-all of goals.

    This novella didn’t wow me mostly because I felt it was too short. I didn’t feel as connected as I’ve liked to Tony and Amber. I like very much the novel that comes next, Along Came Trouble, much better because there she has room to create rich characters.

    I think it’s great when authors break ground in a distinctive way. There’s a reason A Lady Awakened is featured on so many best of 2012 lists. I’ll agree that Ms. Knox’s work isn’t revolutionary. But it’s work that many readers encounter and feel better for the experience. That, to me, is a hugely significant aspect of great romance writing.

  17. Robin/Janet
    Jan 30, 2013 @ 19:35:28

    @Janine:
    I also honestly didn’t feel that the change in Tony was about the magic hooha. I mean, I can see why it would read that way to some, but to me it read like Amber’s willingness to be so vulnerable with Tony made him want to reciprocate by opening up about his own vulnerabilities. That wasn’t stated anywhere in the novella, but that’s how I read it.

    I totally agree with you that it’s supposed to be read that way. Tony’s thoughts pretty explicitly communicate that, I think:

    This morning, she gave [Patrick] half her sandwich. She’d given Tony a lot more than that. Trust and understanding. Her arms wrapped around him, her body wrapped around him, even after he’d told her the worst of it. She didn’t care what he’d done wrong in the past. She wasn’t worried about what he might fuck up in the future. She’d opened up her door, let him in her bed even though she was nervous as hell and had plenty of reasons not to trust that he could make it good for her. She thought he was strong. She believed in him, and he was throwing that away.

    My problem was that I couldn’t *feel* that. I think what @Ros said about the disappearing conflict is pretty close to my reaction, as well. And I can definitely come up with counter-arguments to my response — people have defining moments, he had suffered for a long time and just needed something to break the pattern, etc. — but the story didn’t convince me to accept them. Although Ros mentioned the issue with Tony’s fear of the dark, and I agree that was nice and nicely done. And there were some really nice moments of humor and tenderness.

    You know, I don’t know if the story could have sustained the length of an entire novel, but I definitely think there is potential in this idea of using sex between two people who don’t know each other very well to challenge their self-perceptions and their perceptions of each other. I think having a heroine who isn’t extensively experience is an interesting twist. There are all sorts of intimacy issues to explore, and all that sex v. making love stuff. It’s a very appealing idea to me. But again, I felt the promise was kind of squandered, especially since so much of that part of the story seemed to be taken up with Amber’s post-coital regrets and anger (and I was also not thrilled with the way she played to type re. Tony’s predictions). But maybe it’s just an issue of length; I won’t really know until I try one of Knox’s full-length novels.

  18. Janine
    Jan 30, 2013 @ 20:04:50

    @Robin/Janet:Re. length — I definitely agree that there was enough material here for a longer work (though maybe not an entire novel), and I felt that way even more about “Room at the Inn” where the limited character development frustrated me.

    I recently watched this George Saunders interview. Saunders is the author of one of my favorite short stories, “Sea Oak,” and he does not write novel length fiction. In the interview, Charlie Rose asked him why short stories, and he replied with a quote from Flannery O’Connor that “A writer can choose what he writes but he can’t choose what he makes live.” Saunders said that he’s much stronger at short story writing and I think it’s true of many writers that they are stronger in one form than in another. It’s possible that Knox is stronger at novel writing than novella writing, but at this point, I have not read enough of her works to offer a definitive opinion on whether this is the case.

  19. Jill Sorenson
    Jan 30, 2013 @ 20:24:22

    “In fact, I physically winced when Amber referred to him as “A blue-collar hunk of an Italian Stallion,” because I never felt that objectification of Tony was transformed in the story. I get that we’re supposed to see past all that as Amber learns about his past and about who he really is, but because so much of that is tied up with the sexual attraction between them, and because the sex between them is the thing that decidedly shifts the course of their relationship (and Tony’s self-penance), the objectification of Tony felt somewhat problematic to me. “@Robin/Janet:

    I winced at the Italian Stallion mentions also. I don’t remember it in the book, but in the author’s tweets about the story. It reminds me of Sly Stallone (fail) and then it just seems so reductive of a great character. But I don’t agree that Tony doesn’t transcend the stereotype, or even that he starts out as one. For me he felt real and authentic from the beginning. I talked with Janine on twitter about how the characters speech patterns, word choices, etc just fit. This goes for character descriptions as well. There’s an excerpt at Smexy books with a mention of Tony’s beat up hands, a blood blister in his thumb nail, etc. Little details like that, along with his dialogue, really brought the character to life for me. And I know men in this profession.

    Your reaction reminds me of MY reaction to Victoria Dahl’s Lead Me On. I really disliked Jane’s attitude about class, and it bothered me that her attraction to Chase was based on her troubled past. For Jane, blue-collar = hot and bad and dirty. It sort of reminded me of a heroine with daddy issues being attracted to a guy who looks like her dad. That is an exaggeration. What I mean is that the relationship got off on the wrong foot for me and didn’t recover.

    I’m not opposed to blue collar men being presented as sexy. Far from it. I get the appeal of rough hands and hard work and dirty sweat. I share the love for those things. But I also know from personal experience that there’s nothing hot about my husband’s blood blisters and his tool belt looks too heavy, which is worrisome. When he’s dirty I think about laundry. But I do like his steeltoe work boots. I can’t explain that. :)

    I wrote a rock climber hero recently and I’m sure I’ve fetishized that sport, along with all sorts of other things. I’m guilty! I’ve also wondered about class issues with the motorcycle club and KA-type heroes. I don’t like the suggestion that blue collar men are more rough/dominant. And, are readers giving them a pass on that behavior because they’re Other?

  20. Bronte
    Jan 30, 2013 @ 20:26:11

    @Janine: Its an interesting point. I love Courtney Milan’s novellas. She the only author whose shorter works I actively seek out however I remain a bit unsold on her longer works. Sometimes I like them and sometimes I don’t. I guess I take it for granted that if you can write you can write any length but maybe that’s not the case.

  21. Janine
    Jan 30, 2013 @ 20:36:42

    @Bronte: I’ve enjoyed Milan’s novellas more consistently than her novels too.

    And yeah, it’s definitely not the case. I have a writer friend who writes terrific short stories but hasn’t succeeded at writing a novel. I have worked on some of both but I think the novelist’s pace is my natural pace. I’ve also heard the science fiction novelist Nancy Kress say that novellas are the form she’s strongest at, and having read her books and novellas, I agree with that. That’s not to say that there aren’t also writers naturally able to write in every form equally well. Or some that are sufficiently good at everything that even if they’re best at one form, people are still very happy to read their works in other forms too.

  22. Robin/Janet
    Jan 30, 2013 @ 22:30:48

    @Jill Sorenson:

    You know, the Ashley books are interesting. Most of the heroes in the books I’ve read are pretty solidly middle class or above, and the fetishization, if any, seems to come from that “protector” thing. They remind me a lot of Linda Howard, in that regard, in fact. Motorcycle Man is, I think, in part about perceptions v. reality, and the fetishization is not really class-based but more about the coolness and the bike. Fetishization and objectification, definitely, but not class- based, I don’t think (more like the objectification of Ranger in the Stephanie Plum books). In fact, in one of the books, the heroine puts everyone on a ‘point system’ based on background, looks, etc. She sees herself as a very low point getter, in large part because of her own impoverished, chaotic background, and has the absolute hardest time believing that the hero, who she sees as beyond the highest ranking, could care about her. I’m not going to say that book is subtle in any way, and there are some seriously whacked things that go on in Ashley’s books (and some seriously OTT characters and situations), but I didn’t find it fetishizing on the basis of class.

    I do think Dahl’s Lead Me On is a good counter-example, though, because that’s a book explicitly about class, while Knox’s isn’t, and I think that makes a difference. While I think we’re supposed to sympathize with Jane (and I can see not liking her — she’s difficult), we’re also supposed to realize that she’s kind of messed up, and because she comes from an impoverished background and sees herself as a “fraud” in the “respectable” world, she pushes her issues onto her choice of men, reducing them in the way she feels reduced. I think we’re overtly being invited to see that essentializing thinking as troubling, where I didn’t get that sense in Knox’s book.

    Amber, by contrast, makes the Italian Stallion comment at the end of the novella, while she’s in the pub, after she and Tony made up and she’s ogling him from across the room. Maybe, by that point, we’re supposed to think it’s okay because she knows him better, but I never felt that the issue was adequately addressed, and throwing that comment in at that point just hit me wrong. One thing I tend to enjoy about category Romance is the real diversity of character backgrounds (despite the perception that some may have that it’s packed with Presents-style billionaires), without a lot of sense that there’s anything exotic about working people.

  23. Jill Sorenson
    Jan 31, 2013 @ 08:31:20

    @Robin/Janet: Thanks for the response about KA. I still haven’t tried her but Sweet Dreams is in my TBR. I find class issues really interesting so it’s always a big draw for me. I like the diversity and range of characters in category romance also.

    As far as Lead Me On, I agree that we’re supposed to sympathize with Jane, who is clearly troubled and difficult to like, as you say. Dahl was definitely not presenting her views as healthy. If both heroines indulge in stereotyping, Amber does it in a positive, innocent way (blue collar men are great/sexy!) while Jane is negative (blue collar men are bad for me). But I can see why Amber’s remark hit the wrong note for you. For me, the story hit all of the right ones. I also loved Ride With Me, so you might try that.

  24. Robin/Janet
    Jan 31, 2013 @ 14:04:49

    @Jill Sorenson: Thanks for the recommendation; I’ll give it a shot.

    I read Sweet Dreams and At Peace right around the same time, and I think I liked At Peace a little more, but both had their strengths and weaknesses. I have been reading the Hachette releases, so I think they’re cleaned up a bit, albeit not tightly edited by any stretch of the imagination.

    Re Jane v. Amber, it wasn’t about the negative v. positive stereotyping, per se, but more about the difference between a character fetishizing and a book fetishizing. And I’m not suggesting that Knox was trying to fetishize Tony’s class and ethnicity; I’m saying that in Dahl’s book, it was clear to me that the authorial voice was inviting us to question Jane’s fetishizing, while in the Knox book, particularly because of the placement of that final phrase, it felt more like the authorial voice was asking us to join in Amber’s fetishizing. Even as I knew we were supposed to see beyond the surface with Tony, I always felt on the knife’s edge in regard to Tony’s characterization, so the placement of Amber’s statement, at the very end of the story, just pushed me in the wrong direction.

  25. MaryK
    Feb 02, 2013 @ 14:33:17

    @Robin/Janet:

    the placement of Amber’s statement, at the very end of the story, just pushed me in the wrong direction.

    Not sure if it matters, but that statement was a quote from a description someone else gave her at the beginning of the story. And IIRC at the end she was consciously imagining him through the eyes of the bookshop lady who was staring at him.

    I really enjoyed the story and pretty much ditto this review. I’m looking forward to the rest of the series. :)

  26. Janine
    Feb 02, 2013 @ 20:00:14

    @MaryK: I’m really glad you enjoyed the novella.

  27. REVIEW: Making It Last by Ruthie Knox
    Aug 04, 2013 @ 11:02:04

    [...] story will be especially meaningful for those who have already read How to Misbehave (B+ review here) as Amber and Tony rediscover the qualities in each other that originally drew them together when [...]

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