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REVIEW: Making It Last by Ruthie Knox

Dear Ms. Knox:

If I’d read this a few weeks ago, news about the NSA would have come as no shock to me, since it’s obvious that someone has been spying on my marriage. “Spot-on” is a phrase that comes to mind for this novella — also, considering it’s a sequel in a genre literally defined by the concept of the happy ending, “brave.”

Brave is the word for a sexy story that opens with the heroine helping her puking child. Amber’s family is having a tension filled departure from Jamaica, after a dream vacation that wasn’t.

When Caleb told her back in the fall that he and Ellen were going to get married here, she’d mentally packed herself a suitcase full of new sundresses and beach paperbacks. She’d laid by the fantasy pool on a fantasy lounger in a fantasy bikini, skin shining with oil, holding Tony’s hand.

Instead Amber got more of the same — taking care of squabbling, needy kids, no time with her husband, and no private place in which to even experience how miserable she is.

She hated that she’d become the kind of woman who looked forward to the next time she could be alone to cry.

Making It Last Ruthie KnoxSeeing Amber’s distress, her family arranges for her to spend a few more days in Jamaica on her own, while Tony wrangles the kids home. But Amber’s problems go far beyond needing a little quiet time: she’s lost her sense of self and her faith that she’s on the right path. And if Tony doesn’t want everything to slip away, he’s going to need to put aside all of his other priorities to find her, and their marriage.

The blurb for this story focuses on the sexy times — and the sexy times are definitely hot, as well as an important development in Tony and Amber’s relationship. They’re about change and familiarity and identity, and how important those all become when you’ve been with one person for over a decade. But it’s a much darker read than you’d get from the blurb. Both Amber and Tony are in a great deal of pain, and there are no magic fixes and no compromises to the integrity of the situation (which means there are plenty of compromises for the characters.) Even the funny moments are funny in a painful way:

She had to admit, she’d kind of gone off cocks the last few years. Sharing a house with four of them would do that to a girl. Back when she met Tony, she’d been so inexperienced that his cock had seemed like this miraculous thing, but lately she just wanted every penis in the house put away. She didn’t want to hear about them, look at them, think about them. Didn’t want to know when they were stiff or itchy or getting slammed in drawers.

I don’t think it’s a spoiler to say that the story ends well, but if you’re primarily looking for a cute epilogue for a favorite couple, this ain’t it. Instead, it’s a moving and insightful reaffirmation that the happy ending we romance readers cherish has lasting value, and is worth fighting for.

This 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 they were trapped alone in that dark basement. But it will probably strike chords for anyone who’s been married for awhile, and knows that Happy Ever Afters have to be deliberately chosen, again and again.  B+

Sincerely,

willaful

 

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Willaful

Willaful fell in love with romance novels at an early age, but ruthlessly suppressed the passion for years, while grabbing onto any crumbs of romance to be found in other genres. About seven years ago she finally gave in and started reading romance again, and has been trying to catch up with the entire genre ever since. She loves exquisitely written historical romance, intense m/m, and crazy, over the top categories about equally, and hopes to be buried with her e-readers. Look for her on twitter or at her blog at www.willaful.wordpress.com

13 Comments

  1. FD
    Aug 04, 2013 @ 11:27:49

    These two stories are high up on my favourites of the year list. I didn’t really rate How To Misbehave when I first read it, found it a little shallow, but reading the second part changed my mind – not so much on the story but on my impression of the authorial chops reqired to make the two stories dovetail the way they do. Not halves of one story, nor matching book ends, more like a blurry repro print paired with the original master. Identifiably the same image, but with the depth and detail, and the emotional impact that the painter intended. It’s a pretty clever bit of writing is what I’m saying, I suppose.

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  2. Anne
    Aug 04, 2013 @ 15:07:16

    This has been one of my favorite reads of the year. It hit close to home for me, too. While I was reading it, even knowing there must be an HEA, just because it’s a romance, I really couldn’t think of how they would work it out. It was so real! I was really happy with the compromises they made, though.

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  3. Janine
    Aug 04, 2013 @ 15:31:07

    I still haven’t read this. I’m a little reluctant to do so, even though I purchased it, because How to Misbehave / Making it Last wasn’t (at least as far as I was aware) presented as a serial from the beginning. When I think of sequels about the same couple in romance, my experience with reading them in the past has left me wondering — if the relationship didn’t work out after the first happy ending, why should I be expected to believe that it will work out differently the second time?

    And this is all the more true for me with a story that takes place after a relationship has been established for years. People get into patterns of behavior over the course of years as a relationship continues, and it’s very, very hard to change those dynamics. The combination of writing a marriage in trouble in story and the HEA from a prior novella not lasting makes me afraid to read this one, especially since I really liked How to Misbehave and wanted to believe in Tony and Amber’s future.

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  4. Willaful
    Aug 04, 2013 @ 18:47:37

    @Janine: I get what you mean, because I also hate it when a sequel “ruins” the previous book for me. In this case, I don’t believe it does — if anything, like FD says, I think it adds to it. But it may just not be your kind of book.

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  5. Renda
    Aug 04, 2013 @ 20:15:25

    This book just stunned me. Tightly written, and “spot on” was a term that literally ran through my head during the entire read.
    I dreaded the end of the book, not because “O.M.G. this is so good I can’t stand for it to end,” but more, “Oh, please let the compromises be reasonable, real world, and workable.” And they were. Like every real world HEA that is maintained, goals change, parameters moved, and the components of “happy” mature and mutate.
    I adored this book. Married 24.75 years, yeah, it struck home. Except for that whole hard body/running/maintaining the hair thing, it could be just like my marriage ;-).

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  6. Holly
    Aug 04, 2013 @ 21:07:28

    I actually read this first, loved it, and then went back to read How to Misbehave, and I wasn’t spoiled. This one is my favorite though, and will definitely make my list of favorites for the year. “Spot on” is a perfect way to describe it.

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  7. Willaful
    Aug 04, 2013 @ 21:10:00

    @Renda: “Except for that whole hard body/running/maintaining the hair thing, it could be just like my marriage ;-). ” Yeah, that was the one detail that’s different around here!

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  8. Courtney Milan
    Aug 05, 2013 @ 09:08:30

    @Janine: I had the same misgivings, and I have to say this book was nothing like what I most feared.

    I would say that this is not a case where the happy ending “didn’t work out.” They’re not cheating when the story starts, they’re not out of love, they’re not on the verge of leaving each other (although there is internal fear that this is the case). They’re overwhelmed with life in a way that a new couple can’t be. To the extent that there are problems–and there are–they are the problems of too much love–someone working hard in a crappy economy to keep his family in a beautiful home, a mother who puts so much of herself into her family that she’s afraid she’s losing her sense of herself.

    I never felt that the HEA of the first book was undermined by what I saw here.

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  9. Willaful
    Aug 05, 2013 @ 10:55:50

    @Courtney Milan: That’s a really good way to put it. I don’t think I could ever forgive an author if s/he had a HEA couple cheating (though in real life, I do think relationships can potentially be put back together.)

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  10. Janine
    Aug 05, 2013 @ 11:59:21

    @Courtney Milan: Thanks, I appreciate that and will read the novella now that I know that.

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  11. Ducky
    Aug 07, 2013 @ 21:00:24

    I think it is a beautiful follow-up to the original story. Their problems are much more realistic than the norm in romance. That’s why this really emotionally resonated with me. And there was no lack of love and the ending was very hopeful without being pat.

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  12. Janine
    Aug 26, 2013 @ 16:06:26

    @Courtney Milan: I’ve read Making it Last now and I agree with you, re. “problems of too much love.” I actually adored the first third of this novella, but the middle section (when they were in Jamaica alone) didn’t work for me. It got back on track for me when they came back home, but not completely. I’m still trying to figure out the whys of that, but I think I’d give it a C+.

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  13. What Janine is Reading: Late Summer to Fall of 2013
    Nov 05, 2013 @ 11:02:15

    […] I absolutely adored the first third of the novella, which set up the problems. As Courtney Milan commented on Willaful’s review, the problems Amber and Tony experienced in their marriage were […]

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