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REVIEW: More Than One Night by Sarah Mayberry

Dear Ms. Mayberry,

It’s always a delight to read your books. Your characters are interesting, multifaceted, (reasonably) ordinary men and women; your plots are touching without being tawdry; your love stories convincing and sexy. More Than One Night isn’t my favorite of your books—I had trouble with the heroine—but was an enjoyable novel and one I’d recommend to any contemporary romance reader.

More Than One Night	Sarah MayberryCharlie (Charlotte) Long, is at 32, out of the Australian army after fourteen years, and ready to begin the rest of her life. On her first night of “freedom,” she and her friend Gina open a bottle of champagne and Gina toasts Charlie, saying,

“To the rest of your life. To having a home that’s all yours. To meeting a guy who doesn’t know how to field strip a Steyr F88 rifle and who isn’t going to ship out when things start getting good. And to never, ever having to wear khaki again.”

Gina’s been out of the army for a couple of years, has a good job, a sweet little house—Charlie is staying in her spare room—and loves civilian life. Charlie too is happy to move on and yet she’s anxious.

“She’d die before she admitted it to anyone, but rather than being excited by all the choices and possibilities that lay ahead of her, she was feeling more than a little overwhelmed.”

She’s got a nice place to live, she’s building up a business as a web designer, she has a fabulous friend—we all need a Gina in our lives–, but she’s quietly terrified. She tells herself

Stop freaking out. You can do this. How hard can it be? You find an apartment. You buy some furniture. You start a life. It’s not rocket science. 

It only felt like it.

Charlie, despite having been a very successful communications engineer with the Royal Australia Corps of Sigs, doesn’t have a lot of confidence. Oh she knows there are things she does well—she’s organized, intelligent, and ethical—but she sees herself as ordinary, plain old Charlie. And when I say plain, I mean unattractive, unsexy, and, in general, uninteresting to men. She’s never been in love, most of her sexual encounters have been awkward, her mirror is not her friend. Gina’s told her she’s crazy, that Charlie is lovely. But Charlie can’t believe it—really, Charlie won’t believe it. She’s sure she’s, to use a phrase from my grandmother, not much to look at.

On Charlie’s first night back, Gina gets the chance to prove Charlie wrong. Charlie and Gina have made plans to go to one of Sydney’s hottest restaurants but Charlie, whose luggage is missing, has none of her own clothes to wear. Gina talks Charlie into borrowing an outfit of Gina’s—a mesh halter and a pair of skin-tight stretch satin black pants. Charlie squeezes into the outfit, puts on some sexy makeup, and, once at the bar, is astonished to see guy after guy checking her out. She’s so stunned, in fact, she stumbles down a stair and spills a glass of red wine all over the white-shirted chest of an absolutely gorgeous guy. When she tries to apologize, he–Rhys Walker–tells her if she lets him buy her a drink, he’ll call it even. She can barely believe this beautiful man is flirting with her—which he very clearly is—and, after finishing her meal with Gina, Charlie decides to go for it. Usually Charlie listens to the voice in her head that tells her she’s just good, old, plain Charlie.

The voice was probably right. It had saved her from making a lot of bad decisions in her life, that voice. But she didn’t want to listen tonight. She wanted more of the feeling she’d experienced when she’d caught Rhys tracking her every move with his dark, heated gaze. For that precious handful of seconds she had felt powerful and knowing and invincible and incredibly sexy.

It might be an illusion—maybe even a delusion—but she wanted more of it. Even if it meant she was setting herself up to fail spectacularly.

Charlie finds Rhys, who has spent the evening praying the gorgeous woman who dumped wine on him will reappear, and, after a few more drinks, conversation, and the obliging exit of Gina, Rhys takes Charlie to his apartment where the two have a night of incredible sex. For Charlie, it’s unlike anything she’s ever experienced.

He started to move, and within seconds she’d found his rhythm. Every clumsy sexual encounter she’d ever had, every second of self-consciousness over her body or her own needs, every doubt she’d ever experienced went out the window as she gave herself over to the moment.

Rhys too is astonished by how sizzling they are together. The two make love three times—using a condom each time—and fall asleep in one another’s arms. The sun comes up, Charlie arises, sees how gorgeous Rhys is as he sleeps, checks out her own—to her—unlovely visage in his bathroom mirror and bolts, leaving him a short note and a hundred bucks to pay for his shirt.

This action on her part—and the attitude behind it–made me crazy. And, unfortunately, it fuels the story that unfolds after that splendiferous night. Eight weeks later, Charlie’s found her own place, her work is going well, and civilian life is working out for her.  The only downside of her life is that she spends a little too much time wondering what would have happened if she hadn’t bailed on Rhys. At least that’s the only downside until she realizes—when Gina asks her why she doesn’t have a tampon Gina can borrow—she hasn’t had a period for almost three months. She buys a kit, pees on the stick, and is terrified to realize the condoms failed and she, careful, disciplined Charlie, is pregnant from a night of smokin’ sex with a total stranger. After giving an abortion some very real thought, Charlie decides to keep the baby. She tracks down Rhys, tells him he’s going to be a dad, and, the two begin a “we just spend time together because we are going to have a baby together” relationship.

Rhys, who is a likable perfect hero—I think these are rare– is wonderful after his initial shock at Charlie’s news. Rhys is like Gina—I can’t imagine the woman who wouldn’t want him in her life. He’s gorgeous, funny, sensitive, sexy, compassionate, and—this is how you know he’s almost too good to be true—a great listener. As he goes with Charlie to her doctors’ appointments, has lunch with her, takes walks with her, he’s struck again and again by how much he likes her and is attracted to her. Sure, she’s not the sex-goddess he met at the bar:

“Looking at her now, it was almost impossible to believe that it had been the same woman. Not that she wasn’t attractive and sexy in a far more subtle way in her current outfit, but there was definitely a Jekyll and Hyde thing going on as far as her appearance went.”

He, like Charlie, wonders what would have happened between the two if she hadn’t run out on him that morning. Rhys comes from a large, close, argumentative, loving family. All of his siblings are married and Rhys would like to be too. He’s excited about the baby, his family loves Charlie, and, when he’s with her, he feels a pull of desire he’s sure she shares. And so, he makes the occasional, very subtle overture and, every time, gets shut down. Why? Because Charlie’s so freaking hung on hers and his looks. He’s gorgeous, she’s not. Girls like her don’t belong with guys like him. By the last third of the book, Charlie was seriously ticking me off. As Gina asks, at the very least, “You don’t think being attracted to the father of your baby would be making the best of a bad situation?”

What bothered me even more though, than Charlie’s “we can’t be together because you are a golden god and I’m not” is that Charlie’s issues about her looks aren’t really about her looks. They’re really about her childhood and the lack of love she received from her inattentive, impossible to please, recently dead father. Charlie’s mother died giving birth to Charlie and, no matter what Charlie did—including joining the army—her father never gave Charlie his approval or his affection. Charlie, despite Gina’s friendship, despite Rhys’ care, doesn’t believe she deserves relational happiness. She’s sure she’ll always be alone and were she to let down her defenses and give her heart away, it would be returned to her unwanted and broken. This psychological problem has resonance—Charlie whinging that’s she’s not hot enough to hold onto a hunk like Rhys does not. And the former—Charlie feeling undeserving of love—doesn’t easily explain her issues about her looks. It didn’t work for me that Charlie’s fear of rejection played itself out in her insistence, despite input from people she cares for and respects, that she’s incapable of being physically attractive.

It’s a flaw in the book and one that irked me greatly. But, so much else about the book is wonderful, I forgave the flaw. I prized so much about More Than One Night. I adored that Charlie was in the military and speaks at length about her experiences there. It was a wondrous thing to read a book where the unmarried, working heroine gives abortion some serious thought. Charlie’s and Gina’s friendship is not only a great one, it feels vibrantly true. The love scenes are wonderfully sexy. Rhys’s family is also beautifully portrayed. He and his siblings have issues—Rhys is the successful capitalist in a family of do-good liberals—and they argue in ways that ring absolutely true. I loved the Walkers, loved their argumentative dinners, loved their nosy prying into Rhys’ life. They, like all the other characters in this book, are written as wonderfully real. They talk about their kids, their jobs, whose turn it is to take out the trash—you have such a knack for writing the everyday life.

I venerate the way you write. Your prose is fluid, descriptive, and insightful. When Rhys decides he believes Charlie when she tells him she’s sure it’s his baby, he thinks,

He believed her. He didn’t know why—he didn’t know her from a bar of soap—but he believed she was speaking the truth.

This phrase—“he didn’t know her from a bar of soap”—is perfect and, like so many of your sentences, gets the point across with clarity and innovative but simple imagery. Writing clean, crisp, engaging prose is not an easy thing to do and you, in book after book, do it splendidly. Thank you.

I think perhaps the best thing about More Than One Night is that Charlie does, on her own, take a leap of faith. She decides she’s more than plain, old Charlie. She makes a sad peace with the legacy from her father and decides to live her life on her terms, not his. By the book’s end, Charlie’s happiness is hers, hard-won and true. Seeing her trust herself was lovely. I finished the book, thinking, yet again, how much I enjoy your books.

This enjoyable–not perfect, but enjoyable–book gets a B/B+ from me.

Sincerely,

 

Dabney

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I loved romances when, back in the mid 70's, in junior high, I read every Barbara Cartland novel I could check out from the library. Then, thanks to a savvy babysitter, I got my hands on the hot stuff. To this day I can remember how astonishingly steamy I found Rosemary Rogers' Sweet Savage Love. I abandoned romance when I went to college and didn't pick one up again until 2007 when I got my first Kindle. Since then, I’ve read countless romances; loved many, liked more, hated some. Most of what I read is historical and contemporary romance, but I’m open to almost any genre. I like my books to have sizzle, wit, and plots that make sense. I’d take sexy over sweet any day. I’m a sucker for smart heroes and smart-mouthed heroines. When not reading or writing about reading, or wishing I could rule the world, I'm meddling in the lives of my kids--I have four, ages 17 to 21--, managing my husband's practice, doing bossy volunteer work, and hanging out with Dr. Feelgood.

16 Comments

  1. Jane
    Mar 16, 2012 @ 13:14:21

    This psychological problem has resonance—Charlie whinging that’s she’s not hot enough to hold onto a hunk like Rhys does not. And the former—Charlie feeling undeserving of love—doesn’t easily explain her issues about her looks. It didn’t work for me that Charlie’s fear of rejection played itself out in her insistence, despite input from people she cares for and respects, that she’s incapable of being physically attractive.

    I thought that her feelings that she is undeserving of love manifested itself in being insecure about her looks but I did wonder at her lack of confidence given that she was obviously very successful in her job and in the Army. So I understand your point about how the deep seeded insecurities in her life were manifested in seeming superficial ways. But maybe because she was able to form friendships and be of value to her country her feelings of insecurities could only be pinned, irrationally, on her looks.

    ReplyReply

  2. Dabney
    Mar 16, 2012 @ 13:27:55

    @Jane: I thought it was just overkill. I could see some insecurity–but she lived her life around this one doubt. It didn’t ring true to me.

    ReplyReply

  3. Carolyn
    Mar 16, 2012 @ 14:41:44

    I haven’t read this book, but I will. I think I might just understand Charlie. Just a little bit. I spent my most productive (and attractive) years thinking I was fat and unattractive. I was 120 pounds when I married, so I definitely wasn’t fat. But I felt like I was, I acted like I was.

    Body image can be a devastating thing. People can tell you and tell you that you’re wrong and you don’t believe them. It’s only looking at the few pictures taken of me during that time that I realize I wasn’t fat, I wasn’t ugly and why the fuck couldn’t I have realized it then? All this while I was successful at my job and my marriage.

    Yeah, I think I might understand Charlie.

    ReplyReply

  4. JacquiC
    Mar 16, 2012 @ 15:12:31

    I really liked this book. I was annoyed at Charlie for leaving on the morning after the great “hook-up” with Rhys, but then thought that it was realistic that she’d have second thoughts in the cold light of the morning afterwards. As someone who used to be pathologically insecure myself, I think it’s realistic that Charlie’s insecurities would reassert themselves. They are not rational and don’t go away even in the face of objective evidence that they don’t have any basis in reality. And I think they would manifest themselves as insecurity about looks, as well as the more deep seated ones relating to her father’s legacy. I love the way this author writes!

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  5. Loosheesh
    Mar 16, 2012 @ 16:47:40

    More Mayberry goodness? Count me in! I read my first SM in January (thanks to Jane’s recs) and I’m on a 5th book right now – I just love her writing. This one is definitely going on the to-read list.

    ReplyReply

  6. Merrian
    Mar 16, 2012 @ 19:19:37

    OMG!!! I have to read this as a former RASIGS corps member although in my day it was handbags and L1A1 SLRs not Steyrs. I was there for the transition in female roles from support to same as the blokes.

    ReplyReply

  7. Laura Vivanco
    Mar 16, 2012 @ 19:41:52

    This phrase—“he didn’t know her from a bar of soap”—is perfect and, like so many of your sentences, gets the point across with clarity and innovative but simple imagery.

    According to the Shorter Dictionary of Catch Phrases, it’s “an Australian variant of the phrase I wouldn’t know him from Adam. Probably since 1910.”

    ReplyReply

  8. Dabney
    Mar 16, 2012 @ 20:45:43

    @Carolyn: I am with you, Carolyn. I think what didn’t work for me in this book is that the connection between the looks thing and the dad thing wasn’t strong enough for me to believe in the former. That said, I completely believe that many women suffer from dysmorphic syndrome.

    ReplyReply

  9. Dabney
    Mar 16, 2012 @ 20:46:23

    @JacquiC: I too love the way she writes. It’s awe inspiring how easy she is to read and completely understand.

    ReplyReply

  10. Dabney
    Mar 16, 2012 @ 20:47:59

    @Laura Vivanco: Whether she invented it or not, it’s still perfect to me.

    My daughter is going on an exchange program to Australia for five weeks this summer. I can’t wait to hear all the phrases she returns home with!

    ReplyReply

  11. Bronte
    Mar 17, 2012 @ 06:11:45

    Laura has beaten me to the punch but its a pretty common phrase here along with things like “thats the best thing since sliced bread” etc. I havent read Sarah Mayberry but this book sounds interesting so I’ll give it a shot. As an aside is that the Sydney Opera House on the cover or are my eyes deceiving me?

    ReplyReply

  12. Dabney
    Mar 17, 2012 @ 09:22:00

    @Bronte: The story is set in Sydney, so that would make sense!

    ReplyReply

  13. Marg
    Mar 18, 2012 @ 01:43:49

    I started reading SM last year and so far haven’t been disappointed. I am going to have to hurry up and get this one.

    One thing she does really well is keeping her Australian settings so they feel Australian, which isn’t always the case.

    ReplyReply

  14. SHZ
    Mar 18, 2012 @ 23:37:21

    I’m late to reply here, but I also loved this book.

    While the settings seem Australian, the silly Harlequin folks still go through and pull out all the terminology, replacing it with American stuff.

    Knowing someone like Charlie in real life, I can believe she was so hard to convince she was attractive. My issue wasn’t with that she didn’t believe it, but that the issue wasn’t really addressed. That she pushed Rhys away and she never sat down and told him why.

    He. I love insecure heroines – I much prefer them to loud, in-your-face, overly-confident types. So I really loved this book!

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  15. Kaetrin
    Mar 19, 2012 @ 05:12:58

    How nice to see Australianisms left in an internationally released book. Although, I hadn’t realised it was an Australianism til now. LOL!

    I’ll have to put this on my shopping list. Thx for the review. :)

    ReplyReply

  16. More Than One Night by Sarah Mayberry | the passionate reader
    Mar 01, 2014 @ 12:39:45

    […] women; your plots are touching without being tawdry; your love stories convincing and sexy. More Than One Night isn’t my favorite of your books—I had trouble with the heroine—but was an enjoyable […]

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