Kim and Kelly’s discussion of Salvation by Noelle Adams

Kim and I finally found some time to write together! It’s the most amazing thing ever. Anyway, this book (and maybe the review?) should come with a big ol’ trigger warning. So consider yourself warned.

You get to the point where you can just say it. There was never anything special about me, except my father is rich and important. That’s why it happened.

It was just a normal Tuesday afternoon. I was twenty-three and thinking about my new designer boots. They kidnapped me for ransom. They raped me before I was rescued. My therapist says that talking about it means I’m starting to heal.

I don’t really think I am.

It’s even harder to talk about Gideon. He couldn’t save me when it really mattered, so he keeps trying to save me now. He refuses to give up on me, and I can’t make him understand. There are some things you just can’t be saved from.

Kelly: I have a terrible memory, so Kim had to remind me why I read this book. Not kidding. It went like this: a few months ago, I got into this EPIC Twitter convo with a bunch of awesome ladies about books (and by books, I mean romance novels. You knew that, right?) that deal with taboo subjects: rape between the H/h with eventual HEA, older woman, domestic violence between the H/h with eventual HEA, etc. Our list of taboos was lengthy, but I (predictably) can’t remember all of them. Kim saw part of our convo and was like, hey, there’s this Noelle Adams book that’s about the heroine dealing with surviving a gang rape. And I thought, well. I guess I have to read that book. So I did. Once I finished it, I texted Kim and was like “KIM. KIMMMMMM. KIM. KIM!!! YOU MUST READ THIS BOOK.” So she did. Because that’s how we roll.

Kim: I knew Salvation was going to be a tough read and was hesitant to read it until Kelly gave me the green light. I was hesitant because I wasn’t interested in reading a book about a taboo subject that ended up being a story of fathomless despair. Reading taboo subjects is already hard enough on a reader’s emotions and I really wanted to know that getting through this book (and its rough subject matter) was worthwhile and offered hope. (Hope is my favorite emotion – more on that later)

Kelly: This book does deal with taboo subject matter (not necessarily a formalized taboo within the romance genre, but it’s definitely a cultural taboo), but I want to reassure you that it’s not one of the types I mentioned above. I mean, if you read the blurb, you know that, but I just wanted to make it perfectly clear that we’re not suggesting you read a book that brings an HEA to a gang-raping hero. We have some standards over here. Anyway.

Kim: We definitely have standards. I’ve DNF’d a book for having a heroine fall in love with her kidnapping hero. NOPE. Not ok to drug someone and kidnap them for your own pleasure. ANYWAY – I’m off on a tangent here. I’ll throw it back to Kelly 🙂

Kelly: Salvation opens with the kidnapping and resulting trauma and then follows the incremental, often difficult, recovery for both characters. It’s not quite a day-by-day retelling, however; in fact, it’s possible that there was actually an editor on this book.

Kim: I agree with Kelly 100%. Adams’ books can become way overzealous in the attention to monotonous details. Thankfully the details that were included in Salvation were specifically chosen (IMO) to help us understand Diana’s mindset after the rape. As someone who has never gone through what Diana has, the sparser details made me look for the importance of the details we were given.

Kelly: Well, and honestly… Adams is telling a story in this book. There is character and story development along the way, an actual narrative arc (a plot!!), and an eventual HEA that is satisfying. In some of her earlier stories, it sometimes feels as though she’s just regurgitating carefully taken notes from her research — some of it conducted through interviews, I’d guess — and it pretty much reads like that, too. (Hmm.. I didn’t intend to seem so harsh, but… there it is. I apparently get upset when I read an entire book hoping for a story and don’t end up getting one.) ANYWAY, Adams fixes all that, here, editing out all the nonsense and giving us a clear story about these characters, their recovery from trauma, and the development of their romance.

Kim: I’m thinking that maybe because rape is such a sensitive topic, she spent way more time on this book than her previous ones. I think also, this book is way more about Diana’s journey, than about her journey with Gideon. Also something that differs from her other books – the focus on an individual journey instead of the couple’s. Even though the romance wasn’t front and center it still seemed very organic.

Kelly: I think you’re right that the focus is on her story, and — though I’m a romance reader who wants her romance front and center, damn it! — it didn’t bother me during my first read of this book that the romance storyline was occasionally sidelined. But later, when I read the book a second time, I felt a bit more conflicted about it. One of the (two) hallmarks of genre romance is that the romance storyline be the central focus of the story; and that’s just not the case, here. It’s still a damn interesting book, and one that I don’t hesitate to recommend to readers who can stomach its difficult elements, but dyed-in-the-wool genre romance readers need to know that the focus of the story is on Diana’s recovery — it’s her story — and their relationship’s development (and Gideon’s story) gets much less page time.

Kim: I agree that dyed-in-the-wool genre readers might be bothered by the fact that the romance is not the central storyline, but I think Diana and her recovery journey may win them over.

Kelly: It’s true. I wonder if it’s just because the book is a first-person narration and Diana’s issues are legion. Like, of course everything else is going to take a backseat to all that in Diana’s POV.

Kim: That’s a good point. We only ever get Diana’s perspective and as such of course her journey is the most important focal point.

Kelly:OK, before we talk about anything that bothered either of us about the book (I have a few bones to pick), let’s talk about what we liked.

Kim: I absolutely loved that this book was not afraid to go to dark places. Diana’s recovery process goes through tons of ups and downs. She begins to harm herself by running on her treadmill for hours. Her feet are blistered and bloody, she sprains her ankle and continues running on it, her muscles are way overused, etc etc. Her mindset as she runs is to just run until the pain of the rape and life goes away. She also attempts suicide at one point. When she tries to go back out into society she is petrified of anyone being behind her, or of being in loud and crowded spaces.

I won’t say that I enjoyed reading about how dark of a place Diana’s mind goes, but I like that this book didn’t shy away from the tough. Recovering from being raped….I can’t even imagine how difficult of a process that is.

Kelly: Exactly; if the book hadn’t gotten that dark, it wouldn’t have felt authentic at all. One thing I worried about when I read the blurb (and when it first became clear just what horrors await our heroine) is that the romance between these survivors — the woman whose body was violated and the man who couldn’t prevent it from happening — would seem like it came from nowhere, or — to say it better — as though Gideon’s feelings developed exclusively from his case of survivor’s guilt. Although that’s a huge part of his initial impulse to reach out to Diana, the feelings he ends up developing for her come about because he genuinely enjoys spending time in her company (even though she’s all fucked up).

Kim: Authentic was the exact word I was looking for! I was also worried we’d have a case of “magic penis.”

Kelly: I know, right? Like: Gideon: hey Diana, I get that you’ve been gang raped and that you’re all traumatized about it, but… say hello to my little friend! Diana: Oh, wow! I’m all better now! That’s a beautiful penis!

Kim: Way too often everything is suddenly solved by the “magic penis.” I give Adams a lot of credit for making sex a problem between Diana and Gideon and not the solution to their issues. WAY more realistic than “We had sex, now we’re in love, I was raped, but your penis saved me!” HOORAY HEA!!!!!!

Kelly: Exactly, especially because this book could be triggering to some, and the magic solution via a penis would be… well, problematic. Instead, Diana battles through her issues, goes to therapy, creates problems for herself with all the self-harm (and the self-imposed notion that she should just be OVER it already), gets back on the wagon, and keeps healing. When the friendship with Gideon deepens into a relationship, they take it very slow. It might not sound like the most fun book in the world to read, but I actually found it very interesting as a piece on recovery from trauma and the role that love can play in all that. Honestly, it was just neat that the narrative took the whole healing process very seriously. It is a process, it takes time, and it isn’t a one-size-fits-all type of thing that works for everyone. Diana went into her trauma with her own issues, and her recovery reflects those pre-existing issues.

Kim: I loved the slowness of her recovery and how respectful Gideon was of the time she needed to heal. I LOVED Gideon. LOVEEEEEEEEDDDDDDDDDD

Gideon was just…..wonderful. He knows when to push Diana and when to let her move at her own pace. He is constantly reinforcing that she is a good person, with a good heart. That she has the ability to love and to be ok again. He’s willing to do whatever it takes to make her see that his feelings for her aren’t out of a misplaced sense of guilt, but because of the person he sees inside of her. He gets the tattoos that he had on him (for the undercover part of his job) removed knowing they might trigger bad memories for Diana.

Kelly: I’m with you — Gideon is great, and I genuinely enjoyed Diana too, even though we’re seeing her at rather a low point. These characters are both great, and they’re great once they finally get together. One thing that bothered me about the book was how long it took to get there. Don’t get me wrong, I’m glad that Adams didn’t push Diana’s recovery or make everything pat ‘n’ perfect, but there was a little too much back and forth on how Diana wanted Gideon around but didn’t want him to ruin his life for her because she was never going to recover. Maybe one or two mentions of that would have been enough, but my memories of the first half of the book are pretty much like this:

Diana: Gideon, I love you being around, and I want to spend time with you, but I’m holding you back from living your life.
Gideon: No, you’re not. I’ve got nothing better to be doing.
Diana: Yes, I am.
Gideon: No, you’re not.
Diana: You must date other people! I demand it!
Gideon: *sigh* OK.

— time passes —

Diana, to herself: Gideon’s never around anymore. I guess he’s moved on. *weeping*
Gideon, to himself: I really wish I could go spend time with Diana, but I guess she doesn’t want me around. *manly near-weeping*

— time passes —

Diana: Gideon, I’m glad you’re spending more time with me, and I really do want to spend time with you, but I’m holding you back from living your life.
Gideon: No, you’re not. I want to be here. I don’t want to date anyone else.
Diana: Yes, I am, because I’m never going to get better.
Gideon: No, you’re not (and yes, you are!)
Diana: *weeping*
Gideon: *sigh*

I’d have been happier if the back-and-forth stuff had been edited down some because the angst of all those seemingly unrequited feelings on both sides overshadowed some of the genuine emotion of the actual story.

 Kim: The back-and-forth and back-and-forth did get a little tiresome. But set against how slowly (not judging her here) the rest of her recovery moves I get her “I’m never going to get better” mentality. And considering she withdrew from everybody she knew and nobody but Gideon made an effort to really see her and gauge her healing, I get why she thought she was ruining his life. Nobody else really found time for her struggle. Her friends try to see her, she says no, and they’re like ok! See you later. Gideon is the only one who forces his presence on her.

 Kelly: Oh, I totally get that there were those issues, but I just wish they’d taken up less space in the book. The story was moving forward, I was invested in the characters, in Diana’s journey, and then… it lost momentum for a bit while Diana and Gideon had the same conversation several times over, with no resolution in sight until one day — DING — Diana gets her hope back. I think the story managed to regain its momentum, but, for a while there, I struggled to remain in the story. It’s an example of the thing Adams struggles with in her writing (or seems to), balancing her storytelling with her obvious inclination to tell the whole truth about her characters. Sometimes her writing lacks focus.

 Kim: I think I understand where you’re going. And the only thing I can think to say is that we were both impatient for Diana to have SOME goodness and happiness in her life. The back-and-forth of her emotions was difficult to take at times, especially when it seemed like Diana had finally gotten to a good place only to spiral downward in her feelings again. It does at times feel like a lack of focus on Adams’ part.

 At the same time, I’m not sure what I would have taken out or edited down. For Diana to grow and heal she needed to go through the process she did and part of that was pushing Gideon away the way she did everyone else. I wish we didn’t have to watch it happen so many times, but somewhere in her head she rationalized pushing him away to see if he would come back.

 Kelly: Well, you’ve got a good point there. And the bottom line is that I enjoyed reading the book, and I think it’s the best edited of all the Noelle Adams books I’ve read.

 Kim: Definitely. Props to your editor Ms. Adams! (And you!)

 Kelly’s Final Thoughts: While it’s a difficult book to read in many ways, it’s also powerful and well worth the effort. After I read Salvation, I wanted to read other books that depict characters in recovery, preferably within genre romance. A few days ago, I finished Maya Rodale’s What a Wallflower Wants, the final book in her Wallflower series, and I was impressed by how Rodale handled the subject of recovery while keeping the romance (a swoony one, at that) decidedly front and center.

 Kim’s Final Thoughts: Thank you Ms. Adams for writing a book about a subject not oft discussed and illustrating that while rape is a difficult subject to read about, it doesn’t need to be a taboo one.

 If interested in reading journeys of other rape victims Kelly and Kim suggest:

  • Summer Rain – an anthology featuring Ruthie Knox, Mary Ann Rivers, Cecilia Tan, Molly O’Keefe, and others
  •  What A Wallflower Wants by Maya Rodale
  • The Governess Affair by Courtney Milan
  • Outlander by Diana Gabaldon
  • The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo by Stieg Larsson
  • What an Earl Wants by Kasey Michaels
  • One Week as Lovers by Victoria Dahl
  • The Fall of a Saint by Christine Merrill (with a big ol’ caveat: the hero is the rapist. I still liked it and recommend it, but…. be warned. Be very warned.)

 Hey, you at home! Are there any more books you can suggest to add to our list (or recs for me to check out? I’m a sucker for books that deal with sexual assault. 

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What I’ve been reading lately – books by Jackie Barbosa

So, I was just putzing around on Twitter last Thursday when I saw a tweet from author Jackie Barbosa that shocked me with its reality.  Her son was killed in a traffic collision on his way to school that morning, and she was reeling. Over the next few hours, I saw tweet after tweet from authors, fans, friends, and bloggers offering support, love, and prayers. In the days that followed, a memorial fund was established to honor her son and eventually fund a scholarship in his name, and a bunch of authors, readers, and bloggers decided to help out in a creative way.  As author Courtney Milan put it on her blog, “Online, there’s no way to make someone a casserole or take her flowers, but there is something we can do to help ease her burdens and to send her the message that she is supported in this time: that is, for a short space of time, to take over the burden of talking about her books.”

So I’ve been reading books by Jackie Barbosa lately, and today I want to talk about them.

The Lesson Plan (Lords of Lancashire #1)

Sometimes, love is the hardest lesson of all… Despite her imminent debut, Miss Winifred Langston has no interest in trying on expensive ball gowns, learning intricate dance steps, or perfecting the one piece she can play on the pianoforte. Freddie would rather don a pair of breeches and go target shooting, fishing, or horseback riding—astride—than be anywhere near a ballroom or high tea. Rather than waste the last few days of her freedom on such pursuits, she invites her two closest friends to join her in one final caper.

When Conrad Pearce learns of Freddie’s plans, he decides it’s past time to teach his younger brother’s partner-in-crime a well-deserved lesson. But when he intercepts her, disguised as a highwayman, to demonstrate how dangerous and ill-advised her stunts are, he can’t resist the sensual beauty hidden beneath the maddening tomboy’s exterior. What began as one sort of lesson becomes quite another, as Conrad embarks on a comprehensive erotic tutorial of his surprisingly enthusiastic and adept student.

Now, he only has to convince the irrepressible Freddie to trade her breeches and madcap ways for the gowns and domesticity she despises.

I bought this book without reading the blurb because I’d already read and loved the second book in the Lords of Lancashire series. Then I read the blurb, and its final sentence worried me, but I was determined to trust that the woman who wrote Hot Under the Collar (which I loved) could not greatly err.  I was right.

The Lesson Plan has some of my favorite things: a cross dressing heroine; a slightly repressed hero who does things that are wildly out of character (or wildly in tune with his repressed — but true — self); a mad plan that goes awry; a masked man who looks — in my imagination, anyway, and that’s what really counts — like Westley/Dread Pirate Roberts; seemingly unrequited love that dates from adolescence; a heroine who is comfortable with her sexuality. It is steamy, fun, romantic, and a little bit sweet. In short, it was exactly what I wanted.

Hot Under the Collar (Lords of Lancashire #2)

Despite the old saw about third sons being destined for the church, no one ever expected the rakish, irresponsible Walter Langston to take up the collar, least of all himself. After an accident renders him unfit for military service, however, he has few other options. When he’s given the post of vicar at a parish church in a sleepy, coastal village, he’s convinced he’ll molder in obscurity. Instead, his arrival brings a sudden resurgence in church attendance…or at least, the attendance of female parishioners. As word of the eligible young vicar spreads, every well-heeled family for miles with a marriageable daughter fills his pews, aiming to catch his eye. Unfortunately for these hopeful members of his flock, Walter’s eye has already been caught—by the one woman who doesn’t come to church on Sundays.

Artemisia Finch left a lucrative career as a celebrated member of London’s demimondaine to care for her ailing father. Returning home hasn’t been easy, though, as her past isn’t even a well-kept secret in the village. When the new vicar arrives on her doorstep, Artemisia is determined to send him on his merry, pious way. But Walter Langston is nothing like any man of the cloth she’s ever known—he’s funny, irreverent, handsome, and tempting as sin. Falling in love with a vicar would be a very bad idea for a former courtesan. Why does this one have to be so hot under the collar?

I read and reviewed this book in 2012 in a multiple-review post, so I’m just going to copy the text that relates to Hot Under the Collar.

I was the lucky winner of a giveaway hosted by The Dashing Duchesses (always a fount of interesting information).  I love winning things, especially since it doesn’t happen very often, but I especially love winning things that I can really enjoy.  I enjoyed Hot Under the Collar, because it’s a fairly steamy romance novella with a happy-go-lucky vicar as the hero.  No kidding.

One of the things I love about the romance genre is that its authors often take the accepted assumptions about the time (for example that women were downtrodden waifs whose lives were completely controlled by men) and turn them around, writing novels with independent female characters who direct their own lives.  Hot Under the Collar does an excellent job of highlighting one of the cultural double standards of the time (and it’s still a double standard in our time, let me point out) that it was perfectly acceptable for men to have misadventures and then go on to be respectable members of society, but it was absolutely unacceptable for women to do the same, even if those “misadventures” were not really of their own doing.  So Walter is a respectable country vicar even though he spent his youth carousing brothels and gaming hells and being a general ne’er-do-well, but Artemisia is shunned by her community because she was fully compromised (in a family way) when she was sixteen, taken in by false promises of love.  Walter, as a vicar who doesn’t believe he has the right to judge anyone, ends up teaching morals and values to the entire community by behaving morally.

I loved this story and could not put it down.  Walter is glorious, funny, charming, and indomitable, and Artemisia, while generally accepting her circumstances, is confident and strong, exactly the sort of character whose story I want to read. The secondary characters add depth to the story, certainly more depth than I expected from a novella, and allow us to get to know Walter in his professional guise.

I know I’m gushing, but whatever.  The best books (my favorites, anyway) are the ones that make me feel better about humanity, and this one jumped to the top of my list of feel-good favorites.

Can’t Take the Heat (Working It #0.5)

Delaney Monroe could have married her college sweetheart, Wes Barrows, and lived the life of the idle rich thanks to his family’s casino money. Instead, she chose to become a firefighter. Unfortunately, that decision ended her relationship with Wes, who couldn’t bear the thought of her in such a dangerous profession. A little less than three years later, Del is one of the most respected members of her crew and loves her job, but she desperately misses Wes. Then, during a search and rescue operation, she’s knocked unconscious by falling debris.

Wesley Barrows finds himself with a major dilemma when his ex-girlfriend wakes from a serious head injury with no memory of the past few years or the circumstances that led to their breakup. On one hand, it’s the opportunity he’s longed for since he blew it and let her walk out the door. On the other, the fact that she’s got amnesia at all is the fault of the risky occupation she chose despite his objections. When her neurologist recommends that Delaney be allowed to recover her memory without being told what’s happened, Wes has no choice but take her home and act as if they’re still together, which isn’t a hardship when, in his heart, they always were. But as the bond between them becomes closer and more passionate than ever, Wes knows he risks losing her all over again when the truth comes out.

Having read two of Barbosa’s historical novellas, I decided to give one her contemporary stories a try. I love second-chance stories, in the same way that I love seemingly-unrequited-love-dating-from-adolescence stories… it’s the notion that the characters have all this baggage between them of a failed relationship or all their childish longing and have to sort it all out in order to reach happily ever after. (Maybe it won’t surprise you to hear that I married my adolescent love.) I like the inherent conflict in these kinds of stories, and I also like that this story type precludes my least favorite character trope: the character who’s opposed to love because of reasons /tangent. I was predisposed to like this story, but I was a little surprised by how much I liked it.

The blurb doesn’t prepare you for the cool way Barbosa handles the familiar second-chance-due-to-amnesia story line, and I love how sneaky it is. One minute you’re tracking along with all your expectations, and the next you’re like well, that was a surprise. And, if you’re like me, you’re thrilled that a contemporary novella had the power to surprise you, to run contrary to your expectations and still be completely enjoyable. I was also surprised by how steamy the sex scenes are (for reals… #buttsex).

My favorite thing about Can’t Take the Heat is that it features friendship in a big way. While Delaney ends up leaning on Wes after the accident, she runs to her best friend for comfort and conversation, and the scene between the two women is absolutely my favorite in the book. It reminded me so much of my own friendships. It is rare to find a book that authentically portrays friendship, and I think y’all should check this one out just for that and let everything else be a bonus.

For more information about Barbosa’s books, check out her website. If you’re curious about any of the books I highlighted here, simply click on the cover images above to visit their pages on Goodreads.

Review – Making It Last by Ruthie Knox

Marriage is the end game of most romances, but is it romantic?  Ruthie Knox sure thinks so, and, after reading Making It Last, I’m inclined to think so, too.

Cover image, Making It Last by Ruthie Knox

The publisher’s blurb, courtesy of Goodreads:

A hotel bar. A sexy stranger. A night of passion. There’s a part of Amber Mazzara that wants those things, wants to have a moment — just one — where life isn’t a complicated tangle of house and husband and kids and careers. Then, after a long, exhausting “vacation” with her family, her husband surprises her with a gift: a few days on the beach . . . alone.

Only she won’t be alone long, because a handsome man just bought her a drink. He’s cool, he’s confident, and he wants to take Amber to bed and keep her there for days. Lucky for them both, he’s her husband. He’s only got a few days in Jamaica to make her wildest desires come true, but if he can pull it off, there’s reason to believe that this fantasy can last a lifetime.

This novella packs a hell of an emotional punch.  Set fourteen years after, How to Misbehave, the novella that brought these characters together, Making It Last tells the story of Amber and Tony struggling to find their focus after life and kids and the economy have chipped at them, incrementally separating them from their dreams.  Ruthie Knox tells this story of a marriage, of two individuals, in quiet crisis, with realism, compassion, and hope.  I’m not much of a crier, but I found this story gloriously cathartic as well as supportive.

The thing is, women need these stories.  I could see pieces of every woman I know (including me) in Amber.  She’s got that urge that so many of us have to give and give and give, until there’s nothing left.  That’s a common phrase, but how often do we think about what it really looks like to have nothing left, to be so lost in the giving that you don’t even know who you are anymore or why anyone would want you to give them anything?  How do you come back from that?  Where do love and romance fit in when your life is so full of all the things, all those demands, that you can barely summon the energy to scrape by?

Making It Last provides an answer to those questions, and it does so in a truly beautiful way.  I think you should read it.  It’ll probably make you cry but in a good way.  It will also make you laugh, and, when it’s done, and you’ve turned the last page, it’ll leave behind some hope.  And we all need more of that, amiright?

Making It Last was released as an e-book by Loveswept, a division of Random House on July 15, 2013.  To learn more about the book, click on the cover image above to visit the book’s page on Goodreads.  For more information about Ruthie Knox, check out her website.

*FTC Disclosure – I received an e-galley of this book from Loveswept via NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.*

Review – The Story Guy by Mary Ann Rivers

So, I was putzing around on Twitter last month gushing to Ruthie Knox about how much I loved her newest release, and she let me on to a little secret that’s not so secret any more: Mary Ann Rivers is fantastic, funny, kind, insightful, and the author of one of the best novellas I’ve ever read.

Cover image, The Story Guy by Mary Ann Rivers

The publisher’s blurb, courtesy of Goodreads:

In this eBook original novella, Mary Ann Rivers introduces a soulful and sexy tale of courage, sacrifice, and love.
 
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?

This is a book that you need to read.  I’m not just advising, recommending, or suggesting.  I’m imploring, exhorting, begging, even demanding.  It doesn’t matter if you don’t read romance novels, you need to read this book.  (And, seriously, it’s $0.99.)

The Story Guy is about many things: how essential are connections with other people, how we can fill up a life with contentedness, with doing things, and going places, but how all of that can be compressed — almost distilled — to the essence of one’s life.  Above all, this book is about life: a life lived, a life survived, a life sacrificed, a life given in hour-long increments.  It’s also about kissing.  (And gussets get a shout out.)

It’s beautiful.  Rivers’ prose is lyrical and effortlessly deliberate.  When I turned the last page, I went right back to the first, because I just wasn’t done bathing in all that beautiful language, in that lovely focus.  I am convinced that Mary Ann Rivers could write about my mundane life and manage to make it beautiful; she would notice all the shiny details I ignore, all the moments that make life true, the moments that are the point of it all, really, but that we overlook in the hustle and bustle of getting things done.  She would point to those details and say, “that, right there, is why you struggle and work and endure every day.  Look at it.  Know why you’re living your life.”

That’s what The Story Guy did for me.  It made me look at my own life to wonder what I was doing with all my hours.  It made me want to live my life a bit more deliberately.  If that’s what Mary Ann Rivers can accomplish in a novella, a debut novella, I simply cannot wait to find out what she’ll do next.

The Story Guy was released on July 8, 2013 as an e-book by Loveswept, a division of Random House.  For more information about the book, please click on the cover image above to visit the book’s page on Goodreads.  Learn more about Mary Ann Rivers by visiting her website.

*FTC Disclosure – I received an e-galley from Loveswept via NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.*