This RITA® Reader Challenge 2013 review was written by Courtney Milan. This story was nominated for the RITA® in the Contemporary Single Title category.
Cath Talarico knows a mistake when she makes it, and God knows she’s made her share. So many, in fact, that this Chicago girl knows London is her last, best shot at starting over. But bad habits are hard to break, and soon Cath finds herself back where she has vowed never to go . . . in the bed of a man who is all kinds of wrong: too rich, too classy, too uptight for a free-spirited troublemaker like her.
Nev Chamberlain feels trapped and miserable in his family’s banking empire. But beneath his pinstripes is an artist and bohemian struggling to break free and lose control. Mary Catherine—even her name turns him on—with her tattoos, her secrets, and her gamine, sex-starved body, unleashes all kinds of fantasies.
When blue blood mixes with bad blood, can a couple that is definitely wrong for each other ever be perfectly right? And with a little luck and a lot of love, can they make last night last a lifetime?
And here is Courtney's review:
I should start by admitting that there is something about Ruthie Knox's books that just wrecks me. Also, she's on my short list of contemporary authors that I'll recommend to people who like my books.
(In the interests of full disclosure, I need to tell you that (a) for some weird reason this feeling appears to be mutual, but I swear to God that has nothing to do with my review, and (b) I am friends with Ruthie Knox, which is surprising since apparently I'm unable to answer her e-mails, which also has nothing to do with this review, since (c) neither (a) nor (b) happened to be true when I first read ABOUT LAST NIGHT and it still wrecked me.)
Nobody pulls off a damaged heroine like Ruthie Knox, and Cath Talarico is deeply, deeply damaged. Cath is in London to start over, and she's doing a darned good job at it. She has the kind of job that serves as a bare a toehold into the extremely competitive, yet poorly-paid, world of museum curation, and she's determined to make the most of it. She has a murky, painful past. In other words, she has everything to lose, and since she knows what it's like to be left with nothing, she's desperate to avoid that outcome. So desperate that she has rules.
She violates them by going home with Nev one night. In her defense, she's drunk, and in his defense, nothing happens that night…but as soon as everyone is able to consent, let's just say that they do. Even though Cath doesn't do men any longer, and insists that it's a mistake, Nev proves to be surprisingly persistent for a suit-wearing English banker.
This could have been a classic book of opposites attract: bad girl with artistic tendencies takes on stuffy rule-bound English banker; add in one pretend engagement; shake, serve.
It's not. This is what makes this book something extraordinary:
The heroine. We so rarely see damaged heroines in this genre, and when we get them, they're usually damaged in the more of Buttercup staring mournfully off into the distance after hearing that her boyfriend has been killed while having awesome adventures. She looks mournful and sad and pretty, and whispers to herself, “I will never love again.”
Cath is a damaged heroine who has found her way out of the place that she's in by action. By being awesome. By learning from mistakes and making a new life for herself. Her rules sometimes constrain her, but they've also lifted her up, too.
The depth of the heroine's interest in things other than the hero. So often, heroines are given “careers” that are supremely unfleshed out. In the hands of a lesser author, Cath's career would feel like this: “I like knitting, so I'm working on…knitting. In a museum. Where I do museumly things about knitting.” But the very specificity of what Cath does makes her ambitions and dreams seem extraordinarily real. She works at the Victoria & Albert museum as an assistant curator–a position that is not portrayed as her “dream” or anything so silly, but offered up in its unvarnished truth as one of the seriously crappy jobs that you have to do if you want to eventually get a slightly less crappy job working with historical knit pieces.
One of the things she manages to do is score coups like getting a hand-knit straitjacket used in a protest outside of the Prime Minister's house for an exhibit, and one of the things she desperately wants is to have enough money to print a catalog for the exhibit that she has worked so hard on–one that she's been promised will carry her name as a coauthor credit.
This is not some namby-pamby “curator” who wants some shadowy ill-defined “career.” This is someone who understands the currency by which careers are bought and sold, who understands that a piece in an exhibit for a museum like the V&A would have to be something that was not only exquisite but had a real social meaning.
Cath doesn't have a career as a label. It's a real part of her, one that feels as integral to who she is as her painful past.
The hero. Nev could have been portrayed as straight-up stuffy British banker to Cath's bad-girl free-loving artistry. But he isn't. He's as complex as Cath, if perhaps not as troubled.
Typical of their first interactions, demonstrating how not stuffy Nev really is:
“What were you doing at Canary Wharf at midnight on a Friday?”
“Trolling for prostitutes.”
He delivered the line in such a dry, remote tone, it took her a second to get that he was joking, but when she did, she couldn’t prevent herself from teasing,
“You must have been so disappointed with the selection.” She glanced down at her small, decidedly unvoluptuous body in the oversized shirt.
“I wouldn’t say that, love.” The dimple appeared again.
What happens between them is (almost) never simple. They both understand Cath's rules. Nev respects that she has boundaries, even as they begin to chafe; in turn, Cath realizes that the boundaries she has put up aren't staying up, and doesn't irrationally blame Nev for instituting them.
It's heartbreaking and extraordinary. There's a point in the book when I just wanted to put my arms around Cath and tell her, “Don't worry, you're in a romance. You're going to win.”
At the end of the book, both characters bloom. It's the ultimate in happy endings–not just that they end up together, but that they have made each other stronger over the course of the book than they had been separately. What I love most about this book is that Cath's happy ending starts before the happy ending to the romance. She doesn't need him to solve her problems, and in fact, the solution to her problem that he had offered before is shown to be a temporary stop-gap; her solution is the one that blazes her name in lights. Cath may be damaged, but she didn't need Nev to whisper that he'll take care of her so there's no need for her to ever fly again. He kicks her out of the nest a couple of times, but the flying is all hers.
If I had one criticism of this book, it's that I felt that the run up to, and the execution of, the black moment in terms of Nev's choices felt a little predictable. This wasn't bad or even poorly done. It was just the only piece of pedestrian work in an otherwise extraordinary book, and it's the only reason I'm giving the book an A instead of a straight out A+.