RITA Reader Challenge Review

RITA Reader Challenge: About Last Night by Ruthie Knox

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Title: About Last Night
Author: Ruthie Knox
Publication Info: Random House 2012
ISBN: 9780345535160
Genre: Contemporary Romance

Book About last Night This RITA® Reader Challenge 2013 review was written by Jen LB. This story was nominated for the RITA® in the Contemporary Single Title category.

The summary:     

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 Jen LB's review:

I’ve read a few other Ruthie Knox books before, and I’ve enjoyed them. Ride with Me ( A | BN | K | ARe | iB ) in particular was one of my favorite books from last year, so I was excited to read About Last Night. I did like it, but a couple significant things kept me from really giving it a stamp of approval.

Let me start with what I definitely liked. First, it’s a contemporary that’s set in England, which is a nice change of pace. As I’ve found with other Ruthie Knox books, the sexytimes are indeed sexy and further the character development, although there was quite a bit of insta-lust once Cath and Nev finally meet. It was cute that Cath and Nev had seen each other on the train so many times before meeting. Cath calls him “City” in her head because he looks urbane and classy, and she invents a whole backstory for him, a story that turns out to be mostly untrue. (As someone who commuted for years on the train I too enjoyed making up nicknames and stories about fellow commuters, though unfortunately the trains I took were not full of sexy, kind bankers but were full of smelly jerks who would try to look down your shirt or spread out and take up three seats. Clearly I was catching the wrong trains.) Knox writes dialogue that is snappy and realistic, and the little bits of comedy keep the story from being too angsty. I also LOVED Cath’s job–she’s working for the Victoria and Albert Museum on an exhibit about knitting. Everything about that is cool, and I wished this was a real exhibit because I would visit the hell out of it.

Cath herself was a bit mixed for me. She is basically portrayed as a reformed bad girl. This lady has been involved in some serious unpleasantness, and it’s made her prickly, standoffish, and generally screwed up. Her portrayal felt a little incomplete to me. Present Cath is smart and patient and loyal, but I didn’t understand what prompted that transformation from the old reckless, impatient, and flighty Cath. I liked that Knox was trying something different with her heroine–there are plenty of messed up ladies out there who still deserve a romance–but she was bordering on too unlikeable for me, not because of her past but because she doesn’t seem to have moved on from it. She plays these ridiculous games with Nev through most of the book, where she allows little connections but then pushes him away in other areas. (He can bring her a breakfast treat but she won’t tell him when she’ll be getting on the train. She’ll come over to his house but won’t eat dinner with him, etc.) It felt manipulative and childish. She is messed up in a real way, and her behavior made me question whether she should even be in a relationship at all until she’s dealt with her own issues.

Until the end (more on that later), I liked Nev. He’s a little bossy, but most of the time he respects Cath’s boundaries. He genuinely seems to want to get to know her, and he can be quite tender and sweet. He too has issues. He hates his job at his family’s bank but seems unable or unwilling to do anything to change things (until the power of luuurve wakes him up, naturally). A challenge for sure, but one that seemed conquerable, unlike Cath’s issues. He’s from an uber-wealthy English family, and much of his conflict in the book stems from how his family’s expectations for him don’t match his own passions, whether that’s in the form of his career or Cath, who is the ultimate girl from the wrong side of the tracks. His family’s turnaround was comically quick, but as the real battle was inside him and not with them anyway, I wasn’t bothered too much by it.

But Nev fell off the wagon for me at the end. I don’t want to give too many spoilers, but I have to address this because for me one single action knocked the book down several notches. Cath has kept most of her past a secret from Nev. She has extensive tattoos on her body that she put there to remind her of her supposed mistakes in life. Nev has obviously been examining her body up close, but he can only guess at the stories behind the tattoos. When Nev acts like a jerk and they have the requisite major fight, Cath whips off her shirt and angrily hurls the tattoo stories at Nev. He tries to get her to stop since they are in public at the time, but she says “My body, Nev. I can take off my shirt whenever the hell I please.” (Remember this comment later, because apparently Cath totally forgets it.) All a little overdramatic on her part, I thought, but I was still on board. They part, each try to get their shit together, blah blah blah. I was ready for Nev to do some groveling, which he did, but the way he did it ruined things.

SPOILERS BEGIN HERE: Nev uses Cath’s tattoos as inspiration for some paintings, which he displays at a public event. Not only are these tattoos on normally private parts of her body, but they portray HER history. I understood that he was trying to rewrite the story and show her that she’s strong and should be proud of the person she’s become, but he puts them out there for the public to see, which to me is way, way over the line. (Not to mention the fact that in one of the reinvented tattoos he adds an erotic image of the two of them. Call me old fashioned, but publicly displaying an erotic image of your girlfriend without her consent doesn’t seem romantic to me.) When Cath questions why he didn’t ask for her permission, he jokes that she’d never have given it. So you knew that she would not be ok with you exploiting and publicly displaying her very personal, painful history, but you did it anyway? That’s a fucking terrible way to show that you respect a woman and are sorry for not being more accepting. And once she gets over her initial shock, Cath has no problems with it, apparently forgetting her previous assertions that her body is her own.

Now, after they fought and broke up, Cath did go on a publicity tour to raise money for the knitting exhibit, and during that time she was on TV and in the paper in a knitted bikini (because of course she was) clearly showing off her tattoos to the world, which I suspect might have been justification for Nev displaying his revisions of those tattoos. Cue the big losing buzzer noise. Sorry, no fucking way. It’s Cath’s body and Cath’s story, and if she wants to show it on TV she can. It’s NOT Nev’s body or Nev’s story. He has no right to the story, and it’s particularly tasteless in a forum where he’s benefiting financially. (The tattoo paintings aren’t for sale, but he is selling other art.) Plus, the book goes out of the way to highlight the fact that he made Cath recognizable in the images, because people spot her when she arrives at the gallery where the paintings are being displayed. So Nev has made it crystal clear who is in the paintings and basically outed stories that she shared with no one but him, which is a gross violation of her trust in my book.

Not only did Nev’s actions make me lose respect for him, but it made me doubt the HEA. Nev doesn’t seem to have learned how to truly respect Cath’s past, and Cath doesn’t mind Nev undoing all the privacy she so zealously guarded previously. I didn’t buy that they can or should be jumping into any permanent relationship, which is exactly what they do.

There were ways this ending could have gone down that would have worked for me. I didn’t mind that Nev made the paintings, and if he had shown them to Cath and apologized privately, instead of in front of an audience, I might have respected the grovel. I do understand that part of Nev’s grovel was letting go of his public persona and becoming his true self (which I think is why the book had this all go down in public), but exploiting Cath’s body like that just sucked all the air out of their relationship. I was left feeling like both of them were messed up and while they did have a connection, they needed major therapy before they could build a life together.

Grading this book was tricky for me, because I did still enjoy it quite a bit. If I had graded it before the ending, I would probably have given it a B+, but with the ending I had to downgrade to a C. It’s a good read and I wouldn’t want to dissuade anyone from enjoying it, but for me personally I couldn’t grade it higher given the icky ending.


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Comments are Closed

  1. 1
    marcel says:

    This is so interesting.  The first review I read made me want to hurryseekobtainread a book in a category that is not my first choice for romance.  In fact, it is a review which I would not even have read (oops, a smidgen of judging a book by its cover) except for surprise by the name of the reviewer.  Jen LB’s review [I skipped the spoiler bit] slowed me down but deepened my intention to read the book just to see where my opinion fits into the continuum.  These multiple reviews are really a clever idea.  Thank you.

  2. 2
    Jen LB says:

    I totally am digging the multiple reviews too! I love love love seeing people’s different opinions.

  3. 3
    SB Sarah says:

    I’m so glad you like the varied reviews. I try to pair them so there are diverse opinions – it’s much more interesting for me as a reader, and I’m glad it is for you, too!

  4. 4
    kkw says:

    I love the multiple reviews, and I really love this review. I also loved this book. Hugely, overwhelmingly, utterly loved this book. (Whole lotta love today.) I was squicked out by exactly what is discussed in the spoiler, but immediately stopped thinking about it because a) it was icky b) Cath is ok with it all, which is more relevant to the HEA than whether I am, and c) there is no epilogue.
    So this review really makes me wonder about my own thought process – I seriously forgot all about Nev’s behavior, and just carried on thinking it was a perfect book.
    Which, clearly, it isn’t. But oh my god, I don’t have words for how thrilling it was to dispense with the storking epilogue.
    On the other hand, I liked Cath’s immature behavior. She was so screwed up in the past, and she does seem superficially maybe too together now. I think the weird parameters she sets in an attempt to control her feelings and behavior are spot on. That is exactly how she would act, and I don’t think it’s necessary for people to have worked through all their damage before getting into a relationship, simply that they are work*ing* on it. So that’s the only reaction I didn’t totally share with your review. Well, that and the grade. So pleasing to get the different perspectives.

  5. 5
    PamG says:

    Enjoyed the reviews.  Loved the book in spite of the fact that I’m not real fond of contemporaries.  This review is particularly thought provoking.  I agree that the scene that upset Jen LB so much is problematical as a resolution to the romance, and it did make me squirm a bit, but it worked for me because both characters had personal conflicts that needed to be resolved independent of the relationship. For one thing, I think that the class differences between Cath and Nev totally demanded a public grovel, and a public resolution tends to invade privacy at the best of times.

    More importantly, I felt that Nev’s actions were absolutely necessary for him to develop into the person who could really make Cath happy.  Nev had to take some risky steps in order to grow into his own potential, and part of the risk was losing Cath.  Nev’s choices could be genuine or nice, but not both, and I don’t think he could have become worthy of Cath without choosing the edgy path.  It’s hard to say more without being all spoilery, but Nev’s particular vocation is one noted for muse abuse, and I could not help but forgive a hero whose actions seemed clearly well-intentioned if not purely romantic.

     

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