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Sometimes I have so much to say about a book that I have to force myself not to think about it.  Other times, I have very few words yet my thoughts are assaulted by my feelings even days after finishing a book. The Truth About Riley falls into this second category, though when I first finished it I had the urge to slam my laptop shut in frustrated petulance.  Once I’d calmed down a bit, though, I realized that this quiet little novel, despite eliciting a tantrum at its abrupt ending, was one of the better romances I’ve read lately, so much so that I bumped up my rating by another point and now stare at my blinking cursor, trying to put into words why I loved this story so much.  It’s by no means perfect.  Even I, a reader who lives for character 18103276development and dialogue over exposition and plot arcs, found myself skimming some of the lengthier conversations between Cam and Riley.  The story could have used more editing, fewer endearments, and definitely more closure.  Many other readers have lamented the fact that this novel ends on a cliffhanger.  I wouldn’t characterize it as a cliffhanger ending – we know what is going to happen, and if one is willing to accept imagination rather than elaboration, it’s fulfilling enough – but given the fact that all that was needed was perhaps another chapter (hell, another sentence) to flesh out the final moments, I can’t help but think that Clarke was trying to squeeze out another book deal by holding the final few moments hostage.  A follow-up was promised for early this year, meaning that Clarke contemplated more between these two characters; I can only assume part of their continuation would include angst, in which case I’m happy enough to content myself with this novel alone.  Still, I would have loved to have seen Cam’s relationship withRiley’s family explored further, as well as seeing Riley assimilate into Cam’s inner circle of friends.  Still, despite these flaws, I found myself completely engrossed in the slow unraveling of Cam and Riley’s story, tothe point where, even though I have very little to say, I can’t deny that thecharacters remain with me days later.  Also, for the records, this novel has one of the best first kiss scenes I have ever read, hands down.

4cuprating

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Let me preface this review by stating that I waited to write down any of my thoughts until I had reread this book cover to cover. I never do that. Ever. To say anything about this book would be to spoil the experience of slowly uncovering its secrets. It is for this reason that I begin with a disclaimer that I do not want anyone who has not read this book to read past this paragraph. Go read this book. It is good New Adult. It is good Fiction. Read it. That being said, I feel I can reveal to you that, even going into this book knowing the twist within a twist, I STILL couldn’t figure out what was going on.  This is not a dig at Read’s skills as a writer, but rather a testament to them.  Unravel is a perfect name for Naomi’s story, as Read has crafted a truly immersive tale that keeps you guessing even as you start to suspect the endgame.  While I did have a few issues with some of the narrative threads and lack of resolution regarding how they ultimately played a role in Naomi’s reality, the story and writing are strong enough that I can forgive the remaining ambiguity in favor of hypothesizing to fill in the gaps myself. One of the reasons I enjoyed this book so much is that I enjoyed Naomi.  I related to her, not because I’ve been through anything like what she has been through, but because she felt like a real person that I might know and like. This is a trait that is startlingly absent from so many of the books I read nowadays, the New Adult genre in particular.  Yet while this novel is undoubtedly focused heavily on plot, it is likewise a character study, one whose purposely convoluted structure means that I had a difficult time connecting to certain characters upon the first reading.  I rarely reread a book right after I’ve finished it, but in this case it was almost necessary, and I’m so glad I did, because it enhanced my impression of the characters that Read has created and created a level of depth that makes the story even stronger.

Many are confused about Max’s role in Naomi’s illness. Was he Lachlan the whole time? Did the Unravel by Calia Readrelationship actually happen, just with faces/names swapped in Naomi’s mind, or did she imagine the whole thing? I think it is pretty clear that Naomi’s relationship with Max was the actual progression of her relationship with Lachlan, a fact brought home by his confusion when she confesses to him that she has been seeing “someone else.”  Lachlan is not concerned that she has been seeing someone else because it is apparent to him that she HASN’T been. She has been seeing him, and only the fact that she doesn’t seem to realize this fact is upsetting.

Where the juxtaposition of reality and imagination becomes blurred for me is in Lachlan’s treatment and knowledge regarding Namoi’s rape.  Reconstructing the timeline, it seems probable that Lachlan was clued into the fact that she was not a virgin the first time they had sex; her reactions and responses, while not unheard of for one’s first experience with sex, nonetheless are far enough outside the normal experience as to alert Lachlan that it might not actually be the first time. It’s understandable that he wouldn’t have put things together by then; even if he suspected that Naomi wasn’t a virgin by that point, there is no reason to assume that the loss of her virginity was connected with unusual circumstances.  When Lachlan has the conversation with his mother, I believe he was at least alerted to the fact that there were issues he should watch out for, which leads me to believe that he was at least somewhat aware of Lana’s true nature at this point or soon thereafter. Then Max/Lachlan sees the google search. Now, at this point, even if he still had reason to assume that Lana was an actual friend of Naomi’s whom he’d never met, he would have known that Michael was not Lana’s father, but rather Naomi’s. Lachlan did business with the man, was acquainted with him.  This is the part of the story where I start to make assumptions in order to fill in the gaps. Naomi never tells Max/Lachlan that Lana is the victim of the rape; I have to assume he believes it was Naomi, and why wouldn’t he assume the “real” daughter to be the victim rather than the daughter’s friend? Yet, in Naomi’s mind, Max/Lachlan accompanies both Naomi/Lana to go apartment hunting; again, I have to assume.  Either Max/Lachlan is aware of at least part of Naomi’s disorder by this point and is playing along by pretending that Lana exists, which in my mind is less likely, or rather, he doesn’t realize that the apartment is for Lana, nor that Lana is there with them.  Rereading that passage in particular, the intentional omission of names suggests that Max/Lachlan understood the apartment to be for Naomi, in order to help her escape from her own situation, and that he mistook any pauses or silences during which she was “talking” to Lana as simple silence, nothing more. Yet while I can content myself with all of the foregoing explanations, I still have two issues with the story. First, as I stated before, I have to assume Lachlan knew that Naomi was the real victim, which means that he initiated sexual relations with her even after he was aware of the rape.  In most cases, this situation would make me somewhat wary, and I would want him to use more discretion in allowing her time to heal.  Now, perhaps he truly did see her split personality as a protective mechanism and believed that by sleeping with Naomi, he was not injuring the part of her that had experienced the rape.  But if he wasn’t even aware of her split persona, or the extent to which it operated, and thus wasn’t sure whether the Naomi persona hadn’t experienced the rape…this is a gray area that I won’t explore too much for fear of delving into an area that I know too little about to render an opinion. The second issue has to do with infidelity. It is a huge red flag for me. I hate it. And whether Max really was Lachlan or not, the fact that Naomi didn’t know this means that she chose to be with someone who wasn’t Lachlan. I got the feeling that Read was trying to promote the idea that it wasn’t really cheating since she was drawn to Lachlan’s essence, but sorry. That doesn’t fly with me.  I would have liked to have seen this issue, and Lachlan’s reaction to it, dealt with in more depth, but I guess Lachlan was willing to forgive Naomi her faults given the extreme stresses and difficulties she was facing.  That might be his call to make, but it still leaves me unsatisfied. Ultimately, the power of this story is Read’s willingness to give us a book unafraid to delve into ambiguity.  Upon finishing the book, I felt that more questions than answers had been delivered- until went back and reread and realized that the clues are all in the omissions.  While some might guess at least one twist before the big reveal, I doubt that most readers will have worked out all of the mysteries.  However, while the plot was gripping enough to keep me glued to my seat for four hours straight so I could devour this story in one go, it’s the characters that will bring me back to this story for future rereads.  Some passages suggest that Read intends for Lachlan to be a sort of metaphor- the fact that Naomi needs both Max and Lachlan in her life showing that she subconsciously needs to reconcile the two halves of her consciousness. I’d rather not reduce Lachlan’s character to a mere symbolic vehicle.  Truthfully, even while I assumed that Read had drawn me into an unwelcome love triangle, I connected to the characters enough to make me hope for the impossible- a happy resolution.  Upon my first read-through, I was perplexed why I had found Unravel sitting on the romance shelf. It is clearly first and foremost a psychological thriller. The romance came second only to Naomi’s struggles, and while I liked the characters in and of themselves, as far as the relationships were concerned, what romance was there didn’t really do it for me. I’m not a huge fan of established relationships or instant attraction, and those seemed to be the foundations for Naomi’s relationships with both Lachlan and Max. Then I had the idea to reread her interactions with both chronologically, and suddenly I found myself immersed in a wonderful love story, slow burning and passionate in her encounters with Lachlan, and playful in the development of that relationship with “Max.” Unravel was one of my favorite titles this year to date.  I encourage anyone who dislikes New Adult to forego their aversion and give this title a try.  I think Read hit it out of the park by creating a story that can appeal to readers of so many different genres.  If you do give it a go (or hopefully already have if you’ve just read my spoiler-riddled review), let me know what you thought. 4cuprating

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Oh, Isla.  Where to begin?

I’m predicting that I will be in the minority of reviewers who don’t come out of this reading experience singing Isla’s praises. That’s not to say that I didn’t enjoy it.  Isla is a thoroughly enjoyable book, written with the same easy flow that make Anna and Lola such accessible reads.  This book has been three long years in the making, and in that time, more readers have come to discover Perkins’ debut and sophomore novels and have fallen in love with her innate ability to place readers squarely in her characters’ shoes.  For good reason; when I first discovered Perkins’ work, for a few blissful hours, I was Anna and Lola.  Particularly with regard to Anna, her experiences were related so organically that I never once felt like I was being told a story.  Perkins wasn’t feeding us lines designed to make us swoon; she was tapping into every secret thought that we have ever had about our own love lives.IslaHappilyEverAfterSmall

Isla is a good story, but unfortunately for me, I never lost myself to it like I have with Perkins’ previous works.  Overall, I found Isla to be an engaging protagonist, and I admire Perkins’ decision to let her remain somewhat of a wallflower.  Anna and Lola both have such vivid passions and personalities that, with Isla, it was nice to see the shy girl get the spotlight for a change.  I related to Isla’s struggles regarding her future.  I had those same conversations at many points during my late high school years and early twenties, and I still struggle with the fact that, while I tend to get obsessive about my interests, they never develop into anything that I could truly consider a passion or a calling or anything that allows me to identify myself.  I would have loved to delve further into Isla’s doubts, in fact, but unfortunately we never get that chance.  What we get instead is a whirlwind, quixotic romance that could have been just as fulfilling as Anna’s and Lola’s respective tales if it had been fleshed out a bit more.

I understand that Perkins wanted to give us a different type of love story.  In Anna, we got a slow-burn friendship-turned-more;  in Lola, a resurrected romance.  Isla offers up something suspiciously close to instalove, though thankfully she avoids delving into those waters full-force.  Isla has yearned for Josh for years, and I believe we are to assume that Josh has reciprocated those feelings, despite the fact that they have barely spoken to each other.  Once they do strike up a tentative friendship, though, there is enough genuine connection between them that I bought the relationship, even if it moved at a rather quick pace.  Still, while reading, I couldn’t help but shake my head at the plausibility (and validity) of falling in love in a month.  For those of us jaded by having already weathered our teenage and twenties years away, Isla’s urgent, awe-struck voice felt too naïve at times.  I believe that love can be found and experienced at any age, and that a relationship is of no less value simply for being formed during the tumult of youth.  I don’t discount anyone’s ability to love, but I do take issue when I’m told, repeatedly, of that love when I don’t see the groundwork for its formation.  During the few conversations that Isla and Josh have, I was sold on their chemistry, but there simply wasn’t enough.  I’d all but written off the inevitable falling-out halfway through the book as the obvious consequence of two young people who are mistaking lust for love, or at least the desire for love for the real thing. 

And then, on my way to work this morning, I remembered something; I once fell in love with a boy after having dated him for four weeks, and we have now been happily together for six years.  That being said, I am intimately privy to the conversations and glances and touches that comprised our discovery of each other during those four weeks leading up to the big romantic revelation.  And I’m sure that Perkins intended for her readers to assume a similar getting-to-know-you period for Isla and Josh; she just didn’t let us see it.  And to be honest, I’m not quite sure what filled up the majority of the book’s narrative, because it felt as if this book was at once entirely focused on the romance between Isla and Josh (to the detriment of fleshing out secondary characters, as was done so well in her first two books) and yet, having finished their story, I’m still not entirely sure who either of them is.  I don’t know why Josh was drawn to Isla from the beginning, or what made him fall in love with her now.  Inadvertent breast-gazing and strolls through bookstores are cute fillers, but there wasn’t one single conversation between the two that allowed me to see how a connection fueled by outward attraction could be sustained in the long run.  What’s more disappointing, while Perkins focuses so heavily on the supposed attraction between these two, none of their interactions gave me butterflies like the ones I got during the movie theater scene in Anna, or when Anna calls St. Claire Etienne for the first time,  or when Cricket helps Lola fix her hair.  The spark was so close to being there, but it never ignited for me. 

 I think that, had Perkins expanded this story out past her main characters a bit more to focus on the other people in Isla’s life, or even on Isla herself, I could have forgiven what I see as a somewhat overworked romance story.  I get the sense that Perkins spent a bit too much time worrying about getting all of the pieces to fit together neatly, and the aftermath of serious editing is that the story lost some of its heart.  I like Isla and Josh, but until I am more fully convinced of why they love each other, I simply can’t love them as a couple.

That being said, Isla is far from a bad novel and is perfectly delightful in its own right.  Perhaps if Perkins hadn’t had two truly remarkable titles leading up to this one, a lack of comparison would have made me more inclined to love this book. 

PS- I truly hope that we one day get an alternate narration of one particular scene that occurs toward the end of the book.  You’ll know when you get to it.

threecuprating

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I knew it would take a special book to get me back into the swing of blogging, even if only temporarily, but it took nearly three-hundred pages for me to realize that The Sea of Tranquility would be that book. In fact, I nearly gave up on it a dozen times in the first hundred pages. Millay’s debut novel showcases writing superior to many emerging in the genre nowadays, but unfortunately it took her longer to convince me (and likely many other readers) of this than it should have. As the story unfolds into a dual narration account of two high school students’ respectively tragic lives, there is little that can be called innovative. Granted, most YA heroines today don’t employ full-on Hot Topic regalia, but Nastya’s cultivated bitterness and self-proclaimed trashy appearance did little to endear her to me early on. It’s a shame, too, since I welcome any deviation from the norm, generi-goth or no; given my own predilections for the strange and unusual, I actually relate far more to the offbeat protagonists than to those who surf the mainstream. Unfortunately, Nastya’s dive into the dark side never felt genuine to me, even after Millay begins to peel back the layers of Nastya’s painful past. Her mask is convenient, a curiosity, but a mask all the same, without the underlying depth that could make me forgive use of such literary contrivance.The Sea of Tranquility by Katja Millay

Still, I continued to read despite my initial inclinations and was pleased when Nastya and Josh’s interactions began to gain more substance at the halfway point. I fear that writing too much about the actual substance of the plot will give away the mystery, but this is a story in which the plot isn’t the driving force anyway. Oddly enough, neither are the characters when considered alone; I’ve already lamented my disappointment in how Millay handled Nastya’s character, and while I found Josh to be infinitely more appealing and interesting, he still doesn’t compare to some of his literary peers. Yet, and this is the part where my semi-coherent ramblings come fully undone, for this is a book in which my brain and my heart diverge in opinion, but somehow, when Nastya and Josh are together, Millay managed to make me feel in a way that I haven’t while reading for some months now. Their relationship holds all the angsty hallmarks that I tend to hate, but it was believable and woven together in stolen moments that had me holding my breath even as I knew where things were heading. I’ve seen several other reviewers despair at writing down their emotions for this novel, at having to mold feelings into words, and I find I’m having the same trouble, which doesn’t make for a particularly compelling review to read, but it does speak to the strength of Millay’s novel that, despite flawed characters and bungled plotlines (which I won’t get into both for spoilers’ sake and because I am still too angry at certain characters to discuss them rationally), this book had me too wrapped up in the story’s heart to care about its flimsy structure.

The Sea of Tranquility is not one of the best books I’ve read this year (and yes, I have been reading despite my lack of blogging activity). But the fact that it inspired me to write about it, even though I have nothing much to say, speaks to its strength as a story.

4cuprating

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A few months ago I gushed about a recent contemporary romance I had the opportunity to review. It was called About Last Night, and its author is not only a singularly talented and exciting new voice in the romance genre, but she’s also a pretty cool person. Today I have the pleasure of asking Ruthie a little bit about her writing process, her take on the romance genre, and just what a romance author looks for in a real life hero. Read on to see what Ruthie has to say and to enter for a chance to win an e-copy of About Last Night!

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1. Was there a defining moment when you knew you wanted to be an

About Last Night by Ruthie Knox

author, and an author of romance novels in particular?

Actually, no, not that I can remember. I started writing toward the end of 2010, after reading a ton of Harlequin Blaze novels. I was in a yoga class, and I had an idea for a story of my own — a vacation fling romance set in Hawaii involving a tour guide and the geeky grad student who falls for him. So I wrote that, and then I wrote another one, and another, and somewhere in there I thought, “This is really fun. I want to keep doing this.” I found an agent, and the rest is history! (That first manuscript didn’t go anywhere, by the way, but the second one was About Last Night, and the third was Ride with Me.) I’ve never considered writing anything but romance novels. They’re the only thing I want to read and write at this point in my life.

2. Who are your favorite couples from the classics, from historical romance, and from contemporary romance?

Ooh, good question. Hmm. My favorite classic couple is … Can I stretch the definition of “classic”? Because I love nineteenth-century British literature, but I can’t think of any British couples I’d consider “favorites.” I do really love Celie and Shug from Alice Walker’s The Color Purple, so I’m going to go with them. From historical romance, I have to go with Will Parker and Elly Dinsmore in LaVyrle Spencer’s Morning Glory. *swoooon* And in contemporary romance — that’s tough! One couple that’s really stuck with me is Tara and Ford from Jill Shalvis’s The Sweetest Thing. I really believed they belonged together, in the end. Or maybe that they were stuck with each other. :-)

3. Is there a character trait that tends to turn you off to the romance when you’re reading?

I don’t like characters who are mean to each other. I’m fine with them fighting if they have strong motivations for their arguments, but I can’t hang in with a hero or a heroine who’s just plain cruel when there are options other than cruelty available to them. If it’s one or two cutting remarks, I’ll wait to see where it’s going — I thought Charlotte Stein did this really well in her erotica short Restraint — but flat-out assholery is difficult to redeem, for me. (I make an exception for Cara McKenna’s psychologically interesting assholes, who aren’t mean so much as terribly, terribly broken, with their brokenness manifesting as meanness. But that’s a whole ‘nother answer.)

4. Do you find romantic inspiration in real-life events? What’s one of the romantic things someone has done for you or for someone you know?

Um, not really? Honestly, if you met me, you would probably think I was the least romantic person you’ve ever met. I don’t really like emotional spectacles of any kind, so real-life romantic gestures make me cringey. But my parents have been married for forty years, and my dad sometimes says that my mom’s been five different women since he met her. I find love that is willing to embrace challenge and change is very romantic — which is one reason that I’m on record as having a difficult time with epilogues. They often feel so static to me (Look! Everything is perfect!), whereas my idea of romance is a relationship that remains open to constant evolution. I conceive of the happy-ever-after as a brief, perfect moment at the end of the book, followed by the resumption of real life.

5. If you could piece together the perfect romantic hero Frankenstein creation from existing romance novel characters, what would he look like (personality-wise, not physically, although that’s fine too!)?

Oh, but this is what I do for a living, right — piece together perfect romantic heroes, all Frankenstein’s-monster-like? Some people use photographic inspiration to come up with their heroes, but mine exist purely in my head. One that I’m working on right now has a lot of the personality of sheriff Seth Bullock from Deadwood — he’s intense and furiously dedicated to Right with a capital “r.” Throw in a splash of Germanic orderliness and that delicious accent, à la Ralph Fiennes, plus the whole overwhelmed-single-parent dynamic from Mr. Mom and some crazy-hot skills in the sack, and you have the man who is currently occupying my stray thoughts. I’m calling him Otto Schoen. We’ll see how he turns out. :-)

6. We all have fangirl moments, so fess up; when was the last time you fangirled?

Oh, I’m a fangirling machine. Half my Twitter friends are people I’ve fangirled. Romance novelists are so nice that pretty much everyone I’ve ever gone gushy over has turned out to be someone I consider a friend. I stalked Cara McKenna in an embarrassing fashion after I read her (genius) erotica book Skin Game. First I e-mailed her, and then I joined Twitter primarily for the purpose of further stalking. Then I made friends with all her friends. Then I got the same haircut as her and started shopping everywhere she shops, and then I stole her husband. After that, I got arrested.

Wait, no, scratch the husband bit. That was a movie I saw once. But most of the rest of it is true, for realz.

Thanks for having me and for asking such great questions! This was fun.

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Ruthie has offered to send one lucky reader an e-copy (format of winner’s choice) of About Last Night. To enter, leave a comment letting me know what you’re romance hero Frankenstein’s monster would look like, along with an email address so I can contact you if you win. Contest is open until midnight, October 5.

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Where You Hurt the Most demonstrates perfectly the harmony that emotional impact and intimate detail can have in well-done erotica. Brooke’s story is only about fifty pages long, yet she manages to pack a larger punch in few words than many authors I’ve read of late who have failed to make me resonate with their characters after reading an entire series’ worth of interactions.
Brooke’s story can be seen as a modern-day Beauty and the Beast tale, and as in most of the best adaptations, the “Beast” isn’t the only one who needs saving in this story. Adrian is a man seemingly content with his lot in life. He loves his career as an escort, as it allows him to indulge in his favorite activities: sex, connecting with other people, and appreciating the simpler pleasures in life.

Where You Hurt the Most by Anne Brooke

Adrian easily could have come across as shallow, but instead his innate sensitivity and sympathy lift him above the superficial definition that his career could otherwise brand him with. We don’t learn much about Adrian’s past, yet his first-person narration is an honest-enough reflection of his nature that we don’t need to know more than the spare details we’re provided with. In contrast, while we are given a good picture of the traumas and losses that Dan has endured, leading to the disfigurement that now hinders his confidence and happiness, his emotions are a bit harder to read. We see him only through Adrian’s eyes, and since the story is so short, our glimpse isn’t a particularly comprehensive one. Yet in only a few encounters, Brooke made me believe in the relationship that grows between her two characters, even if neither of them can quite account for its cause. This is the type of writing I love, simple and sparse yet used to tenderly convey a connection of spirit that defies logic or explanation.

Because the story is so brief, I hesitate to say more lest I ruin the revelations that lay within. I’ll definitely be checking out more of Brooke’s writing in the future.

 

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I don’t tend to review many erotica titles on this blog, but I’d read enough glowing reviews of Delphine Dryden’s The Theory of Attraction that I knew I had to give it a go. In The Theory of Attraction, Dryden gives us a hero who is far from typical. While Ivan can accurately be categorized as a nerd, that by itself isn’t overly intriguing. Ask any number of women, myself included, and they’ll tell you that nerdy-chic is hot. But this isn’t the right forum for a discussion of the benefits of loving a Beta, particularly as Ivan winds up being as far from submissive as it gets.

Dryden flirts with introducing her readers to BDSM culture, of which I readily admit I have little knowledge. However, speaking as a member of the outside community looking in, I can attest to Dryden’s deft handling of the subject matter, as she gives us a glimpse into a way of life that intrigues even if it doesn’t tempt. Camilla and Ivan’s slow

The Theory of Attraction by Delphine Dryden

progression from acquaintances to lovers is well paced, and the intimacy is without a doubt steamy. I would have liked to see a bit more emotional development divorced from the physical aspects of their relationship, but Dryden certainly doesn’t neglect showing us Camilla and Ivan’s mutual regard for each other. Still, I am a romantic at heart, and while I appreciate when an author has the ability to make the pages sizzle, ultimately Iwant a story to deliver on emotional depth.

That being said, I suspect that what I found to be the most compelling aspect of the novel was also the one that prevented Camilla and Ivan’s emotional connection from feeling fully explored. Though it is never confirmed, Dryden’s depiction of Ivan’s obsessive need for control and routine, coupled with his extreme discomfort and confusion regarding social interaction, suggest that he is afflicted with a disorder akin to Asperger’s or high-functioning autism. As a result, it remains somewhat unclear up until the end whether both characters are on the same page regarding their relationship, and while Dryden did a good job to clarify things by the end, it nevertheless lacked an extra something that would have made the ending truly satisfying. I would have liked to see Dryden explore a dual-narrative format, as it would have been lovely to see the contrast in Camilla and Ivan’s thoughts as their relationship progressed. Still, I wound up enjoying The Theory of Attraction quite a bit and recommend it to any readers who like their heroes cast in an unconventional mould and who are seeking a little extra heat to their romantic read.

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