Desert Isle Keeper
I read this book with a pack of post-it notes handy so I could mark striking phrases and images. When the book became very thick from yellow flags sticking out of it, I knew I had to take this one to the Desert Island. Beautiful Stranger is one of the most beautifully written books I have read in a long time.
Marissa Pierce and her twin Victoria were the children of a billionaire. They were raised in luxurious isolation, however, because their parents were only concerned with business and society. When they did notice their daughters, they decided the two of them were too close. Marissa and Victoria were separated and sent to boarding schools in different countries. Victoria reacted with anorexia and bulimia and Marissa overate and became very obese.
Robert Martinez is the son of a mother addicted to crack cocaine. He left home at the age of 14 and lived a hard and poverty-stricken life. The army gave him stability, discipline, and a sense of purpose in life. When he left the army, he went to work for Tyler Forrest in Red Creek, Colorado. Robert is an artisan and has a special interest in stained glass.
When the book opens, Marissa is zipping up her size 12 slacks. She had gotten tired of her extra weight; through sensible eating and exercise. she has come close to her goal of reaching a size 10. Marissa’s large trust fund insures her wealth, but she chooses to earn her way as a teacher – a very good and caring teacher. One of her new pupils is the pregnant 15-year-old Crystal Avila. Crystal is the daughter of Robert’s sister, who threw her out in favor of a new boyfriend. Crystal has no one but her uncle and Robert has taken her in. Robert and Marissa had known each other before, but their shared concern over Crystal draws them closer together.
Robert and Marissa’s relationship is not an easy one. I cannot think of another couple who are so very different from each other. She is rich and he is poor. She is white and he is Indian. She comes from stability while he has known nothing but uncertainty in his life. Their relationship develops slowly with some halts in its progress, but I believed in them every step of the way.
There are several things that made Beautiful Stranger special to me. One was the sensuousness of the writing. I am not talking about love scenes here – I mean how Ruth Wind can vividly describe her character’s sensory experiences so as to make them tangible to the reader. Two scenes stand out. In one, Robert comes to Marissa’s home to talk about Crystal and he sees a Tiffany window screen. To a lover of stained glass like Robert, this is the Holy Grail. Ruth Wind describes his reaction so well, I could see the screen myself. In another scene, Robert and Marissa go to a Mexican restaurant and I could taste every bite of the food they ate.
Every romance writer can write a love scene, but Ruth Wind is without peer in writing love scenes that convey the vulnerabilty of a man and woman who are about to become intimate for the first time. When Marissa realizes that she will have to let Robert see her still-imperfect body, she is hesitant. He, with wonderful intuition, bares his body first. Robert is covered with scars and tattoos – mementos of his difficult and hardscrabble life. The intimacy of his action is extraordinary. This scene is unbelievably tender, as well as erotic and there are no overdone descriptions of heaving and thrusting to be found.
My fellow reviewer Andrea and I read this book at the same time and exchanged some e-mails about it. Like Marissa, Andrea has gone through a weight loss experience and I did too about 10 years ago. I asked Andrea what she thought about Ruth Wind’s handling of the weight loss issue in this book and she said:
“I enjoyed this book slightly less than Ellen did, but one thing stood out so much I had to mention it. I’ve been on a weight-loss program (Weight Watchers) since October, and I’ve lost a similar amount of weight to what Marissa lost. Like Marissa, I still have a small way to hit my goal. Ruth Wind hit so many of the same emotions in Marissa that I have had. The not-quite believing what you see, the enjoyment and wonder in being able to move more, the coping mechanisms when faced with temptation, and the simple appreciation of food. Marissa is one of the most realistic characters I have ever read, and Ms. Wind gets mega kudos for creating her. Thanks!!!”
I suppose that I could say that Marissa and Robert are too different to live HEA, and I suppose I could say that Crystal’s story is wrapped up way too neatly. But I was caught in the spell of Ruth Wind’s beautiful writing and all my objections were swept away. After you read Beautiful Stranger you will see why Ruth Wind has won multiple RITA awards – she is truly a treasure.