Desert Isle Keeper
Ruthie Knox is my latest binge author, and her hot, honest contemporaries are consistent pleasers. After the world’s most disappointing marriage proposal, May Fredericks walks away from her NFL quarterback boyfriend (leaving her shrimp fork in the back of his non-passing hand). Unfortunately, a mugger snatches the purse she walks away with, and with just $5, this Wisconsin girl’s last hope is to find a friendly face in a New York Packers bar to help her get home.
A former chef with an anger management problem, Ben Hausman has a face that’s good-looking but definitely not friendly. Still, he’s trying to reinvent himself as a better person, and when he makes an effort, he finds himself unexpected connecting with May. A night of letting her crash on his couch becomes a weekend showing her the city, and suddenly he finds himself wanting to drive to Wisconsin with her – a place he was desperate to get out of.
Both May and Ben are at crossroads in their lives. May’s boyfriend’s botched proposal taught her that she had become an accessory without her own goals or preferences, a problem that began with her mother. Ben, meanwhile, hates the explosive anger that comes out of him in the kitchen, but can’t let go of his identity as a chef (even though his divorce agreement means he needs to wait another year to open a restaurant). This is a case of an author successfully crafting people who grow and improve instead of unrealistically transforming in a few brief days. Ben points out to May that she starts too many sentences with “sorry.” May makes Ben confront his unhappiness in the kitchen. Ben makes May see her big body and appetite as aphrodisiacs (in one scene full of sexual tension, they stand back to back and then front to front to see who is taller now that May has new boots). May loses her temper with Ben, who yells back – and they both realize that developing healthy openness about their feelings is going to be essential. After an honestly-depicted bad first kiss, Ben and May go on to have great sex, which the author writes well and fills with personality. May’s change from accommodating background woman to assertive presence is carried though to bed, where Ben coaxes her into talking openly about her own desires and then sets about fulfilling them.
New York and May’s hometown of Manitowoc, Wisconsin, are well developed supporting settings, from Ben’s $35 artisanal farmer’s market honey to May’s mother’s inadequate kitchen knives and lousy football macaroni salad. Dan the jilted quarterback is humanized, as is May’s sister Allie, heroine of the sequel Madly. It’s a rich and realistic story all around.
That said, the realism is the one thing that brings the book down a notch. It’s realistic that May and Ben wouldn’t have solved all their issues, but it leaves the book feeling a little incomplete. We don’t know what they will do next, and that leaves me with a question mark on, in particular, Ben’s temper. That being said, it’s a bit of a trap for the author for me to want realism and a resolution in ten days in the same book, and I recognize that.
I enjoyed Truly as a sexy, contemporary story with a serious side that isn’t bleak. I’m hoping to see May and Ben in Allie’s sequel, and that’s something I NEVER say about main characters. Looks like my Knox binge is not going to end any time soon!