Note: I received this book from the publisher for review. That fact in no way affected my opinion of it.
Ruthie Knox is one of my favorite contemporary romance authors and Along Came Trouble, while not quite awesome as Ride With Me or About Last Night, is still pretty great. And it could just be that I have high standards for Knox’s work, too–I expect a lot from her books because of her track record.
Along Came Trouble is the first book proper in Knox’s Camelot series, which began with an amazing novella, “How to Misbehave”. It’s set a number of years later in the same small town in Ohio and the main characters here are Ellen and Caleb. Caleb is Amber’s brother, recently out of the military and trying to establish his own security business in town. Ellen is a local lawyer, divorced and with a young son. Her brother, Jamie, is an international superstar and he’s taken up with Ellen’s pregnant neighbor, Carly–bringing the paparazzi to the wholly unprepared small town.
This is a book about interdependence and independence both–this provides most of the tension in the book, in fact. Caleb has been hired by Jamie’s security company to provide security to both Ellen and Carly. Ellen wants none of it and Carly isn’t particularly enthusiastic either. And, in both their cases, it’s completely understandable: Carly and Jamie are on the outs and Ellen has fought hard to be her own person outside her brother’s shadow and with a detour through an abusive marriage.
I’d been putting off reading this because I wasn’t sure it would live up to Knox’s other books. I shouldn’t have been worried about that because it does. All the characters are thoroughly believable and a major part of that is because Knox gives them all lives outside the pages of the book–it’s obvious that they’re each the heroes of their own stories even if we don’t know what that story is. I found this most apparent in Caleb’s parents, Janet and Derek. Between the events of “How to Misbehave” and this book, Derek Clark has had a stroke which has had far-reaching impact on his ability to maintain the apartment complex owned by him and Janet. This is a source of contention between them and Caleb tries to help where he can–the main reason he moved back to Camelot after his stint in the military was to be able to help his family out.
Relationships between parents and children (and grandchildren) is a major theme of this book. Ellen is so fiercely independent in part because her mother focused all her energy on her brother. Carly was raised by her Nana, who is one of my favorite characters ever (I am firmly on the Nana needs a story of her own bandwagon–are you listening, Knox?). Ellen’s son, Henry, spends several days a week with his paternal grandmother but only a few hours a week with his father (due to Richard being an emotionally abusive alcoholic with a pathetic leather vest). Being able to see the characters in community with each other, in their other relationships makes them feel so much more real which then makes them more sympathetic and believable.
This is also, in places, a very funny book. Knox has a knack for capturing the little moments between characters. I especially liked the following passage:
“I know, but we skipped all the early dates, and I could really use one of those third-date neck massages.”
“The kind where we watch a movie and then I move back behind you on the couch and rub your shoulders, and you offer to take off your shirt to make it easier, and then before we know quite what happened, we’re making out?”
“Exactly. But don’t skimp on the massaging. I have to be seduced slowly, like I don’t really want it.”
There may have been audible and knowing snorting when I read that bit. Knox is also good at cutting to the heart of emotional matters, as she does when Ellen is thinking about her and Jamie’s father, who they never knew:
Theirs had died before they were old enough to remember him. It was a phantom-limb situation: you got used to the absence, but you could always feel it, and sometimes it itched.
This might be the best description of what it’s like to have a dead parent that I have ever read. Ever.
The only real flaw in this book, for me, was the compressed timeline (although the week or so that this book covers does not end in an engagement or even anything more definite than “let’s try to have a relationship”; there is an epilogue that takes place a few months later). Caleb and Ellen seemed to move incredibly quickly from meeting to realizing that they could have something really great together, especially considering the degree of stress they’re under due to Jamie’s stormy relationship with Carly.
I also tend to have problems with books where there’s a book-world celebrity in it–it always feels really contrived in a way that I have a hard time explaining. However, in this book it made perfect sense–and it was made clear that Jamie’s celebrity was the result of a lot of hard work on his part as well as natural talent. I liked seeing Jamie chafe at the restrictions his celebrity put on his life and the way his actions were shown to have repercussions on people outside his bubble of famous–again, this is a character in community with others.
So to sum up: Great characters and great relationships, and the only real flaw is the really fast development of the relationship between Ellen and Caleb. This is a wonderful book.