Note: I won the Strangers on a Train series in a giveaway, so the book was free, but this wasn't a review request. The other novellas are Thank You for Riding by Meg Maguire, Ticket Home by Serena Bell, Back on Track by Donna Cummings and Tight Quarters by Samantha Hunter.
I read this short novella in one sitting, and when I was done, I went back and read it again. First time I've ever done that. Big Boy wasn't just good in terms of storytelling and overall quality; it also hit all the right buttons and resonated with me as a reader in general and for personal reasons in particular.
Mandy is one of those heroines who inherited an orphan. She loves the toddler, but the situation isn't perfect, and it sure as hell isn't happy. Her life turned into the chaos that comes with a small child. There’s also pain, grief and loneliness. Motherhood wasn't something she wanted and she has to deal with frustration, fear and feelings of inadequacy.
But once a month, she’s able to set her life aside and step into someone else’s shoes. Once a month she has a date with a man she met online. Once a month she wears period costumes, creates a story and lives it.
She met this stranger when she joined a dating service and his peculiar profiled proved too compelling to resist:
That’s when I found him. Viscount Curzon. In his profile picture, he wore a cravat and a monocle.But one night once a month is everything he has to offer, so what happens when reality interrupts them and Mandy begins to want more?
In another one, he was Benjamin Piatt Runkle, a Civil War soldier. Under Accomplishments, he’d typed, Survived the Battle of Shiloh. His picture was tinted sepia, like a daguerreotype.
The first thing that struck me about the story was just how clever it was. The hero’s different profiles, the stories that Mandy comes up with, their secret dates at the National Railroad Museum, everything about the setting and the characters was very ingenious.
Then there’s the narrator. Romance readers tend to be allergic to first person POV’s, but the narration is such a big part of the book, that it’s impossible to imagine it being told in any other way. Ms. Knox takes full advantage of the first person, unreliable narrator, and the result is an intimate journey next to a painfully realistic heroine who feels and thinks things like this:
But having a baby is like having a bad boyfriend. Josh will kiss me one minute and smack me in the face with a sharp-edged block the next. If he could talk, he’d say, I need you, Mama. I need you so bad.I told you before that the story deeply resonated with me in a personal way. I've been a caregiver, and I can fully sympathize with what sometimes can be an ugly mix of love, frustration and resentment. Selfishness and selflessness might be opposites, but they usually go hand in hand. Yet those feelings don’t make us bad, they make us human. And that’s the underlying theme of the book.
It wears me out, being needed.
Big Boy is erotic, romantic and smart. Everything that happens, all the encounters and each piece of inner-dialogue serves a purpose. I’m obviously emotionally invested in it, so perhaps you won’t love it as much as I did, but it’s certainly worth reading.
Review by Brie
Purchase: Amazon and it's a bit cheaper directly through Samhain.
He'll be any man she wants--except himself.
A Strangers on a Train story
Meet me at the train museum after dark. Dress for 1957.
When Mandy joins an online dating service, she keeps her expectations low. All she wants is a distraction from the drudgery of single parenthood and full-time work. But the invitation she receives from a handsome man who won’t share his real name promises an adventure—and a chance to pretend she’s someone else for a few hours.
She doesn’t want romance to complicate her life, but Mandy’s monthly role-playing dates with her stranger on a train—each to a different time period—become the erotic escape she desperately needs. And a soul connection she never expected.
Yet when she tries to draw her lover out of the shadows, Mandy has a fight on her hands…to convince him there’s a place for their fantasy love in the light of day.Big Boy (Strangers on a Train) by Ruthie Knox
Warning: Contains sexy role-playing, theatrical application of coal dust, and a hero who can rock a pair of brown polyester pants.
Samhain Publishing Ltd. April 2, 2013