Above All by Rebecca Brooks is romance from Ellora’s Cave (July 2014). The story follows Casey, a 34-year-old woman who had her heart broken after her boyfriend of 7 years, Nick, moves on. Casey moves 200 miles away to Paper Lake, home to a campground. When we meet Casey, she’s been living in a cabin at the campground for a year, which is part of her pay for working there. Her family sees her choice to live such a rustic life–she did abandon a PhD in Art History program in NYC–a big waste.
But Casey can’t say no to jumping into the freezing lake each morning, nor can she say no to the beautiful Bonnet mountains. Later, she finds it very hard to say no to Ben, a 26-year-old young man in cooking school who camps at Paper Lake with his friends one weekend…
Above All is a novel both predictable and puzzling. Very few romances ever surprise me; typically, surprising stories don’t end with the main characters together. Romances pretty much always have a man and woman who start off hot and heavy, spend a long time apart because something keeps them apart, one character (usually the woman) chases the other only to be heartbroken by a cousin/sibling/gay friend who appears to now be dating the person chased, and then a grand gesture that reunites the couple, elevating them to happily-ever-status. Does predictability ruin a romance? Not really; it’s a billion-dollar formula for making women squee, and Brooks hits all the right notes for squeeing once she gets her characters having sex.
Some problems in the beginning:
At first, Casey is sad about losing Nick. He’s finally published his book that he worked on for years, the one for which Casey was a dutiful reader and commenter, but Nick’s acknowledgments say, “Above all, thank you to Aubrey Peterson…” Who the frick-hole is Aubrey Peterson?! *insert rage and anger* When she does meet Ben as he checks in to the campground, Casey refers to his “puppy-dog” eyes/facial expression so many times I kind of want to hurt something. The whiny vowel sound of the “y” and the pop sound made from “pup” grated on my ears over and over. However, I am aware that not all readers think about things like word sounds and I may be alone in my complaints. Worse still was the way Ben kept showing up at Casey’s–and employee’s–cabin, which was not right near the campsites. Even Casey calls Ben a stalker at one point, echoing my own concerns. Stalking someone enough doesn’t make for a romance, it makes for a case of stalking.
After Casey accepts this young man stalking her, she decides she wants to have sex with him–his kisses are just too damn good. When she goes to unbuckle his belt, though, he pulls away and says he has to get back to his friends at the campsite. For the rest of the book, this moment is deemed one of running away, as in Ben runs away because he’s the kind of man who runs away. I was puzzled, though; Casey and Ben had only briefly talked 2-3 times. Why should he jump right in bed with someone just because he likes her? I saw him as more gentlemanly, but the moment is forever held against him as a black mark.
Once Casey and Ben start having sex, things pick up:
There is sex. Lots and lots and lots of sex. Once Casey and Ben do get it on, they don’t stop. They’re hiking, but stop for sex. They’re boating, but stop for sex. They’re going to eat food, but stop to have sex (so much wasted food in Above All). They jump in the freezing lake, and once Ben’s dick stops turtle-ing, they stop for sex. My response was very George Takei: “Ohhhh, myyyy.” The scenes are superbly written. Brooks pays attention to details, like using a condom every time (though not for oral sex), wiping up cum strings from Casey’s mouth, the clit as a pleasure center, etc. Never does the sex feel cheap or gratuitous or make me think, “Oh, please.” It’s realistic. The details are very good, and this book is bound to make you cross and re-cross your legs as you read.
The puzzling bit comes from the fact that Casey and Ben don’t really talk to each other. Ben knows nothing of Casey’s relationship with Nick, nor does she talk about being in a PhD program. He does come upon (stalk) her once and see that she is painting, but then leaves her alone. The only significant thing they discuss is that Ben wants to open a bakery, but his parents want him to be an Italian chef. I felt like food is food; it’s not like his parents wanted him to be a lawyer instead. Plus, he’s 26. But, this is a big point of contention for Ben. Other talking? It doesn’t happen when Casey are Ben are together in a situation where clothes can come off. When Casey misses Ben during their separation, she remembers “the first night in the cabin, the rock ledge on the mountain, the rowboat, the lake, the woods themselves.” These are all places they’ve had sex. What else is there? After the characters do hook up, not once do Casey or Ben say “love.” Although dubbed a romance, and despite many mentions of heartbreak and hearts wildly beating, there is no “love.”
There are a few situations in Above All for which Brooks provides readers with some really, truly fun dialogue or phrasing that made me like her characters. Casey’s old lady-friend Lee tries to fix Casey’s huge, tangled, curly red hair before a date, but Lee can only shake her head and say, “That’s between you and your god, but may I suggest investing in some detangler?” When Ben returns to the campground to find Casey chopping wood, she realizes, “At one point the prospect of running into him again with an axe in her hands might have been quite appealing.” During their time together at the campground, Casey convinces Ben to jump in the lake with her one morning, and I giggled as I read:
She went to pull his towel off to wrap hers around him so they would both be together in the towel, skin against skin. But Bun pulled away quickly, a look crossing his eyes.
“No way,” he grimaced. “You’ll never want to come near me again.”
“What are you talking about?” Casey paused, confused.
“The cold!” he cried.
Casey laughed and ripped off his towel with one hard tug, but his hands flew straight to his crotch.
“I’m shriveled up like a sack of times! Tinier than a fingerling potato!” he cried as he leapt, buck naked, up to the cabin, his adorable butt a moon of white bounding over the path.
Over all, I do recommend Above All by Rebecca Brooks for its hot sex scenes that are sure to get you eyeing your partner over the pages, and for the way she got me thinking differently about relationships. Who am I to assume that all pairings have to be about love? Perhaps Casey and Ben, in some unwritten future, do fall in love and say it. I’d also recommend this book just for the scene during which Ben enters a women’s restroom and crawls under a locked door.
I want to thank Rebecca Brooks for sending me Above All for review in exchange for my honest opinion. Please check out more about Brooks’s life as an author at her Meet the Writer feature here on Grab the Lapels!
Update: Above All has now be re-released and has an updated cover.
Lots and lots of sex sounds good with me!
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I’ve been meaning to come over here and comment on this, since it made me laugh so hard when you originally published it. Why do romances have to be so…. imperfect? Sigh. I read the description and was like, Hell yes, I want to read a romance about a girl living as a campground caretaker. Those people always seem so lucky and mysterious to me (I’m in Brooklyn). But the stalker-guy (I doubt what the author intended) and lack of emotional development sounds, while par for the course with romance, not appealing. And everything you said is funny. !
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Thanks, V. 🙂 I think I’m so tuned to looking for romance stalking because this summer I worked at an all-women’s college, and there were these posters everywhere about how romance glorifies stalking. Examples: Legally Blonde, Fifty Shades of Grey, Twilight, There’s Something About Mary, hell, even Aladdin. We think incessant chasing means he REALLY loves her–in fictional media.
[…] independent women who leave their lives behind to try something new. My debut, Above All [read my review on Grab the Lapels!], is about an artist and a chef in the Adirondacks. My second novel, How to […]
[…] want to thank romance author Rebecca Brooks for taking the time to answer my questions. Last year, I reviewed her romance novel Above All and noted that it steered clear from the cheesy tear-jerker stuff and […]