This book was my introduction to Ruthie Knox, and it was a wake-up call to me about how fresh and exciting contemporary romance can be. I re-read it this weekend because I've been in a bit of a reading slump and I wanted a reliable pick-me-up, which About Last Night definitely is. Upon this second reading, I discovered it was every bit as good as I remembered.
Mary Catherine "Cath" Talerico is a Chicago native living in London, working as an assistant curator at the Victoria and Albert Museum putting together an exhibit on historical knitwear. She's made a lot of mistakes in life, and in order not to forget, she has tattooed reminders of four of her worst mistakes on her skin: a songbird, a lit match, a closed book, and a tangled labyrinth. She has a fifth tat, as well--a phoenix rising from the ashes--symbolizing Cath's determination to reinvent herself.
In order to stay on the straight and narrow, New Cath lives by a lot of rules. She doesn't drink. She doesn't date. She works, she exercises, she pays her bills (barely). However, when she has to go on a blind date to secure access to a prize piece for the knitting exhibit (because Plot), a combination of maudlin Patsy Cline cover songs and unexpectedly potent mixed drinks make short work of Cath's "rules", and she wakes up in banker Neville "City" Chamberlain's bed with only a sketchy memory of how she got there.
Cath has seen Nev on the train to work and exercising in the park, and she thinks she has him all figured out--immaculate suits, polished shoes and briefcase, straight-razor shave--he's a banker whose neat and orderly life cannot possibly have room for a girl as messy and disorderly as Cath. -Except that Nev is not as straight-laced as he initially appears, and the two of them have an intense and immediate physical attraction that just won't play by Cath's rules.
There is so much that I love about this book: I love the premise, the tattoos on Cath's skin and the way it takes the whole book to unravel the history of each. I love both Cath and Neville's characters, how fully realized they are, how their jobs (especially Cath's) and routines are fully drawn and relevant to the story (rather than the more typical fare where people go to the office and do vaguely office-y things all day, just because a character's gotta work). I love their sexual chemistry, which crackles off the page but advances the plot and is exciting without being gratuitous. I love the dialogue, which is sharp and funny and exactly the right amount. I love that both Cath and Nev take care of their own needs rather than counting on the other to rescue them. I love the feels this book brings. All the feels.
That's not at all to say this book is perfect. As much as I understand how important Cath's rules are to her--(she doesn't want a relationship, so she'll come over to Nev's but won't let him cook her dinner; he can bring her a treat for the train, but she won't tell him what time she'll be at the station; she won't tell him where she lives or works)--they do seem kind of gimmicky and childish sometimes, and you kind of wonder why Nev would be so tolerant of her arbitrary and selfish restrictions. (Then you remember, oh, right, because Sex.)
The plot also takes a turn toward predictable disaster when Nev brings Cath home to meet his family under a plot-advancing (but credulity-challenging) ruse in which they're feigning marriage. This section of the book goes just exactly the way you'd expect it to, which is to say not well at all. (During these chapters, Cath wins over Nev's parents entirely too easily, too, but since that's a minor plot point it didn't bother me much.)
Some people are really bothered by the ending, in which Nev (who is an artist as well as a banker) incorporates the stories of Cath's tattoos into paintings which he publicly displays. I didn't mind it because it fits so well into the narrative frame of the story -- Cath's tattoos, and what they mean to her, and what they come to mean to Nev, are such a central theme -- but I understand that outside of fantasy, it might be kind of squicky to turn someone's private body art into paintings which you display publicly and without the subject's consent.
On the whole, though, I love this book so much, I recommend it to romance-skeptics all the time.