Sara Diamond is a struggling mystery writer who just lost her book contract, and has decided to downsize to a smaller, less-expensive apartment until she is able to sell her new novel. She shares a balcony with the apartment next-door, so it isn't long before she meets Ryan Kinsmore, the handsome, younger man who is her new neighbor. They hit it off immediately, and start spending time together as friends, but as they get to know one another better, a much deeper attraction forms. Sara finds Ryan's erratic work hours and frequent out-of-town trips to be rather odd, but doesn't think much of it, until he comes home one day with a black eye. Sara's tender care, leads to a spark of passion between them, but before anything can happen Ryan knows he must reveal his true profession. As Ryan confesses that he really works as a high-priced prostitute for an escort service, Sara can hardly believe what she's hearing. After some time has passed though, Sara is able to resume their easy friendship, but refuses anything more unless Ryan quits his job. Ryan slowly begins to open up to Sara about what led him into the business, but that life and the demons of the past have an iron grip of control over him that will not let him go easily. It will take all of Sara's powers of persuasion to convince Ryan that he has talents that go far beyond the sex-for-hire trade, and that he does indeed have a bright future in the "real" world.
"..... romance readers want a good story more than they want a safe one." This is a portion of the dedication in this book, and I can honestly say that while this story is anything but safe, it is indeed exceptionally good. I've read so many romances over the years that it is extremely difficult to find one that I can truly call unique, but Fallen From Grace turns traditional romance on it's proverbial ear, with nary a cliché to be found. It has an older heroine (by nine years) with a younger hero, a multi-cultural relationship between a heroine who is Jewish and a hero who was raised Catholic, a heroine who essentially rescues the hero, and most surprising of all a hero who is a prostitute (yes, you read that right;-)). While all these elements might make this sound like the oddest of stories, in fact, everything worked together to create a very fascinating and compelling novel that was a pleasure to read. Ryan and Sara developed a very strong bond of friendship long before becoming lovers, which I found to be incredibly beautiful. They exhibited a depth of trust in one another that is a rare treasure. Ryan initially hid his real profession from Sara, but I was shocked at how quickly even that was revealed. Aside from that one thing, they always communicated with stark, naked honesty, never really holding anything back from each other which I found utterly refreshing. They share many scenes together that are laced with emotion and sexual tension, and when they finally do make love, those scenes were so incredibly sweet and sensuous, they made my heart do flip-flops. All in all, I thought they were a perfectly matched couple.
I never would have thought that a prostitute would make a good hero, and while Ryan was certainly not the typical romance hero, he was a very appealing one in spite of his profession. He was an extremely complex character especially in an emotional sense, but it was easy to see why Sara fell in love with him. Outwardly he had to project a certain toughness to survive and he definitely had a strong, courageous spirit that was his saving grace through all the horrible things that happened to him over the years. Inwardly though, he is a deeply wounded individual who sees himself as not good for or at anything but sex. There were a few times that Ryan was relating things to Sara from his past or things that he had to do for survival, where he seemed almost dispassionate, and he exhibited the same attitude towards sex with his clients as well. This bothered me at first until I realized that for him, these things had become "normal." It was Sara who shook up his life and showed him the kind, compassionate, intelligent man he truly was. When Ryan finally took his life in hand and confronted his pimp, it was a very poignant moment and I was cheering him on all the way. I also loved that Ryan took in homeless, abused and neglected animals, and demonstrated the patience of Job with all of them, especially his psychotic bird. He later also befriended a homeless teen who had lifted his wallet. No one may have rescued Ryan (until Sara), but it didn't stop him from spreading kindness in the world by rescuing others. The amount of growth that Ryan went through from the beginning of the story to the end was phenomenal. He was probably the most atypical hero I've ever read, but one that has definitely made a lasting impression on me.
With Ryan being a little "softer" than most romance heroes, one might think that he would need a spitfire heroine to balance him out, but that was not the case at all. Sara had plenty of spunk, but at the same time was one of the most gentle, nurturing and understanding heroines I've ever read. Every time I thought that Ryan had disclosed one sordid thing too many, Sara always responded with grace and dignity. At times, it took her a while to process some of the bombs that Ryan dropped, but she always came back still loving him unconditionally. She also sometimes had angry reactions which I thought were very realistically rendered and understandable, especially when Ryan seemed unable to give up "the life." I also really appreciated that she stuck to her guns, telling Ryan that they couldn't have a "real" relationship until he got out of the business. Sara was a highly intelligent woman who was also very intuitive of Ryan's needs and feelings, and in the end it was her pluckiness and determination that won the day. Even though Sara was the "rescuer" in this story, theirs was not a one-sided relationship. Sara had some difficulties of her own to face with a writing career on the skids and some unexpected family issues to deal with, and Ryan was always there offering his advice and a shoulder to cry on. He was a loving, supportive, understanding friend who was every bit as intuitive of her needs as she was of his. Even though Ryan struggled mightily with his past, he recognized the precious gem that he had in Sara, and that she was his for the taking whenever he was ready to meet her one and only demand.
Although this book belongs to Ryan and Sara, primarily Ryan in fact, there were a few notable supporting characters. Sara's father added some humor in his scenes, while Sara's sister challenged her notion of traditional romance in yet another way and gave Sara an additional opportunity to show her big heart and unconditional love. I thought both presented the picture of a loving, close-knit family. Adam, the homeless teenager, added a lot of depth to Ryan's character by allowing him to show how loving and caring he really is and how much he was willing to do to save someone else from the same fate he experienced. Ryan's pimp, Catherine, is not someone I trusted even from the beginning, but I thought that the author's portrayal of her was excellent. I understood exactly why Ryan felt indebted to her, and initially wondered if she possibly had a good side. I couldn't have been more mistaken though, as her true nature becomes abundantly clear in the end, at which point I felt nothing but loathing for her just like Ryan.
While I absolutely loved the plot of Fallen From Grace, I thought that the writing could have been a little smoother and more even in places. There were some fairly significant time jumps between chapters which at times made the narrative a little choppy. Also, while there were plenty of chapters that had a great balance between descriptive prose and dialog, there were also large blocks or even whole chapters of wall-to-wall dialog that were a little exhausting for an introvert like me to read. In my opinion, they could have been pared down a bit in favor of more character introspection especially from Sara. Sensitive readers should know that this book contains a fair bit of strong language and some very frank discussion of various forms of child abuse, the sex trade, and homosexuality as well as one scene of physical and sexual abuse that plays out in real time. Overall though, this was a wonderful novel that told a powerful story of redemption and the depths of unconditional love at its finest. For the last hundred pages or so, I could barely put it down. Readers who prefer "safe" romances should probably think twice before reading Fallen From Grace, but for readers who are looking for something really unique and don't mind challenging the notions of conventional romance, I highly recommend it. I only wish that more authors would write stories like this and more publishers would take a chance on them. In my opinion, Fallen From Grace is a little known gem of a book by an apparently not very well-known author which deserves more attention from romance readers than it seems to have gotten. It took me quite a while to track down a library copy of it borrow, but I will definitely be looking for a copy for my keeper shelf and will also be open to checking out other works by Laura Leone. It appears that she is a multi-talented writer who has not only penned several romances, but has also authored or contributed to a number of traditional fantasy, urban fantasy and non-fiction books under her real name of Laura Resnick.
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