Rating: 4.25 stars
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After Riley Aylworth’s face was badly scarred in a fire, he has been afraid to have any real interaction with other people. He has finally gotten up the strength to go out in public, but anything close to dating is way too terrifying. Most people still stare and some even seem revolted or terrified around him, so Riley is sure that no one would ever be interested in dating him. When he finds an ad for a phone sex service, Riley is desperate enough for some sort of human connection that he decides to give it a try.
Cameron Kirkwood’s vengeful ex advertised his phone number in a phone sex ad and now Cam is being besieged by potential clients. When Riley calls him, Cameron finally loses his patience and snaps at him, and Riley snaps back. But somehow these guys end up talking to one another and forming a connection, continuing their calls almost daily for weeks. But when Cam begins to get flirtatious and becomes clear he is interested in Riley as more than a friend, Riley panics. He is sure that as soon as Cam sees him, he will lose interest. And with the bond that is forming between them, that would break Riley’s heart. So he manages to continue to put Cam off, refusing the offer of dates or meeting in person, unwilling to give out his last name or even city for fear of Cameron finding out what he looks like.
But despite Riley’s reluctance to meet in person, Cameron is undeterred from his feelings for the man. He is willing to wait for Riley to be ready, but it’s hard for him not even knowing why Riley refuses to meet. As the men grow closer and closer, spending hours on the phone and sharing so much of themselves, it becomes harder and harder. Cameron desperately wants to meet Riley in person and Riley gets more scared of being hurt as his feelings for Cam grow. Riley is willing to be patient, but after spending four years in a relationship that went nowhere, he needs to at least know there is hope that one day Riley will be ready to meet face to face. And unless Riley can face his demons and accept that Cam will continue to love him no matter what, things may fall apart before they ever get a chance to really be together.
In The Truth About Riley, Clarke manages to portray a rich and well developed relationship between these two men without ever having them meet in person. Virtually the entire story consists of phone calls between them, and since it is mostly dialog, we really get to know them as they learn about each other. I really felt immersed in their developing relationship, and it is easy to see why these two men are such a good match. Despite a bit of opposites attract between uptight, workaholic Cam and more casual Riley, they have so much in common and their connection with each other is really tangible. I loved their conversations and Clarke integrates a nice pop culture feel as they discuss movies and books (Riley is an Amy Lane fan — and who isn’t?), and share their thoughts on everything from favorite ice cream flavor to best first date spots. I really felt the connection between these guys and that I got to know them well over the course of the story.
The book also has a nice bit of romantic comedy feel, as these guys have their meet cute moment over the mistaken phone sex call. There is also a side element where both men encounter one another repeatedly around town, not realizing that they are in fact talking to one another on the phone at the same time. Rather than being contrived, I thought this added a nice bit of fun to the story. And fortunately the near misses of these face to face meetings don’t drag on so long as to be an irritant, and actually serves to move things forward with the guys nicely.
I think that my biggest issue here is that at 300+ pages, this book is just too long for this type of story. As I said, virtually the entire book is conversations over the phone between the two men. There are only a few scenes where the guys interact with other people in person and almost never with each other. And as much as I enjoyed their conversations and thought they really brought depth to their relationship, after a while I just wanted something to happen already. We are almost 50% of the way through before there is even a little phone sex and there is just a lot of story for nothing to happen but talking. It just became a little claustrophobic after a while. And honestly, reading about people playing Monopoly over the phone, or describing a first date in detail rather than just having one got a little frustrating at times. I really don’t think the problem is the story itself, or even the structure. Just that if this is this setup, a much shorter book would have worked better.
Along the same lines, I found myself frustrated with Riley after a while. Everything Cam says shows how important Riley has become to him and Cameron is clear as they get to know one another that Riley’s looks are not important. Maybe if we had seen more clearly the rejection Riley has faced from others, or knew more about the trauma of what happened to him, it would have been easier to understand his reticence to meet Cam. But even when Riley knows Cam has seen him and knows about the scars, he still is terrified to meet in person. Honestly, Riley needed some serious therapy and with such a loving and well intentioned family it seems sort of shocking that no one suggested it to him. So while I loved Riley, I found myself frustrated with the roadblocks. And again, I think a shorter story, especially one that takes place over less time, would have made him more sympathetic.
So I really did like this one quite a lot and am thrilled to see the author has another story planned for these guys. While we do get a lovely ending to this book, I can’t wait to see Riley and Cam again when they can really be together and watch their relationship continue to grow. So while I think this one needed some tightening up, I am really impressed with Clarke’s writing, her character development, and her storytelling, and I am really looking forward to more from her and for Cam and Riley.
Cover Review: Oh, I really love this cover, mostly because mmmm is our cover model delicious! Totally looks like Riley and very nicely done.