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Noelle August

Thou Shalt Not

Thou Shalt Not - J.J. Rossum image

5 stars

Thou Shalt Not was a refreshing and mind-boggling read.  I couldn't put it down. I didn't want to put it down. It left me wanting more of Luke Harper's story and J.J. Rossum's impeccable writing.  As J.J. Rossum's debut novel, Thou Shalt Not is a solid and memorable novel, definitely a favorite of 2013.  Rossum's smart and witty writing style held my attention and made me an instant Rossum fan. Each character had depth and their own voice. I've said it before and I'll say it again - I love reading books in the male point-of-view and this book did not disappoint.  Being a dude himself, Rossum nailed it.  Keep writing, Rossum, and I'll keep reading.

I went through so many emotions just in the first third in the book.  I was not emotionally prepared for the rather poignant and touching scenes that unfolded.  Luke Harper has seen a lot of death and tragedy in his twenties.  After losing someone very dear to him, he swears off relationships and commitment and runs off to into land of friends with benefits.  Luke fills the hole in his life with Holly, his on and off again lady friend of convenience but has always kept Holly at a distance, never discussing his past with her.

"Occasionally I felt guilt over our situation, especially when she was seeing someone. The whole friends with benefits thing wasn't even something I would have ever seen myself doing. I grew up believing in not having sex before marriage and not straying outside of the boundaries of marriage or relationships with anyone. And so I had waited until I was married to have sex. And now look where I am eight years later. Alone, and part time fucking a girl who can't stay in a relationship for more than a few months. Oh, how the mighty have fallen."

Luke Harper is this nerdy, intelligent and charming guy.  I loved him from the very beginning. Luke teaches English at Lakefront Christian School.  His long-time best friend and co-worker, Robin, taught English in the classroom next door until she fell ill.  During her leave of absence, the school hires a substitute, Mrs. Batista, to fill in.  Suspecting the missus to be a middle-aged Hispanic woman, Luke is taken aback when he meets her.  April Batista is not anything like he'd imagined.  When Luke sees April for the first time, he notices everything about her all at once, down to the smallest detail.  The color of her dress. The fullness of her lips.  The way she does her hair. Her complexion. Everything. Guys are supposedly very visual people, and Luke most certainly fits that stereotype.

"She was very fair skinned, incredibly so, like a porcelain doll that had been given another coat of white before being boxed up and shipped out. Her eyes were very large, and inquisitive, and brown like almonds. Her lips were plump, especially her bottom lip. It was a delectable work of art, and I had to resist the urge to immediately suck on it. Nothing says "Welcome" quite like a stranger moving in and sucking on your lip. She smiled a warm, friendly smile when she saw me, revealing perfect white teeth."

April Batista is married with two kids.  When I read that I thought, "Oh dear. How in the world is this going to play out?"  The more I learned about April's husband and home life, the less I liked Mr. Batista and the more I rooted for Luke Harper to be her knight in shining armor.  Is that wrong?  Maybe?  But I don't care! April is a seemingly bold and fiery woman at first glance.  She doesn't hold anything back.  These qualities reeled Luke in more.

"There you go with that 'ma'am' shit again," she said, putting very clear emphasis on the word shit. She wasn't going to back down.

"Are you normally this defiant?" I asked, wanting to jump her right there in the hallway.

She shook her head, slightly.

"I guess you just bring out the best of me," she said.

With that, she turned and walked into her classroom, giving me a splendid look at her ass.

God, when did I become an ass guy? Better yet, when did I become the kind of guy who had the hots for a married coworker?

Eventually, April becomes a more permanent fixture at Lakefront Christian.  They get to know each other mostly through revealing and flirtatious text messages.  I LOVED reading their conversations.  Luke analyzed every word she said and agonized over every word and emotion he typed to her.  It was really cute.

Any night where I am magically transported back to my childhood by a bowl of soup is a good night in my book. :-)

Cheesy! God, I was never cheesy. I hated cheese. She was going to think I was such a tool.

I may or may not be blushing. I'm glad you liked it.

I took a minute trying to think of how to respond to this one. I couldn't keep saying thank you, she hadn't asked me any questions, and if I tried probing the matter of the blushing, it could quickly, and most likely accurately, be construed as flirting.

April and Luke are at a standstill in their lives, both are unhappy.  April is in an abusive and unsatisfying marriage. Luke wants to be done "friends with benefitting" with Holly.  He realizes that he wants something more.  The friendship between them starts slow and builds into something deeper. The more they got to know each other, they realized they could discuss things like their favorite literary classics and hold thought provoking conversations with each other, something that neither of them can do with their respective partners.  And those discussions led to other things. Forbidden and passionate things.

"When our lips met this time, they met with full force. There was a yearning in our kiss that I hadn't felt in any kiss before. I parted her lips with my tongue, and the second it touched hers I felt a jolt of electricity surge through my body. I knew she felt it too. There were goose bumps on her arms, and her body tightened up like she was holding onto something and didn't want to let it go."

But what about Holly?  Born to alcoholic parents, she was the responsible adult and raised her siblings on her own.  She even gave up going to college in order to work odd jobs and financially care for them.  Now at twenty-six she works as a bartender and has been in a string of failed relationships and in a FWB arrangement with Luke that's going nowhere fast. Holly is a very likable character. There was nothing about her to hate.  Though, I'm a bit ashamed to say that, like Luke, I was quick to dismiss Holly once April was in the picture.

In addition to the fantastic main characters, Rossum's cast of secondary characters were incredibly well-developed.  You meet his coworker, Robin and her husband Walt, mostly through flashbacks.  These two had a heart of gold, were incredibly caring and inherently good. Both were there for Luke when he went through hard times. I also really loved his next door neighbor, Al, even though his appearance was really short.

The more I think about this book and let the plot sink in the more I fall in love with the way Rossum told this story.  Luke is somewhat blind as to how his and April actions could affect others.  As things with April start to get more serious, he is quick to discard Holly and lie to her repeatedly in order to spend time with April.  Even as he was doing it, he felt guilty. Though, the guilt he felt wasn't enough to stop what he wanted.  As a reader, I was completely on board with Luke and April as a couple, despite the all the "Thou Shalt Not's" and morality of the situation.  I even felt it was somewhat justified given the fact that Marco Batista was a douche bag of epic proportions. How messed up is that? I wanted Luke to be April's hero and save her and her kids from her unhappy marriage.  This is a testament to Rossum's storytelling.  Despite the wrongness of what Luke and April were doing, I was there in Luke's head going along with this twisted scenario. I rode the Thou Shalt Not morality roller coaster with Luke with my blinders on. What an utterly unpredictable ride this novel was.

This book is not your typical romance.  It was different.  The characters are far from perfect but they were real. I will neither confirm or deny a happy ever after. You'll have to read for yourself. I loved how this book ended and the message it proclaimed.  Read this book for the writing. Read this book for the characters.  Read this book for the emotional journey.  Just read it. *I received an advanced copy from the author in exchange for an honest review.

Thou Shalt Not Quote


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