Don’t Let Go – Sheryl Wright

Don't Let Go - Sheryl WrightNothing is quiet so refreshing as a something completely different to the norm. Don’t Let Go is a traditional romance, set in the corporate world and with a twist of a corporate intrigue to add to the action. What makes it unusual is that the main character in both the romance and the corporation is a Vet who has suffered a traumatic brain injury and is suffering from a range of seemingly catastrophic after effects.

Georgie is still the dynamo inventor and project manager for the family’s engineering company, despite her injuries. But her social skills and interactions have been deeply impacted by the TBI. Her ‘handlers’ feel she needs a secretary /baby-sitter, she knows she needs somebody with a much wider remit.

Tyler is an unemployed professor who is reluctant to take on a job she initially perceives as beneath her, but once she gets over herself she realises that there is far more to Georgie than first appearances suggest.

Georgie is an amazingly complex character. Her wit and intelligence is hidden behind her lack of comunication but demonstrated in her genius, her TBI restrictions are extremely well portrayed, obvious but subtly drawn, and her internal battles and frustrations cleverly presented through her internal dialogue and actions. Tyler takes a little time to grow into a likeable character, her self-absorption at the start of the novel is not attractive, but as she comes to understand Georgie she grows in stature and becomes a more empathic character.

There is a huge family and extremely complex family dynamics. I am not sure even now that I am quite sure who is related to who and how, but while that might sound chaotic in some ways it doesn’t matter. What we do get is a very strongly drawn line in the sand of who is and who is not Georgie’s supporters and fans.

The romance was slightly less interesting than the character development and the corporate shenanigans. There were a few strands which were left untied, (I wanted to know what happened within the company after the corporate intrigue plays out) and a few bumps I found a little untidy along the way. But overall I really enjoyed this – primarily because Georgie is such a refreshing and well-drawn main character. Her gentle emergence from the seeming isolation inside her head, combined with the slow reveal of how much support she actually has, made it something I couldn’t put down.

(publisher review copy received)

Product info:

  • Paperback: 240 pages
  • First published 2016
  • Publisher: Bella Books (September 18, 2016)
  • ASIN: B01M15D24X
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Four Steps – Wendy Hudson

Four Steps - Wendy HudsonFour Steps is Wendy Hudson’s first novel and it’s a cracker. A slow burn romance with a threatening undercurrent of slow burn thriller, where we, the reader, can see the two plots building, but the protagonists  and storylines are totally separate.

The prologue is stunning, tense and terrible. It sets up the history, but also leaves us guessing. Hudson then cleverly drops the thriller; it’s a historical foot-note to Alex’s character, but with little current import. Over time we learn more, see more, and know there is more to come. Hudson keeps us guessing and builds the tension with consummate ease.

The story then becomes a much more simple and traditional romance; girl meets girl, except one is straight and both are damaged. Their family histories take a long time to emerge, but we can see from the start how both women have locked themselves away, chosen the solitude of the hills as an escape from the expectations of a social life. Their interaction is light, playful and fun against a backdrop of dramatic scenery, unhappy pasts and damaged hearts. The solitary nature of Munro bagging reflects the visible and not so visible tenet of their chosen lives.

The characters are exceptionally well drawn. They have deep and well-constructed pasts, complex emotions, and multi-layered relationships with those around them. For a first time author the portrayal of the main characters, not just our protagonists but also their best friends, is extremely well done. Even the dog is a strong personality. On the darker side Hudson draws out the menacingly evil nature of the main baddie and at the same time develops the dementia-ike ramblings and wanderings of an old man with outstanding pathos and empathy.

As the two plot lines build and increasingly intertwine, the thriller comes back to the fore and we can see the denouement build. The story arcs are well thought through and show the potential of an accomplished storyteller. There was a small unexplained hole for me; why he had waited so long and left his ultimate target until it was almost too late, and why the local cops don’t call out. It doesn’t spoil the story, but the small rationals sometimes make the plot flow.

Despite that small bump this is a well done, enjoyable and finely developed plot with complex, lovable characters, stunning scenery and an absolutely great first novel. I can’t wait to see what Ms Hudson comes up with next. When you start with something this good she is definitely going to be one to watch.

(publisher review copy received)

Product info:

  • Paperback: 293 pages
  • First published 2016
  • Publisher: Ylva Publishing (August 31, 2016)
  • ASIN: B01KIDGB7Y
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In the Distance There Is Light – Harper Bliss

In the Distance There Is Light - Harper BlissJust finished Harper Bliss’s newest creation, and have to admit to some mixed feelings. On the one hand it is an extremely well drawn, complex and emotional story about love and loss, both strongly intermingled throughout. On the other it is a romance that cant help but raise the eyebrows if nothing else.

As always it is well written, the characters are deep, three-dimensional and emotionally complicated women, although we get almost no physical clues about them at all.

The romance is hot and steamy, the sex scenes realistic and explicit without falling into the pitfalls of repetition.

The background is scant, and even the supporting cast are lightly drawn because there literally are three people in this romance, and one of them is the recently departed Ian, who is mentioned, talked about and remembered in almost every scene.

The grief is handled exceptionally well, with the long slow and painful process of hurt and anger explored through interior monologue and letters to the deceased.

The romance is surprising, without giving explicit spoilers it is hard to explain. I couldn’t lose myself in the passion without being conscious of the situation and I did find some of it a little hard to take – some of the scenes such as the pantry. I also thought Sophie got over her guilt/angst a little too easily each time for having overstepped what for most would be such a massive boundary on so many levels.

But hats of to Harper Bliss for putting it out there and inviting the comment. This will certainly stay with me for a long time and I may find that my opinion changes on reflection. I enjoyed it. I was just never completely comfortable with it.

 

(publisher review copy received)

Product info:

  • Paperback: 234 pages
  • First published 2016
  • Publisher: Ladylit Publishing (September 8, 2016)
  • ASIN: B01LWAB4RL
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First Position – Melissa Brayden

First Position – Melissa BraydenHands up – I have no interest in the world of ballet, and having been to the Royal Opera House in London a few times I have to fess up and say it spoilt the excellent music… don’t shoot me i much prefer the opera. But Melissa Brayden writes exceedingly good books, so for her I put aside my prejudice and am extremely glad I did.

We have all heard stories of how tough the world of ballet is, both in terms of cutthroat competition and an excruciating physical regime. Ms Braydon brings that world to life in this thoughtful and extremely well researched story of how 2 extremely talented women have used their skills in completely different ways.

Anastasia is literally ‘frozen’; so absorbed in becoming the principle of the New York City Ballet she has no life, no friends and no emotional connection to the dance. She is the ultimate technician. Natalie has rebelled against the constrictions of the classical world and uses her expressive dance to bring emotion to the stage. When the two are forced together they must learn from each others strengths or fail, something completely unthinkable to both women.

This is a story of high achievers, deeply driven women whose essence is the dance they create. Fiery opposites, they spark and grate against each other, in a colourful and temperamental display.

Melissa BraydenMelissa Brayden always entertains, but this is another level of characterization and storyline. The development of the main characters across the gamut of emotions is palpable. Each suffers elation and pain, fiery passion and devastating disappointment. We viably see these women grow from the passion they bring to each other, positive and negative, at work and at home. Seriously hot passion at times, another step change from Ms Braydon compared to her earlier works

This is thoughtful and compassionate, serious yet entertaining, and altogether extremely well done. It takes a lot to stand out in the volume of romances being published, but this is definitely one of the best Traditional Romances of the year.

(publisher review copy received)

Product info:

  • Paperback: 264 pages
  • First published 2016
  • Publisher: Bold Strokes Books (August 16, 2016)
  • ASIN: B01ICMAK0W
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For Money or Love – Heather Blackmore

For Money or Love – Heather BlackmoreJess is an extremely wealthy socialite who appears like any stereotypical airhead. Underneath the façade she’s a highly intelligent, hard working woman who has paid a high price to keep her place in the family. She always appears to take the easy road and submit to others expectations

TJ is a hard nosed and tough survivor who has lost both parents, and is fighting tooth and nail to bring up her younger sister, pay off family debts and keep the promises she made her Dad. She always puts her ethics above her personal needs, refusing to accept the slightest benefit she doesn’t feel she has earned.

When the two collide at Jess’s family firm they couldn’t appear more opposite. But sometimes oil and water make just the right combination and their journey becomes a page turning rollercoaster.

This starts like any traditional romance; clashes, obstacles and differences to the fore. But as it progresses the characters deepen, the plot thickens and it becomes so much more than ‘just’ a romance.

Its well written and edited, the story pulls you along on a whole series of levels, with several interesting sup-plots and entertaining characters to follow. There’s a lively sense of humour in the portrait of many of the scenes and an obvious love of the setting in the author’s descriptions.

Jess and TJ, along with TJ’s teenage sister Kara, are extremely well developed characters that take on a whole life of their own. Their histories, personalities and personal journeys are portrayed with depth and complexity, I didn’t want to say goodbye and would certainly love a sequel to find out how they progress.. maybe Kara  could take centre stage.

It took me a while to get into this story but I am so very glad I kept going, and by half way through literally couldn’t put it down… I seem to have lost a day getting to the end, and then didn’t want it to stop. Well done Ms Blackmore I loved it.

(publisher review copy received)

Product info:

  • Paperback: 312 pages
  • First published 2016
  • Publisher: Bold Strokes Books (September 13, 2016)
  • ASIN: B01KIHJREY
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Alaskan Bride – D Jordan Redhawk

Alaskan Bride - D Jordan RedhawkSet in the years after the American Civil War when finding a husband wasn’t easy, Alaskan Bride is an excellent historical lesfic romance.

Old maid Clara is an educated 22 year-old from a wealthy Bostonian family. Fed up with being pursued by businessmen her father’s age, she answers an advert for a mail order bride and heads off to the Alaskan Territory.

Unbeknown to Clara, the man she is set to marry dies in an accident, and his sister, Callie, writes to stop his bride setting off. The letter crosses with Clara on her journey, and the two women find themselves in an unusual situation. Callie insists Clara goes home, Clara is determined to stay and live her adventurous dream.

Clara and Callie are strong, independent women with distinctive voices and very strong wills. They both have a secret they have never revealed, and both have a determination to ‘make it’ in a man’s world, whatever the cost. Their characters clash, yet they are both intrigued and infuriated by the other. As they adjust and compromise, we watch a very slow burn romance unfold, beautifully crafted and befitting the era of the novel.

D Jordan Redhawk has created an interesting set of characters between the more refined Bostonian family and the roughneck frontier folk. She has used the vocabulary of the era to give authenticity to the dialogue and cleverly makes the voices very distinct with tone and language.

The setting of the gold rush era in an Alaskan town is well drawn, with new businesses appearing weekly, and a wide set of society on display. The beauty of the landscape and the harshness of the lifestyle play an important part in the background of the story as we witness Clara’s transformation from Boston debutant to gun-toting frontier homesteader.

I really enjoyed this story and hope there is a sequel, as we can certainly have more of Callie and Clara’s lives together. Excellent writing, unusual setting, passionate characters and very well done realistic storyline. While the attraction is obvious, it is drawn with enough twists to make it interesting and enough humour to entertain, while at the same time the women literally fight to survive in a world where an unscrupulous man can take whatever he wants.

(publisher review copy received)

Product info:

  • Paperback: 240 pages
  • First published 2016
  • Publisher: Bella Books (August 30, 2016)
  • ISBN: 1594935017
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Flinging It – G Benson

Flinging It - G BensonJust this minute finished Flinging It by G Benson and really enjoyed the read.

A very trad romance, Fraser is the lonely, slightly work obsessed single lesbian with a distinct fear of getting involved, Cora is the unhappily married wife of her boss. With the help of said bosses meddling secretary Tia, they first start working together and rapidly find themselves more and more absorbed in their project, and each other.

Fraser is somebody we will all recognise, with the exception for substituting fish for cats. Avoiding her friends attempts to set her up, fighting off her far too clever younger sisters advice and finding every date she is forced into rather a chore.

Cora has allowed herself to take the stereotypical submissive Asian wife route. Her job, life, friends and dreams are less important than her overbearing and controlling husband. But the worm is turning whether she is conscious of it or not. Fraser starts as a distraction, but soon a whole series of cracks appear in the polite life she has created for herself.

Highly entertaining, great range of characters and interesting sub-plots to make the story far fuller than a standard romance, this has humour and empathy in spades. Also huge – at nearly 400 pages this is definitely value for money. My first novel by this author and it definitely wont be my last.

(publisher review copy received)

Product info:

  • Paperback: 394 pages
  • First published 2016
  • Publisher: Ylva Verlag (August 1, 2016)
  • ASIN: B01IPZEBQK
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Heartwood – Catherine Lane

Heartwood - Catherine LaneA well written and complex plot of then and now. 1960’s and Beth, the small town girl, falls head over heals for the cosmopolitan – and straight – Hollywood star, Dawn. Present day and renowned author Beth is a recluse locked away in her mansion, but her cook, Maggie, thinks something is wrong with her care.

Maggie has always gotten in trouble for her mad imagination, so it is going to be a struggle to convince anyone of a conspiracy, especially the buttoned up and controlled lawyer, Nikka, sent to stop the town’s small businesses using Beth’s books as a tourist attraction.

A mix of old fashioned love story and a tragedy, Ms Lane cleverly weaves two romances throughout the beginning of the book and gradually brings them together for a charming denouement. While complex, the mix of voices and timelines is well done and easy to follow and the author manages to clearly differentiate the accepted social mores of the time without having to lecture.

It’s an interesting tale, meshing the then and now, merging the lives of the women, and offering us a range of complex and powerful characters. Each one of the players is well portrayed, but Maggie and Nikka are particularly sympathetically drawn. 1960’s Beth’s naiveté and fear make her rather painful to read, and Dawn is self centered. Perhaps the intolerance of the time justifies her behavior, but on a personal level her scheming is simply cruel. They create their own tragedy.

Heartwood is well written and edited, it has humour and pathos, moments of joy and yet is based around a deep life-altering tragedy. The conspiracy is tenable and while some of the bit players are rather stereotypical others, notably the characters of the modern day town, are rendered with obvious affection. Josie is particularly adorable and I would love to know more of her story in a whole other novel.

And yet, the tale of ‘then’ didn’t grab me. I liked the plot concept and how it was done, but I didn’t like Dawn, I found 1960’s Beth annoying, and without giving a spoiler her inaction in the aftermath of the pivotal crisis did not ring true. For me, her deep flaw, then and now, was rather simplistically depicted. I loved the Maggie and Nikka storyline, however, and look forward to reading more from this obviously talented author.

(publisher review copy received)

Product info:

  • Paperback: 247 pages
  • First published 2016
  • Publisher: Ylva Verlag (July 15, 2016)
  • ASIN: B01I0N3JW4
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Deception – VK Powell

Deception - VK PowellIn Deception VK Powell takes some difficult social issues and portrays them with intelligence and empathy.

DEA Agent Colby Vincent goes undercover as a homeless Vet investigating a prescription drugs racket. Instantly we have a whole heap of issues around homelessness, invisibility and drugs. Powell draws the Vet’s with compassion and realism – she has a keen eye for the unpleasant behaviors of a pack of men.

We feel Colby’s isolation, her fear and hunger through a well-written narrative. Life on the streets is brought to into stark relief with her constant movement to avoid the police, staying below the radar, searching for food and shelter, and yet also having to be continually wary of the men who were once her comrades. Colby’s newness to her role, and the abruptness of her insertion, make this an emotionally raw experience.

The Vet’s are drawn with an observant eye and keen understanding. The roles men take in a gang are used to good effect and the quirks and personalities add colour to the story. Sing Song, another of the homeless Colby meets, is amusing and yet full of pathos with her obvious knowledge of surviving at any cost.

The crime mystery is well done. The plot is interesting and keeps the story moving along as Colby gets closer to the answers. It neatly intertwines with the romance element as Colby finds herself drawn to the CEO of the local homeless shelter. The attraction is strong, but romance takes second place as both women have ethical reasons why they cannot get involved.

Well-written, enjoyable storyline, excellent use of location to add colour to the background, and extremely well drawn characters. VK Powell has created a great sense of life on the streets in an excellent crime/mystery with a turbulent but charming romance.

(publisher review copy received)

Product info:

  • Paperback: 240 pages
  • First published 2016
  • Publisher: Bold Strokes Books (August 16, 2016)
  • ASIN: B01ICKV7QA
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Adieu Warm Sunshine – C. E. Case

Adieu Warm Sunshine - C. E. CaseThis is an unusual story. Starts in what feels like chaos and gradually resolves into a complex weave of subplots and a romance.

Pamela is a dancer on a poorly received NY stage show. A small time addict with a few shady dealings. Sunny is some sort of cop, working with NYPD and doing her ‘real’ job on the side. Neither are quite what they seem.

When a steamy one-night stand brings them together they both clearly want more. But Pamela disappears without a trace, leaving Sunny wondering who has taken her, and why. The chase ensues.

The writing is tense, the tone is raw and the whole is reminiscent of a 70’s film noir spy movie, but somehow it grabs you. There are more dodgy characters than you can keep track of, and virtually nobody who appears wholly good. The sub plots intertwine in such a way that one is left unsure who is actually guilty of what, only that nearly everybody involved in the show has something to hide. Drugs, child porn, money laundering – and that’s just the ‘bad guys’ – the law isn’t far behind in its count of illegal activities.

Despite the alternating POV and the insights into Pamela and Sunny, we don’t really get to know them. They remain enigmas, distant and distrustful, despite their obvious bond. For all Pamela’s naiveté she is perfectly self contained, and Sunny is the ultimate chameleon, emotionally distant.

The pace is fast, with occasional instant of stillness that throw the characters into stark relief, literally spotlit by a moment of emotional rawness. It’s a page-turner because you  never know where it is going next. Even at the end I was left with a sense of not really knowing what had been resolved and what left hanging, there are just too many layers of obscurity to end with any clarity.

I enjoyed it. I can’t quite say why, except it captured my imagination in some indefinable way. I didn’t fall for the characters, I’m not sure I even liked them – the most emotionally available was Vash, Sunny’s NYPD Blue partner. I got lost in the plot. I felt by the end I that maybe I should have taken notes. But despite all that I was transported to their shady world and would certainly visit again if the final twist implies a sequel.

(publisher review copy received)

Product info:

  • Paperback: 168 pages
  • First published 2016
  • Publisher: Supposed Crimes (August 1, 2016)
  • ASIN: B01F6CE9Z8
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