High October – Elena Graf

High October – Elena GrafIt is a refreshing change to read a story about two more mature women, aged 58 and 60 at the start of the novel. They have a lifetime of memories, happiness and sadness, baggage – good and bad – as well as broken hearts and life changing regrets, and it makes them totally real. College room mates 40 years before this begins, soul mates torn apart by one’s acceptance of family pressure, financial and social, they meet by accident and are instantly drawn back together, despite the hurt, the anger and the span of time and distance between them.

On the surface it’s a second chance romance, but the depth and feeling make it a love story that spans these women’s lives. As we delve into the emotions and actions that have shaped their existence it becomes increasingly clear that they have both settled, and yet always been unsettled, by lesser emotions and shallow relationships – one perhaps knowingly, the other without realising why she can’t commit.

It’s slow burn, they aren’t teenagers making out in the back of cars. It’s emotional yet gentle, despite the pressure of time, they have done the first passionate romance and are now far more aware of the need to let things develop, to allow themselves to re-grow those connections and rediscover each others souls. And they are both aware that mucking this up would mean the loss of an amazing chance to reconnect.

I loved it. I loved the fact that we learn snippets of the past without having full-blown flashbacks. That it deals with real issues mature women face, like menopause, the decline and loss of parents, the concerns of aging and the knowledge of time passing. That these women and many of their colleagues and friends have such deep long term relationships and knowledge of each other that they don’t play games, they don’t need to walk on ice, they just cut to the chase with full frontal honesty.

Extremely well written and crafted this is simply a wonderful exploration of love across time, and how these mature women have settled into themselves enough to accept who they are and respect who each other has become.

(publisher review copy received)

Product info:

  • Paperback: 292 pages
  • First published 2019
  • Publisher: Purple Hand Press (October 15, 2019)
  • ASIN: B07YXSB9S9
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Fire and Ice – Rachel Spangler

Fire and Ice – Rachel SpanglerFollowing on from romances set in the worlds of tennis, snowboarding and baseball, Rachel Spangler’s latest sports romance follows the rapid rise of a curling team, and in particular their outstanding “Skip” Callie Mulligan.

Callie is obsessed with her ‘real’ job – curling – and has fought off the negative attitude of everyone from family, friends and bosses that it is a hobby, not a real sport. She has dragged 3 school friends along with her, building them up with her own style of leadership and charisma until they are USA team 2 ranked in the top 15 with chance to fight for a place at the Olympics in two seasons… what they lack is support; each woman works full time and barely gets enough sponsorship to cover travel and hotels.

Max has been at the top of the sports reporter tree, writing in depth character pieces about the big names, until she falls for the wrong woman and the wrong story and loses everything; the girlfriend, the position and most importantly her own self respect. Sent to the icy North East to cover Team Mulligan for a season she quickly dismisses curling as housework on ice.

But Callie and Max need each other, one to give the team and the sport exposure, the other to regain her good graces with the bosses and her standing as an honest and engaging sports writer. Their initial meeting couldn’t go any worse, but both have an inner strength and determination that wont let them give up, and ultimately their magnetic attraction is stronger than their icy distance.

Spangler is a master of sports romances, bringing us into worlds we don’t know and possibly don’t care about – snowboarding and curling are certainly sports I knew little about – but like the great writer she is Spangler makes the people the centre of interest and their sport the backdrop. As a reader we learn almost by osmosis as the sport is explained both to an incomer and by example.

The main characters are both intriguing, strong, independent, sure of themselves but with one major fault line, Callie’s her exclusion of anything but curling from her life and Max’s horrendously bad decision to allow her heart and compassion to rule her head. The supporting cast of Team Mulligan provide a strong group background, but I particularly liked the cameos of Callie’s family, her grandpa steals the scene, and Max’s long surpassed rival Tom, both of whom play a tiny part but are critical scenes.

What impresses me most about Spangler’s growth as a writer is the increasing subtlety of the character development, romance and the pivotal angst of the plot. Callie and Max come together almost despite themselves, seemingly honest about their personal goals and life choices, the angst isn’t overdone, they play out their roles, until, of course, the crisis hits and the hurt overcomes their maturity. But even then Spangler doesn’t overplay, they miss each other, it affects their lives and makes them reconsider their choices, but without the chest-beating drama of so many romances. With a bit of prompting from BFF’s and unpleasant egotists they come to recognize how their priorities have changed.

I really enjoyed this one, read it in a day, couldn’t put it down, not because it’s a page turning drama but because I enjoyed seeing the interaction and growth of the two main characters, literally fire and ice coming together to make steam. Excellent reading and highly recommended.

(publisher review copy received)

Product info:

  • Paperback: 298 pages
  • First published 2019
  • Publisher: Bywater Books (15 Oct. 2019)
  • ASIN: B07X9359VY
To buy from – click here.

A Heart This Big – Cheyenne Blue

A Heart This Big - Cheyenne BlueNina runs a small farm she inherited and is determined to keep going, despite increasing pressure from a bullying property developer. When a child is injured riding as part of her program for disadvantaged kids both the farm, her livelihood and her daughter, Phoebe’s, self-confidence are threatened

Fighting for everything she holds dear Nina approaches a well known attorney, literally begging for her help. Leigh is the archetypal city girl with no knowledge and little interest in farm life. But Nina’s passion for her program draws her in and Phoebe makes it hard to walk away.

The farm and the program are a heart-warming backdrop for this romance. The cast of volunteers adds depth, the menagerie adds colour and the threats and intrigue add just the right amount of suspense and angst to pull us in. Even the supposed baddie is fleshed out into a very real person despite her very human failings.

But what makes this an outstanding read is the main characters (all three) and their interactions. They are worlds apart in every way, but when the spark of interest ignites Cheyenne Blue slowly and gently reels them in. It’s slow-burn, they have plenty of time to get to know each other, time to bond and grow into something you just believe will last.

This is an absolutely charming story of two worlds colliding and making a much brighter whole.  Well written, well-paced and totally adorable. I genuinely loved this story in all its parts.

(publisher review copy received)

Product info:

  • Paperback: 258 pages
  • First published 2019
  • Publisher: Ylva (June 17, 2019)
  • ASIN: B07T7YXMV3
To buy from – click here.

Breathe – Cari Hunter

Breathe – Cari HunterJemima is a paramedic in the north of England with a terrible habit of getting the worst cases and losing her partners because of it. Bumping into Rosie, an easy going copper, brightens her day and gives her at least one person who doesn’t want to run away. But as storms hit, the water rises and a murder inquiry turns nasty, Jem and Rosie need all their good luck to come out of it together and unscathed.

This is Cari Hunters first romance… but fans of her earlier action adventures (with a hit of romance) won’t be disappointed. As the blurb and my brief description indicate it’s not exactly a saccharin “girl meets girl and falls in love” tale. The crime element centres around child grooming and trafficking, the weather has a major voice in the action and the run down and derelict back end of town does it’s best to add drama.

Cari writes with her usual wit, this one is firmly grounded in northern colloquialisms, sarcasm and English humour. The characters are well developed and adorable in their normality, full of recognisable faults and deficiencies, they are literally the girls next door. Ably supported by a great cast of characters we could definitely do with a follow up to fill out the ‘what happens next’ of the romance and family reactions.

The title is also perfection – Jem has chronic asthma which doesn’t help her with emergency responses, and the plot denouement will leave you gasping – literally.

Warning – if you cant cope with some English slang, and a wicked sense of humour you might not be delighted with this .. but if you dare step out of the box, enjoy some English culture and have fun learning about wellies, brollies and lots of taking the piss, then this is just a delightful read (Cari has even done a humorous translation page for non-British-English speakers

Excellent reading as always, Cari Hunter’s books are always on my go-to list and this one is highly recommended.

(publisher review copy received)

Product info:

  • Paperback: 278 pages
  • First published 2019
  • Publisher: Bold Strokes Books (September 10, 2019
To buy from – click here.

Under your Skin – Lee Winter

Under your Skin – Lee WinterA great follow up to “The Red Files” where we met Lauren and Catherine as the bickering reporters stuck in the gossip and entertainment section – rivals who fell in love over a hot story. Now an established in DC Catherine has returned to her cutting stories of political intrigue while Lauren struggles to find some meaning in the local interest pieces she is writing. Off to Iowa to plan their wedding when a world changing story drops into their laps and brings all Catherine’s issues with her family crashing into their lives.

Another witty, intelligent and clever book, well balanced between the deepening romance and understanding of our main characters, the exploration of family, and the investigation of another corporate/government wrongdoing involving corruption, greed and threats to individual freedoms.

Lee Winter is an excellent writer, using the smallest of side stories to great effect. The bagpiped Amazing Grace and Star Wars Imperial March is a classic example of how a great storyteller can drop something completely unexpected into a scene and not only make you chuckle while you read but smile about it for a long time after you finish. Thoroughly enjoyed this one and hope there will be another in the series. Excellent reading.

Product info:

  • Paperback: 350 pages
  • First published 2018
  • Publisher: Ylva (June 20, 2018)
To buy from – click here.

Beautiful Accidents – Erin Zak

Beautiful Accidents - Erin ZakThis is an interesting and amusing romance, traditional in the overall arc but with some twists that make it stand out. Its an age gap romance for a start (late 20s and late 40’s), and neither of the main characters want a romance – both have absolutely solid life choices which they have no intention of breaking – really.

Bernie is an American Sign Language (ASL) interpreter for her best friend Constance, who is also the unrequited love of her life. Bernie not only wallows in the fruitless adoration but lets Constance control her life – what little life she allows herself outside of providing unwanted care for her deaf mother. Stevie is a rising improv star who’s overwhelming and life controlling dream is to make it to Saturday Night Live – nothing and nobody will stand in her way.

Of course love has a way of breaking down barriers and changing the most determined mind. Erin Zak delivers the whole with great style, excellent writing, a lot of wit and some serious laughs. It’s all about letting go and allowing life to happen, both women have an emotional lesson to learn and a journey to free themselves. “Beautiful Accidents” is a great read, I thoroughly enjoyed it and its great to read a book which includes a physical impairment without ever making it an issue.

(publisher review copy received)

Product info:

  • Paperback: 265 pages
  • First published 2019
  • Publisher: Bold Strokes Books (September 10, 2019
  • ASIN: B07VB91JQN
To buy from – click here.
To buy from – click here.

After the Summer Rain – Gerri Hill

After the Summer Rain – Gerri HillGerri Hill is simply one of the best romance writers in the genre. This is an archetypal Hill, slightly unusual characters in a slightly unusual setting. The slow burn romance, however, is a classic, trying not to fall in love, but unable to fight the pull.

Mel had a traumatic childhood; married for all the wrong reasons and carrying the guilt of destroying her best friend’s life. She has retreated to womyn’s land and spends her isolated days tending the goats, chickens and garden that have healed her mind if not her heart.

Erin was left broken hearted when her girlfriend of 6 years left – boasting she had been cheating for two years – and lost herself in work, to the detriment of her physical and mental health. When they are brought together by Erin’s family’s intervention, sending Erin to the womyn’s land as a retreat/detox for three months, their worlds could not be further apart. But sometimes hearts need nothing but time and quiet to heal, and find their missing pieces.

The characters are endearing and you simply cannot help engage with the older women who have lived on the land for years; when escape from homophobic patriarchal society seemed the best way to be free. Mel and Erin capture your heart from the first moment, however strung out Erin is from caffeine and the consequent crash.

The romance pulls you in, the lack of angst is a refreshing change, and the will she won’t she climax worth the wait. It’s a slow sensual tug on your heart, reminding us that not everything that glitters is worth the loss of our souls and social/partner expectation can destroy us. It reminded me of “Gaining Ground” by Joan Barfoot, a novel I read many times in my 20’s when the concept of isolation seemed immensely attractive. I love many of Gerri Hill’s books for many reasons and this one is right up there for me as an exquisitely gentle balm to the heart.

(publisher review copy received)

Product info:

  • Paperback: 296 pages
  • First published 2019
  • Publisher: Bella Books (September 24, 2019)
  • ISBN: 978-1642470710
To buy from – click here.
To buy from – click here.

Secrets Well Kept – Lynn Ames

Secrets Well Kept - Lynn AmesOne of the wonderful developments which has been made possible by the spread of the “information age” is our access to the hidden histories of women, particularly in the 20th century when their work was recorded and noted, but not publicized. With our ever increasing access to the cinematic and TV reels, the notes and minutes of a dramatic century we are coming to recognize the contribution of so many women to the huge endeavours that have changed the world: Ada Lovelace, who wrote the first algorithm intended to be executed by a computer, Grace Hopper was the first person to design a compiler for a programming language, Hedy Lamarr who developed a radio guidance system for Allied torpedoes which was later incorporated into Bluetooth technology and used in legacy versions of Wi-Fi, Katherine Johnson, the mathematician we met and loved in “Hidden Figures” who took them to the moon and brought them home again.

Lynn Ames latest novel is exactly on point with a fictional historical romance based on the lives of the women who extracted the uranium used for the first atomic bombs. Unrecognized, either for praise or blame, women worked the dials, extracting the uranium the US needed to win the arms race and ultimately to force Japan to its knees. The majority of these women had no idea what they were doing, just did their best to support the war effort. But one woman did know, did understand the enormity of what they were doing, even if she couldn’t have imagined the destruction and human cost of the bombs that were dropped.

In Ames’ first book in the series “Chain Reactions” we meet the elderly Nora Lindstrom and learn of her immense contribution to the US war effort, not least her silence, and her subsequent grief and guilt for the impact of those dropped bombs. In Secrets Well Kept we jump back to 1943, to the reality of being the only woman with top level clearance at Oak Ridge, the site built for uranium extraction in Tennessee, part of the wider Manhattan Project. Alongside the sole woman physicist we meet the girls given training to turn the dials, balance the voodoo science that extracts the uranium.. “girls” who proved more competent at the task than the male PhD’s who always wanted to know why.

But like all Lynn Ames’ excellent stories there is a romance, illicit in many senses; 2 women goes without saying, but compounded by boss/worker and the explicit need for secrecy in terms of sexuality, relationship and war effort, doubled for Nora who knows what they are doing and the likely impact of their work. The romance is sweet and poignant, set in monumental times, which, literally, changed the world.

The history is compelling, given what we now know of the devastation caused to so many millions, and while we can recognize the Allies desperation to end the war with Japan, we will always question the annihilation of a whole city of souls, and then another, to make the point. The emotional impact of that later understanding on the people who made those bombs cannot be imagined, and the girls who worked the dials were purposefully kept in the dark, adding to the shock of discovering what they had been doing.

Overall an impactful book, made human, as always, by Lynn Ames’ excellent writing, her attention to detail and her emotive and sympathetic characters. But for me personally the real impact is that of a bunch of high school graduate level women, with no scientific training, being the instruments – and they were literally the tools – of the war machine that was determined to win the nuclear race and use that victory to end the war.

(publisher review copy received)

Product info:

  • Paperback: 250 pages
  • First published 2017
  • Publisher: Phoenix Rising Press (15 July 2019)
  • ASIN: B07TBT2212
To buy from – click here.
To buy from – click here.

Incognito – VK Powell

Incognito – VK PowellJust finished VK’s latest crime romance and it’s a cracker. Set in the US and Australia, a team of US Marshalls and a semi-feral DEA agent hunt for a crime boss and his sidekicks as they flee from arrest. It’s fast paced, action packed and keeps you glued to the page. The whole team are engaging characters and would definitely work as an ongoing series (pretty please VK?). It’s a classic “will they won’t they” romance as the MC’s have a ton of baggage each, some ancient but inescapable, some very recent and raw. Great reading as always with VK Powell’s cop based romances.

Chain Reactions – Lynn Ames

Chain Reaction“Chain Reactions” finds elderly scientist Nora Lindstrom forced, in the face her own mortality, into contacting her long-estranged family. Her great-niece, Diana, convinced her aunt has been dead for twenty years, nevertheless responds to the plea from Nora’s lawyer and visits her beloved aunt, Diana’s inspiration for becoming a scientist and so much more. Shocked into the reality that her parents have lied to her for 35 years, Diana must quickly adapt to both the reappearance and frailty of her aunt as they begin to explore their new relationship.

The 100-year-old Nora needs live-in care Diana can’t provide but her scheming doctor introduces them to Brooke, a burnt-out paediatric nurse who has taken refuge nearby to heal her pain from losing too many cancer patients. Between them, Brooke and Diana care for the wilful old lady, supporting her fading strength and indomitable spirit, and in so doing both become fascinated by the history Nora has been part of, and the unspoken sacrifice of an inspirational woman.

Lynn Ames’ multi-layered romance presents us with a modern-day pathos, an ancient mystery, a slice of untaught history, and a poignant parallel between the generations. Nora is a classic representation of her era; stoic, realist and patriot, who stepped up when called by her country, proud to have served her part, yet plagued by the responsibility for her actions and ultimately sacrificing her own personal happiness as a consequence. Modern-day Diana has taken a similar route, putting medical research above a private life, and Brooke, the more empathic of the three, has made a comparable sacrifice, giving her energy to the care of others.

As the two younger women discover Nora’s personality and uncover her history, they inevitably form a bond, and despite the strain of the situation, lay the foundation for a tense friendship. As the strain of Nora’s final days grows, Diana and Brooke are drawn together, and Nora’s final wishes will push them both into a new reality.

These are three powerful women, exquisitely drawn, each with strength and sadness, each having chosen a path that has put their career first at the cost of personal happiness. Ames cleverly reveals them through the medium of their interaction and their exploration of each other, showing us their hidden pain as they are laid bare on the page. Nora, atoning for her self-imposed guilt, a huge figure in the fight against leukaemia, Diana, battling to find a cure for epilepsy and Brooke, caring for frequently terminal leukaemia patients, each has given their individual strength to the battle they have chosen.

Love suffuses the pages of this romance, love for family however distant, love that hasn’t faded despite the years, and love that grows even through the tension of caring for a dying relative. Nora’s love of her great-niece is a powerful force that neither Diana nor Brooke can ultimately withstand.

Emotional, poignant and touching, “Chain Reactions” will pull your heart strings every which way, leaving you bereft by Nora’s loss, awed by her history, yet buoyed by the overwhelming sense of hope that Diana and Brooke might not repeat her mistakes. Lynn Ames has the ability to pull a historical thread and bring it alive through her characters, women we cannot help but fall in love with. I guarantee you won’t put it down, and I cannot wait for the prequel.