Review of ‘The neighbor’ by Gerri Hill.

Laura Fry is a novelist with a writer’s block who is forced to move back home to care for her incapacitated mother. With time to spare, she starts caring for her mother’s garden and making friends with her lesbian neighbor. Cassidy Anderson is a succesful business woman who has built a beautiful weekend house and likes to throw parties and bed a large amount of bimbo women. But when she meets her tomboy neighbor she starts to question herself about her choice of friends and lovers and realises that maybe she has looked in the wrong places all her life.

It took me some chapters to warm to this book as at the beginning both main characters seemed too immature. However, as their relationship progressed, the book really picked up for me. Ms. Hill knows damn well how to write dialogues that slowly unveil their pent up attraction. Some of the scenes in the pool highlight the eroticism of hot summers in Texas and, as usual, Ms. Hill delivers in the intimate scenes. Except for the bimbos who are a bit stereotyped, the secondary characters are multilayered, specially on Laura’s side. There are interesting conversations between Laura and her mother, some of them pretty hilarious. The grow in the mother-daughter’s relationship adds to the enjoyment of the novel.

To say that this is a slow-burn romance is an understatement, Ms. Hill creates their chemistry painstakingly slow but the wait is so worth it. One way the author builds the main characters’ relationship is through food. It’s funny how they communicate with their shared pleasure of eating in contrast with the bimbos’ pathologic relationship with food. There are a few mouthwatering moments that show the author’s ability to depict the sensuality of cuisine and its common ground with love. ‘The neighbor’ also challenges some prejudices around sexual roles (butch, tomboy, femme) within a lesbian relationship that aren’t as fixed as it seems. Everything is achieved in a feel-good, no angst story.

Overall, a slow burn, feel-good romance that highlights the eroticism of food and challenges some lesbian stereotypes. 4.5 stars.

ARC provided by the publisher in exchange for an honest review.

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Review of ‘Lost for words’ by Andrea Bramhall.

Sasha Adams is a massage therapist living with her cancer survivor mother. She’s content with her life but she wishes to become a screenwriter. Her life changes radically when her mother and best friend enter one of her works in a writing competition and she wins it. Suddenly she gets a script-writing contract and a love interest in Jac Kensington, her new boss. Jac is a self-made businesswoman with abandonment issues and a predilection to never grow up. But when she meets Sasha, her world turns upside down and both women have to decide if they want to keep their old ways or take a chance at love and face together come what may.

It’s hard to describe this novel. The cover and its rom-com labelling might suggest a lightness that’s only half truth. As the blurb states, ‘a bittersweet rom-com’ is a better description, bittersweet being the operative word. Additionally, it’s a romance in a broader sense of the word. There’s not only romanic involvement but also maternal love (or lack thereof), friendship and unrequited love. You can truly say that love is in the air.

This novel is anything but ‘Lost for words’. It shows the author’s deep convictions and deals with issues such as abandoment, illness, aging and death. Ms. Bramhall pulls no punches, she’s not afraid to tackle such difficult issues. The story is sometimes hilarious, sometimes sad. It will make you laugh and whenever you least expect, it’ll punch you in the guts. It’s no coincidence that the winning script referred in the book is ‘Nightingale’, a self reference to possibly Bramhall’s most woeful novel. However, this is a more optimistic story, like it should be in a book about love. My only criticism is that at some points the book stretched too much and less words could have been more.

The characters are well written and realistic. It’s refreshing to see leads in their late forties, early fifties. Jac, also known as ‘Pan Pan’ for her similarities with Peter Pan, is an incredibly complex character who very slowly opens up to reveal her real issues behind her carefree attitude. Sasha’s unselfish personality and maturity is the perfect balance to Jac. Together they have great chemistry. The supporting cast is rich in layers, specially Sasha’s mum, Fleur. She’s a character that could have been written by Robin Alexander, with her quirky lifestyle and hilarious behaviour. She brings much of the lightness of the book.

Overall, a very good bittersweet book about love with endearing characters. Worth a read. 4.5 stars.

ARC provided by the publisher in exchange for an honest review.

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Review of ‘Shadowboxer’ by Jessica L. Webb.

Former boxer Jordan McAddie had a hard childhood and now she’s
dedicated to help street kids by teaching them the discipline of
boxing. With her mentoring duties, a full time job and her social
worker studies, she’s got enough on her plate and the least thing
she needs is her first love walking back into her life. As she
struggles to open up to a possible relationship, the street kids
are being targeted by an extremist group. Can she keep the kids
safe and give love a chance?

Throughout her short but productive career, Ms. Webb has written
action, mystery and psychological thrillers with romance at the
side. While ‘Shadowboxer’ has a mix of these genres, it’s her most
introspective work. There is a criticism of the social services
system and, more specifically, how adults fail to protect their
children and youth. Through boxing, Jordan and the teenagers under
her care learn more than the physical activity of fighting: they
build their self-esteem, learn to trust each other and to boost
their confidence. It’s not a fight against each other but rather a
struggle against their own ghosts, a bit like shadowboxing. No
wonder that, compared to the rest of Webb’s novels, this one feels
oppressive and darker. The author works with the lights and
shadows in the characters’ states of mind as reality throws
punches at them. It’s not an easy read but the heaviness is
balanced by the sweet redemption of romance and friendship.
Regarding the mystery and action scenes, they are short but
effective in keeping the reader hooked in the story. The
characters are well written and even though there are a good
number of secondary characters, they all have depth and feel real.
The romance is slow burn and sweet, both mains complement each
other and send a light of hope to the darker sides of the plot. My
only criticism is that the last couple of chapters seem a bit
rushed. However, this book is definitely worth a read.

Overall, a darker novel by Ms. Webb with a mix of action, mystery,
psychological thriller and romance. Not an easy read but highly
recommended. 4.5 stars.

ARC provided by Netgalley and the publisher in exchange for an
honest review.

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