Review of ‘Alone’ by E.J. Noyes.

4.5 Stars. There are only a handful of authors that I will drop everything to read as soon as a new book comes out, and Noyes is at the top of that list. While I pride myself on being a fair reviewer, I know I can be a little picky at times. But every time Noyes puts a new book out she manages to blow my mind just a little more. While I do admit the storyline of this book is not my favorite by Noyes (it’s hard to compete with one of my all-time favorite books in ‘Ask, Tell’ or the sweeping romance of ‘Gold’) but this might actually be one of her best written books. It’s hard to show growth, as an author, when your debut is fanfreakingtastic, but it is clear to see Noyes’ writing just gets better and better with every book she writes.

This book is quite different than any Noyes has written before. Actually, if you look at her complete body of work no two books feel the same which I think is really impressive. It’s hard to pick categories to fit this book into. It is a romance, but again it’s different from the norm. It is also psychological but not a psychological thriller; there really aren’t other lesfic books out there like this. And while Ask Me Again was absolutely heartbreaking at times, I think this is the most emotional book Noyes has written. It sure took me on a ride and messed with my feelings. This is what a good first person story is supposed to do. It is supposed to draw you into the character and make you feel. Well I was feeling something alright. I cried, I smiled, I was angry and disgusted, and I was sad but also relieved. This book put my emotions through a wringer and it was exactly what I wanted.

When it came to the romance I thought it was well written. Again, it is very different but here’s that word again, emotional. With the way the two characters meet, the chemistry does build slowly, but when the characters are together it was almost powerful. It made you feel like you were reading about two people that were meant to be connected to each other. And the sex scenes… my gosh were they steamy. But it’s not just the steam factor, they were intimate and consuming. I’ve always been impressed by the sex scenes Noyes writes but these seemed like a noticeable step-up.

I do have to point out this is a slower paced book. The story is about someone living in isolation for years. So there is plenty of just everyday living and someone trying to keep sane in the face of complete loneliness. And there were even some parts you could see coming as a reader, but even with some parts being a little telegraphed, the outcome still almost wrecked me. Again, this is the testament to the excellent writing skills of Noyes.

If you are a Noyes fan, don’t hesitate to get this. If you are a romance fan but want to read something different, get this. It seems no matter what Noyes writes she doesn’t disappoint. I will eagerly be waiting for whatever she writes next.

An ARC was given to me for a honest review.

Review of ‘Taking chances’ by Erin McKenzie.

Valerie Cruz spent most of her childhood in foster care and now she is a children’s librarian who likes to keep to herself avoiding any serious relationships. After becoming a foster parent herself, she meets case worker Paige Wellington. Their attraction is undeniable but a conflict with Valerie’s foster children and her conviction to stay away from relationships make it hard for Valerie and Paige to have a future together.

This is as much a romance as a story about foster care. As a foster parent herself, the author knows the inner works of the system and it shows in the story. It gives a very good insight on fostering from the different points of view of the social workers, the fostering parents and the children.

The characters, adults and children alike, are well rounded, credible, and their actions are justified by their past. The children seem authentic considering their ages and their traumatic experiences. Connie, Paige’s boss, is a funny but savvy character that brings a bit of lightness to the plot. The dialogues are natural sounding and the balance between telling and showing is good.

The plot seems divided into two parts, the first half deals mainly with the fostering system and the second one focuses more on the romance. Some readers might not like that the romance takes so long to develop and then rushes slightly to the end. Other than that, this novel was interesting and entertaining to read.

Overall, a good romance with a deep insight on the US child fostering system. 4 stars.

ARC provided to me in exchange for an honest review.

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Review of ‘Full English’ by Rachel Spangler.

Emma Volant is an American best-selling author that, after a nasty divorce, decides to leave the US for a small town in North Eastern England. Full of insecurities and low self esteem, she slowly starts to interact with people in the village, specially Brogan McKay, the pub’s bartender and job multitasker. As Emma and Brogan’s friendship grows so does their mutual attraction, but, Emma needs time to heal and Brogan thinks Emma is out of her league. Will they have a happily ever after?

According to the author, this book was conceived after Ms. Spangler and her family spent 9 months living in the north east of England. In her notes, the author described the challenges of writing a book set in England with American and English main characters. As a reader based in Northern Ireland, I appreciate her efforts to explain her spelling choices and pronunciation guidelines for the otherwise perplexing Irish names. I’ve heard so many times people butchering my sons’ Irish names that her endeavour is appreciated.

This book is as much a romance as a crash course in British culture. The author goes beyond highlighting the obvious differences in spellings and regional words and opens up a world of different types of food, habits and social conventions. I found that Ms. Spangler researched the issue well and I found her descriptions of the landscape, the weather and social classes’ issues very realistic. As a foreigner in the UK, I concur with Emma’s problems while driving on the left side and her newfound love for scones and clotted cream!

Written in third person from the point of view of both main characters, I found the book slow in developing the romance mainly because there are a good number of secondary characters and a whole set of cultural differences that needed to be introduced. Some readers who aren’t interested in the clash of cultures or life in small towns might find the pace of the romance too slow. However, once the romance part of the story starts developing, their personal issues and their conflict is realistic and credible.

Having said that, while in most of the book both characters voiced their feelings so well, the later stages of their conflict felt a bit forced. The secondary characters are well rounded, even considering that there were lots of them. While I recognise the ubiquitous gossip of small towns, I’m not convinced that the meddling in the mains’ love life is characteristic of British or Irish families. The McKays might be an exception but, in my experience, I find that both British and Irish people, while they love their gossip, they tend not to voice or meddle with other people’s affairs. That’s my only criticism in the depiction of British and Irish cultures as I found that the rest was spot-on.

Overall, a very good story about American and British culture clash with a moving romance at the side. 4.5 stars.

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

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Review of ‘A recipe for love’ by Lucy J. Madison.

Danika Russo is a newly retired 55 year old who is going through a life crisis after having taken care of her terminally ill partner and father. As she loves cooking, she decides to enroll in an Italian cooking class. There she meets gorgeous classmate Finn Gerard who is 15 years younger. Their attraction is undeniable but Finn hides a secret and doesn’t want to commit to Danika. Will they have their happily ever after?

The main character in this book is Italian cuisine. The author’s maternal family is Italian and she remembers how important is cooking for them, how they show love through food. All over this novel, there are lots of food descriptions and metaphors and an appendix with some of the author’s own recipes. I suggest not reading it when you are hungry!

‘A recipe for love’ is written in third person solely from Danika’s point of view which is ideal as it keeps Finn’s mysterious behaviour a secret. It’s good to see that Ms. Madison wrote in Danika an older, slightly overweight and flawed character. Danika suffers from low self esteem, insecurity and negative body image. At the beginning, she reflects a lot about her past and lost opportunities which can be tedious and depressing but, throughout the book, it’s good to see her transformation. However, the gravity of the plot never shifts completely until the very end. Natalie, Danika’s best friend, is a great secondary character who brings a bit of much needed levity to the story.

The reader doesn’t get to know Finn except for her being younger and beautiful. Even though there is insta-attraction and insta-love, the mains remain separated most of the book. Their chemistry feels a bit off, possibly because the narrative distance is quite remote in the romance parts where the author uses more tell than show, specially in the sex scenes which sometimes are mentioned as an afterthought. I dropped my rating for this reason along with a few minor typos.

Overall, this is an ok age-gap romance that deals with serious issues such as terminal illness and the meaning of life, all surrounded by the sensuality of food. 3.5 stars.

ARC provided to me in exchange for an honest review.

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Review of ‘Listen’ by Kris Bryant.

‘Listen’ is part of the ‘Senses’ series by this author along with ‘Taste’ and ‘Touch’. It’s the story of Lily Croft, a former Classical music’s child prodigy who quit music altogether unable to handle the pressure of her career. She now suffers from anxiety and works as an actuary trying to keep to herself. One day she hears beautiful piano music coming from The Leading Note, a music education charity. Slowly she gets drawn to the place and its founder, Hope D’Marco, who is a very talented musician. Will Lily bring her walls down to accept Hope into her world or will her anxiety prove to be too much?

This novel is written in first person, as it is usual for Ms. Bryant, from the point of view of Lily. In my opinion, it is the right choice as the reader spends a lot of time in Lily’s headspace and can experience how anxiety affects her. The author, a sufferer of anxiety herself, has poured her heart out in this book. My understanding of this subject has increased exponentially from seeing it as an outsider to an insider perspective. It’s curious how Ms. Bryant stresses the role of music in calming her own anxiety and how music is the source of conflict for Lily. Anxiety comes in many forms.

After a childhood full of pressure to perform as the music prodigy she was, music for Lily is something to conquer, not a source of pleasure. By contrast, random surrounding noises calm her down. Hope understands this perfectly and prompts her to describe what she can hear in different life situations. That simple mechanism seems to bring about Lily’s musicality without any anxiety. Ms. Bryant describes this soundscape with some exquisite metaphors, it’s true what they say that music is everywhere. The whole book is beautifully written and makes the reader’s heart go out to people suffering from anxiety or any sort of mental health issue.

The characters are multilayered and well written in their strengths and weaknesses. Lily’s low self-esteem but, at the same time, her will to go out of her comfort zone, and Hope’s insecurities but positive personality, make them so human and loveable. Their chemistry together is incredibly off the charts and their intimate scenes are really well done. The secondary characters, including a very skittish and empathic cat, complete the cast perfectly. For me, as a former musician, the music scenes are realistic and bring out its beauty. All in all, it’s been a pleasure to read.

Overall, an excellent novel about anxiety, music, love and getting out of one’s comfort zone. 5 stars.

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

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Review of ‘The promise’ by Claire Highton-Stevenson.

Susan and Ali Jenkins are happily married until Susan is diagnosed with terminal cancer. With little time left, Susan asks Ali to promise her that when she’s gone Ali will be open to a new chance at love. Will Ali keep her promise?

This is a story that deals with a few difficult issues such as terminal illness, death and bereavement, but also conveys a message of hope and love. Normally books about widows finding love again don’t narrate the loss part or they just describe it as a flashback. This case is different. ‘The promise’ is divided into two parts: the first deals with Susan’s illness and death, and the second, much longer, narrates Ali’s struggle to cope with her loss and to keep her promise. It isn’t hard to guess that part 1 is as heartbreaking as part 2 is hopeful.

The book is written in third person from the point of view of Susan, Ali and Susan’s nurse Blair. In the second part, Susan keeps her voice in short flashbacks as Ali’s memories. Despite the issues involved in the story, the tone is not melodramatic or excessively dark mainly due to Susan’s personality and selflessness. Ali’s characterisation is realistic in her pain and struggle, and Blair is also portrayed with authenticity in how she’s ready to help as a nurse and a friend.

My only issue with this book that is reflected in my rating is that the novel has some minor editing issues like the usage of commas and some typos. Additionally, in my opinion, the balance between show and tell is a bit off and the introduction of some secondary characters is a bit confusing. Despite that, the story is engaging, compelling and will definitely tug at the reader’s heartstrings.

Overall, a moving and emotional read that will invoke both sadness and hope. 4 stars.

ARC provided to me in exchange for an honest review.

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