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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Review of ‘Drawing the line’ by K. D. Williamson.

Dr. Dani Russell is a Pediatric resident dedicated to her job and nothing else. She comes across as distant and cold to everyone except her little patients and her best friend Rick. She is content with her life until Detective Rebecca Wells, Dani’s ex and the reason why she is so isolated, comes back to Atlanta permanently. She has done a lot of introspection and is decided to mend things with her. But Dani has changed a lot and refuses to even acknowledge Rebecca. Will they have a chance to heal old wounds, build a friendship or maybe more?

This is book 4 of K. D. Williamson’s ‘Cops and Docs’ series. ‘Drawing the line’ is a second chance romance with an interracial couple and a bisexual character. Written in third person from the point of view of both main characters, the reader gets in their headspace a lot. The problem is that, most of the time, these characters are hard to like. These women have serious baggage, for intelligent, independent women you wonder how they could sometimes be so immature.

To make matters worse, they are separated from each other a lot so it’s hard to feel their chemistry, except for some flashbacks when their relationship was fine. It is good to see, though, how they both start making an effort separately in their professional lives and with their common friend Rick who should win a prize for patience. The subplots of both mains dealing with juvenile disappearances or seriously ill children makes them more likeable but those stories do nothing to push the romantic plot forward.

Maybe Ms. Williamson wrote herself into a corner, she skilfully created conflicted and flawed characters and she excelled at making the sparks fly when they fight. Their minimal encounters, constant bickering and the hate sex (as described by Rebecca) don’t help building the relationship either. So a happy ever after in this context feels a bit forced. Not the best scenario for a romance.

Overall, an ok read if you enjoy second chance romances with a lot of drama at the side. 3.5 stars.

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

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Review of ‘When the stars sang’ by Caren J. Werlinger.

Kathleen Halloran spent every summer of her childhood in her grandmother’s house in Little Sister, an isolated island in Maine, until her younger brother died in an accident there. Twenty five years later, after her grandmother died, she decides to move back permanently. But the islanders are a tight community and her arrival stirs old memories and distrust. Among them is Molly Cooper, the attractive part-time sheriff that is less than enthusiastic about the newcomer. But as they get to know each other, their attraction grows and Molly wonders if Kathleen’s past will make her bond with the island or take her away forever.

This is a very good novel by Ms. Werlinger with many different ingredients like drama, angst, humour and romance in a delicate balance. Written in third person from the point of view of both main characters Kathleen and Molly, the story unveils slowly ideal for taking all in.

Ms. Werlinger builds an interesting world in this small island. She takes her time describing how the islanders blend their Irish and native (First Ones) heritage, their mix of Paganism and Catholicism, a culture not attached to consumerism or property laws and very close to nature.

There are lots of secondary characters but Ms. Werlinger introduces them slowly and each with their own distinct personalities so it’s not a burden on the reader to recognise them. There are different types such as extroverts, introverts, mystic, caring, loyal, and even quirky, like in Robin Alexander’s books. There is also space for a very cute dog.

My only issue with this book is that I couldn’t feel the sexual intimacy between the main characters, they feel more like life companions, lacking passion. It doesn’t help that all sex scenes are fade to black. It’s a minor issue because this story isn’t solely a romance. Additionally, the villain characters, especially Kathleen’s parents, seem a bit stereotyped and the story could have gained from getting to know them better in their suffering. Having said that, this is a very enjoyable book for those who are looking to read a life story rather than a romance.

Overall, a very good book about life in a small and tight community. 4.5 stars.

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

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Review of ‘Cameron’s rules’ by Baxter Brown.

After an accidental meeting in which writer Julie Carter spills coffee on corporate lawyer Cameron Kassen’s clothes, Julie gets hooked and invites her on a date. But Cameron lives in Toronto and Julie in San Diego and the distance between them isn’t just physical…

One of the issues I have with this book is that, in my opinion, it is marketed completely wrong. I have three reasons to support my argument: first, it is under the romance category while it should have been categorised as general fiction. Second, the cover suggests a light read which is completely the opposite. Third, the book blurb is misleading, again suggesting a playfulness that this novel lacks. It’s not wise to mislead the readers as it can backfire when the expectations don’t meet reality. The proof is in the reviews, don’t take my word, see what other readers say.

‘Cameron’s rules’ is written in first person from the point of view of Cameron which gives the reader a prime access to her headspace. To say that Cameron isn’t a lovable character is the lesfic understatement of the year. In 90% of the book she comes across as a self-centered, manipulative and irredeemable person. She would be a great evil character. Unfortunately, she’s not very good romance novel material. Being in her headspace for long feels a bit claustrophobic but luckily there is a story inside the story that it’s written in third person from Julie’s point of view. Not enough to balance things out but at least to give the reader a break.

The book is not badly written, as a matter of fact, it’s a very good standard for a debut novel. The balance between showing and telling is fine, the dialogues sound natural and the characters are well rounded. However, in my opinion, if the author was trying for a romance, the plotting and the characters’ development should have taken another direction. Unfortunately, 90% of the book is spent on why the characters couldn’t be together. So much so that the author successfully convinced me that they shouldn’t. Not the best of ideas for a romance. I’d downright call it anti-romance.

As much as I appreciate the effort that the author put in her work, I found this read unrewarding and, unfortunately, I cannot recommend it if you are looking for a romance. However, I’d read another book by this author in the future as I see talent and potential in her writing.

Overall, 2.5 stars rounded up to 3.

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

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