Review of ‘1st Impressions. A Cassidy James Mystery’ by Kate Calloway.

Cass James moved to the small lake town of Cedar Hills, Oregon after her partner died. Not needing to work, she finds herself learning the private detective ropes after her best friend suggested it. Erica Trinidad stopped by her uncle’s lake house on her way to Canada. That night, her uncle was murdered and abandoned in the lake. Erica ends up hiring Cass to help solve the murder for which she has now become the prime suspect. Things get more complicated as Cass unravels the case and finds herself in the thick of it.

This is a fun story that grabs your attention with the very first sentence. The setting is this little town of a few hundred where crime is not common. However, it seems any of the residents are capable of murder overnight. It was fun to “come along” with Cass for the interviews and have a guess at who was involved in the crime. That said, there was no major plot twist, which may disappoint serious mystery/thriller readers alike. The story could have also benefited from more action scenes early on instead of saving most of it until later in the book.

I actually did not realize this book was published during my freshman college year, 1996, until I finished it. There was mention of poor cellphone reception in the town but I assumed it was just due to the location. Now I see how it was simply because cellphone networks were not well established then. It was interesting to see how Cass had to call from a pay phone and check her home answering machine! That’s a blast from the past.

This is the first of eight books in the series. The mystery is the book’s main focus and the romance is the side story, but it feels more like the foundation for more to come. I will be reading the rest of the series to see what happens with the leads and the rest of these likable characters.

Overall a nice read culminating in good action. 3.5 stars

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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 ‘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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