Review of ‘Thorn’ by Anna Burke.

Rowan is the daughter of a merchant who unknowingly gives her a cursed rose taken during an ill-fated hunting trip. The rose was in a land of eternal winter inhabited by a mysterious woman called the Huntress. Furious at the merchant for killing her wolves and stealing her rose, the Huntress irrupts into the merchant’s house and takes the rose back along with Rowan. Trapped in the Huntress’s realm of eternal winter and curse, Rowan will have to choose between her family loyalties and her growing feelings for the Huntress.

Following my new year resolution to read more books out of my comfort zone, I chose a genre that I seldom read: fantasy. ‘Thorn’ is a retelling of ‘Beauty and the Beast’. In this novel, according to the author, bravery and not beauty defines Beauty. As in her previous book ‘Compass Rose’ Ms. Burke is very poetic in her metaphors, this time changing naval comparisons for winter ones. Her depiction of the freezing landscape with its vast gamut of whites, menacing beasts and dimmed sunlight acts as an ideal backdrop to this beautiful story.

This novel is written in first person from the point of view of Rowan except for a few short sections written in third person point of view from the Huntress. Both main characters are well-rounded and believable and the reader cannot help but feel the pain of both: the Huntress as a victim of her own arrogance and Rowan as a casualty of her father’s weakness. Underneath lies a heavy criticism to the patriarchal system, in which women are traded as goods in the name of their fathers’ interests, and the confict between family loyalties and a woman’s search for true love.

‘A rose for a rose, a thorn for a thorn’. With each repetition of this mantra, the reader sees this phrase in a different light. The tone of this novel shifts back-and-forth from poetic and romantic as a rose, to hurting and heartbreaking as a thorn. Similarly, the pace changes from slow-burn romance to fast paced thriller. This book has been a pleasure to read and shows that Anna Burke is quickly becoming more than a promising writer.

Overall, a very good lesfic retelling of the classic ‘Beauty and the Beast’. A tale of suffering, bravery and love conquering all. 5 stars.

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

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Review of ‘Major surgery’ by Lola Keeley.

Veronica Mallick is the head of the Acute Medical Unit in a London hospital. She’s both an accomplished surgeon and an efficient administrator. Major Cassie Taylor, a former army doctor, is the new Head of Trauma. Her preference for action rather than becoming entangled in the hospital’s bureaucracy grates on Veronica’s nerves. But when they both realise that there is a colleague defrauding the hospital, they join forces to prove him guilty. Will the investigation fuel their budding attraction or make their initial antagonism worse?

I have to admit that I had big expectations about this book after Ms. Keeley’s debut novel ‘The music and the mirror’ made into my list of Best Lesfic Books of 2018. Even though I liked ‘Major surgery’, it didn’t blow my mind as her previous one.

Having said that, Ms. Keeley, who comes from an IT background, has the impressive ability to write about dispariging worlds with insider knowledge, first in ballet and now medicine. This novel provides a good insight to UK’s health system, its strengths and shortcomings.

Written in third person from the point of view of both main characters, this is an interracial, ‘enemies to lovers’ romance. Even though their initial antagonism and their eventual relationship is credible, I didn’t feel that their chemistry was off the charts. However, it might be me comparing this couple to Victoria and Anna in ‘The music and the mirror’ or Eden and Simone in ‘And the bells are ringing’, her short story in ‘Language of love’. Ms. Keeley knows how to write damn hot couples.

The story has an investigation side, with someone embezzling hospital funds and trying to frame Cassie, and a minor issue in Veronica’s family. Both conflicts are solved relatively easy which agrees with the light tone of the novel.

Overall, a very good medical romance with the ‘enemies to lovers’ trope. 4 stars.

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

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Review of ‘The Goodmans’ by Clare Ashton.

Dr. Abby Hart lives in a little town in England secretly in love with her straight best friend Jude Goodman. Her mother, Maggie Goodman, is like a parent to Abby. But Abby isn’t the only one hiding secrets and they could surface any time with enormous consequences for everyone involved.

What an incredible read. Ms. Ashton has done it again. The first impression is that this is a ‘best friends to lovers’ romance but it’s so much more. This book has it all: love, romance, family drama, angst, quirky humour, sex, social criticism, redemption and deep insights in motherhood and ageing. It even has unexpected twists and turns.

‘The Goodmans’ is written in third person from the point of view of the three main characters Abby, Jude and Maggie. The author finds a distinctive voice for each one respecting their personalities and ages. Maggie is described in all her complexity and Abby in her insecure but honest self. The dialogues are engaging and the descriptions of a small town in middle England are realistic and evocative. The social critique is current but universal at the same time. As she did in her previous novel ‘Poppy Jenkins’, Ms. Ashton builds the mains’ chemistry and pent up attraction to superlative levels and delivers the intimate scenes beautifully.

This book can be at times funny, heartbreaking, feel-good, inspiring, surprising or shocking. It raises the level of lesfic novels to its highest standard. Ms. Ashton delivered a tale that transcends lesbianism and England to describe humanity in general. Highly recommended.

Overall, an excellent novel recommended to anyone who enjoys romance and family drama. 5+ stars.

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