Review of ‘Gnarled Hollow’ by Charlotte Greene.

I really enjoyed this. This is the fifth book I have read by Greene and by far my favorite. The best way to describe this would be paranormal/mystery/crime, with a little romance. The paranormal is on the darker side, you could almost put a horror tag on this. I was well and truly creeped out at times. This would be a perfect book to read around Halloween time.

Emily is an English professor, who has just been laid off before reaching tenure. She is feeling bleak and a bit depressed with no new jobs on the horizon. When she gets a letter, inviting her to study the papers of an important deceased author, she hopes this is the break she needed. Little is known about the author’s life since she became a recluse in her estate of Gnarled Hollow until death. Emily and a few other scholars will be spending the summer living and learning about the estate, art, and the author’s diaries. But when Emily gets to Gnarled Hollow she quickly realizes there is something strange going on. Gnarled Hollow is hiding secrets that may put their lives in danger. Can Emily and her fellow scholars figure out the mystery before it is too late?

When I read the blurb for this book I was very excited to read this. This sounded like my kind of book. The book ended up being everything I was hoping for. I have to be honest that Greene felt like a new author to me. Not sure if she was just having fun writing this book, but I felt like it was a big step up from her previous books. I really hope she would consider writing more paranormal or mystery-crime books in the future.

As I mentioned above this book is a little dark, some violence, and touches on some disturbing subjects. I could easily see this as a movie that makes you jump and hold the covers up by your face. But it’s far from all dark. It has a very interesting mystery and a bit of a sweet romance. The main character of Emily was pretty easy to root for and get behind. Her blossoming romance with another scholar was a nice change of pace to have in the book. There are no explicit sex scenes, but with everything going on in the house, it might have felt a little odd to be reading about steamy sexy time in the middle of a haunted house.

In mentioning words like almost horror and violence, I hope I’m not putting people off. While yes this book is dark, but it wasn’t really graphic if that makes sense. While I was jumpy and creeped out at times, I was never really scared. The book was more intense and hooked you in, not a stomach-turning too hard to read kind of book. It had some good twists and kept me in suspense until the end. In fact, I was a little sad when it ended. While this is longer than the average Bold Strokes’ book, I would have loved even a little more.

I would absolutely recommend this to paranormal-crime/mystery fans. Because it is a bit dark and creepy, I know it might not appeal to everyone, but this was definitely my kind of book. I really hope Greene takes the opportunity to write more books in similar genres. I would love to read them if she does. 5 stars.

An ARC was given to me by BSB for an honest review.

Review of ‘Uninvited’ by Jane C. Esther.

This was a different read. I enjoyed Esther’s debut book, but I have to admit I didn’t care for this one as much. It’s sort of one of those “what the heck did I just read?” kind of books. I like weird and I love sci-fi, this just was not what I was expecting.

The story is about Aerin, who has some kind of sensory attack while at a lake in upstate New York. She has no idea what happened to her but she knows she is different now. Aerin doesn’t want to risk going to a hospital so she seeks out a doctor/scientist for help. The problem is the doctor is Olivia, Aerin’s ex-girlfriend and childhood best friend. Can they keep the memories of the past at bay to find out what is wrong with Aerin?

For the most part, this book is what I would consider sci-fi lite. It actually might not be a bad choice for someone who wants to stick their toe in sci-fi but is a little reluctant. However, that’s not to say that this book is not weird. And I did feel it became a little convoluted towards the end. It almost felt like Esther was trying to cram too much in and my head was spinning a bit. Which is odd considering this is a shorter book that could have been made longer and is the start to a series (‘The portal’).

This leads me to a complaint, I hated how the book just ended. It didn’t even feel like a cliffhanger (although it is) but more like part of the book’s end is just missing. I hate when books end like that, drives me nuts. I did not realize when I grabbed this book that it was a series with no current ending. Knowing what I know now, half of me wonders if I would have still read this, but then the other half says ‘hey its lesfic sci-fi’, of course, I still would have read it.

Besides the annoying ending my biggest issues were the characters. I really struggled. I thought that Aerin was sort of okay. It was hard to connect to her because I could not tell if she was who she normally was or if she changed because of what happened to her in the lake. Is this her real personality? It made me feel disconnected to her so I felt a little indifferent instead. Olivia, on the other hand, was, in my opinion, awful. She was just nasty to Aerin and was still nasty with only a few chapters left to go. There was no time for character redemption. She was stuck on something that happened when she was sixteen and put too much anger on another child, it just didn’t make sense. All of her feelings were not invalid, but they sure should not have taken a whole book to get over. Maybe her character will grow in the next book, but something big needs to change or I will never believe in a possible romantic connection between the two mains.

Even though this was a weird premise, it had potential. I’m just such a character-driven reader that the characters messed up too much of the book for me. This is one of those books I can’t recommend, but I won’t say stay away either. With as much as I struggled with this, I will still probably read the next book since I want an ending. I’m hoping Esther can really turn things around in the next installment. 3 stars.

An ARC was given to me for an honest review.

Review of ‘Second Chances’ by A.E. Radley.

Alice Spencer is an elementary school teacher that just moved to the small coastal town of Fairlight, England for a change of pace. Her work in the city left her yearning for smaller class sizes and an opportunity to make a difference in her students’ lives. Hannah Hall was born and raised in Fairlight and, despite having had a difficult childhood, never left the small town. Now she is a struggling single mother to daughter Rosie, who is a gifted child and about to start school for the first time.

The story showcases Hannah’s relationship with Rosie. Their interactions are, in my opinion, the highlight of the book. The banter between mother and daughter is adorable and well written. The same can be said between Hannah and Alice to a lesser extent. I do wish there were more insightful moments between the leads to cement their bond instead of Rosie being ever present as a catalyst for the relationship. That said, perhaps this is the most accurate way to portray a single mother relationship where the child must be present and should be the priority for both adults. That topic was well handled and depicted. Unfortunately that left fewer opportunities to develop the romance and the lack of sex scenes might disappoint some readers.

Hannah’s character is flawed but her struggles and reactions are genuine and credible. The character is always attempting to overcome her previous experiences and the feelings they evoke in order to keep Rosie from suffering the same fate. Hence, this is also a book about Hannah and the Fairlight community’s relationship. Can Alice be the person that helps Hannah finally let go of her tumultuous past?

The chapters have individual titles pertinent to their content. This was a charming detail and I found myself looking forward to reading them. Instead of acting as a spoiler, it gave me a sense of anticipation of things to come. The book cover is also well designed and visually appealing. I loved the pencil turned tree, the colors and the use of different fonts.

Overall, a good read with a cool kid and a sweet new family. 4 stars

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Review of ‘Undiscovered affinity’ by Jane Hardee.

Olivia Reynolds is a manager at an athletic wear company dedicated exclusively to her job. She likes no-strings relationships and to be always in control. Cardic Lawson is a cultural anthropology professor dedicated to the study of polygamy and a firm disbeliever in committed relationships. After a chance encounter and acknowledging their mutual attraction, they decide to engage in a casual relationship. But as things start to get heated and their relationship develops, will they recognise their own changing feelings? Will Olivia be able to let go of her need to control everything?

This novel deals with different interesting issues such as commitment, polygamy vs. monogamy and body image. The author dedicated this book to all plus-size ladies and includes one of them as a lead. Kudos to Ms. Hardee for writing a plus-size character comfortable in her own skin and for discussing the neglectful attitude of the fashion industry towards large clothing sizes. It’s also very interesting the way the story connects Cardic’s anthropological research subject (polygamy vs monogamy) and the main romantic plot.

Having said that, there are some issues in the execution of the story. It was hard for me to see the development of the mains’ chemistry from the no-strings sex to a more meaningful lovemaking. The author sets the tone very well for a detached relationship but, in my opinion, fails to develop it into a romance in a believable way. Maybe it’s because the balance between telling and showing is a bit off and it’s hard to see the characters’ changes through their behaviour rather than from what the author tells us. Despite this, ‘Undiscovered affinity’ is a good read that might appeal the fans of no-strings to romance stories.

Overall, a good romance that deals with commitment, monogamy and losing control. 3.5 stars.

ARC provided to me in exchange for an honest review.

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Review of ‘Hooked on you’ by Jenn Matthews.

School teacher Anna finds herself stressed and bored so she decides to take on crochet classes with Ollie, an army veteran and the owner of the craft shop ‘Darn that yarn’. As Ollie teaches Anna how to crochet, both women soon become friends and slowly discover their mutual attraction. But a jealous ex-boyfriend, their wary offspring and a good dose of self-doubt get in their way to love. Will they have a happily ever after?

This is a debut novel by British author Jenn Matthews featuring main characters in their 50s, both divorced, one a lesbian and the other allegedly straight. As the reader can tell by the cover and the title, crochet is at the center of this story and it’s the facilitator of the relationship between the leads. You don’t need to love crochet to read this book (I personally don’t) but an interest in arts and crafts would be beneficial.

As an avid crocheter herself, Ms. Matthews knows what she’s talking about and the novel is filled with descriptions of techniques and materials for the craft. Personally, I think that the book goes into too many details (crochet or otherwise) that could have been removed to make the pace of the story slightly faster. Having said that, the slow-burn romance suits this type of story and I was pleased to see that the author took her time to develop the mains relationship and the subplots.

The crochet classes environment works well to present the good number of secondary characters and to build the leads relationship. I liked how the author gave hints of their attraction through their body language and the natural sounding dialogues. The author is very cinematographic in her descriptions, she makes it easy for the reader to create a mental picture of the scenes. All the characters, mains or secondary, feel multi-layered and authentic, including Anna’s autistic son. The sex scene is well written in addition to an excellent self-pleasuring scene. One of the best that I’ve read in non-erotica lesfic.

Through and through, this novel has a distinct British feel not only in the use of the language but also in many British references such as the use of tea as a conversation enabler or alcohol as a social lubricant. This helps to establish the tone and setting of the novel, providing authenticity and a credibility to the story.

Overall, a very good slow-burn romance between a couple in their 50s with the unusual setting of a crochet class and an authentic British feel. 4 stars.

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

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Review of ‘Emily’s art and soul’ by Joy Argento.

Emily Sanders is facing a few challenges in life. She’s recently divorced from her husband, her mum passed away and she has to take care of her 23 year old Down syndrome sister. But the biggest challenge of all comes in the shape of her new co-worker, Andi Marino who is beautiful, caring and a lesbian. Andi not only becomes her best friend but makes Emily wonder about her own sexuality.

Despite the seriousness of certain issues touched by this novel such as bereavement, Down syndrome and coming out at 35, this is a positive and humorous story. Ms. Argento sets this light tone through the leads’ dialogues which are funny, full of banter and innuendo. Even Emily’s interior monologues
while examining her sexuality are amusing. Her explorations into the lesbian world provides a peculiar but, at the same time, familiar point of view. There are a few hilarious moments like the speed dating incident or the golf scene which are done really well.

Written in third person from the point of view of both main characters, the leads are well rounded and credible. As a ‘friends to lovers’ romance the author skillfully transforms their budding friendship to an increasing intimacy. Mindy, Emily’s Down syndrome sister, is a great secondary character, very realistic in her traits and interactions with other people. Her fresh outlook on life and her ‘best friend’ declarations help to keep the upbeat tone.

I think the author draw a lot of her life experience in this book (her brother has Down syndrome, it’s set in the area where she lives and, like Emily, she is an artist specialised in oil paintings) which makes the story sound really authentic. My only issue with this book is that the light tone set throughout the novel is lost temporarily in a forced conflict between the main characters. Even though the conflict seems realistic it sticks out like a sore thumb. Luckily this is a short interruption of what otherwise is a very entertaining read.

Overall, a light and humorous story of the ‘friends to lovers’ trope along with a late coming out. 4 stars.

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

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