Book Review: Archer’s Voice By Mia Sheridan


Now, I have to confess, I’m relatively ignorant and generally dismissive of horoscopes. So despite the cover telling us that this is a ‘Sign of Love’ novel, and the whole Archer-archer-Sagittarius thing that I was probably meant to get, that element of Archer’s Voice sadly will probably have passed me by. However, there is still much to intrigue about Mia Sheridan’s warm, romantic novel.

In particular, the hero of the piece – Archer Hale is hot. A broody-yet-sexy recluse with a tragic past? How can you go wrong? Most interestingly, Archer is mute, a characteristic that I can’t say I’ve come across in a romantic hero thus far, and one that helped to draw me in to his character. I got less of a real sense of our heroine, Bree, but she too has her own sad past, from which she’s run away to move to the idyllic town of Pelion. Sheridan really captures small-town, lakeside feel nicely, and it felt like one step away from a Nicholas Sparks-based movie at times – which for me is no bad thing. Who doesn’t like scenes bathed in warm light while pretty people emote? Who!?

The occasionally alternating character point-of view was utilised fairly well, and I especially liked how the author handled Bree and Archer signing with one another – again it added an original slant to some well-worn ideas. Their romance develops well in the story, tentatively and with good tension, though I felt like perhaps the intensity of it unfolding could have been ratcheted up just a little more. Who doesn’t like intensity? Who!?

I also really appreciated that Sheridan took the time to investigate how getting into an intense relationship might affect Bree and Archer, especially as someone who’s been a recluse. His feelings of insecurity and worries for future were all believable and pretty well handled.

However… Sigh. The subtleties and nuances for me were all rather undone in the final portion of the story, which kind of descended into rushed convenience and 1-D baddies. And I’m not talking Harry and Zayn wearing Scream masks, though I’m sure that fan-fic exists. Sadly, for me, the shenanigans at the end of the story stretched credulity, and tied everything into a rather lame bow. A shame, as there is a lot to enjoy in Archer’s Voice. Give it a shot and see for yourself, p’raps!

Amazon Link:

Cringe Factor                                   2/5

Is it Hot in Here?                             3/5

For the Love of Feminism!           2.5/5

Overall Tasty Goodness                2.5/5


Book Review: Still Life With Strings By L.H. Cosway


L.H. Cosway’s Still Life With Strings begins with promising originality. Set in Dublin (already unusual in this genre) we meet Jade, a street performer (she’s one of those ‘living statues’ – is it just me or should people not reaaally expect money for standing still in body paint? Anyhoo…). She also works at the nearby classical music venue, in the bar. One night, Jade has a sudden, sexual encounter with a man who’s watching her street act – a man who then, perhaps inevitably, turns out to be a dashing violinist newly arrived to replace a musician in the orchestra at her workplace. This is Shane; handsome, erudite, eager and damaged, he makes no secret of his on-going attraction to Jade, but they decide to be friends – and then of course friendship turns into friends-with-benefits, which then turns messy and emotional…

This journey is well handled and there is palpable tension between Jade and Shane as she attempts to keep him at arm’s length for fear of triggering her alcoholism. Jade has a pleasing world-weariness that is born of her raising her younger siblings after her mother has died, and Cosway also paints an evocative picture of her life on the ‘wrong’ side of town.

Still Life With Strings seems set for an unique take on the recent trends in contemporary romance, and the first two-thirds of the story really do draw you in to Jade and Shane’s burgeoning connection. Unfortunately, however, like a relationship that gradually shows itself to be something you hoped it wouldn’t, the book begins to sink into over-the-top revelations and unnecessary drama. As the characters’ connections began to be over-played, I started to feel less and less compelled by their relationship, which is a shame.

With the exception of some slightly irritating asides direct to the reader, Cosway’s narrative is certainly well told and really does bring you into Jade’s world. It’s just unfortunate that the romance itself fizzled under the burden of injections of drama that I felt weren’t really necessary. These characters were compelling enough on their own – the final part of the narrative could perhaps have been more still, with fewer strings attached. (Oof).

Amazon Link:

Cringe Factor                                   2/5

Is it Hot in Here?                             3/5

For the Love of Feminism!           4/5

Overall Tasty Goodness                2.5/5

Book Review: Night Owl By M. Pierce


That ubiquitous arbiter of internet fact, Wikipedia, describes metafiction as “a literary device used to self-consciously and systematically draw attention to a work’s status as an artifact”. M. Pierce’s Night Owl doesn’t necessarily read like a metafictitious work – until you are introduced to the fact that Matt, one of the main characters in the story, writes hugely successful novels as one M. Pierce… Ooh. Cheeky. An intriguing premise, and the story itself is just as intriguing and original within this genre; Matt, as ‘Night.Owl’ is engaged in an anonymous writing partnership with a woman known as ‘Little.Bird’, conducting their back-and-forth narrative over the web. But things swiftly take a non-literary turn when their chat turns flirtatious – and then downright sexual.

The relative anonymity of the internet allows Matt to almost convince himself that what they’re doing is harmless, despite the fact he has a girlfriend who’s off travelling. But as he seeks, compulsively, to draw his and ‘Little.Bird’s worlds together, things get heated to say the least. Matt has an obsession with privacy – indeed, with anonymity – that is reflected in his mysterious, JD Salinger-esque reclusiveness despite his literary success. But it becomes a conflict when he meets ‘Little.Bird’ – aka Hannah.

Hannah is a voluptuous, confident woman in her early twenties, who’s just shot of a useless boyfriend and moving grudgingly back home to her family until she can get her life together. The narrative of Night Owl alternates between Matt and Hannah’s point of view, and both characters are compelling and well-drawn, somewhat ironically never feeling staged or forced despite the tease that ‘M. Pierce’ has written what we are reading.

The chemistry between Matt and Hannah is equally compelling, sexy and with just the right amount of tension. But I still long for a deeper exploration of why women in erotic fiction or romantic/erotic fiction are so often described as enjoying humiliation in a sexual context, given the feminist complexities it throws up. In Night Owl, at least the fact of this irony – that an otherwise forthright, non-submissive woman enjoys being essentially dominated and borderline-humiliated sexually – is acknowledged by Hannah, if not fully explored as an issue, and she recognises it as part of their dynamic. And, to be fair, the sexy scenes are pretty sexy…

But in many other respects, Night Owl does not stick slavishly to convention. As Matt’s deceptions begin to tangle with his and Hannah’s increasing feelings for one another, “the writer” handles Matt’s descent – and apparent relapse – into mental instability very well, and Hannah’s devastation and hesitant attempts to help are also very well handled. We’re left with an intriguing tease as the story ends, one that throws up all sorts of questions about where this planned trilogy is going next. I’m not often compelled to read on in a series, but M. Pierce has managed to pique my interest, that’s for certain. Well worth a read!

Amazon Link:

Cringe Factor                                   1.5/5

Is it Hot in Here?                             4/5

For the Love of Feminism!           2.5/5

Overall Tasty Goodness                4/5

Book Review: The Gravity Between Us By Kristen Zimmer


Now, being the John-Hughes-movie-loving romantic that I am, I’m all about a good friends-to-lovers story, and that is what The Gravity Between Us is. Well, it’s a friends-to-lovers story, in any case… Up-and-coming movie starlet Kendall and talented musician Payton have been friends since they were kids, but now Payton is in her first year of college and Kendall is being cast in blockbusters and nominated for awards and such. On a visit home to New Jersey, Payton rather abruptly comes out to Kendall, and subsequently comes to realise she has feelings for her friend. And as a result, despite having thought herself straight, Kendall begins to realise she too has feelings for Payton.

Aaaand – repeat.

That is pretty much the recurring theme of this book. Zimmer tells the story in alternating point-of-view between Kendall and Payton, but unfortunately, because of the similarity in their feelings for one another (I love her, but she can’t know), and the general lack of distinction in their characters, I often found myself struggling to remember whose POV we were in at any point in the story. Their internal struggles with their newfound emotions were, for me, lacking in nuance, and were stretched out for over half the book. This wouldn’t be an issue necessarily, but there was also a lack of passion, of desperation, of really wanting these characters to get it together. Even when they finally do express their wants and desires, it’s about as passionate as a snail crawling across a muddy flowerbed.

While Zimmer’s writing is assured, the content feels clichéd, especially the explorations of young Hollywood – but even those elements could probably have been pushed a little more. Unfortunately, I felt that The Gravity Between Us just plodded inexorably towards a predictable conclusion, with none of the enjoyment of knowing where a story is going but loving the ride. I wanted to feel the gravity of this one, and unfortunately I could just have easily have floated away from it. Ouch.

Amazon Link:

Cringe Factor                                   4/5

Is it Hot in Here?                            0.5/5

For the Love of Feminism!          2.5/5

Overall Tasty Goodness               2/5

Book Review: Making Faces By Amy Harmon


Now, not to seem all cynical again (ahem), but a goodly proportion of New Adult contemporary romances can be high on angst and shagging, and a little low on emotional content and subtlety. So when I embark upon reading one, I’m usually primed to expect romantic hand-wringing and predicable levels of physical contact. However, seek thou alternative reading material if that is what you’re looking for from Amy Harmon’s relatively chaste but certainly absorbing Making Faces.

The story is one thematically reminiscent of a nineties teen movie, or a Barbra Streisand vanity project, or indeed that old classic Beauty and the (uhh uhh) Beast. (Sorry, I always hear the Disney song when I think of that title). But Making Faces has something of a twist. It’s Beauty and the Beast that flips into Beast and the Beauty. Either way, the message – albeit a rather cliché one – is that it’s what’s inside that really counts. Fern Taylor has been in love with Greek God-like high school wrestling star Ambrose Young for as long as she can remember, but has to make do with writing and reading her romance novels seeing as he doesn’t know she exists. A tiny, gawky redhead with glasses and braces, she instead spends time hanging with her cousin and best friend Bailey, who is wheelchair bound due to a degenerative muscle disease. But when the Two Towers are hit, Ambrose feels honour-bound to enlist, taking his buddies with him. Unfortunately, they all perish when an IED explodes, leaving Ambrose the only survivor, horribly scarred (though only on one side of his face, of course). Fern, having grown up and got rid of the glasses and braces, is now something of a cutie. (As the aforementioned teen movies have shown us, this is all that is required to transform the optically-challenged from ugly to purdy…) Scarred Ambrose and newly-pretty Fern begin to reconnect, and soon romance sweetly blossoms.

However, trite as it may sound on paper, particularly with potential added heart-string tugging due to the 9/11 catalyst, Harmon does manage to bring some genuine emotional involvement, most especially in the form of the character of Bailey. Even though he’s the classic quippy side-kick, even though he’s the character with a disability that everyone can learn from, even though the aforementioned cynic in me could kind of see what was in store for his character – when the moment came it was unexpected, gut-wrenching and edge-of-the-seat tense. I only wish that the central relationship between Fern and Ambrose was just a little more deeply explored – and perhaps I do even mean with a bit more physical contact. But I think it’s more that although Fern changes physically, she has nowhere really to go as a character, and as such she’s a little one-dimensional. Similarly, Ambrose’s war wounds are deep but I never really felt for him in the same way I did for Bailey. Fern and Ambrose together are sweet but their relationship plays out predictably and maybe a touch too safely.

And yet in spite of all this, I found Making Faces a welcome change and a well-written, engrossing read, and a special mention ought to be made for the fact that Harmon has quite successfully written a third-person narrative that jumps between characters’ thoughts and feelings without feeling disjointed. But for a story that suggested the surface isn’t all that matters, I just wished it had delved a tiny tad deeper.

Amazon Link:

Cringe Factor                                   3/5

Is it Hot in Here?                             0.5/5

For the Love of Feminism!             2/5

Overall Tasty Goodness                  3/5

Book Review: Where I End and You Begin By Andra Brynn


If you’re one of those annoying people (like me, cough cough) who like to try and get one step ahead of the M-Night-Shyamalan-twisty-turny storytellers of the world, then Andra Brynn’s intriguing Where I End and You Begin is armed and ready to subvert your expectations to the very end. As we begin, Bianca, our narrator in this tale, tells us in no uncertain terms: “So. This is a ghost story.” And Brynn plays with the themes of ghosts, mortality and the liminal state in a clever and absorbing way throughout her story, returning to them over and again with a growing sense of their impact on the wider story.

Where I End and You Begin is full of portent, darkness and mystery, in a manner not often seen in New Adult contemporary romance. Indeed perhaps this is less a ‘romance’ per se, and more an exploration of a character, Bianca, who is caught in a spiral of depression, self-loathing and, resultantly, borderline alcoholism. She is aware of her problems and wants to get her life together, but when a particularly unpleasant experience forces a wake-up call, she develops a hesitant friendship with Daniel, a man who is experiencing his own kind of crisis. He feels compelled to help Bianca, but when his secret is revealed, it provides one of the most unique & genuinely interesting obstacles to a pair being together in an NA romance I’ve come across in a long time. The more philosophical – dare I say it, spiritual – ideas raised in the story I would perhaps even like to have seen taken further.

The story is also ripe with metaphor in the interesting pastime that Bianca’s friends – and eventually she and Daniel – adopt of exploring abandoned, decaying buildings. These structures are empty, yet full of secrets, unstable but with hidden strength. Unpredictable. Some of the sequences of the characters’ explorations of these buildings perhaps at first seem a little directionless or unnecessary, but as the story reaches its conclusion, the fragility of these spaces and their parallels with Bianca’s situation – and with the fragility of life itself – is very cleverly brought forth. Brynn’s literary style of writing is assured and compelling, though it is perhaps something of a risk drawing a character as potentially bleak and dark as Bianca, and having the reader view life through her eyes.

Although Bianca and Daniel’s relationship is one built on intriguing foundations, the focus of the story is not really on the pull between them, or their romantic or sexual relationship, and as such this story may not be one for those seeking an out-and-out, heart-rending romance. But I was particularly intrigued by Bianca’s mention of how we move backwards into the future, only looking into the past, with the unknowable stretching out behind our backs. Perhaps the journey she is on really involves forcing herself to turn around and look into the unknown possibilities in front of her.

For those seeking to have their expectations subverted with an unusual New Adult contemporary romance, this more than fits the bill. Where I End and You Begin will stay with you, making you think about the spaces in which we exist, how we perceive ourselves, and if we can change that. About the temptation of fear, of risk, of faith, and how those ideas play into the notion of love. Well worth your time.

Amazon Link:

Cringe Factor                                   1/5

Is it Hot in Here?                             2/5

For the Love of Feminism!           3.5/5

Overall Tasty Goodness                4/5

Book Review: The Plan By Qwen Salsbury


So Robert Burns said, in a far more Scots way, that ‘the best laid plans of mice and men often go awry’ (confession – thought it was Shakespeare til I looked it up. I’m a dumb-dumb). But in Qwen Salsbury’s hugely enjoyable novel, protagonist Emma Baker is no mouse, but she definitely has her eye on a man, and her plans to get him to notice her do not, of course, quite follow the path she expects.

Her boss, the wonderfully named Alaric Canon, is known for going through assistants like a sexy, alpha-male version of that fantastic fictitious sit-com journalist, and my childhood idol, Murphy Brown. (If you didn’t watch it, then that’s a random ref. Oh well. Find a box set.) Nobody seems to last more than a day under his strict demands, until Emma finds herself assigned the task – and going on a business trip with Mr Canon to boot. She’s been a keen observer or him, and his perfectly sculpted ass, and so is ready to do what needs to be done to reap the professional rewards that surviving the stint as his assistant will reward. Yes, what you think might happen does – but in a deliciously tense and compellingly sexy manner that had me keen to devour this Palate Cleanser in as few sittings as possible.

Salsbury tells the story through Emma’s eyes in a terse, self-deprecatingly funny journal-esque style, and our protagonist has a succinct, unique and evocative way with words, with punch lines that pay off fantastically. (The pineapple died in vain line is a killer – you’ll see). Emma is juggling law school at night with her number crunching job, and in a manner that perhaps many women do, finds herself changing her demeanour, her clothes, her behaviour, in order to appease the demands of Mr Canon. She holds back ideas and feelings and berates herself for it – but, when she finally snaps, she becomes more assertive than she could have imagined, and it’s a sexy thrill to experience as the story unfolds. The flip in their power dynamic is really nice to see after all the much-celebrated female subjugation of late. However, what Canon of course wants – what he’s always wanted and appreciated – is the real Emma.

If anything, it’s perhaps once the characters fully allow themselves to be honest and some of the tension drains away, that the story becomes a touch less driven and compelling. Occasionally the style of writing becomes a little harder to follow, and maybe Emma and Alaric become too deeply invested in one another too quickly – but these are only minor quibbles in what is a really engaging read. Plan to be entertained by this one.

Ouch. Sorry.

Amazon Link:

Cringe Factor                                   1/5

Is it Hot in Here?                            4/5

For the Love of Feminism!          3.5/5

Overall Tasty Goodness                4/5

Book Review: Jane’s Melody By Ryan Winfield


In many ways, Ryan Winfield’s Jane’s Melody is an usual novel in amongst the ‘palate cleanser’s’ featured on this blog. The first clue would be in the writer’s name – no, the book is not written by someone with a cool should-be-a-dude’s-name-but-is-actually-a-chick. He’s a full on, honest to goodness (I believe!) guy, and I was thrilled to find a male writer tackling a romantic story in this manner. Secondly, though, this novel is not what might be considered a traditional New Adult story – although some of the tropes are present (hot, charming young man in his twenties, strong romance, wondering what to do with one’s life) – our central heroine is a woman just turned forty years old. And lastly, rather than going for the first-person narrative often favoured by NA writers, Winfield has chosen a considered, often quite lyrical third-person narrative style. The initial beat of Jane’s Melody is borne out of grief, and this is a seam that runs through the novel in a haunting and emotive fashion. Melody is Jane’s daughter, who has just lost her struggle with drug and alcohol addiction. When Jane encounters a mysterious stranger at her daughter’s graveside, she begins a journey towards healing, heartbreak, and love that has many moments of genuine emotional power. As Jane’s relationship with the unknown twenty-something Caleb unfolds, Winfield manages to avoid the clichés of a cougar and her prey, instead creating realistic insecurities in their relationship that their age-gap would bring about, in a (mostly) subtle manner. The small-island, Washington setting is vividly rendered, as are Caleb’s musical abilities and ambitions, both belying the focus and attention that Winfield dedicated to his story as detailed in his lovely author’s note at the book’s conclusion. The journey of Jane and Caleb tentatively coming together as he begins his work as a live-in gardener, to their burgeoning relationship, to their fateful parting and eventual reconciliation is gently compelling. While the two of them didn’t make me want to scream or sob, there was a sweetness to the depiction of their romance, and I loved the scene when they part and it was Caleb who openly cried. Perhaps due to the subduing nature of the grief Jane is going through – and encounters again later in the story in another important relationship in her life – Jane’s Melody was not, for me, a novel that grabbed the guts and yanked, making you swing dramatically from pillar to post. It was more a meditative story about grief and love that gently plucked the heart strings.

Amazon Link:

Cringe Factor                                   1/5

Is it Hot in Here?                             2/5

For the Love of Feminism!            4/5

Overall Tasty Goodness                3.5/5

Book Review: Deeper By Robin York


Although it’s a wonderful Palate Cleanser, the narrative catalyst of Robin York’s engrossing, sexy, thought-provoking Deeper is something that may well leave a nasty taste in the mouth. Metaphorically, I mean. But perhaps that’s an awkward choice of phrase, given that the event that sets the story in motion is pictures of our heroine, Caroline, in flagrante being released on the Internet… So, use your imagination. Though in fact, what is fantastic about York’s story is that she does not shy away from the graphic, difficult nature of non-consensual pornography, and the consequences it can have for the individual upon whom so-called revenge is being sought.

In Deeper, Caroline believed she was sharing a private, intimate moment with her boyfriend, but when they break up and sexual images of her are disseminated across the Internet, she has a choice to make. The mortification, fear and shame that she feels are dealt with well – but then Caroline makes a decision, slowly, carefully, to abandon the feelings of negativity and ‘fault’ that are heaped upon her, and that she heaps upon herself. Instead she is learns that sex is not something to be ashamed of, and the hateful actions of others need to be separated from the sense of her own sexuality and strength. That’s where West comes in. Excellent name, for starters. He’s dangerous, cocky (ahem), intelligent, flirtatious, moody, imperfect (drug dealer, anyone?) – he’s a great foil for Caroline’s strong-willed but somewhat sheltered heroine. Plus, he works in a bakery. Free baked goods. Win-win. The narrative alternates in chunks between Caroline and West’s point-of-view, but never in a repetitive or contrived way, and it’s great to explore both of these characters and the totally convincing complexities that York allows each of them to inhabit. Their relationship plays out tantalisingly, with palpable sexual tension, and believable reasons, both internal and external, for the obstacles they face on the path to love. As they begin a sexual relationship, York manages to make their explorations seem both realistic and smoking hot, as well as allowing Caroline to reclaim her sexual – and personal – power through her relationship with West.

Little Spoiler Alert here, but I have to say: their bittersweet goodbye at the end of the book is totally credible and utterly heart-wrenching. It’s quite rare that I feel compelled to read on in a series – it always feels like a law of diminishing returns exploring past the initial stages of a romance in such stories. But with Caroline and West, I genuinely want to know what’s going to happen to them, how they will come back together. You want those kids to make it, gosh darn it. Robin York is here confronting an important issue facing young women today: who owns their sexuality, their image, who owns their body, who gets to tell them what is acceptable and what is not. (Clue: they do.) It’s refreshing to see an author allowing her heroine to make strong, positive decisions about her sexuality and her ownership of it, and York’s engrossing, beautifully written prose makes it all the more compelling. Like Caroline and West, you should get “deep and then deeper” into this one. Mmm. Sexy yet emosh. Do it.

Amazon Link:

Cringe Factor                                   1/5

Is it Hot in Here?                             4/5

For the Love of Feminism!          4.5/5

Overall Tasty Goodness                4/5

Book Review: Spiral By Mila Ferrera


There’s a huge amount going for Mila Ferrera’s fresh and absorbing novel Spiral. But, shallow thought it may be to admit, chief among them is the fact that the love-interest is glaringly based on the tall hunk of man-candy that is True Blood’s Alexander Skarsgard. Yes. Shhh. I don’t want to know if it’s not meant to be him. Our heroine’s guy, Dr Aron Lindstrom, is tall, he’s slender, he’s sexy, he’s Swedish. Now I’m not usually one to fangirl out and start posting pictures of who would, like, totally be cast in the movie of an NA novel. But – A-Skars. I once saw him striding, Adonis-like down a street in New York, turned to my companion to exclaim ‘OMFG, did you just see—’ Then realised I was with my lov-er-ly boyfriend. Love you boo. You’re my A-Skars. Etc etc. Phew. Anyway. Back to Spiral

Nessa Cavenaugh is on her way to becoming a fully-qualified psychologist, interning in a busy city hospital – a refreshingly intelligent, busy, motivated central character for an NA book – when she meets slightly-cute with aforementioned Viking-with-a-PHD, Aron. They begin a sexy but tentative relationship that is, at first, mildly plagued by gratifyingly plausible issues such as ‘I’m waay too busy to get into a relationship’ and ‘I’m scared of getting hurt’, rather than the artificial obstacles that can so often be forced into stories like this.

But where Spiral really comes into it’s own is in Ferrera’s exploration of the mind as an unsafe space – something that can turn on you, medically, emotionally. Can you trust love to be real? Can you trust your partner’s feelings, when you can’t walk around inside their mind? What if it’s a dangerous place? I found the intrusion of these difficulties on Nessa and Aron’s relationship was sensitively and persuasively handled. They gave a certain dark, bitter-sweetness to their love and their sexual relationship that added complexities to an already captivating story. In addition to this, the hospital setting allows for emotional subplots – with Aron being a paediatric oncologist, and Nessa working a psych rotation on that ward, there are bound to be some heartstrings tugged. It all feels genuine and well-researched, which surely belies some experience in these matters on Ferrera’s part. A highly recommended, well-written, hearty one for the gut.

Plus – A-Skars.

Amazon Link:

Cringe Factor                                   2/5

Is it Hot in Here?                             3.5/5

For the Love of Feminism!             4/5

Overall Tasty Goodness                4/5