book review: In the Barren Ground by Loreth Anne White

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Thank you to NetGalley and Montlake Romance for the ARC in exchange for an honest review. I appreciate it, as always!

I fell in love with Loreth Anne White’s writing when I read A Dark Lure. It was so unbelievably atmospheric and sensual and raw and terrifying. I read it – captivated – wishing only for more.

In the Barren Ground is a bit of a departure, in that it’s mostly mystery and there is barely any romance or sex. It’s as if White is pulling an Iris Johansen, and pulling out of writing romance altogether, to which I say – please don’t. I know that romance gets a bit of a bad rap, but the genre has a TON of loyal and devoted fans. And Loreth, you write fantastic romance. For real. A Dark Lure was very, very powerful and part of that was because of the build up of the romantic relationship between the two leads.

With that said, In the Barren Ground was very, very good. It has all of the taut suspense I’ve come to expect from White, as well as the compelling mystery that I couldn’t untwist for the life of me until the last second. Even then, there were still elements that left me breathless – it was definitely a page-turner.

There are some aspects of the novel that made me cringe. For one thing, the heroine has a hang up about sex, and seems to think she’d be a slutty slut for going to bed with the hero. Far be it for me to object to a woman feeling badly about herself for a natural human need, but come on now. It’s 2016. Can we move on?

Secondly, the hero is a bit problematic. Not saying he’s not appealing in a certain sense, but I didn’t buy his journey so much. I wanted to, no doubt. But his transition from scoundrel to good guy didn’t have a ring of Han Solo about it. It felt like White was directing the action, rather than the characters. Which brings me back to the lack of sex and romance. This novel would have benefited hugely from both.

But back to the good stuff. White’s sense of place is ridiculously good. One of my pet peeves is not feeling I *know* where the characters are. You’ll never have that issue in White’s novels. I was there with Tana and Crash, in the snow, in the neverending cold, in with the howling wind and the barren grounds. There was something almost gothic about the atmosphere – intentionally so – and it was beautiful and breathtaking.

All in all, this was an unputdownable read. My quibbles about romance / sex are personal preferences that of course not everyone will share I just hope that in future, White can marry the two again with her mystery, because THAT is a gorgeous thing to behold.

 

book review: The First Taste by Jessica Hawkins

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ARC kindly supplied by the author in exchange for an honest review. 

First of all, can we discuss that cover? Hellloooooo.

Second of all, can we discuss how damn good Jessica Hawkins is? To be fair, I’m already a big fan. The first book I read by her was Slip Of The Tongue (The First Taste is a sequel of sorts) and I went on to read the rest of her work, including one of my favourite series of all time – Cityscape. David and Olivia. Sigh, I can barely type their names without wanting to dissolve into a puddle of feelings.

So I had high expectations for The First Taste. I was trepidatious, considering I’m used to Jessica writing “forbidden” romances, and to be truthful, I prefer those above all others. However, my concerns were unfounded – The First Taste is smart, sexy and unputdownable. Best yet, it features a wholly unique heroine. Amelia isn’t like any ‘romance novel’ heroine I’ve read about before, and I found her to be a breath of fresh air (much like many of Hawkins’ heroines actually, but Amelia was next-level).

The First Taste is about Andrew Beckwith (Sadie’s brother from Slip Of The Tongue), a single parent, entrepreneur and sexy-as-fuck maaaan. (Yes, that needed the extra a’s.) When Sadie’s boss Amelia mistakes Andrew for the plumber coming to fix the office toilet, sparks immediately fly between the two. Both are prickly, intelligent, determinedly unemotional and most importantly – unavailable. So what can one night of sex hurt… right?

Well, wrong, clearly… or we wouldn’t have a book. :p Amelia and Andrew have shattering sex. The kind that destroys your expectations. The kind that ultimately changes your life. Because after that intense, raw, passionate night – Amelia and Andrew find it very difficult to keep to their respective status quos of “no relationships, ever, thanks bye”. Instead, they find themselves wanting to be in each other’s lives and struggling to understand how they can possibly fit together when they’re so very different.

Amelia doesn’t eat carbs. Andrew loves pasta. Amelia is a city girl. Andrew loves the outskirts. Amelia thinks kids are weird. Andrew is a single father to a squishy lovebug of adorableness named Bell. Amelia is badly, badly broken from her past marriage. Andrew is recovering from the abandonment of Bell’s mother and his girlfriend. Both of them have baggage to spare. The trick is whether they can unpack it together and whether or not love – true, abiding, sensual, imperfect – love is worth it.

The journey to them finding out is rife with drama and the kind of sex scenes that will make you want to read this book alone, with a glass (or bottle) of red wine. Seriously, they are toe-curlingly delicious.

All in all, The First Taste was everything I didn’t know I wanted – a soul-affirming tale of two damaged souls finding each other in the quagmire of daily life. A beautifully written ode to second chances. And a very mature, very sexy and very real take on love in your thirties.