Posts Tagged With: Romance

A Place of Secrets by Rachel Hore

REVIEW CONTAINS SPOILERS

Addition: Library paperback

Genre: Historical mystery, female fiction

Rating: 4/5

Synopsis:

The night before it all begins, Jude has the dream again…

Can dreams be passed down through families? As a child Jude suffered a recurrent nightmare: running through a dark forest, crying for her mother. Now her six-year-old niece, Summer, is having the same dream, and Jude is frightened for her.

A successful auctioneer, Jude is struggling to come to terms with the death of her husband. When she’s asked to value a collection of scientific instruments and manuscripts belonging to Anthony Wickham, a lonely 18th-century astronomer, she leaps at the chance to escape London for the untamed beauty of Norfolk, where she grew up.

As Jude untangles Wickham’s tragic story, she discovers threatening links to the present. What have Summer’s nightmares to do with Starbrough folly, the eerie crumbling tower in the woods from which Wickham and his adopted daughter Esther once viewed the night sky? With the help of Euan, a local naturalist, Jude searches for answers in the wild, haunting splendour of the Norfolk forests. Dare she leave behind the sadness in her own life and learn to love again?

This is a historical mystery that haunts one family, that is laced with a love story. Jude works for a prestigious auctioneer company in London. Things are looking bad for the company since the recession hit – that is until she receives a call from the Starbrough residence in Norfolk. They have a library which has many first additions and some historic star gazing equipment. Jude doesn’t know what to expect when she arrives in Norfolk – her old home. What she finds is an old folly, a niece having the same nightmares she used to have a family mystery and a lovely man…

I really enjoyed this book. It was not a quick read, but it was well worth reading. This is a book that encompasses the past and the present, love, history, astrology, travellers and family. The main focus of the book is the mystery. Jude is at Starbrough to look through and catalogue Anthony Wickham’s library collection, however, very early on she comes across a diary, not kept by Anthony, but his adopted daughter Esther. There are no records of Esther in the family archives – who was she? Where did she come from and what happened to her? Are the suspicions right – is she a girl from a noble background? If so, how did she end up lost at the side of the road in Norfolk, aged three? There are so many questions for Jude to answer. She roams around the countryside, hunting for clues – is there another diary? I really enjoyed this story line. Hore includes sections from Esther’s diary in the story – taking us back to her life – adding another dimension to the story.

Alongside this, Jude is still trying to recover from the death of her husband, her Gran has given her a necklace that belonged to her traveller friend, and wants Jude to find the friend to return the necklace and Jude is struggling with her sister Claire and the fact Claire’s daughter Summer is having the same nightmares that Jude used to have. What is the connection? Why is Summer having those dreams too? The most exciting part of the book was the climax at the end – Summer goes missing. Her dream leads her to the old folly – the building where Anthony Wickham used to star gaze. It is unsafe, possibly haunted and scares Summer. Yet she sleep walks there. It turns out, she is going to try and save Esther – who was locked up there after her father died – even though Esther lived in the 1800s. What is the connection between Esther and Summer?

All is revealed at the end – loose ends tied up and questions answered. Maybe the connections were too predictable and unrealistic, but I liked it! The ending is very neat – the family line that runs down to Summer and the Lord who happened to be working with the Jude’s auctioneer company. However, all answers were satisfying, and I enjoyed the way Hore wrapped the book up.

This is a complex book with many story lines, all linked fascinating. There is a love story – we get to see Jude’s broken heart healed by Euan – even though there was confusion about which sister he was falling for. Again, this romance is fairly predictable, but it was lovely anyway, and didn’t take over the story. It was a nice story that completed the book.

I thought all the characters were great to read about. I felt for Jude – finding it hard to relate to her sister, struggling with love and working hard to solve the Wickham mystery and get a great sale for her company. I really liked Chantel as well – the mother who lived at Starbrough Hall. She was caring, and loved the library – a great reason for me to like her!

This is a complex, exciting book. It has mystery, suspense and romance. This is the second book by Rachel Hore that I have read and I have really enjoyed both. She is fast becoming a favourite author and I highly recommend this book.

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The Oracle of Dating by Allison van Diepen

I got this as a review book from netGallery, and am really pleased I did!

Synopsis:

No one at Kayla’s school knows she’s the famous Oracle of Dating—the anonymous queen of dating advice, given through her own Web site. Kayla doesn’t even have a boyfriend. Two relationship disasters were enough to make her focus on everyone else’s love life. But then her advice backfires on her own best friend. And Kayla starts to seriously obsess about Jared Stewart—the very cute, very mysterious new guy in school. Suddenly, the teen queen of advice needs her own oracle of dating–and she knows just where to find one…

This is great young adult chick-lit. The star of the story is Kayla – an ordinary 15 year old, but she has a secret. She is the Oracle of Dating. She runs a website and a helpline that gives out relationship advice. She herself however has sworn off men. But she is red-blooded teenager and Jared is hot…

This book is so enjoyable. I read in a matter of hours, I was just hooked. It is a simple storyline, but it is engaging and funny. It is a light, pleasant read that adults as well as teenagers will enjoy. There really was nothing to dislike or complain about. I guess the outcome is predictable but getting there was fun. van Diepen is a wonderful writer, she has created a funny storyline, which has some quite good relationship advice in, and some characters you can’t help but like.

Kayla is a very enjoyable read. She is cool, calm and collected, until she starts to notice Jared. She made me laugh with her blog posts – what a great way to get through to men! She was a believable character – a girl who loves her friends and family, has an ordinary reaction to school, has a part time job and does have to contend with hormones! I liked how van Diepen was happy to have Kayla getting advice and learning from relationship books – it made her site more believable. I really liked all the characters in this book. Kayla has a great group of friends – my favourite being Ryan and Jared was a nice guy – easy to see why Kayla fell for him.

I love the idea of the Oracle of Dating. I think the advice given was quite good actually. van Diepen deals with relationships and leaps of faith well. It isn’t the most original idea but it was great reading.

This book did remind me a little of Sarah Dessen’s The Truth About Forever, however I loved that book so that is not criticism. The lead men in both books were similar – quiet, artistic and a bit dangerous, but like I said, that is not a bad comparison. Overall, I really enjoyed this book and would recommend it to anyone who likes young adult books or romance novels.

4/5

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The Wedding by Nicholas Sparks

Synopsis:

After thirty years of marriage, Wilson Lewis, son-in-law of Allie and Noah Calhoun (of The Notebook), is forced to admit that the romance has gone out of his marriage. Desperate to win back his wife, Jane’s, heart, he must figure out how to make her fall in love with him… again. Despite the shining example of Allie and Noah’s marriage, Wilson is himself a man unable to easily express his emotions. A successful estate attorney, he has provided well for his family, but now, with his daughter’s upcoming wedding, he is forced to face the fact that he and Jane have grown apart and he wonders if she even loves him anymore. Wilson is sure of one thing–his love for his wife has only deepened and intensified over the years. Now, with the memories of his in-laws’ magnificent fifty-year love affair as his guide, Wilson struggles to find his way back into the heart of the woman he adores.

As the synopsis states, this is the follow up book to The Notebook. At first, when I saw that there was a sequel, I was unsure as to how that would work (if you have read The Notebook I’m sure you will understand my questioning) but I was satisfied with this book.

The story does not follow Allie and Noah, but their son-in-law Wilson. He is hard-working , to the point where he has seemingly neglected his family. He wanted to provide them with a great life, but that meant he missed parties and sporting events, and worked very late most days. This seemed fine until he forgot his wedding anniversary. This woke him up to the fact his marriage was strained and his wife was sad. This caused him to try and change his ways – and is helped by his daughter announcing that she is getting married. This gives him an opportunity to repair his marriage.

The more Nicholas Sparks novels I read, the more I love him as an author. However, this is not my favourite of his works. I found this book started slowly, and it took a while to get going. By halfway through though, I had warmed up to Wilson and I loved all he was doing for Jane. The surprise at the end was gorgeous, and I sat there with a warmed heart and a smile on my face.

I did like Jane, and felt sorry for her and felt her pain; although I did think that if she was unhappy she should have spoken out. I took some time to warm up to Wilson but I started to like him the more I read. I thought their relationship was sweet – especially in the beginning when Wilson was shy and sensible. This might be heresy to say, but I preferred Noah in this novel than I did in The Notebook. He was wise and loving in this novel, whereas I found him a bit desperate in The Notebook.

This is a lovely romance novel. It is not a long book and worth reading if you like a heart warming, satisfying story. Nicholas Sparks is a great writer and I will be reading more of his novels.

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Asking For Trouble – Elizabeth Young

Synopsis

Sophy’s single and happy about it. She likes her job, her friends and her life, so bemoaning her single status over a bottle or two of Chardonnay isn’t on the cards.

She does however have an imaginary boyfriend, Dominic, a little white lie whose sole purpose is to keep Sophy’s mother off her back. Which is fine until Dominic’s presence is demanded at a family wedding.

So what does Sophy do? Does she admit Dominic is a fantasy? Does she invent a sudden but tragic death? Oh no. Sophy hires an escort.

But when distinctly delicious Josh Carmichael arrives on her doorstep ready to step into Dominic’s expensively tailored shoes, Sophy can tell things are going to get tricky. And the wedding is only the beginning …

Review

Asking For Trouble is the book that the movie The Wedding Date is very loosely based upon, and although at the time of seeing the movie I wasn’t all that impressed with it, it is in hindsight a lot better than the original book. Maybe watching the movie prior to reading the book wasn’t the way to go and maybe if I’d done it the other way around I would have enjoyed the book more, but in all honesty I really don’t think it would have made all that much difference as there’s something about the book that I just didn’t like.

I’m thinking that one of the reasons for this is the characters themselves.

For a start the main character of Sophy is actually really rather annoying and even the spelling of her name tended to irritate me and as a result I found myself gritting my teeth each and every time it was mentioned … which was a lot considering the whole book revolves around her. The only saving grace and her only redeeming feature is the fact that she’s a size 13¾ and has wobbly bits, which certainly makes a nice change as usually in these types of book the main characters are all stick thin sized 8’s with hardly any hang-ups about their appearances at all.

Another really annoying aspect of this book was the continuous mention of characters in passing, some of whom I’m fairly certain we never actually met (so to speak) so not only did I find this annoying but I also found it rather confusing and had to spend a fair amount of time racking my brain trying to think if they’d been mentioned before and if so where.

On the plus side it is a fairly quick and easy read and as such you can plough your way through it fairly quickly but for the reasons mentioned above it didn’t grab my attention. I found it a bit slow to start with, which didn’t help matters, but even when it did start to pick up the pace a bit it was still very long winded in parts and it started to become a bit of a chore to read. I actually found myself wishing for the end to come sooner rather than later just so that I could finally close the book, put it to one side and move on to something a bit more interesting.

As you can no doubt probably tell by now I’m not a fan of this book and I don’t think I’m going to be in any great hurry to read any more of this author’s work. This is actually one of those very rare times where by the movie is much better than the book, and for those of you who have already seen the movie, that’s saying something.

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The Baby Group – Rowan Coleman

Synopsis

Meet The Baby Group: Natalie ran her own design company until baby Freddie unexpectedly came along. Now the capable person she once was is trapped inside a crazy woman’s body, longing for just one decent night’s sleep and words of more than one syllable. Meg is onto her fourth child but still feels she has to take notes. Meg’s sister-in-law Frances organises her little boy like he’s a private in the army, but underneath her prickly facade she longs for the kind of friendships others seem to find so easy. Former career girl Jess sees danger lurking in every corner, doubting she’ll ever be a good mother. Stay-at-home house-husband Steve is just glad to have the opportunity to spend time with his daughter. And sixteen-year-old Tiffany is the youngest – yet possibly the wisest – of them all.

Six very different parents. Six very different lives. But when Natalie’s dodgy wiring leads to a series of chance encounters, they rapidly discover – through Baby Music, Baby Aerobics, coffee and more importantly cake – that there’s safety in numbers. And their own unofficial baby group is formed.

Review

I’m not going to go into any great detail with regards to the actual plotline of this book because in all honesty the above synopsis does in fact give a very good and accurate description of it so I don’t really feel the need to repeat any of it here.

I will however say that although The Baby Group does supposedly have six main characters whose lives we periodically follow throughout the book it does in fact primarily focus on that of Natalie and the story is told mostly from her point of view. Saying that we do get a bit of an insight into the lives of Meg, Jess and Tiffany however unfortunately the same can’t be said for that of Frances and Steve – neither of whom are featured all that heavily and seem to be there for no other reason than to add a couple of extra members to the group. I did find this a little disappointing especially with regards to Steve. As the only male member of the group it would have been nice to get a little bit more of an insight into his life as a stay-at-home father however I’m sure the author had her reasons for not focusing on him more than she did, I just can’t figure out what those reasons were.

Although I personally have decided to place this book under the chick lit label, it is however a little bit more than just your average stereotypical chick lit book, mainly because it has a bit more substance to it. I did however find some aspects of it a little bit too hard to believe, in particular the circumstances surrounding the initial meeting between Natalie and Jack. I don’t know any woman who would do what she did and swan off for a romantic weekend in Venice with a man she met that very same day. Even now after having finishing the book and understanding Jack’s reasons for doing so, from Natalie’s point of view I still find it a little bit hard to swallow but maybe that’s just me.

I also have to admit to finding the ending a little bit too fairytale like for my liking, however it did tie up a few loose ends and everyone seemed to get the happy ending I was so hoping they would do, so I suppose I can’t really complain.

Overall this is a very easy book to get into and the words and story flow at a very steady pace. With laugh-out-loud moments interspersed with the occasional teary eyed one you can’t help but grow to love the characters and by the last page I was almost sorry to have to say goodbye to them.

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Paper Moon by Marion Husband

Synopsis (from back page)

The passionate love affair between Spitfire pilot Bobby Harris and photographer’s model Nina Tate lasts through the turmoil of World War II, but is tested when his plane is shot down. Disfigured and wanting to hide from the world, Bobby retreats from Bohemian Soho to the empty house his grandfather has left him, a house haunted by the secrets of his childhood. Here the mysteries of his past are gradually unravelled.

Review

Paper Moon is an extremely well written and moving story that portrays life in post-war Britain very convincingly.

The story focuses mainly on Bobby Harris, a spitfire pilot who is left badly disfigured after his plane is shot down. Bobby is a wonderful and very believable character whose back-story which is told in a series of flashbacks is quite literally heartbreaking at times. And while the deep dark secret at the centre of it is quite shocking it’s revealed in a very gentle manner rather than in a vulgar and tasteless way which is the route that many other writers would have taken in order to get more shock value out of it. As it is here the author doesn’t make it seem seedy and tasteless and the scene itself is over very quickly with the story as a whole more about how Bobby deals with the aftermath and the repercussions of it rather than focussing on the actual event itself.

The secondary character of Nina is also very likeable and believable although I did find her to be a little shallow at times. There are also a few other characters that are brought into the mix throughout the course of the book and although slightly confusing to begin with as you are not initially aware of how they fit into the story, things pan out nicely and by the end the characters have came full circle and yes there is a happy ending in store for those characters that we have come to know and love.

A wonderfully written and moving story that will have you wiping away the tears long after you’ve finished reading it.

On a side note Paper Moon is actually the sequel to The Boy I Love and if I hadn’t have known before hand that is was indeed a follow on I would never have guessed as it holds up as a stand alone book extremely well. Although I personally haven’t read the first one I can quite honestly say that it didn’t affect my enjoyment of this one and I certainly don’t feel as if I’ve missed out on anything…although saying that I would like to read The Boy I Love at some point in the future, if only to get the full gist of the story.

Reviewed by Karen.

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The Fiction Class (Loving books and falling in love, Manhattan style) by Susan Breen

Synopsis 

‘You’ve known there was something special about you for a long time, haven’t you?’

On paper, Arabella Hicks is perfectly qualified to teach a creative writing class on the Upper  West Side; as well as being an author herself, she loves fiction, more than anything in the world.

‘You still feel something every time you pick up a book; you still connect to characters in ways you’ve never connected to people you actually know, and you know you’re more than you appear to be. You have to give it one more shot; you have to see if you can be a writer.

But neither her own novel, nor her life are working out quite as she planned, and she is beginning to wonder whether this year’s students will be just as bad, mad and complicated as all the others; whether, as she fears, real life will never be as enjoyable as a really good novel

She is wrong.

Review

This debut novel by fiction teacher Susan Breen is different from most romantic novels, in that it attempts to enlighten the reader by showing the world of the author. In itself that is perhaps not earth-shattering, but when your world is all about books and writing, it is something different to the average reader. However, that said, (and ‘different’ is good), it may be one of the downfalls of the book. I am not sure how many readers would be interested in a writing class, and the exercises that go with it. At the end of each chapter covering the evening class, Ms Breen writes down the homework, and the reader, if interested, can make use of this. A good idea for aspiring writers, but I am not convinced that the avid romance reader will be impressed.
The book has several themes, notably disability and illness and the caring responsibilities attached to this situation: then there is the difficult relationship between mother and daughter; impending death; the romance; writing; the growth of the protagonist’s self-awareness and confidence, and faith – a steady thread throughout the book, which in a way is the glue that holds it together.

Initially I had problems with the characters. The main character, Arabella, didn’t come alive for me until well into the second half of the book. I am not sure why she remained transparent, but she wasn’t real for me.  Once fleshed out and more believable, she stayed with me long after I’d finished reading the book. Her mother, Vera Hicks, was the only character who seemed believable. I’m not sure why. Whereas Arabella was a little too ‘goody-goody’, her mother was nasty, cruel and unfeeling, yet you felt sorry for her and could relate to how you thought she might be feeling, given her past life. Arabella was a bit like a character from  an historical romance, a young woman from the Regency period perhaps, demure and sweet, and in the background. She was, after all, named after a character (and book) written by the romantic novelist Georgette Heyer, so perhaps this was deliberate on the part of the author, and in true Jane Austen style, we see the awakening and strenghening of the female protagonist’s character as the story progresses. I read Georgette Heyer in my teens and am now going to re-read her, having had my memory jogged! The other characters, Chuck her patient lover, and her students, were interesting to a degree, but a little clichéd, I felt,  and I found myself confused by the sheer number. I began to mix them up.

I liked the originality of the story, and the boldness of some of the ideas and the questions arising from them, such as the daunting moral dilemma of whether a parent should be sent to a nursing home, or cared for at home, and the contrast between Arabella’s decision to do the latter, whilst her mother had given up her life to care for her husband at home. Arabella’s vague awareness that things are not always as they appear is given a sharp jolt as reality hits hard in some of her students lives. I felt that the reminder about disability became too invasive and whiny. It was in danger of being over stated. It is something I feel strongly about too, having been a carer, but I began to get irritated as I felt that it was used too many times in the book and the impact was lost. However, the idea of a woman’s faith keeping her together (no matter that it was a belief in a miracle) was important, and illustrated Vera’s humanity in a way that contrasted with her daughter’s genuine and gentle honesty, a humanity which could so easily have been her ruin.

I wasn’t sure about the book at first, as the first few chapters were slow and seemed repetitive, and the inclusion of exercises could have put people off. By the end of the book I was convinced that it worked, and was sad to finish it, and the characters did stay with me for a while afterwards which is always a good sign. I noted that there were many parallels between the author and her protagonist, (auto-biographic?) and hope that Arabella’s good fortune will perhaps rub off on her creator’s pen. I would certainly be happy to read any second novel that Ms Breen might produce and wish her well in her writing.

Susan Breen lives in New York with her husband and children and teaches fiction at the Gotham Writers’ Workshop in Manhattan

Susie -Kimmikat

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The Truth About Fairy Tales by K T Casha

Synopsis (from back of book):
Think passion is all over once you hit forty? Well, think again. Jaded after a series of failed relationships, Cate McCormack’s channeling her “inner romantic” into her very successful books. Author of a series of contemporary takes on traditional fables and legends, Cate’s surprised to find herself caught up in her own fairytale as two “princes”, one young and handsome and the other rich and powerful, vie for her affections. Head battles with heart as Cate slays the twin dragons of public perception and dented self-esteem to assert her right to her very own happy ending.

Review:
I don’t usually go for romances, but the fairytale angle was the part that initially piqued my interest, as I’m very much into in folk and fairy tales, and I was drawn to the idea of life imitating art. Fortunately, what I found between the covers was a warm (but not fuzzy!) romance, that didn’t paint life as pink and fluffy in any way; instead, it highlighted the problems in a relationship with quite a difference in age and background between the couple.

The characters weren’t “too good to be true” and there was no guarantee that everything would come to a fairytale, “…and they all lived happily ever after.” In fact, it was this very point, that the characters were so down-to-earth, that kept me reading – I got interested in the lives of these people and came to think of them almost as friends.

The story was sweet without being sugary and there were enough trials and tribulations thrown in everyone’s paths without it seeming too much; decisions were made and consequences followed on – all very true to the ethos of fairytales – but there was occasionally a harder edge and a tendency towards sadness without it swamping into melancholy.

Overall, it is an uplifting tale of not just overcoming our differences, but actively embracing them; and also to follow your heart where it may lead.

Reviewed by Kell Smurthwaite

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Hope Leslie by Catharine Maria Sedgwick

Date of Publication: 1827Number of Pages: 371

Synopsis: Set in seventeenth-century New England, Hope Leslie portrays early American life and celebrates the role of women in building the republic. A counterpoint to the novels of James Fenimore Cooper, this frontier romance challenges the conventional view of Indians, tackles interracial marriage and cross-cultural friendship, and claims for women their rightful places in history. At the center of the novel are two friends. Hope Leslie, a spirited thinker in a repressive Puritan society, fights for justice for the Indians and asserts the independence of women. Magawisca, the passionate daughter of a Pequot chief, braves her father’s wrath to save a white man and risks her freedom to reunite Hope with her long-lost sister, captured as a child by the Pequots. Amply plotted, with unforgettable characters, Hope Leslie is a rich, compelling, deeply satisfying novel. ~blurb from back cover

Review: This is an extraordinary historical romance about the complex relationship between the Puritan settlers of New England and the Native Americans they encountered. Hope Leslie is a spirited heroine who seems out of place in this repressive society; but at the same time, she is able to bring out the best of those around her. She has an amazing effect on her friends, and has almost a sorceress-like quality with which she bends them to her will. In no way, however, is she an anti-Christian heroine. She is as virtuous as any Puritan woman, but she also prefers to follow the desires of her own emotions. She is alike in many ways to Everell Fletcher, her childhood companion, who gets caught up in her adventures.

This story is very much a romance, in that the main characters, Hope, Everell, and Magawisca, a Pequot princess, possess qualities that ordinary people don’t. They commit acts of fierce loyalty and sacrifice, and have the willingness sacrificing their lives or freedom to help an innocent. The other characters in the book, however virtuous, are nonetheless content to trust in Providence. They do not go out of their way, risking everything, to do what they feel and know is right.

Hope Leslie is also an historical novel. It depicts not only real people, like Governor Winthrop and Cotton Mather, but also real events, like the tragic Pequot War. Magawisca relates the story of the massacre of her village like a real witness. In reality, many of the unfortunate Pequot survivors were sold into slavery, or forced to become servants, which is exactly what happens to Magawisca and her brother, Oneco. Although the story itself is fiction, one can readily see that the portrayal of real-life people and events gives it a credibility that other novels set in the period do not have. It is likely that events much like the ones depicted in Hope Leslie did take place, in some form.

Rating: 8.5/10

Reviewed by Sarah

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Dancing With His Heart by Katherine Warwick

Synopsis from official site:
Playboy and philanthropist, Alex offers first class sponsorship to Lauren and her dance partner. Given their tumultuous past, Lauren is suspicious. Without resources, the single mother of a handicapped child is forced to take Alex’s offer. His plan is to prove that he’s changed, and win her heart. But trust is not easily won even with the sizzling sparks the two of them ignite on and off the dance floor, and they both face more trouble when a dark figure from their past shows up with devious intentions for them both.

Having no previous interest in ballroom dancing, and an avoidance of anything I deem ‘romantic’, I wasn’t sure what to expect with this book.. and was very very pleasantly surprised!

The romance is well done, with a strong male lead, but an equally strong female one. Lauren’s priorities lie very firmly with her daughter, and this part of the story gives an interesting glimpse into living with a child with autism.

With a focus on ballroom dancing, I was a little concerned that it would overwhelm the story, and I would lose interest, but Katherine manages to do the opposite.. another great insight.

In addition to all this, this is a book that sizzles along, with energy and passion.

My one criticism would be that it feels a little short, but other than that, if you’ve avoided ‘romance’ before, maybe give this one a shot?

Read an interview with Katherine Warwick

Reviewed by Michelle

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