You Know I’d Never – Kara Lowndes

Rating: 3 out of 5.
This is another similar book to quite a few I’ve read recently – a interesting premise and full of promise, but it doesn’t quite put all the parts together to connect for me.

Janey has been stuck in Clitheroe all her life. She has a job in the local grocery store, is firmly stuck in the closet and lost the only love of her life when she made the choice to stay in their small town when her girlfriend went on tour with her band.

Elise, the aforementioned ex-girlfriend has been absent for years but is now returning to town for some benefit concerts and appears to want to do everything she can to reconnect with Janey.

It will probably sound a little silly to say this, especially as an English person, but this novella is very English in it’s attitude. I’d like to think this version of homophobia doesn’t ring true anymore but it’s still pretty common, especially in small towns and from my own personal experiences, it felt quite authentic in that regard. The descriptions of things are also very fitting for an English setting and almost had a feel of nostalgia to them for me personally.

The writing holds up pretty well but the novella length doesn’t give this story the full chance to grown in my opinion and I think I’d have liked it more with a full length and the chance to see them fall in love at the beginning. I’d be interested in more of this kind of work from Lowndes though.

I received an e-ARC via NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.

Courage – Jesse J. Thoma

Rating: 4.5 out of 5.
Set in the same universe as Serenity, Thoma has again done a great job of exploring difficult, relevant topics in an accessible way, whilst also managing to include a believable romance and some much needed elements of humour.

Natasha is a social worker with a great reputation on the street. She’s been hand-picked to work with the police as part of a ride-along programme to show how social workers paired with the police can deescalate situations and lead to more positive outcomes for those with mental health and addiction struggles.

Tommy is a cop from a family of cops. She’s not particularly impressed to have been landed with Natasha as her partner, no matter how good looking she thinks she is. She believes herself to be a good cop and isn’t sure why everyone feels Natasha will have something to offer – except perhaps to get her killed.

The book opens with a bang, then cuts back approximately 18 months to tell the story of how Natasha gets to that day. I’m not a huge fan of flashbacks in the majority of cases, but I actually enjoyed this approach for this book. It doesn’t give too much away and introduces some important characters whilst giving you something to provide some context on the journey back to that day.

Covering a number of difficult topics, in my opinion Thoma excels in her discussions of mental health, drugs and policing. The narrative forces you to think and examine your own thoughts and feelings on the topics without ever feeling too

The working relationship between Tommy and Natasha is great and this is where a lot of the humour comes in. I enjoyed the back and forth they both have, along with the way they both consistently reevaluated their approach to work, each other, the ride-along programme and their families. As a couple they have great chemistry and you can really imagine them together. I enjoyed the sort of slow burn they have to have due to the job and how this solidified their want for each other.

Tommy’s family are really well written, especially her mother and sister. I particularly enjoyed the family scenes at the dinner table and the grounding they provided for both the characters and the narrative.

You don’t need to have read Serenity to read this – one bit part character in Serenity appears here in a little more details and a couple of other Serenity characters are mentioned, but you wouldn’t need to know anything about them to enjoy Courage. I would happily recommend both Serenity and Courage and am hoping Thoma has a third book in the works for this universe.

I received an e-ARC via NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.

Next Exit Home – Dena Blake

Rating: 3 out of 5.
A sort of second chance romance, with a return to home town narrative, this tells the story of Harper who returns back to her home town to look after her Dad’s veterinary clinic whilst he recovers from a heart attack. Addison is the veterinary technician at the clinic and it turns out they have a history from high school.

I’ve thought about this book a lot since I finished it. I read some reviews prior to starting and the general consensus seems to be that it hasn’t lived up to expectations and I think I might have enjoyed it a little more than most, but then I came to a realisation. If you’d have handed me this book 8 or so years ago when I first discovered sapphic fiction, I’d have been really happy, it’s just that I’ve moved on in what I’m looking for now.

I could tell that Blake is an experienced author and that in all likelihood there might be a book in her back catalogue that I would enjoy a lot, but this wasn’t a book that I would return to again.

To me personally it felt like the narrative got lost half way through. The first half was pretty good, but the premise of them both still being hung up on one kiss twenty years ago and it impacting the way they communicate and feel about each other as adults just didn’t connect with me. The lack of communication between the two made the romance between them feel stilted and some of the reactions to situations didn’t feel in keeping with the narrative either.

I found that there were actually times when I enjoyed both of their daughters and their sideline stories more than the actual front and centre romance itself. I also needed more time of them being back together. I feel like I say this a lot about books, but if the main conflict had taken place sooner and there was some solid time together I think I would have felt differently about believing that they would succeed in a relationship and actually communicate.

Whilst I didn’t dislike this as such, I can’t say I would recommend this unless you’re a big fan of veterinary romances, but I’m not ruling out that Blake will have another work that I would enjoy.

I received an e-ARC via NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.

Leaving’s Not the Only Way to Go – Kay Acker

Rating: 4 out of 5.
This is an impressive debut for Acker.

Lauren came home to her small town when her Dad’s health took a turn for the worse. Now he’s gone she’s looking at what her next steps should be, including deciding if she wants to stay in her demanding yet unsatisfying job. When demonstrating her company’s latest piece of discouraging software to an architectural firm, she meets Georgia.

Georgia works at the architecture firm designing homes. She has a lot to think about herself. She’s reeling from the unexpected death of her daughter’s father, Georgia’s best friend and work colleague, trying to navigate life as a bisexual autistic woman without his help and the last thing she needs is Lauren and her dreadful software in her life.

I found all three of the main characters (I’m counting Georgia’s daughter Hannah in this because her part in the book is so important) are written really well. You get to know who they are and why they are the way they are, and I thought Acker did a great job of portraying how their pasts impact their decision making and feelings about themselves. I don’t have much experience with autism, but from my limited knowledge I felt the portrayal of Georgia and Hannah was done well and I’m happy to see other reviewers with more experience feel this way. I also found most of the secondary characters to be interesting and well thought out too.

A book full of communication almost feels like a rarity nowadays, but this one has it, until it doesn’t. The gaps in communication do however fit with what we know about the characters, and I felt that this played really well. So whilst I was disappointed to find the 90% angst blow-up, it did at least make sense within the narrative.

As I often say when that 90% blow-up happens – I wanted more of them together. I wanted to see how they all worked together as a family, how Lauren integrated further into Georgia and Hannah’s lives and how Lauren began to feel about herself when she realised she could do anything she wanted with her life.

I’m definitely hoping the success of this one means that another book will be forthcoming for Acker and I’ll be looking out for it.

To be fair, I’m not sure this review does this book justice, but I would highly recommend this to anyone looking for an unusual romance with interesting characters.

I received an e-ARC via NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.

Love’s Truth – C.A. Popovich

Rating: 3 out of 5.
I was really excited about the premise of this book, the idea of someone running away from a cult and trying to assimilate back into everyday life fascinated me and as I hadn’t read any Popovich before I thought this was the perfect opportunity to try a new author for me.

Barb is on holiday. She very rarely takes a vacation and has finally given in to the idea that she needs an extended vacation, choosing a resort that will give her the opportunity to be by the water and explore nature at the same time.

Lynette escaped from a cult in her early twenties after having been there for 12 years. She’s still trying to heal, get through her everyday life and try not to be found and taken back to the cult. Not only that, but she hasn’t had good experiences from her past relationships, so the last thing she’s looking for is a vacationer to catch her eye.

I did really enjoy the storyline itself, in that I could see why the two fell for each other, what they would bring to each other in a relationship and why they would want to pursue that, but because of the setting and the time period, the story became very repetitive very quickly.

Lynette works in the hotel dining area, so this means a significant amount of the book revolves around their interactions in this dining area, or in Barb’s hotel room. I found it a little challenging at times to keep track of the timeline, as we within the interactions the characters are often worried about Lynette being late back for work, so we get glimpses into their conversations, but then all of a sudden she needs to be back, making things feel jolted at times.

I found the relationship to be believable, I just wish it had the opportunity to grow further within the storyline, though I do understand what Popovich was aiming for. The details within the book are interesting and I found the fact that the characters communicate a breath of fresh air.

I definitely wouldn’t rule out another Popovich book, and I’d be interested in reading more about this topic too if it appears in other sapphic books.

I received an e-ARC via NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.