Always Believe – Aimée

Rating: 3 out of 5.
After a bumpy start – mainly caused by my own feelings about organised religion, I found this to be better than I had anticipated from the initial chapters. My initial misgivings were due to the fact I either didn’t read the blurb properly, or I hadn’t anticipated so much discussion about God, but either way, the more I got into the story, the more I was able to just think about the characters and their feelings.

Greyson was an officer and doctor in the British army for a long time, before deciding to take a step away from the forces and follow her calling by becoming a vicar.

We first meet Angela at the funeral of her daughter. She’s the headteacher of a local school, and is reluctant to have anything to do with the church.

This is another one for me that’s difficult to review without giving too much away. I was uncomfortable with the discussions of the church, but I was also uncomfortable with the way that Greyson’s feelings about herself caused her to be deceptive to everyone else in her life in one way or another.

The book deals with a lot of really difficult topics, and for the most part I thought Aimée did that well, providing different viewpoints, and a book that I think is quite different from the usual fare, but this just wasn’t for me.

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

You Again – Aurora Rey

Rating: 3.5 out of 5.
I’ve only read one Rey book previously, but I really enjoyed it and was looking forward to the opportunity to read You Again. There were some aspects of this I really loved, especially Rey’s style of writing, but the conflict didn’t sit well with me, so I’m not giving it as high a rating as I thought I was going to be until for most of the book.

Sutton is returning to her home town after spending the last decade away, leaving for college and only returning the once. Her Dad is having knee replacement surgery and she’s convinced him to let her help, despite the fact she knows she’s going to have to see her ex.

Kate, the aforementioned ex, still lives in their hometown, with her daughter Harper and works in the family business.

I actually really liked both Sutton and Kate, and could even understand why Kate’s family were so against Sutton, if you take familial protectiveness into account.

Harper is a great kid character. She’s well written and has a really sparky personality. Many of the conversations she is involved in had me smiling. Kate’s brother Bryce is also worth a mention, as not only is Bryce a great character, but it was nice to have a trans man be included and have a genuine real place in the storyline, rather than it be tokenism.

It’s hard to review this one without giving away any spoilers as so much of this second chance romance is dependent on the how and why of why they broke up in the first place.

In general terms my issue with the conflict centres around the ownership of the issue, more than the issue itself. Much of the blame seems to be placed on one character, and I felt it should have been shared more equally, both the first time, and the time depicted in the last quarter of the book.

I really like Rey’s style of writing, and this certainly hasn’t changed my mind on that front. I’ll definitely be looking forward to her next book.

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

The Secret Poet – Georgia Beers

Rating: 4 out of 5.
I’m still working my way through Beers back catalogue, but I’m beginning to learn that you can’t go wrong with a Beers romance, especially when you’re looking for a feel-good, easy, enjoyable read. The Secret Poet is no exception to this.

Morgan works for her brother, Perry, at his medical practice. In her spare time she likes to read and write poetry. She’s happy working with Perry, and enjoys her day to day life with her two cats – Ross and Rachel. Zoe is a pharmaceutical rep, she’s new to the area, and when she goes to visit Perry’s clinic meets Morgan.

A significant chunk of the book revolves around Perry falling for Zoe and trying to get her to date him. Her effectively guilt trips Morgan into helping, and despite the fact she’s also developing a big crush on Zoe offers to help him out because she loves her brother.

The book is all told in the first person from Morgan’s point of view and I enjoyed being in Morgan’s head. Beers has found a great balance between the low level angst of Morgan’s lack of confidence and her humour, which makes it okay that we don’t experience Zoe’s point of view in the same way.

Both characters are really likeable and they are easy to imagine together. Their flirting is really well written and their connection seems genuine. Their chemistry is also pretty great. Even when they have a moment and don’t talk for a while, they aren’t mean and they’re open to communication and acceptance on both sides of the relationship.

It’s a shame that so many of the feelings of both characters revolved around Perry for so long, but at the same time, it makes it effective as a narrative, so I can completely see why it was this way.

I don’t love this as much as I did Hopeless Romantic or 16 Steps to Forever, but I would still highly recommend this to all romance fans, especially when you need a pick me up.

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.