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.

Lawless – Jenna Rae

Rating: 4 out of 5.
This was a well written interesting book, full of uncomfortable topics that’s hard to describe as enjoyable because of those topics, but was nonetheless a good read.

I have to admit I think I must have misread the blurb for this – I was convinced a romance was going to be appearing somewhere in the narrative, but it didn’t. I wasn’t actually disappointed in that fact, as it would have been really strange, but this is a straight up mystery.

Kate is undercover in the town of Lawless. She used to be a desk based analyst but she wanted to do something different, get ahead in her career. She thinks she’s trying to infiltrate a drug ring, but her handler hasn’t necessarily been all that clear, she just knows she’s living in a trailer park, pretending to be straight and trying to find a way to become friends with the drug dealers girlfriend.

As Kate finds the “in”, we find out more about her as she interweaves elements of her own life with the back story she’s using as her cover up. It’s a clever way of getting to know both sides of Kate and one that serves itself well as well the paranoia of being undercover creeping in, alongside the self-doubt.

As is the way with these kinds of topics, they become intertwined with lots of others, and there is much discussion of many unsavoury topics. I found myself a little confused at times with the many characters and how they all fit into things, especially towards the end. Whilst this does essentially help in aiding the mystery element I guess, it’s one of the things stopping it from being a five star book for me, as I needed just a little more help in mapping out how they all fit together and how Kate came to her conclusions.

The other main characters in the book are written really well, providing great narrative foils for Kate and showing the realities of drugs etc. on life in small towns. It’s a really relevant book for today’s society, and not one I’ve encountered in this way in sapphic books before, so if you’re into mystery and or crime books, I’d definitely encourage you to give this one a go.

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

Spirit of the Law – Carsen Taite

Rating: 4 out of 5.
I have to say this wasn’t what I was expecting when I started reading, it’s certainly a lighter read than I’m used to from Taite (though I am still working my way through her back catalogue so it could just be me). I also wasn’t expecting the elements of the paranormal that the narrative includes, though whilst they surprised me, I did in fact enjoy them.

We meet Summer on her first day of jury duty. She ends up being voted as the foreperson on a case where Owen is the DA. Owen doesn’t lose cases, in fact she has a perfect record. When the jury convenes to decide the verdict, Summer finds herself with influence she didn’t want and an understanding and outlook to the case that leads to her peers breaking Owen’s perfect run.

Owen is working on a larger case with bigger implications and when Summer has a vision involving the case, Owen’s boss forces them together. Owen is sceptical as to what Summer can provide to her case, but it’s fun reading them battle and work through the case together.

I loved all of the characters in this one, including the friendship Owen starts to develop with Summer’s family. I really started to believe that she would fit in with them by the end of the book.

The biggest drawback to this book for me was that it ended too early. I liked the ending, but it felt rushed. I like it when I get to see the characters together for a while before the book ends. I would definitely love a second part of this to see them continuing to work together and how their relationship develops.

Taite fans won’t be disappointed with this. I would definitely recommend this to romance fans and those that like their romance to include lawyers and a little bit of mystery. Due to the slight paranormal elements I think paranormal romance fans would also enjoy this even if they don’t normally read Taite.

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

A Message in Blood – Catherine Maiorisi

Rating: 5 out of 5.
This is the latest part in the Chiara Corelli Mystery series and as far as I’m concerned the best one yet. I should say upfront, this book won’t be for everyone, it deals with the very difficult topic of child sex-trafficking and discusses this in graphic detail at times, however the uncomfortable nature of the topic is outweighed by the underlying relationships that thrive in this book.

Chiara is now beginning to gain public awareness for her work in a good light again after her previous battles due to her undercover work. Chiara is more aware of her own issues, especially with her PTSD and is more open to confronting her feelings and behaviours towards others. This growth from book one is one of my favourite parts of this book.

There is a general awareness throughout the book of how people interact with each other in all of the horrible ways. It discusses racism, cops, politicians, the military, family and many other things with an honesty that I found refreshing and at times profound. The way Maiorisi weaves these concepts through the narrative, giving each its moment and relevance to the overall narrative is masterfully done.

The complicated elements of love and loss and moving on are looked from many different perspectives. Chiara is opening her heart to the possibility of a relationship with Brett, and I especially love how Brett approaches this with her. P.J. has her own battles to fight with her past, and I love how she has grown and fits together with Chiara and her family.

Family is at the heart of much of the narrative, both in positive and negative ways. Chiara’s sister and her story arc in this book actually made me cry.

The mystery element of the book was done really well. As I mentioned it revolves around the very difficult topic of child sex trafficking and is graphic at times, so I had to take a break at times, but I think it’s done in a realistic and non-gratuitous manner. We’re kept in suspense until the very end as to the perpetrator and I enjoyed the twists that came with this storyline.

Whilst the book covers many hard topics, I find that upon reflection the feeling I was left with when I finished reading was warmth. Maiorisi finishes this book in a way that would neatly tie up the series should this be her choice, but I have to say I would love for her to continue to tell Chiara and P.J’s stories, especially at this high standard.

If you haven’t started this series yet, do.

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

Journey to Cash – Ashley Bartlett

Rating: 5 out of 5.
Great ending to a great series. I read this whole series in week or so, so whilst this is a review of the final book, it’s also of the series as a whole (so there may be some spoilers prior instalments). I’m considering this a five star book due to it being the closing part and how I feel about the series, but from a writing point of view I preferred Cash and the Sorority Girl slightly.

There isn’t really anything else like this out there in queer fiction at the moment that I’m aware of and I love how much it stands out. It hit me whilst I was reading the third book in the series – Cash and the Sorority Girl – that one of the reasons I love this series so much is its inherent queerness. The discussions of the patriarchy and heteronormativity in an everyday manner and how it flows through the whole series are fantastic.

The narrative of this final part neatly closes up the issues Cash is facing due to her drug dealing past and her former supplier Henry who previously tried to kill her and her ex-girlfriend Laurel. The situation throws them both back together to work with law enforcement to both hide from and find Henry.

All of the characters are great, Cash and her sarcasm, knowledge, values and the way she lives her life are obviously the thing everything revolves around, but the other characters are well written and bring out all of the sides of Cash.

Laurel as an ex-cop has a lot to work through and convince Cash of in this book after she walked away to find herself. The romance between Laurel and Cash isn’t the most important part of the book to me, but it is a huge part of the narrative. The power dynamics, the second/third chance to make it work and both of their reluctance to address their own emotional feelings make for compelling exchanges and portrayal.

I really enjoy the roommate relationship that Cash has with Lane. Her being Laurel’s sister adds a dimension to it, but at its heart this relationship shows Cash at her best, just as her relationship with Andy as a teenager does too. Andy’s teenage moral beliefs are very black and white and I love how Cash responds to this and how Andy has grown throughout the series.

Of course, it would be remiss of me not to mention Nickels the cat, who has her own unique personality and provides some amusement.

I highly recommend this series – it stands out in wlw fiction, but it’s important to begin at the beginning with Cash Braddock. Despite the hard topics the whole series is easy to read, and all of the books are page turners. This was my 300th book this year and it was the perfect book to end the year on.

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