Spellbound – Ophelia Silk

Rating: 4 out of 5.
I really enjoyed this one. It’s not my usual thing, I rarely read fiction that involves magic and the like, nor am I historical fiction fan, but I found myself attracted to the potential storyline here and I’m really glad to say I liked it a lot.

Jane lives a relatively normal life for a farm girl, seemingly destined to marry, expected to do the things her parents want and tell her to do. We meet her at the local market, where the weather takes a turn for the worse, causing Jane to make a fateful decision.

Adelaide lives in the woods on the outskirts of Jane’s town. Born there, she’s known as the witch that scares the townsfolk. She’s guarded, protective of her lifestyle and the forest. The last thing she needs is Jane stumbling onto her patch.

I loved the blend of gentle magic and a historic tone that didn’t lean too hard into any particular historical period, or discussion of the times. The combination of the two meant I could really enjoy this, despite not normally being a fan of either genre. I was able to be taken along by the story, which moves a good pace, despite it only taking place for the most part in a time period spanning approximately a month.

I liked both Jane and Adelaide’s growth in the narrative. I appreciated them both coming to terms with their feelings, both through their exploring their own attempts at communicating with each other, and the corresponding romantic thoughts about each other. I also welcomed the fact that they didn’t magically become perfect at talking to each other, and that the conflict and communication meshed well together.

Towards the ending of the story there are some aspects I really enjoyed about the story and the inclusion of those that are different from the townsfolk. I enjoyed the sense of community and both Jane and Adelaide finding the things they had been searching for.

The magical aspects of the storyline made sense to me and were written in a way that I could enjoy and picture. It added to a kind of heartwarming sense that I got from the whole book.

I would definitely recommend this to others, and will be keeping an eye out for future Silk works.

I received an e-ARC directly from the author in exchange for an honest review.

A Dog Named Bella – Bel Blackwood

Rating: 3.5 out of 5.
This was a sweet, slow-burn romance, set in New Zealand.

Amy is a tech reporter, sent to New Zealand to land a big scoop, and with it a big promotion. Morgan is the reclusive tech billionaire Amy is supposed to interview. She disappeared from the tech world after a big conference announcing her resignation, never to be seen again by most of the world.

Morgan is pitched as a bit of an ice queen, and her interactions with the local community definitely come across this way. I liked how she doesn’t automatically open up to the stranger in her life and how Amy has to fight for the article she’s supposed to write. Amy matches up well to Morgan, and the little insights we get into her life make her situation and decisions more believable.

There’s some intrigue and behind the scenes scheming that plays out to give real reason for why Amy has been given the interview, that keeps things interesting.

I liked the ending as it doesn’t fall into saviour type tropes, whilst still giving a satisfying happy ending, both personally and professionally for them both.

As the book is named after one of the canine characters, they definitely deserve a mention as Morgan’s pack of dogs provide some good ways of moving the story along and opportunities for both characters to open up.

This was a nice way to pass a few hours and I think romance fans looking for a romance with some elements of slow burn and conflict will enjoy this one.

I received a free copy of this book via Booksprout and am voluntarily leaving a review.

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.

Knit, Purl, a Baby and a Girl – Hettie Bell

Rating: 3.5 out of 5.
3.5 stars. This is a solid debut from Bell.

Poppy has just found she’s pregnant. Her circumstances tell her she isn’t ready for this to be a part of her life, so she visits her local Planned Parenthood. It’s here she meets Rhiannon, an interesting woman who helps her find her way to and from the clinic through the protestors. Poppy doesn’t think she’ll ever see her again until she decides to join her local knitting group.

Bell has written this in first-person point of view, so we spend the book in Poppy’s thoughts. The writing comes across as light-hearted, with a determination and humour in the prose, however, the narrative actually deals with some pretty complex topics, and for the most part, does this well.

The narrative is mainly about the romance, and it was here I really wanted the opportunity to get more of Rhiannon’s thoughts to understand the decisions she was making. I really liked the idea of her as a character, but as we only see her from Poppy’s point of view, I found it hard to connect with her.

However, at the same time, I enjoyed getting to read Poppy’s thoughts on her pregnancy, her family, and her life in general. I thought Bell did a good job of bringing all of the secondary characters together, both in the family situations and with the knitting group. I felt I could really picture them all, which is impressive for a book with a large number of secondary characters.

Like most debut books it has its bumps, but they soon even out. There were some moments I didn’t like personally, and I did nearly put this down after the sex scene, but I think they were more a question of personal taste, and suspect others would read this and not feel the same way.

Whilst the topics are relatively common in sapphic fiction, I thought Bell did a good job of keeping it fresh and I’m looking forward to seeing what Bell does next.

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