Book Review: A Shot in the Dark by Victoria Lee

“A Shot in the Dark” is my first exposure to Victoria Lee and all I can say is wow, does she have range, when I learned she writes contemporary romance with deeper themes as well as SFF. This incredible book is definitely one of my top favorites of the year. The prose is breathtakingly gorgeous, and I can tell this is one of those “books of the heart” that people are always talking about that has a very personal, authentic feel for the author’s own life.

The book centers around a forbidden romance between a hotshot photography professor, a trans guy named Wyatt Cole, and a young photography student spending the summer at a renowned art school in New York City. The story is filled with all kinds of tension and Wyatt’s ethical quandaries about boundaries after they spend a one night stand together on Ely Cohen’s first night back in the city and then have to work together.

The tension is so dripping with angst that it almost got to be too much for my personal preference for angst, half the time I just wanted to slap them both and say kiss each other already. But if you like high angst this will be your cup of tea.

If it was just that, this would have been a shallow, tropey book like every other romance on the market, just make it queer, but this was so far from that.

Ely and Wyatt are both addicts in recovery, one of the authentic details that really shines through as if the author has sat in NA meetings herself, clutching paper cups of coffee. Her photography semester is also a homecoming for her; she was raised in an Orthodox Jewish sect and excommunicated after her drug problems caused her family too much pain. Back in town, she struggles to maintain her sobriety and get vulnerable with her art, and finds a kindred spirit in Wyatt, who has his own struggles with family and artistic identity.

I loved how the explorations of identity are subtle in this. Ely’s pansexual but when she describes her sexuality to her new roommates, she doesn’t want to put a label on it; instead she says simply that she’s slept with both men and women, it’s about the person, not the gender. Likewise, I felt the journey she went on to reconnect with her religious identity was not stereotypical; she goes from appreciating the way that rituals bind the life of a family and a community, to realizing that she never stopped believing and needs that anchor and structure in her life even if her family might not ever completely forgive her.

All in all, wow, this book is amazing. I feel privileged to have earned an early look.

Thank you to Netgalley and the publisher for an advance review copy. I am leaving this review voluntarily.

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Book Review: Game Plan (Vancouver Orcas, #1) by Amy Aislin

I have just fallen in love with hockey romances lately. “Game Plan” by Amy Aislin is Book 1 of a series that features different pairings on a farm-team hockey team in Vancouver, British Columbia. I really liked the author’s crisp, descriptive writing style and even more than that, her characters.

This is a sweet, heartwarming story about second chances, redemption, and overcoming mental health struggles. Matt Shore, new head coach of the AHL team the Orcas, is nursing a broken heart and bruised after a series of failed short-term relationships when his old flame, Pierce Langley Brown, comes back to town, bringing with him the added complication of being the father of one of Matt’s star players. Pierce ended things abruptly in a storybook romance during a messy divorce and a mental health crisis, and Matt doesn’t know if he’ll be able to trust him again, but he can’t seem to resist the charming antiques dealer and the history they share together.

I felt that Matt was a little too quick to forgive and give Pierce full access to his life after ruining his trust, but mostly I felt this was a sweet romance that sensitively handled Pierce’s mental health issues. I just thought Pierce needed to prove himself more. But I was quick to fall in love with both these characters, too, and the way that the author fleshed out the side characters in their lives. Thought it was refreshing that the sex scenes weren’t that graphic or detailed and it was more about character development and the growth of their relationship.

I’d definitely read more of this author’s work.

Book Review: Giving In by Rue Whitney

I’m a sucker for a well-written bi awakening story, office romances and bossy authority figure types, and “Giving In” by Rue Whitney had all those in spades. This was a breezy, tension filled romance with two characters that had an almost improbably rocky meet cute at the beginning, but the way the author handled the character motivations that helped your suspension of disbelief made up for it. I have also read enough awkward, clumsy bi awakening and straight-to-gay kinds of stories that the sensitive way this one was written was a breath of fresh air.

This is the story of Luka, a middle school art teacher who hopes to land a graphic designer gig at an advertising agency, who’d always thought he was straight until he meets his potential new boss, the arrogant Morgan “Fitz” Fitzgerald, who mistook an interview with his friend’s son with his call boy hookup and unexpected sparks fly.

Improbably, Luka doesn’t sue, and he’s back for more bossy Fitz, the only guy he’s ever felt an intense attraction for.

Loved the back-and-forth sexual tension in this story, the character development and the fast-paced plot in combination with the slower burn pace of their relationship. I would read more of this series and more of this author’s work for sure.

Book Review: All This Could Be Yours by J.V. Speyer

Overall, I enjoyed “All This Could Be Yours” by J.V. Speyer. It had a lot going for it. This is an enemies-to-lovers interracial mafia romance, lower on the spicy scale, which was refreshing. Straightlaced FBI agent Maddox Price goes undercover, posing as the boyfriend of a mob kingpin’s son, Tanner, who’s openly gay and wants to rat out his family, at Tanner’s brother’s wedding. I liked how the fake dating premise and the paranoia of Tanner’s family with the constant surveillance added tension and depth to their relationship.

This story had a lot going on. I expected Tanner’s trauma to be overwrought and the portrayals of his mobster family to be over-the-top stereotypical, but the author didn’t go the one-dimensional route, which I appreciated. I did not however buy that an FBI agent like Maddox, committed to seeking revenge against the mob his whole career, would suddenly switch to falling in love with a mobster after a week of feeling sorry for Tanner and his stories of the things that he had done. It needed better defined character motivations. Despite the instalove, I thought the characters were interesting. I just expected him to have developed feelings and maybe wrestled with that a little more than he did.

I also questioned the author’s legal research; they kept going on about how people couldn’t be convicted of crimes if they were committed under duress and I question their understanding of the law. Just a quibble as someone who works in the legal field; little details like that can throw me out of the story.

Despite my reservations, I found this an entertaining read with a plot arc that kept me interested to the end. I liked the growth of their relationship overall and the chemistry between them; if you don’t mind surface infatuation turning on a dime to instalove you may like this book even more than I did. It was a satisfying plot arc with a nice balance of action and romance. The author’s writing voice was engaging and the story was easy to follow. I’d read more books by this author.