With enemies like these…

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They’re dangerous men. Absolute enemies. And totally hot for each other.

Will has never met anyone like Kit. He’s arrogant. Gorgeous. Lethal. The most expensive bodyguard money can buy.

And Will can’t seem to resist him.

A simple command in Kit’s cut-glass accent makes Will want things he’s never wanted, do things he’s never done. Their red-hot chemistry is off the charts.

Just one problem: Will has vowed to kill the billionaire that Kit is hell-bent on protecting.

And Kit has secrets, too—his own reasons for sacrificing his soul, piece by painful piece, to keep one of the worst men on earth alive.

We received an ARC from the ever so generous authors as well as having pre ordered our own copies.

Karen: When I read the blurb for this book I was so excited. While I love Jo Chambers historical romances , I have recently discovered a weakness for spy/ undercover suspense. Carolyn Crane’s (Annika Martins alter ego) series The Associates I also adored .

However I’ve had a hard time recently with romances and very specifically with m/m romance so I was  a bit trepidatious when starting to read this, however I was hooked from the first page !

Fra: Me too Karen! I have recently grown so weary of the formulaic and over commercialised nature of m/m romance that I also was a bit apprehensive to pick up a book in this genre. And yet Jo Chambers is one of my favourite authors and I trust her with content, writing and her choice of co author. I was most certainly not disappointed: I positively loved this book.

Karen:  I really appreciated how the authors made a distinct difference between the voices of Will and Kit, one of my frustrations is when the tone of a book becomes homogenised US speak with no real feeling of place, and I was so pleased that this didn’t happen here. From the beginning Will and Kit were distinct and different.

Fra: Oh Yes! Absolutely – Will and Kit retain their cultural differences and both act distinctively according to these. I really appreciated that not only such distinction felt completely authentic it was also very cleverly underlined by the correct use of spelling for the UK/US divide. I admire this: in a genre where language is sanitised and localised to “bland U.S” setting in pursue of the largest audience, Chambers and Martin held their peace and used the cultural differences between the two protagonists to underlying their characters’ journey. And it was so well done.

Karen:  WillKit has a wonderful pace to it, I recently admitted that of late I had skimmed several books, because they were so predictable; not so here. The authors kept me on the edge almost all the time.  The balance between the suspense, romance and excitement is very well managed,  and while not massively complicated it’s not so simple either. I read this in one sitting

Fra: I found the book surprising, suspenseful, enjoyable to no end. The excellent writing sustains a tight plot. The characters move smoothly along the storyline while growing and moving closer at every turn. The pace, as you say Karen, was near perfect – the push and pull of the enemy to lover trope easily falling into pace with the story and the character development.

Karen: WillKit also uses time, and distance apart very well, the time between the encounters allows each man to explore their feelings and grow, combined with this is some actual communication between them. From the beginning it’s clear that Will needs to relinquish control at times, and this is demonstrated sexually initially, and then verbally. There is no dreaded misunderstanding either, which I think is the thing I dislike the most about the romance formula.

Fra: how very true Karen! Like I was saying earlier I think the pacing of this novel is perfect. Kit and Will circle each other, they examine each other and, absolutely, each encounter carries a new step in their development and a step further towards the final denouement of the story.

The story develops naturally, the characters journey devolves as a logical consequence of their first encounter and it does so, beautifully I may add, based on both Will and Kit’s response to each other and to how said response makes them question themselves. And the writing! The writing is beautiful – it is sparse without been dry, descriptive without being pedantic, it is witty and thrilling and I have to be honest here – sustains one of the best stories I have read in a very long time.

Karen :  I touched on the sex in the book earlier, and it is very sex positive without feeling gratuitous,  another balance which I have struggled  with recently. Here as well as illustrating the chemistry between WillKit ,  for me it solidified the connection and communication between them. I find that sex in a book has to add something to the overall story, and it doesn’t have to be on page graphic to work. The initial sexual encounters between these two really worked for me.

Fra: and it was also very, very sensual: charged, emotional, engaged! It furthered the romantic plot and the thriller one at the same time. I too grew weary of the sex in romance for sex sake: the tick box in the let’s titillate the audience box. Of course intercourse and intimacy are key cornerstones of romance but does it have to be so pedestrian all the time? Obviously, when faced with so good a novel as Enemies the answer is a resounding no; I am ever so grateful to Chambers and Martin for reminding me about the power of intimacy in romance novels.

Karen:  This was a really fun read, it’s not full of procedural accuracies, nor do I think it should be, there are plenty of books that do this but I would not call them romantic suspense.

On the negative side I did realise who  one of the bad guys was fairly early on,  so there was an element of waiting for the penny to drop within the story line, however I don’t see how this could have been changed.

Fra: I found Enemies Like You suspenseful, plot and character driven, romantic and highly sensual: great novel altogether. The storytelling was tight and emotionally charged and most and foremost it was so much fun to read. Regrettably I cannot go into details as it would spoil the whole plot, but Enemies Like You grabbed me from the very first chapter and kept me going with a big smile on my reader’s face happy in the knowledge that yes, there’s a whole lot of drivel in the genre at the moment, but there are also writers like Jo Chambers and Annika Martin who are masters of their craft and will always be delivering true gems like this novel.

A fast paced, romantic sexually charged well written fun read. What more do you need ? Aside from a whole lot of more novels about WillKit that is. In the meantime, highly recommended.

 

Last Dance of The Sugar Plum

 

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TICK-TOCK-TICK-TOCK-TICK-TOCK

Jonathan is a spy.

Anton is Jonathan’s ‘keeper’.

Jonathan is a spy with a code implanted deep in his subconscious, so deeply he can’t remember—anything at all.

Anton is an interrogator intent on retrieving the code, whatever the cost.

But sometimes they dream of dark tunnels and locked-up rooms, and then they both scream.

TICK-TOCK-TICK-TOCK-TICK-TOCK

Along comes Harry, who seems to have all the answers…but who is he, and which side is he on?

TICK-TOCK-TICK-TOCK-TICK-TOCK

Bang!

For many months, Jonathan and Anton live apart from the world in a hazy, dreamlike state, only interrupted by interrogations and a healthy fear of HQ. One day, they watch a dance performance, and memories begin to unwind… A ticking clock… Betrayal… Missions… Always the scent of oranges. But with clarity, comes a return of powerful emotions…

Last Dance of The Sugar Plum is an exciting spy thriller with as many twists and turns as a maze.

 

Thank you to the authors and publishers for a review copy.

This review is as spoiler free as we can make it!

Karen: Straight off the bat, I would say that I haven’t read a more original romance in quite a long time, and what I enjoyed so very much about this book was that it kept me thinking. It’s not your typical spy story, nor is it your typical romance nor is it your typical romantic thriller BUT it has elements of all these in it.

Fra: This is one of the most original novels I have read in quite some time: in equal parts spy story and romance, the two authors manage to deliver a thrilling reading experience which compels the reader to pay attention from page one.

Karen: Because it’s focused so very much on what has happened to Jonathan and Anton, and the narrative slips from the past to the present this was an intense read, and why Jonathan and Anton are in the position they are in is only revealed towards the end of the book- so all the way through I found myself second guessing what was going on, and got it wrong, every single time. And that so rarely happens.

After reading my gran’s romance books (Georgette Heyer, Catherine Cookston mainly) I drifted into mysteries and thrillers, so to find books that combine both of these, and well is one of my great reading pleasures. This book made me happy!

Fra: I loved the switches between past and present. Throughout the book I felt that the alternating chapters took me to almost guessing what was happening in both timelines while at the same time kept me focused on the story.

One of the things that I loved most about the novel is the very theatrical  narrative: it is as if the authors are constantly pointing a blinding spotlight on the parts of the story they want you to see drawing your attention to the specific scene in front of you and not allowing you to focus on any of the surrounds.

Not only did this technique work for me on a narrative level, I also felt that it brought the shifting timelines together as both past and present chapters are well defined scenes. As such I felt it brought continuity to the story when the story itself was purposely very disconcerting.

Don’t even start me on the guessing, second guessing and third guessing! I mean more than once I thought I had it all figured out only to get to the next chapter and eventually to the end of the novel and realise that I had figured absolutely zilch out!

How rare it is that a novel keeps us guessing and constantly focused on the story and the characters without feeling claustrophobic or confusing? I not only enjoyed this book because it was a good story I absolutely loved it because it of its narrative structure and because it demanded my attention all the time at all times.

Karen: The relationship between Jonathan and Anton is complicated, and at the beginning I felt that there was an element of Stockholm syndrome going on, then co-dependency – but like everything else in this book, Claire Davies and Al Stewart took my preconceptions, and made me think, again and often again about what I was reading. There are times when you have to just trust in your authors, and for me this was one. These two write consistently different and excellent books without, as far as I can tell, any really obvious writing or plot repetitions or tells.  Their writing is spot on for me, neither too flowery nor too linear (I detest those books that read like a Delia Smith recipe- and then they did this, and then they did that etc) and they pack a lot into the books without them becoming diluted or shallow.

Fra: I agree: Stockholm syndrome and co-dependency crossed my mind too in relation to the MCs relationship: but  I trusted the two authors to push the boundaries of my expectations and stayed with the story. And how expertly they did so too! Through a tight plot, a perfectly sustained narrative and expert writing Al Stewart and Claire Davis took all of my expectations – together with the easy way out many would have chosen – and kicked them out of the field.

Everything I have read of these two authors has defied expectations and delivered original, clever stories which have made a real impact on my reader’s mind.

In this particular case, as I was saying earlier, it is not only the story that is phenomenal but it is the way that is written: while you read you focus on the events – both past and present – to try and pull  the threads of the story together and become invested on both threads and yet it is only when you get to the end that the whole story becomes visible. It is almost as if the novel is narrated in reverse.

I thought this novel original, clever and so far away from the norm that – never mind the story itself, which I loved, I absolutely fell in love with the structure, the narrative. All in all this was a winner for me and I highly recommend it.

Karen: I couldn’t agree more Fra, LDoTSP joins my best of 2017, and is highly recommended.

Also another book with an amazing cover by the equally talented Noah Homes
You can buy it at Amazon UK

 

Where Eagles Dare

 

Eagle's Shadow FIN1 (1)What if the new love of your life also holds the keys to your past?

When Chicago journalist Tom Welsh meets British banker Sanders Templeton at a conference, Sanders insists they have a connection, though he does not know what it is. They’ve never met before—but the strangest thing is, Tom can also feel it.

Sanders Templeton is a highflier who has it all—the money, the lifestyle and a rare intellect. Only a few chosen people know that he also suffers excruciating pain since childhood, with no cure, a mystery to western medicine.

Sanders knows that meeting Tom may be the most significant event of his life. As their relationship deepens, they learn that this is not the first lifetime in which they’ve fallen for each other. This time, true love can be theirs if they find the courage to forgive.

Disclaimer: We both beta read Eagle’s Shadow prior to its publication

Fra: Eagle’s Shadow is the  intense and compelling second installment in Aleks Voinov’s Witches of London series. Co written with Jordan Taylor the novel  can be read as a standalone but it does offer a window onto two of the characters’ lives – Julian and Lee – as they come to the rescue of the two MCs Sanders and Tom.

Voinov and Taylor’s writing complements each other beautifully and add an extra layer to the narrative: on the one hand the very European essence of Sanders and on the other Tom’s North American mannerism end up contributing in more than one way to the story and its development.

Karen: Totally agreed, it was great to read a book set in two main locations where you really did feel each place, Tom’s discovery of London was especially fun to read.

Fra: At times a realistic account of chronic pain as much as it is about the romantic journey of the two MC to finally accept the deep bond between them, I thought this novel principal strength rests in the complex relationship – from friendship to love – between Sanders and Tom as they explore the undeniable feelings of attraction and recognition and the manner in which these are interwoven with the exploration and eventual resolution of the pain, physical and emotional, which both men are in.

Karen: The attraction between the two of them was very immediate, and because of their history, it was one of the few times that the immediacy worked well for me, Sanders in particular is a complex character, and that is apparent from the off – however as you rightly point out Fra, so is Tom. It’s very cleverly woven, how these two twine together and then pull apart.

Fra: This is not an easy journey and the regression sessions reveal – and compel both the reader and the characters to relive – a odyssey through harrowing times from the Irish Famine to the utter madness of World War 2. As to be expected from both authors the accounts are realistic, harsh and historically accurate and the link between chronic pain and past lives is explored in detail but never forced on the reader.

Karen : The scenes where the characters regress are extremely powerful, but what was great to read was Tom’s logical skepticism,  for me it made him ring true – it needed something to temper the immediacy of the attraction- and this just did it for me. I  also appreciated the fluidity of the characters past lives, when I have read books with regression in before they seem often glamorous – but these were gritty real people.

Fra: To expand on that Karen – I particularly loved the tension between Sander’s determination to see the regression therapy through and Tom’s skepticism and denial of its effectiveness. I think this was one of the best underlying themes of the novel: the tension between Sander’s belief and Tom’s disbelief punctuates the manner in which the characters interact and eventually delivers a great emotional payout.

These are great characters; they are strong and broken at the same time, they are flawed and complex and realistically compelling. Their relationship from the undeniable sense of deja vu and belonging to the final denouement is also realistic and layered with complexity.

Karen: Eagles Shadow carries on with the theme set in Witches of London – Lars, of  different belief systems and ways of life being harmoniously integrated amongst the everyday. And I find this wonderfully realistic and inclusive, very reflective of the real community – especially as a sceptic myself.

Fra: Agreed Karen,  critical to the narrative is London’s Witches role. We see Lee in his practice as well as Julian in glorious supporting mode.And London itself – seen through Tom’s eyes in his solitary wondering is as much a character in the novel as the protagonists and roots the action in the strongest sense of place.

Karen: Ahh Lee ! Simply one of my favourite characters, I kind of want/ don’t want his story !

Also, a big shout out to Tiff, who has taken cover design for this series to a higher plane !

All in all this is a brave novel, unafraid to take its premises, and its characters, through the ringer before an emotionally rewarding conclusion and one that we wholeheartedly recommend.

You can buy Eagle’s Shadow here

 

Foxes

 

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When Dashiel s body is found dumped on an East London wasteland, his best friend Danny sets out to find the killer. But Danny finds interaction difficult and must keep his world small in order to survive. By day he lives in an abandoned swimming pool and fixes electrical devices to trade for supplies, but by night, alone, he hunts sharks a reckless search for dangerous men who prey on the vulnerable.

A chance meeting with an American boy selling himself on the streets throws this lonely existence into disarray. Micky is troubled, fragile, and Danny feels a desperate need to protect him from what, he doesn’t know. As Danny discovers more about Micky, he realizes that what Micky needs saving from is the one thing Danny can’t help him fight against.

To save Micky, Danny must risk expanding his world and face something that scares him more than any shark ever could: trusting he will be accepted for who he is. If a freezing winter on the streets, a sadistic doctor, and three thousand miles don’t tear them apart first, that is.

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Karen and I interview each other on the gorgeous that is Suki Fleet’s Foxes.

Karen: I’ve seen comments on Foxes that say there is a Beauty and the Beat feeling to it, do you agree with this ?

Fra:  I think in the Beauty and the Beast trope, the inner beauty of the presumed beast is a discovery made by others who have only looked at the surface. Although Danny acknowledges that his scarred face is an obstacle and he is so very conscious of it;  he also says that in the main he is over it. As readers, straight up – as the books is narrated by Danny and we have access to his thought process from the very beginning, we know that there is an amazing person behind the scars without having to be brought to this “realisation” by a plot device.

From a narrative perspective this is one flawless book: narrated entirely by Danny, the book delivers not only an interrupted view into Danny’s thought process but manages to also convey – by showing the other characters interactions with him – how Dashiel, Donna, Milo, Diana and eventually Micky see him.

Fra Q: Do you think there’s an element of that ?

Karen : I agree that, in the traditional way, there is only a superficial resemblance to Beauty and the Beast, but I’m not totally sure that at the beginning  Danny is over it. There is a lovely scene where he see’s himself in a mirror – and doesn’t recognise himself!

Fra: True and that is such a beautiful scene. Although I think there’s an element there which reinforces the dissonance between  the way  Danny perceives himself  and the actual way he looks and his perceived by others.

Fra Q: Karen, London is the mightily sketched background against which Danny and Micky move. It’s a cold, unforgiving, shadow filled London and yet Danny can still marvel at the beauty of it. How do you feel the relationship between the characters and their environment worked in Foxes? And as a Londoner did you recognise it as the same city you work in?

Karen: Actually Danny’s London is very similar to where I work and live,  almost like more of an amalgam of both. I work in east London ( not the hipster part) and there are several cafe/ drop in centres nearby that remind me very much of Diana’s place.

But, I actually live on south east London, and while the book was set in South West London the landscape was totally familiar.                       

I think the rather desolate urban landscape does actually have its own beauty,  and that’s what Danny sees. I also felt that Suki Fleet managed to create an outstanding parallel between  the habitat and lifestyle of urban foxes and the habitat and lifestyle of humans moving at the margins of their environment – especially in Danny’s case.

When I started to read Foxes for the first time I wasn’t sure about the location of the swimming baths; the second time I did some research, and in my corner of London alone there have been 4 swimming baths that have lain empty for over a year before any work was carried out on them .

FraQ : Tell me more about the foxes’ habitat and Danny’s

Karen: Actually – it is in the way that the boys’ lifestyle mimics foxes behaviour when you think of it: they are mainly nocturnal, they are foragers, they nest (the nesting is a very  overt reference). They also have a family of sorts

Fra: They do what they can to stay alive. And the foxes take over Danny’s nest

Karen: Exactly and Danny is on the lookout for predators.                      

Fra: They are, beautifully and very aptly, a skulk of foxes

Karen Q: Danny has been on the streets for some time, yet he manages to retain an innocence

Why do you think that is ?

Fra: Danny has been isolated and alone for so long I think he has developed his own moral compass. Because of the way he lives he seems to have no other parameters to be beholden to besides the one he makes for himself. He lives on the outskirts of society, looking in – pretty much like you very well said, like an urban fox. His world, the other children, the streets he roams hunting for sharks also do not seem to hold the same “moral/morally wrong” lines that keep together the “normal society” they move parallel to.

“Normal” society with its rules and constructed morality is the reason why Danny and his skulk of foxes are on the streets: I think the world Danny inhabits is for sure stark and harsh and dark but the moral compass points to the true north of community and mutual protection. Stripped of the supposedly moral obligation of society these children see, and seek, in each other  the actual core that makes a person fundamentally good.                  

Danny is comfortable (even in the absolute cancelling manner of the very beginning of the book) in his solitude and both his mental status and his scars give him a protective shell very much akin to the shell he builds for himself in the abandoned pool.                        

Karen Q: Do you think that it is in some way also tied up with being told that he can’t cope

Fra: Perhaps and yet I found a fortitude in Danny that from the very beginning of the book confirms to me that he is more than capable to “cope”. He is conscious of his situation and does not see it as something to rage against or – until Micky plants that particular seed – he needs to overcome. Very rarely you hear him complain about his own cold, his own hunger, his own vulnerability to falling prey to the sharks that cruise the streets on South West London: his focus is  always about the other kids. It’s always they must be cold, hungry, they must  find shelter and help.                   

FraQ: Danny and Micky relationship is one of the sweetest and strongest I have read in a while, what did you like most about it?

Karen: The thing I particularly like about Danny and Micky is actually something that I often hate in other books, and is testament to how much I trust Suki Fleet as a writer: and it is  that they actually do complete each other.

I despise the use of broken / damaged to refer to people- so I would say that here we have two young men who have issues, some with mental health and self care  who make each other stronger and more self sufficient as opposed to co dependent

Fra: Very true about Danny and Micky making each other self sufficient and also self reliant as individuals rather than as magically “cured” couple.

Karen: Although I was totally invested on their relationship I was also invested in them as individuals they both showed such development, and yes some can be attributed to age, but mainly it was that they both wanted the best for each other.

There was time given to them becoming friends and there was no artificial relationship drama.

No ridiculous jealousy.                     

There is a scene where Danny gets flowers for Micky, and when he’s asked if Micky will welcome the gesture, he says “ I want to make him smile”.

And when Micky gets the bath for Danny: it’s all about doing something to make someone else happy.                       

There is an overused  trend in romance to make relationships sickly sweet or else pump drama into them from misunderstandings or mistrust therefore  one of the things I really enjoyed as well in Foxes was the lack of that.

Karen Q: Angst is a word I’ve read to describe foxes would you describe it as angsty ?

Fra: I think the subject matter and the characters’ circumstance are not easy topics.

Suki addresses homelessness, mental health, eating disorders and isolation in a delicate, respectful and ultimately uplifting manner which never takes away from the fact that these are in fact really serious issues.

There is undoubtedly a level of unresolved tension throughout the novel. Micky is, after all, on the streets – as are all the other children- because of conflict and rejection from his family. Dashiel’s death propels Danny into this shark hunting mode that is as obsessive as it is necessary to bring his own narrative to a different starting point. So yeah angst or better still apprehension which came from an incredibly empathetic account of the conditions the children are in.

But in Danny and Micky’s relationship? I found that no, there was no angst; which was incredibly refreshing knowing that so many similar stories – mostly of the usian variety – rely on the relationship drama to carry the narrative rather than the characters growth and agency.                       

I mean: they help each other help themselves; and not only Danny and Micky, Donna and Viv (Vicky I must check), Dietrick, and to an extent even Dieter.

There is no unnecessary I will leave him cause it’s best for him. There’s self doubt for sure: Danny knowing he is unable to give Micky what he needs. But it lasts a minute, really, before Danny himself realises that the obstacle here is that he hasn’t even considered that he could.                       

Micky is conscious of the damage his anorexia is wreaking on his body and mind but I think that in meeting Danny he also gets to a point that he wishes to do something about it not for Danny but for himself – for Dominic.                     

So difficult, harrowing situations? Yes. A lot of angst? No, not really.

Karen: I have to say I agree, for me often angst seems a manufactured thing, born of forced misunderstandings and poor communication So I think that that Micky and Danny have issues, yes, and they are intense. But they talk!                      

Fra: Yes! Right? Even when it is difficult for him to talk, Danny writes it down and shows it to Micky to make sure that what he is thinking is understood.

They have to overcome objective obstacles and they do so head on and no holds spared; but I didn’t think it was done with angst more like with a strong and unwavering determination learned the hard way.

And if I were completely honest – angst, of the unfocused variety that usually gets attached to the word “adolescent”, is very much the last thing in these characters minds and lives when their daily life is about survival – finding warmth, sustenance and a safe space to sleep.

Suki Fleet is an incredibly talented author: her work explores the hardness of contemporary life with  rare sensibility and heartbreaking delicacy without compromising on realistic portrayal and yet manages to inspire the reader as much as it succeeds in uplifting her characters lives.

Foxes is a fantastic novel, Danny and Micky and the diverse cast of characters around them are set against a vivid portrayal of a harsh London which feels incredibly real.

The characters voices are quiet and powerful and the narrative, while heartbreaking, inspires to reach out and do more to help and support the very many young people in dire need of help.

All in all Suki Fleet remains a strong favourite of ours and we not only highly recommend Foxes but hope that you will find reading all of her novels as rewarding an experience as we have.

Buy Links: Amazon US | Amazon UK | Dreamspinner
2016 Rainbow Award Winner – Best Gay Young Adult

Author Bio

Award Winning Author. Prolific Reader (though less prolific than she’d like). Lover of angst, romance and unexpected love stories.

Suki Fleet writes lyrical stories about memorable characters, and believes everyone should have a chance at a happy ending.

Her first novel This is Not a Love Story won Best Gay Debut in the 2014 Rainbow Awards, and was a finalist in the 2015 Lambda Awards.

Email: sukifleet@gmail.com
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Light up the Dark

lightupthedark

For two years Nicky has wandered the dark empty corridors of the overgrown Thorn Hall, unseen and untouched, feeling like a ghost. His only company, the cold man who promised to keep him safe from harm, Lance.

But when Lance dies, Nicky’s assurance of safety disintegrates and his world suddenly becomes a lot more real and a lot more dangerous. Scared to leave the house, Nicky longs for daylight. He employs a gardener to clear the over-grown bushes and vines that have nearly swallowed Thorn Hall whole.

The last thing Nicky expects a little light to do is show him something to fight for.

Eighteen months in a young offenders’ institute has taught Cai two things: he occupies the playful puppy end of the How Dangerous Are You? spectrum, and he has an unfortunate knack for being in the wrong place at the wrong time.

Desperate for a job, he takes the first offer he gets. Even though Thorn Hall creeps the hell out of him and he barely knows one end of a pair of garden shears from the other.

Things start to fall apart when Cai is drawn into Nicky’s strange world of sticky notes and secrets. Cai finds he is now a target, blamed for a crime he didn’t commit. Desperate not to go back to prison, he digs deep and risks all the good things in life to help Nicky run.

But now Nicky has someone he wants to protect, he knows he can’t run any more

Fra: Suki Fleet has been one of my most treasured discoveries of reading year 2016. Her stories are heartbreaking and beautifully written while at the same time affording both her characters and her readers uplifting experiences.

She writes contemporary tales firmly set in their environment and her writing evokes gritty, stark landscapes which are as much obstacle and redemption to her characters.

She explores themes of isolation, abandonment, mental illness and marginalisation in the most delicate of manners without ever turning condescending and without ever affording the facile endings so well loved of similar tales from across the ocean.

Light Up The Dark is her latest novel and it is – in my modest opinion – a classic Fleet novel. There are recurring themes, a strong sense of place, and a plot which carries the characters across a development and growth arc amongst some of the best I have read in 2016.

Karen : I would agree on Suki Fleet being a total find this year. I have become less tolerant of overtly formulaic books, and while I recognise that romance as a genre does operate within parameters, there is still scope for originality and difference. The previous books I have read by Fleet have been mainly NA and angst heavy, and I need to be in the right frame of mind for both of these to enjoy them. So I was trepidatious over reading one of her books, and I did start this very slowly, but after the first 10% I was hooked.

This book blew me away, Fra had already read it by the time I was 30% in, and I was like a giddy child with all the questions I was asking, and hopefully we won’t spoiler at all, or at least minorly.

Fra: I was absolutely hooked and I just could not put the book down. I am also very much in love with all of the YA/NA stories of hers I read in 2016; I too have by now a complete lack of interest in the overtly formulaic offerings of so many books that come from across the pond.

Add to the above the fact that her books are deliciously British and European in their outlook and approach – bleak and yet uplifting outlook and an approach to plot development which relies heavily on the characters own willingness to get themselves into the “light” and not some sort of narrative miracle, and Suki Fleet can count me as one of her diehard fans forever.

Karen : There are some great elements in LUTD, the Gothic setting of the decaying house, and Dickensian as well with Nicky somewhat like Miss Haversham living in the shadows. As Cai and his family start to invade Nicky’s life there is also a sleeping beauty feel, all of these are relatively subtle though. What made this so good for me was the balance between the psychological thriller and the romance. I think that to get the right balance is incredibly hard, and SF got it totally right for me. I wanted to know what was going on in Thorn Hall, and I rooted for Nicky and Cai.

Fra: Aren’t there just Karen?

I fear spoiling the novel if I go into more details. But let’s put it this way – Light Up The Dark is a psychological thriller with several elements of Gothic fiction thrown in for good measure.

Thorn Hall, I thought- oppressive, dark and dank and mysterious – is as much a character as Nicky and Cai in the story.

Cai’s progress on the overgrown outside of the mansion punctuates Nicky’s progress on the inside: Suki Fleet stated that Light Up The Dark is one of her less angsty novels and I tend to agree. Nicky is isolated and reserved for incredibly good reasons and yet he is the one to initiate the clearing of the wild plants that will eventually bring in both the light and Cai in his life.

I found that there were similarities between Foxes and Light Up The Dark in the way Fleet uses space around her main characters. In Foxes the disused swimming pool Danny uses as a home brings him solace and protection and allows him to retreat from the world around him at will. Comparatively Thorn Hall affords Nicky a modicum of security and protection even if he has started to feel ever so slightly claustrophobic in it. I thought it was particularly poignant how both men build themselves  some sort of inner sanctum in the places and how in Nicky’s case the dark is both comforting – in the space he chooses for himself – and frightening – everywhere else in the house. (note I’d love to be more specific but I am absolutely not going to spoil this story)

Together with the classic “person in the turret” Gothic trope I also thought the book had a very cinematographic element to it which reminded me of some of the greatest noir psychological thrillers of old times. In particular I did mention to Karen that Thorn Hall reminded me of Mandalay.

Karen : Nicky is a fascinating character, an inconsistent mix of vulnerable and strong, scared and brave (with good reasons for all of these) and he is matched so well with Cai – also a complex character – despite Nicky being the elder it is Cai who comes initially as the most mature, and then as in all good books they switch roles. Cai’s sister and her friend Loz are wonderful supporting characters as well, while young they are also quite emotionally mature and not there for diversity window dressing.

Fra: I agree on both counts. Nicky is abrasive and guarded, frightened but determined and is the perfect match for Cai. I found Cai equally determined, vulnerable and yet strong and in control.

It had been a while, also, since I read such an intense and sensual intercourse between two main characters.  Not gratuitous or a tick box in a narrative lull. When the two main characters get together it propels the story forward both on plot and character development. It was beautifully written and highly romantic.

The alternate point of view is also incredibly well done. I do think Suki writes her secondary characters as if they were the protagonists of their own story and this lends strength to the whole novel.

In Light Up the Dark Loz’s viewpoint works as a brilliant counterpoint to the main plot line and offers, in several slow reveals a completely different angle on the on going story. Which is already quite the reversal of roles given that Loz is a teenager but their actions in the story also affords a queer character pivotal, and incredibly positive, agency.

The same can be said of the rest of the secondary character – mostly women – who at critical points of the story safe the day in a complete reversal of what the formulaic approach would have demanded of the story.

Karen : Because LUTD was published early, I can say that this was one of my top reads of 2016 now as well !

Fra: Agreed !

Overall we found LUTD gorgeously written with Gothic overtones: the pacing is relentless sustained by a tight plot and beautifully upheld by complex character development across multiple point of views.

The language is achingly beautiful, the story gorgeous and romantic; and once again Fleet explores complex themes – isolation and mental health to mention but two – in a delicate way and brings about a satisfying conclusion without relying on the facile denouements so overused in many of this genre novels. Highly Recommended

About the author:

suki-fleet

Award Winning Author. Prolific Reader (though less prolific than she’d like). Lover of angst, romance and unexpected love stories.

Suki Fleet’s first novel This is Not a Love Story won Best Gay Debut in the 2014 Rainbow Awards, and was a finalist in the 2015 Lambda Awards. Foxes won Best Gay Young Adult story in the 2016 Rainbow Awards.

You can contact Suki at sukifleet@gmail.com

If you’re interested in hearing about upcoming releases, works in progress, giveaways and freebies, please sign up to Suki’s newsletter here

Aleksandr Voinov and Jordan Taylor – cover reveal for Witches of London: Eagle’s Shadow

Pleased to help revealing the cover for Witches of London: Eagle’s Shadow , Witches of London: Lars was one of our top reads of 2016.

We are so very excited for this, it’s due on 4th February, and the cover is just gorgeous

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What if the new love of your life also holds the keys to your past?

When Chicago journalist Tom Welsh meets British banker Sanders Templeton at a conference, Sanders insists they have a connection, though he does not know what it is.  They’ve never met before—but the strangest thing is, Tom can also feel it.

Sanders Templeton is a highflier who has it all—the money, the lifestyle and a rare intellect. Only a few chosen people know that he also suffers excruciating pain since childhood, with no cure, a mystery to western medicine.

Sanders knows that meeting Tom may be the most significant event of his life. As their relationship deepens, they learn that this is not the first lifetime in which they’ve fallen for each other. This time, true love can be theirs if they find the courage to forgive.

 

This is a standalone novel in the Witches of London world.

If I Should Stumble

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Love is sure and timeless and forever. It whispers over the morning coffee and the last thought before sleep. Love is beyond hope, and cruel as life.

Kaz has been in the UK for almost a year, but the days pass by in an endless round of alcohol and nothingness. He has a story but no words good or bad enough to tell it, until one day, he is assigned a new peer mentor who asks him to help train a sponsored running team. Something that was stretched as old parchment breaks inside, and memories begin to re-surface.

Zack is overjoyed when his friend Adam asks him to be part of the sponsored run team trying to make money for the local homeless shelter. All day he makes cakes to lighten people’s load, but something is missing from his life. Then he meets the boy with eyes like the desert, and with every step he runs, Zack’s light burns away the darkness in Kaz’s heart.

As the race heats gets nearer, Tork, Adam, Zack and Jo realise that under Kaz’s careful programme, they have a chance to qualify and set right some of the wrongs of this world.

This book features the characters Tork and Adam from The Invasion of Tork and The Invasion of Adam

We both bought copies of this book, and to note that all authors’ proceeds go to homeless charity

Karen: I read the Invasion of Tork and The Invasion of Adam last year, and loved them, and I was so excited when I realised that there was a 3rd book in the series. You really do need to read all 3 to get the flavour as well.

The series as a whole tackles issues such as homelessness and mental health in a completely accepting and non judgemental way, and doesn’t glamourise them or offer some magical cure that suddenly makes everything better  nor do they swamp you with angst and misery. These books celebrate hope and love.

Fra: Likewise Karen, I read the first two books at the very end of last year and was as excited that a third book was coming out: I found them all enchanting.   

The major issues of homelessness, mental health and, now, immigration, are all addressed respectfully and sympathetically. S They are strengthened by weaving friendship and young romantic love into the narrative,  while not sparing the characters major obstacles to overcome but managing to retain the story’s hopefulness and uplifting qualities.

In a genre which, generally speaking, actively pursues  the miraculous end and sorting out of the “Problem”, these books stay, thankfully and gracefully, cliche’ free.

Karen: Kaz is a refugee from an unnamed country, where being gay can get you imprisoned. He’s in the UK and everything is just fine, thank you very much. Except it isn’t at all. Kaz tries to navigate the weirdness of the British, missing his family and friends and dealing with the horrors that happened to him on his journey to the UK by drinking the cider, and collecting things.  I got such a feeling of isolation and sorrow from Kaz , and while the support system he had was well meaning, no one really ‘got’ him.

Fra: Karen! The account of Kaz’s migrant journey, its reasons and its  psychological effects broke my heart.

I think the authors managed to maintain a very delicate balance between social commentary on the effects of human trafficking and exploring how the migration journey affects Kaz as a person and the gradual breakdown of all of his coping mechanism.

Kaz’s journey of displacement and self discovery striked me like  the ugliest version of the classic hero journey; each step more drastic and tragic than the last and where the destination represents both the end  of one journey, the physical one, and the beginning of  another: a psychological one of self discovery, self acceptance and ultimately of self affirmation.

Pushed out by his parents for being gay and basically consigned in the hands of human traffickers, Kaz arrives in Britain with absolutely nothing.  The papers, the news, are full of harrowing accounts of how human traffickers exploit the migrants of this generation; by describing Kaz’s steady descent into a complete PTSD melt down I think the authors have managed to convey how very soul destroying the experience is.

Superficially cheerful in his interactions with his environment we get to see him steadily falling apart: it starts with the numbing cider and it escalates with the hoarding of items which directly relate to the tragic journey he has undertaken.

I thought that the character development  was particularly well executed.

Kaz burden is heavy: on the one hand there is his being gay within the boundaries placed on him by his own culture. Particularly well written was, in my opinion, the oppressiveness of religion signified by the almost suffocating presence of the Church, the Mosque and  the Synagogue buildings around him.

On the other he is navigating a completely different country and culture after the most tragic of journeys; His coping mechanisms – the drinking and the hoarding coupled with the flashbacks makes for hard but necessary reading. It is an accursed attitude and state of mind to forget and ignore the human cost of forced migration be it because of war, economic reasons or – as in this case – human rights issues.

Kaz therefore deals with deeply seated personal issues: his sexuality, his loneliness, the modality of how to behave in a society and culture completely different from his own while at  the same time having to cope with the psychologically devastating effect of the how he got into the new society and culture in the first place.

Karen: I also felt that the religious aspect was very well done. There are numerous romance books where religion is the source of conflict within the characters various relationships,  but not so many where religion is seen as such a negative aspect in general.

I would also add that for a romance novel to tackle the subjects in this book was a brave thing to do, and while at no time did I feel like I was being lectured, there was also no doubt where the authors stood.

Fra: The human connections the characters make create a strong network for them to grow and rely on while they do so. The books – this one and his predecessors – convey a very strong message of ties chosen and cultivated at a very human level. Here, I think, is where the authors bring forward an incredibly uplifting message of hope which makes this series a veritable pleasure to read.

All in all If I Should Stumble is a gorgeous addition to this series and an important book for all to read. At a time in which the rise of unbridled conservatism will lead us to believe that the cause of all social evil is the current mass migration movement, it is books like If I Should Stumble which remind us that behind the word “migrant” there are people – human beings who in very many cases did not quite chose to leave their countries and their families and friends; people who have lost everything and now found themselves on death barges and  in containment camps, or direct provision accommodation; people who we should make feel welcome and safe instead of unsure and unwelcome.  A book that manages to balance serious and important subjects about the world we live in today, with a love story and the story of a man navigating a new life in a new country.

Highly recommended

buy it here

http://www.beatentrackpublishing.com/#1

https://www.amazon.co.uk/Should-Stumble-Tork-Adam-Book-ebook/dp/B01MDQFXN9/ref=sr_1_8?s=digital-text&ie=UTF8&qid=1480797655&sr=1-8&keywords=claire+davis