And Then There Was Her by Tagan ShepardAnd Then There Was Her by Tagan Shepard is a story about someone who is in the wrong place, with the wrong person, and the journey she takes to find who she is and what she needs. It is told almost entirely from the perspective of Madison Jones, a twenty-eight-year-old ceramic artist.

Madison Jones is stuck. She works several jobs, which leaves her little energy to pursue her art. Her ceramic pieces are good, but she knows they could be exemplary if she unlocks her potential. Her girlfriend Kacey just appeared on the television show Top Chef and, while her notoriety leads to many job offers, Madison’s hope to officially settle down with her seems farther away than ever.

When Kacey is offered a job in Oregon, far away from the city, Madison goes with her because that’s what supportive girlfriends do. She doesn’t anticipate that the quiet, sprawling vineyards of Minerva Hills Winery will call to her muse and soothe the pain she’s been trying to run from.

The owner of the winery, CS Freeburn, is prickly, standoffish and just as passionate about making wine as Madison is about her art. When the picturesque winery and its owner coax a new creativity and sense of self from Madison, it confuses her. She believed she was perfectly happy, but how can that be true when the longer she stays and the more time she spends with CS the more it feels like home?

Cheating can be a sensitive topic but we don’t have to contest with that here. Madison and Kacey break-up before any exploration of a relationship with CS begins.

The Characters

A word that jumps into my history-nerd brain when thinking about Madison’s journey is pyrite, otherwise known as fool’s gold. There are famous stories of early settlements in America that did not fare well, sometimes disappearing entirely. In one famous example, Jamestown,  the settlers discovered what they believed to be gold. They were so intent on mining it and shipping tons of it back to England that they ignored tasks that would have been helpful to their survival. Unfortunately, what they had really found was pyrite. Madison Jones has similarly allowed herself to be fooled. She has shades of happiness in her current life and is trying very hard to convince herself that this is enough. She’s hiding from pain and, in her desire to escape it, she clutches what she believes to be precious but isn’t. This is entirely human. People fool themselves all the time.

Madison’s loyalty, need to create, and longing to truly share her life with someone are central to her personality. They also make her a character who is empathetic and easy to connect with. Her journey feels like a long peaceful walk in a lonely wood. As a reader, you find as she finds and you see the lights of home on the horizon when she does. Because the book is mostly told by Madison, CS doesn’t come to life quite as strongly. I was okay with this, however, because CS’s honesty and straightforwardness shone through.

The Writing Style

The readability of the book amazed me. I opened the book and the next thing I knew I was on chapter twelve. Shepard keeps her characters in the present. Madison’s inner thoughts and memories are all directly connected to what’s happening right in front of her. It can be easy for writers to lose the plot (and sometimes the reader’s attention) by using too much inner dialogue and exposition. However, here, every glimpse into Madison’s thoughts feels relevant and meaningful.

Transformation is my favorite type of story, probably because there is something inherently romantic about two people who challenge one another’s perceptions of themselves and the world around them.

The Pros

This book plucked the strings of my romantic side on multiple occasions. So much so that the requisite “first time between the leads” sex scene made me give an audible, happy sigh. It felt like a capturing of perfection. There are many moments in the book when emotion is captured vividly and you cannot help but feel touched.

The Cons

Watch any Hallmark holiday movie and by ten minutes in, you usually hate the main character’s boyfriend/girlfriend/fiancée. This is by design. After all, the real story is how the lead falls in love with someone else. Therefore, the person they are currently with has to be painted as a self-centered, horrible human being.

Madison’s girlfriend exemplifies this. However, she’s so awful that there’s a blaring “isn’t she the worst” subtext in the background of her scenes. It began to impact my otherwise blissful enjoyment. I found myself purposefully ignoring her, hoping she would go away. Spoilers: she does.

Maria's Favourite BooksThe Conclusion

I highly recommend this book to the romantics out there and even the aspiring romantics who just need a little encouragement. There is at least one scene that I intend to reread again and again as I snuggle with my wife on a rainy morning.

Excerpt from And Then There Was Her by Tagan Shepard

“These are pinot noir. By the time we harvest, the skins will be the darkest purple you’ve ever seen. Almost black.”

There was a far-off misty look in CS’s eyes. Like she was talking about a lover she would never stop aching for. The person Madison found intimidating, cold and unfriendly was nowhere to be seen today. Not on a day when harvest was so near and she could talk about her grapes. It was charming in a misanthropic kind of way. Madison smiled despite herself.

CS snapped out of her reverie quickly, moving past Madison down the row. She slowed, turning her head to allow Madison to catch up. They walked side by side, not looking at each other but wrapped again in companionable silence. Madison’s fingers itched to move her hands, so she snatched a sprig of lavender from her back pocket and spun it between her fingers. When she looked up she realized they’d arrived at the main building and CS turned to her, hands deep in her pockets and avoiding Madison’s gaze.

“Have you taken a winery tour yet?”

The truth seemed like an insult, but she had no choice but to tell it. “No, I haven’t.”

“Seriously? People pay a lot of money to stay here and do tours. You’ve lived here two months now and you haven’t?”

“Seven weeks.”

“Too long.”

Madison shrugged, but she took a step forward. “I don’t want to bother anyone.”

CS gestured with a jerk of her head down a path leading behind the building and started to walk that way herself. “I’ll give you a special tour. Even include a barrel tasting.”

Madison held her place for exactly three seconds before hurrying to catch up with CS.

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Bits and Bobs

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Providence by Leigh Hays is about finding love, even if you think it’s not for you. Lindsey Blackwell is at the top of the wealth management game, which doesn’t leave much time for relationships. That’s fine by her, since her alcoholism ended the only longterm relationship she ever had. Now that she’s in recovery, she just focuses on work, whether that’s at home in New York, across the globe in Hong Kong, or anywhere in between. When Lindsey takes over a bunch of case files, she meets Rebekiah Kearns, a local erotic photographer. Rebekiah’s best friend died and left her with millions of dollars, and Rebekiah wants to get rid of the money as quickly as possible so she can move on with her life. But Lindsey has another idea. What if Rebekiah were to put that money to work, so she could do some real good with it? Rebekiah doesn’t know Lindsey, so why should she trust her? Rebekiah needs an act of trust in return—she’ll hear Lindsey’s ideas out if Lindsey will pose for Rebekiah. Neither woman is ready for a relationship, but the more time they spend together, the more a relationship seems to form on its own. Can they get out of their own way long enough to grab on to love? The Characters Neither Lindsey nor Rebekiah were the easiest for me to connect with at first because they’re both carrying some massive baggage. They try to keep each other at arms’ length for a long time, and understandably so, given the way Lindsey’s previous relationship crashed and burned and how Rebekiah was crushed by losing her best friend. They each have a lot to figure out and I appreciated seeing their journeys and how their priorities shift throughout the book. The Writing Style I liked how this was written. The settings were vivid, the chemistry well done, and their emotional journeys were a highlight. The Pros I loved seeing Rebekiah and Lindsey grappling with their feelings and coming to terms with them. It’s not easy for either woman, which is why I’ve tagged this as a dramatic romance, even though there’s no big breakup. Also, I was THRILLED to see Rebekiah and Lindsey have a conversation about when they were each last tested for STIs. There’s not nearly enough safer sex practice representation in lesfic, so it was fantastic to see it come up here. The Cons I have one issue with the book, which is that there was too much going on. This is most noticeable at the end because, at the 90% mark, I felt like I was picked up from the story I’d been reading and was dropped into a different one. A side conflict that had been hinted at earlier in the story burst into the foreground like the Kool-Aid man and it was utterly bewildering. I spent the rest of the book muttering “WTF” to myself, because there was not nearly enough time to properly explore and resolve that conflict and wrap up the romance. Rebekiah and Lindsey are definitely together at the end, but I wish an epilogue had been added for more closure or something. The Conclusion Even that issue with the ending aside, I’m glad I read Providence. It’s a solid debut book and it left me thinking for days after I finished it. I’d recommend it if you like books with tortured characters and I’ll be looking out for more from Leigh Hays in the future. Excerpt from Providence by Leigh Hays “I think I can help you.” The words left her mouth before she realized it. Rebekiah turned toward her with a look that said she doubted it. Lindsey held up her hand. She had no idea what to expect when she’d showed up. She’d been hoping to buy a little more time to diversify Rebekiah’s investments and get a longer commitment from her, but now that she was here and knowing what she did, she knew which way to go. “Hear me out. I get it. I know you’d still like to give it away, but I think we can carve out a sizable portion of this money and turn it into a foundation.” She pulled back, but her eyes stayed connected to Rebekiah. Keeping her as a client was no longer the goal. She was hurting, and Lindsey knew how to fix that. Rebekiah frowned. “I don’t want to manage that kind of business.” “It would be self-sustaining.” She paused and chose her next words carefully. “You loved her enough to watch her die. Now you have a chance to create a lasting legacy for her. Let me show you how.” Rebekiah folded her arms. “You’re asking me to trust you with something very personal.” Lindsey knew what she was going to say before she even said it. “You can take pictures of me.” She didn’t need to meet her halfway. She’d already signed the contracts. But she wanted her trust. The brief vulnerability opened the door. No harm in it as long as she controlled the terms. Her stomach fluttered. She could do this. Rebekiah moved closer. “Are you sure?” Lindsey knew what she was asking. She’d never done anything like this in her professional life, even when she was drinking. It was risky and exciting. But she wanted it. More than the contract itself, she wanted to feel like those women on Rebekiah’s walls. “I’m sure. How about you?” “I’m in your hands.” Get This Book On Amazon Using the links in this post and buying within 24 hours of clicking the link supports TLR and costs you nothing extra https://amzn.to/2IU61vd https://amzn.to/2J7KNtX https://amzn.to/39Zfqxt https://amzn.to/2x4Qnuh https://amzn.to/38YmjgY I just read this review for Providence by Leigh Hays Bits and Bobs ISBN number: 9781635556209 Publisher: Bold Strokes Books Leigh Hays Online If you enjoyed this book then you should also look at 30 Dates in 30 Days by Elle Spencer https://www.thelesbianreview.com/30-dates-in-30-days-elle-spencer/ Note: I received a free review copy of Providence by Leigh Hays. No money was exchanged for this review. When you use our links to buy we get a small commission which supports the running of this site

 

 

 

 

 

Note: I received a free review copy of And Then There Was Her by Tagan Shepard. No money was exchanged for this review. When you use our links to buy we get a small commission which supports the running of this site

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When I was a kid, I pretended I was a highly decorated jet fighter pilot in a multiplanet military organization. I flew my transforming spacecraft, rebelled against the insidious corruption within the quasi-space force, and won the girl of my dreams. Sadly, none of those things were actual career paths so I went into IT instead. All of the above, even the real-life stuff, was fueled by a love of reading. Books opened doors for me from an early age. They showed me possibilities, made me want to explore what the future could be, and offered me hope. Uber Gabrielle/Xena fanfic inspired by the show Xena: Warrior Princess changed my understanding of what love could look like.