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Breathless by Sarah Sanders

⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐ Short, sweet and sexy – we loved this book. Lara is a movie star whose career has crashed and burnt. She is in the throes o...

Standby Counsel by Alexi Venice

⭐⭐⭐⭐


This is a gripping courtroom drama that compels you to keep turning the pages eager to know what happens next.

Attorney Monica Spade has left her previous homophobic organisation and is now partner in her own firm Spade, Daniels & Taylor. Monica is basically a civil lawyer and her jam professionally is health care and business. She stays away from litigation, trials and crime, thank you very much. She is in love with Shelby St. Claire, a gorgeous art teacher, and they’re in the sexual-honeymoon-behaviourally-making space-for-another-person-emotionally-exploring-slightly-on-eggshells phase of their deepening relationship. Life’s good.  

Monica is thrown for a loop when she receives a call from Judge O’Brien’s office requesting her to serve as standby counsel for a pro se criminal defendant. Monica realises that her name was put into the volunteer list as a prank by her friend, the ‘Taylor’ in Spade, Daniels &Taylor. Monica tries to plead off but there is no way she can wriggle out of this one.

With no other recourse, Monica becomes standby counsel to Stela Reiter, a young lady charged with killing her boyfriend by stabbing him 13 times. Stela insists that it was self-protection. As standby counsel Monica’s primary job is to explain the judicial process and laws to Stela, a demure, librarian-looking chemistry student, who is surprisingly self-possessed, highly intelligent and unexpectedly well-versed in law.

Crime, intrigue, long-reaching international plots – Monica finds herself tangled in things she never asked for. And it gets worse when threats become personal and impact her beloved Shelby.

This is a plot-driven book and the plot is very well thought out, nuanced and satisfyingly developed. The unfolding of the size of the crime was completely unexpected. From an ‘intentional homicide’ to an international event is just not what you imagine.

The writing and pacing is excellent. You are eager to know what happens next even as you try to guess it. No part either drags too long or is rushed through. Every action, incident and emotion is given the perfect amount of time, depth and attention. Plus there are sassy exchanges in the dialogues between various characters which range from chuckle-worthy to lol-demanding. One of our favourite parts is Monica’s first conversation with voice-on-phone-millennial, Cassidy.  Not only is the exchange fun, but in that teeny-tiny part, Venice manages to give Cassidy a definite personality. Quite an achievement of good writing, this.

Characterisation-wise, Stela is a triumph. The way she is described, she evokes a range of emotions. She is variously demure, timid, calculating, mysterious, intimidating – a victim and a criminal. We found ourselves flipping between wanting Stela to be innocent and shocked at new reveals about her.

Shelby St. Claire is one of the most gorgeous and amongst the sexiest women on paper we’ve met. We love that she is not just kept at being beautiful and sexy, though. She carries her own hurt and heartbreak, has her own secrets and irrational reactions with her partner. But she is also self-aware and willing (and able) to work on her relationship. She is a complete individual with many parts to her.

Monica, the centre of the story and on whom most of the narrative focuses, is such a real person. She is an everyday human being with every-person aspirations – love, friends, satisfying work and financial security. But when trouble comes calling she grits her teeth and tries to power her way through it the best she can which maintaining her professional and personal integrity and values. She makes mistakes, has her oh-so-human feelings with Shelby, is overwhelmed but makes amends, apologises when necessary, reaches out, has strong core values of right and wrong, refuses to be a pushover and is true to her emotions.  

We loved the relationship between Shelby and Monica which has hot sex and gooey sweetness.

In fact, without particularly trying to give them centre stage, Venice manages to write strong interpersonal relationships between partners (not just Shelby and Monica, but all partners), friends, colleagues and even acquaintances. She gives the people and relationships depth, dimension and flavour.

This one is a very, very immersive, enjoyable and satisfying read.

⭐⭐⭐⭐

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