Book Review: The Road to Vermilion Lake (Vic Cavalli)


Goodreads Link | Author Website

A love story that left me banging my head against a wall.

TL;DR – The tale of a blossoming romance between two unlikely lovers.

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RAGDOLL RATING: 2.5/5 BUTTONS

Why I read it…

I was lucky enough to have the author offer me a copy in exchange for an honest review.

The Story…

TW: Contains descriptions of bodily mutilation, sexual content, drug use, and sexual assault.

Thomas Tems is a blaster for a construction firm, building an idyllic residential area around a remote lake. Thomas soon forms a relationship with the architect behind the project, a brilliant young woman and devout Catholic, called Johnny.

The Road to Vermilion Lake explores their budding relationship, the difficulties that come from the clash of religious backgrounds,  and the troubled histories of the characters, and the frantic search for Johnny’s missing sister.

What I liked…

In it’s purest form, I enjoyed this story. I read it all over the space of a day, so something about it must have grabbed me.

I enjoyed reading about the building relationship between Thomas and Johnny. Johnny, as a devout Catholic, has a great deal of extra rules about what constitutes morality that are alien to Johnny, particularly around intimacy and sex. It was interesting seeing how the pair worked together to navigate a potentially difficult situation, even going so far as to create a map of morally appropriate places on Johnny’s body that could be touched before marriage. It was bizarre, certainly, but it was really nice to see a really thorough and clear example of how consent and communication can and should work in a relationship. Which, incidentally, is something I will come back to in a moment.

I also enjoyed, much to my surprise, the character building behind behind Thomas’ best friend Dave. Dave is introduced as the kind of man who ruts about the bars, having one night stands with women whose names he never bothers to learn. I was all prepared to hate him, which I suppose was very much the point. but Dave’s character is fleshed out, and we learn about his troubled past as a drug addict, ex-con and artist. He builds a relationship with Johnny’s sister while she is in the hospital, and falls apart when she leaves him to go to New York. His story is incredibly sad, and builds beautifully.

Finally, and I suppose this goes back to my first point a little, but I really loved the way this book dealt with the realities of love and lust, in particular with the theme of temptation. Cavalli introduces a character, Carol, who appears outside Thomas’ trailer on even, stinking drunk and looking for Dave. Carol is, by all accounts a beautiful woman, who basically throws herself on Thomas. Thomas’ temptation is explored at this point. He is madly in love with Johnny, who he is dating happily, but she is in New York, and he has urges. What I love about this scene is not the fact that he resisted, but the fact that he came so close to giving in, panicked and then ran off to make arrangements for this random drunkard to be cared for overnight. It’s so real and so human and it makes Thomas a stronger person when Carol comes knocking a second time.

What I disliked…

I have to preface this section with a quote from the book, you’ll see why in a minute.

“I was reading Faulkner’s Light in August. I’d never read him before and I was stunned by his genius. He’d just taken 10 pages to allow a mule to walk thirty feet…”

This quote comes in, according to my kindle, 89% of the way through the book. Which means for almost the entire book I found myself reading descriptions that where anywhere between somewhat excessive and needlessly clinical. The descriptions of gun related topic, for example, read like they were lifted verbatim from a gun catalogue. Don’t get me wrong, my favourite book (Les Miserables – Victor Hugo) is, at times, full of mind-numbing description that make you want to tear the book in half, so Cavalli is in not alone in a love for excess description, but it still bugged me. Hence the quote. It at least demonstrates that it was done on purpose for artistic reasons I don’t understand or appreciate.

Now we come to my big gripe and return to the concept of consent I mentioned earlier. Johnny sets out extremely clear boundaries as they begin their relationship, and I mean extremely clear. The map I mentioned earlier? Four perfect diagrams of Johnny’s body, front, back and both sides, show exactly where Thomas was permitted to touch and where he was forbidden. In terms of consent, this is about as explicit as it can possibly get. Which is why I was so furious when Thomas did this:

I gently caressed her there, knowing full well I was in a no entry zone…

Now after this, Johnny was more or less OK with this, but Thomas broke the explicitly stated rules of consent, so what this is, is a sexual assault. One that he knows full well he is committing and just doesn’t care, in fact he even seems proud of it, turning Thomas from a good, relatable character into someone I can’t stand. I know consent can change as things go along, but he makes no attempt what-so-ever to try and find out if it’s OK, presumably because he knows it won’t be.

There are a few other minor gripes like the use of the word “rump” which just made me laugh, but they are overshadowed by the last bit.

Final thoughts…

I enjoyed the story, I was bothered by the description and I hated the male lead. I’m not sure what to make of that. I feel a bit mean only giving this book a 2.5 rating, because I did enjoy the story itself. I think if the excess descriptions were cut down and it was made into a short story I would love it, but there you are…

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Please note: I am in no way affiliated with the author or publishers. I bought this book with my own money for my own reasons. The opinions contained within are my own and have not been influenced by any external entity!

Professionals Choice: Conversations With Friends (Sally Rooney)

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Goodreads Link

This book was recommended to my by a bookseller (whose name I stupidly forget to take down) at my local bookshop (Toppings, Ely). This is what she had to say about it:

  • Sally Rooney has a wonderful understanding of the way people work.
  • This book is just an excellent look at how millennial life can be lived.
  • Everybody should be reading her.

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Rating: 5/5 Buttons

About the book…

Conversations With Friends is a snapshot of the lives of Frances, her best friend (and former partner) Bobbi, and their new, married friends Nick and Melissa. When Frances finds herself kissing Nick at a party, the pair begin a complicated affair and set in motion a chain of events that could lead to bliss, or heartbreak. Conversations… is a beautiful look into the world of queer and non-monogamous relationships.

Trigger Warnings: This book contains references to sex, self harm, alcoholism, mental and physical health problems. I think that’s everything.

What I thought…

The first thing to say is the Conversations With Friends is not the kind of book that I would usually read.

The second thing to say is that from now on, it definitely IS the kind of thing I’m going to read.

I’ll start with what drew me to the book. The honest answer is, I really don’t know. I had a stack of recommendations in front of me and something about this unassuming yellow paperback, that is nothing like anything else I’ve ever read just called out to me and I took it home. It might have been a subconscious yearning to read about queer relationships, but I really don’t know.

The story itself is all about the characters, Frances, Bobbi, Nick and Melissa. Frances in particular is amazing. Frances is hard to love at times, but easy to root for. I found her so relatable in so many ways. Her struggle to handle intimate attachments was so natural and believable. In her darkest moments, Frances looks back at old conversations with Bobbi, just to prove to herself that if everything else fails, once upon a time she had meant a lot to somebody. She struggles with self harm and body issues. Her romantic entanglements leave her confused and desperate to figure out her place in the world in relation to everyone else. I found it impossible not to see bits of myself in Frances, good and bad, and it made me feel a little less alone. The other characters just as well rounded and thought out.

The story in itself was engaging, I read the whole book in three sittings, and oh boy was it emotional. Rooney takes you effortlessly through a whole host of emotional states as the story progresses, and it’s so easy to feel what the characters are feeling, even if you haven’t experienced it yourself. I often found myself just wishing Frances could see the good in her darkest moments, but I knew that she couldn’t, and it was heartbreaking.

Finally, a note about adult content. It wasn’t until I had started reading this book that I suddenly realised that a book about adult relationships could very well have sexual content, which I’m really not that interested in. So I was worried about that. This book does have sexual content, but it isn’t explicit, or at least not gratuitous. It’s sex mentions and a small amount of detail, not pages and pages of smut.

Final Thoughts…

I’m super pleased that my first Professional’s Choice pick was such a rousing success. I would recommend this book to anybody who wants a beautiful story about life and love and sorrow. It is beautifully written, wonderfully engaging and a really super read.

I will definitely be picking up Normal People (Sally Rooney) next time I’m at the bookshop.

Book Review: Exile of the Seas (Jeffe Kennedy)

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I received an e-book copy in exchange for an honest review.


Goodreads Link | Author Website

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Ragdoll Rating: 4/5 Buttons

Recommended For: Fans of fantasy romance

About the Book

Princess Jenna has escaped from the clutches of her abusive and evil husband and headed across the seas aboard the Valeria. On the journey she meets a warrior priestess called Kaja who helps her conceal her identity and make her own way in the world. But her husband and his goons are never far enough behind.

This book is equal parts fantasy adventure and romance novel.

Trigger Warning: This book contains references to serious sexual assault, abuse and bodily mutilation. It’s not particularly graphic, but it comes up a lot and might be distressing (I certainly found it upsetting).

What I thought

It took me a little while to get into this book, and it wasn’t until I had finished it that it was the second book in a series, which explained why I thought the author assumed a whole lot of knowledge on my part when starting the book. My bad. But once I got my head around the setting I found it a very enjoyable read.

The book focuses on Jenna, beginning with her passage on the Valeria (under the name Brian), and quickly see’s her becoming an acolyte of the Goddess Danu, under a new name, Ivariel. We see Ivariel go from her sheltered, submissive (and horribly abusive) past life in Dasnaria to becoming a warrior and making her own way in the scary new world.

I liked the fact that Ivariel wasn’t just dumped in the world and competent. In fact she was beyond useless in most regards and stayed that way for most of the book. Her strengths came from the skills she actually had experience of. She was given a knife to practice with and couldn’t even grip it – but she was athletic and able to learn because of the way she was raised. This meant that Ivariel was believable and very relatable.

This book contains constant reference to the horrors of Ivariel’s old life – which as I mentioned above, is horrific – and it’s upsetting. Upsetting to the point where I’m not sure if I could read the first book because I’m worried what it might contain. That said, this book also tries to focus on her path to healing the wounds of the past, which is considerably nicer. Ivariel goes from mentally scarred and disassociating when sex is referenced, to having romantic and sexual feelings for another character. Which I can understand to a point, although one element did stick out like a bit of a sore thumb – please skip the following box if you want to avoid spoilers:

Spoilers: Ivariel takes a vow of chastity (and silence) and the start of this book, which she chooses to end over the course. The bit that stuck out for me is that the very last thing that happens in this book is that she gives up her vow of chastity – something she took because of how psychologically (and physically) damaged she was in regards to sex – and it seemed like an incredibly big leap for her to take for no apparent reason. Yes she’d just had her life saved, but her only ‘sexual’ interaction in the books at that point had been a kiss, where she had punched the kisser in the face, and a forced stripping where she killed everyone. I just can’t imagine that she would give up that vow just to say thank you, or because someone mentioned in passing that the vows were a sort of shield. But perhaps that’s just me.

I also liked that the romance in this was not too heavy. It was there and building the whole way through but it didn’t take precedent over the plot of starting a new life, which I worried it would.

Final Thoughts

I enjoyed this book, although I could have done without quite so much horrible backstory. It’s a good read, but if you think for even a minute that the triggers I’ve highlighted might be an issue for you, then don’t risk it, otherwise it’s worth a look in.

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Please Note: I received a copy of this book via netgalley in exchange for an honest review. The opinions contained within are my own and have not been influenced by any external entity!