Both personally and professionally, Alexa knows all too well the power of words. Two years after her boyfriend Christophe’s vicious attack, she’s still trying to see herself as more than simply ‘his victim’, still trying to figure out her own story.
After his trial, she moves from New York City to Toronto in an attempt to start over, but his words cling to her and even in a new country she can’t see how to move into relationships with the new people in her life while hiding the secret of Christophe’s worst offense.
She can’t hide that secret from her coworker Jake, though, because the news buff has recognized her from the coverage of the assault and trial and knows every word she can’t bring herself to say about her ordeal. With Jake’s help, can Alexa reclaim her story and her life?
Sexual assault has finally “come out of the closet” in the past few decades and even though there has been a change in the attitude of law enforcement personnel and the courts in regard to the victims being truly victimized, there is still that societal “cloud” that hangs over the men and women who survive. I don’t think any of us really understand or can empathize fully with those whose lives have been torn apart by rape, incest, pedophilia, and other crimes of this nature. In this novel the author is very direct about a woman who has been attacked, raped, and brutalized by the man who she thought truly loved her, a man who she expected to marry and one whose sociopathic nature was carefully hidden from her and from his closest friends. Now, two years after his arrest, Alexa must once again wade into the emotional and psychological mire as she faces her attacker and former lover in court. Once again she must find a way out of the media mess and try to reclaim her “normal” life. It would appear that that isn’t going to happen in New York City. So she moves to Toronto with the blessing of her publisher/boss as a crime novel editor in the Toronto office. Even in this small environment she encounters iconic figures: the amibition and unprincipled boss’s secretary; the “helpful” staff member who is clothing his personal ambition in sexual advances; and the head of staff who is happily and unfortunately unhelpfully oblivious to all the machinations that are going on right under her nose.
This novel has characterized Alexa’s struggle to reclaim her life as “reclaiming her story,” a characterization that is in line with the setting of the novel within the publishing business. Alexa’s first assignment is with an author whose book is filled with the same kinds of crimes she has personally endured and yet she refuses to allow her own inner pain to keep her from moving forward with her career. And throughout this process of settling into her new job and her new life she is tested and must determine how she can gauge others so she can trust them as well as rebuild her trust in her own abilities to accurately perceive others.
I have read a number of Wardell works in the past couple of years and found all of them to be absolutely stellar writing accomplishments. She writes with that realistic edge that forces readers to deal fully with the range of emotion felt by her characters, facing with these fictional people the kinds of circumstances that are the fabric of living fully in a real world. It is not ever just sweetness and light. Lots of her subjects are raunchy and messy and one feels like one is mucking out a horse stall at the hurts and damage people in these stories do to one another. And yet I have never encountered one of stories that is without that thread of hope, that awareness that people do indeed have within themselves the talents and gifts, the raw intestinal fortitude for reclaiming their lives sometimes in rare and unusual ways. In this novel the heroine simply has to slog through day after day of questions and difficulties with her co-workers as well as with the author whose book is presenting its own set of problems. Yet Alexa is a woman who is finding her own strengths.
All in all it is a compelling and truly fine piece of romance writing and one that is thoughtfully put together and which brings all its attendant parts together to make a splendid whole. If you have not yet discovered this author and you love really good romance writing–sometimes erotic and sometimes not–you really need to indulge your love of reading and become acquainted with Ms Wardell. I know I am always delighted when one of her new works is released.
I give this novel a rating of 4.5 out of 5.
You can read more from Judith at Dr J’s Book Place.