– by Wendy Hudson
I know I should have read this book earlier especially with an irresistible cover like this one (more about this and the title later!) and because I thought “Four Steps” was a brilliant debut effort by Wendy Hudson, which put her on my radar in the world of lesfic reading. But for some reason, I thought I’d read it all this time until I happened to review my reading queue and surprise sur-bloody-prise, “Mine To Keep” was still sitting there staring at me with that bloody mesmerising cover taunting me! Gobsmacked, I was! Bloody hell! Reckon me mind’s done for! Too many books, too little time! Grrr! Anyway, by this time, I’d read her 3rd and latest book, “Meant To Be Me,” already. But just like everything else, things happen for a reason, don’t they? And timing is everything, innit? Won’t bore you with the deets about what it means except I can firmly attest that “Mine To Keep” is now my favourite Hudson book! Her best one, thusfar, as far as I’m concerned! Hence, this book has effectively renewed my continued interest in her writing and creativity whose craft I’ll always be looking forward to exploring! Well done, Ms. Hudson!
Whilst I utterly enjoyed “Four Steps” (which summarily landed Hudson on my author-to-watch list), I absolutely loved “Mine To Keep,” from start to finish. Every aspect and angle of Hudson’s craft in this particular book just clicked with me, from the mystery, darkness and thrilling intrigue of the plot, the characters – main and secondary, alike – to the camaraderie and romance. Nevermind the breathtakingly beautiful and mesmerising scenery of the Scottish lands which Hudson vividly illuminated with colours, temps, ambience that could stir the soul which she extended to the interior surroundings, particularly the castle and its endless corners, hallways and doorways, which only enriched the Scottish feel for the reader, well, for me, rather! Yes, I’ve always been partial to Scotland and its majestic views and tranquillity they exude. In this book, Hudson’s visual descriptions had effectively brought the entire story to life, in all aspects. There was only one thing I could do. I devoured the book at top speed, so quick my head was spinning….with utter joy, elation, satiation, pure satisfaction!
In essence, “Mine To Keep” was a brilliantly crafted and told psychological mystery-thriller surrounding a captivating romance, not to mention, some white-knuckling action intrigue at the end. One thing I want to mention is the plot itself. Whilst I can’t really divulge what it was, all I can say is, Hudson skilfully constructed a refreshing, creatively original, dark, mystery plot, which I hadn’t come across it before in genfic or lesfic. Usually, when it’s something to do with a dark childhood past, it almost always includes some very tiring, predictable elements (you know what I’m talking about) which I really don’t care for it. Being a big fan of psychological mysteries/thrillers, it’s always a thrill for me to find a story of this genre in lesfic that truly captures everything that I look for that satisfies my overall reading experience. Indeed, this book ticked off every box in this genre for me. In this story, Hudson had achieved the coveted “outside-the-box” result in her story creation, imo! Needless to say, I was thrilled to learn and discover Hudson’s ingenuity in giving the psychological mystery a clever twist! Utterly fascinating! The kicker? The icing? There was romance in it, too! A romance that worked out seamlessly, which, in fact, played a pivotal role in the mystery as it slowly converged on the MCs’ lives. I was absolutely absorbed in the budding romance between Erin and Abby and all its complexities that came with it because both characters carried their own complicated baggage when it came to love and relationships. I thought Hudson weaved a compelling love story that I was immediately invested in because of how she crafted the two characters with very different personalities and circumstances but shared one thing in common which they had to discover it themselves along the way. I was utterly intrigued by their journey throughout. Hence, THIS book being my Hudson-favourite. Yay!
Although the story started off more like a single POV from Erin’s, in a 3rd-person format, which I was a little concerned initially but then Hudson provided Abby’s POV, albeit much more limited than Erin’s. Obviously, this story was, by and large, about Erin’s journey to her past, seeking answers, self-discovery, truth and reconciliation, and finally closure. No man is an island, obviously, so her journey was enriched, expanded, deepened by Abby’s entry into her life who felicitously captured her lonely heart and restless soul as soon as she laid eyes on the castle hotel chef! Speaking of, the chemistry between Erin and Abby was deceptively ambiguous but in actuality, palpable, especially with those tantalisingly flirtatious banter between them from the moment they met! The ease, the comfort and security, the peaceful calmness that Abby emanated around Erin made her feel strangely safe and not alone. This affinity that Erin felt with Abby was undeniable even when they barely knew each other. Abby, on the other hand, felt the insatiable, magnetic pull toward Erin, connecting with such natural ease.
As mentioned, their romantic journey wasn’t as straightforward because of several issues that complicated matters between them. The most jarring one was obviously Erin’s reason for landing herself at the castle hotel that Abby and her brother, George, would inherit in future, where Abby worked as a chef. A bloody good one, too! Yes, her vocation would have something to do with her past as their relationship progressed and personal revelations were discussed. Anyway, Erin’s reason – her plan to uncover some the truth behind all the unresolved, unanswered queries to her traumatically haunting childhood past. Speaking of her past, the residual PTSD from that dark, nightmarish trauma had effectively shaped her outlook, her behaviour, her mindset. Erin’s instincts to be alone from years of conditioning (due to growing up always feeling unsafe or unwelcome amongst people), had led to her mistrusting everyone around her except for her mum. Her self-preservation and defence mechanism would always kick in when insecurity emerged for fear of being hurt or disappointed. So being alone was her solitude. Until Abby. I loved how Hudson slowly peeled away the walls of defence in not just Erin but Abby, too, as their budding relationship deepened. Abby had a past that inevitably spilled over to the present, thus, effectively changed their course. Angst ensued. But I thought Hudson weaved it ever-so delicately that the consequential actions were realistic. I believed in their mindset as Hudson delved into both Erin and Abby’s inner psyche. I was rooting for both of them whilst they struggled to an eventual reconciliation. All the circumstances, emotional and mental angst were authentically honest even though it was quite upsetting but it needed to happen, imo, in order to amplify the strength of Erin and Abby’s connection and emotional intimacy and highlight the importance of establishing an open and honest relationship especially when love was deeply rooted in their growing feelings and attachment with each other. Love. Something that was new to both of these intriguing women. You have to read it to discover all the nuances that occurred during their challenging moments that revealed more about their characters.
Back to the mystery that engulfed Erin’s journey to her past, I was captivated by Hudson’s skill in luring my endless curiosity about it by dropping breadcrumbs at each stage of development, in conjunction with Erin’s growing relationship with Abby and her brother, George. The mystery that had haunted and affected Erin’s life meant that she had been living in the past all along. She was never in the present but merely surviving. Not until a life-altering event that finally triggered her conscious mind to wake up from her slumber. The only way to move forward with her life, live in the present and have a future of possibilities instead of nightmares and restlessness, was to find the ultimate answer, a closure to the unfinished business that conquered her so-called life, thusfar. I won’t divulge any further about the mystery and Erin’s discovery because it needs to be read in order to experience the effects of her complex and disturbing road to memory lane and the implications of her findings.
Needless to say, I must applaud Hudson for creating such a refreshing mystery plot that raised some really poignant psychological aspects of Erin’s childhood past. It’s very interesting because psychological effects are very resilient when the cause happens in childhood. I think when it happens to a child, it’s harder to come up for air from that Svengali hold because of the subconscious that acts as the child’s protector by creating instant mental and memory blocks, until the conscious mind is ready for the truth, usually years after the child has become an adult. So what happened with Erin between childhood and adulthood until she finally snapped out of her oblivion is a very realistic phenomenon, I believe. In regard to the subconscious activating the memory blockage, did you know that memory can be reshaped? What is a memory, anyway? It’s something that we believe to be a reality. Our reality. But not necessarily true. If you’re wondering what I’m gobbing about, you simply must venture into this fascinating psychological mystery yourself! I was impressed with Hudson’s aptly crafted subtlety in presenting the psychology of the conscious and subconscious mind, the memory bank. They all clicked in the end when all the layers were peeled off – not just for Erin, but for other affected characters, too.
Speaking of other characters, I loved the secondary characters, even the antagonists. Obviously, the antagonists were gritting my teeth, they were morally reprehensible to the MCs but totally necessary to enrich the multi-layered, multi-dimensional effects of the plot, the romance, the characters. Love. Family. Endurance. My favourite secondary character had to be George, Abby’s 19-year-old brother, an impressionable young lad. Oh, he was adorable, kind, funny and goodness knows just how pivotal his role was in and around the story and Erin and Abby’s journey! I loved how Hudson created this effortless rapport between George and Abby, and between George and Erin. Their respective relationship and chemistry were written with such organic flow that I believed in their attachments, camaraderie, kinship and familial connection. Without giving anything away, let’s just say, George wasn’t the only impressionable secondary character who endeared me! The entire group of individuals that Hudson created and weaved ever-so genuinely and effectively into the story was utterly absorbing, gripping and fascinating to explore, uncover, discover, enjoy and experience! And the epilogue? I must admit, I was surprised to find one in this story and I was delighted! It was one of those epilogues that you could perceive the story to be succinctly closed out completely or there’s a hint of potential by the end of it, you know what I mean? Regardless, I simply love endings that leave you to your own imagination. And I must say, this one passed the test with flying colours as far as I’m concerned.
p.s. I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention the cover. As you may know, I’m a sucker for aesthetically designed/photographed covers, especially those dark, ominous, secretive, mysterious ones. This cover spells trouble. Menacing, dark, and sinister. I was mesmerised by the lighting, the colour filter, the camera angle. Don’t know about you but the first time I saw it, it immediately transported me to the scene with Lily Taylor in the basement in “The Conjuring!” Crikey! And then there’s the title – “Mine To Keep.” Straightforward and direct, on the surface, especially with the accompanying cover, which I’m sure you’d have made up your mind about what to expect. True. But for me, since I never take anything on face value, so for me, it’s also a play on the phrase. There’s a different meaning to it and I must say, with that in mind, it actually elevated the level of thrill and my intrigue with the story and its characters as I explored its hidden/unspoken parallels. Needless to say, interesting findings! Ok, ignore me!
Anyway, if you haven’t sensed my enthusiasm from my aforementioned commentary about this book already, I HIGHLY recommend this book to every lesfic mystery/thriller/intrigue reader who also enjoy a bit of romance in it (well, this book has more than “a bit,” tbh, which meshed up perfectly with the underlying mystery/thriller plot, imo). A Must-Read, I’ll say! For me, it was such a captivating and absorbing ride exploring this brilliantly written story as it gave me everything I needed from the beginning until the very end! THRILLS!! Well done, Ms. Hudson, and thank you!
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