Finding Jessica Lambert took my breath away, literally and figuratively. I loved it and it totally triggered my anxiety.
I knew what I was getting into. My friend Gaby from LezReviewBooks, who read it before I did (her review is here), told me it reminded her of me. So yeah, I knew. Good news is, it really was worth pushing through, and if I can do it, you probably can too.
I guess I should apologise right now, since this review will be a lot more about me than about the book. Which you should definitely read. I’m not giving it 5* because I’m a narcissist and it speaks to me, I’m giving it 5* because it’s awesome, with fantastic characters, sweet romance and steamy scenes.
Jess and Anna meet on the London Tube, with Jess in the midst of a panic attack and Anna stepping up to help. Despite the age difference and both women’s struggles (for different reasons) with anxiety, they click immediately. They both open up to each other surprisingly fast, showing who they really are yet both hiding part of themselves, the professional part.
In French, when something happens behind closed doors, like a hearing, court proceedings etc., we call that a huis clos. There’s a huis clos feel to the first part of this story, but not in a claustrophobic way, rather in a safe haven way. Anna brings Jess to her small roof-top flat and they stay there for a couple of days, away from the world and everything that’s terrifying Anna nowadays and exhausting Jess. Everything is simple, then. Easy. Natural. Then life takes over again but neither is on her own anymore, they’re already stronger together. That’s one of the things I loved, that sense of strength that comes from having the right person by your side. Jess may not always understand what Anna is going through (and vice versa) but she gets her, and Anna gets Jess. It also doesn’t hurt that they have amazing chemistry.
I have a confession to make: this is my first book by Clare Ashton. I own a few others but haven’t read them yet. Don’t ask why, I don’t know. Life, lack of time, the usual. No good reason, really. Anyway, my first. And it begins with an anxiety-filled scene, one character in a panic attack with the other on the edge of her own. In the Tube, ie the London metro, when a lot of mine happen in the Paris metro (which I almost never take anymore). Ugh. Thank you, brain, for managing that and for holding on.
My situation and Jess’s (and Anna’s to some extent) are nothing alike and yet they are. Burning out is burning out, whatever the reasons, whatever the life. Even your dream job can kill you slowly from the inside. You either get out on time or you break. It’s that simple. One of life’s rare instances where things are truly black and white.
Beyond the burnout, I’m also a lot like Jess (not the movie star side, nor the English person of colour part, obviously): social interactions exhaust me, noises and lights stun me, I thrive in small chosen groups, I don’t deal well with surprises, I need time to process, sometimes even with the simplest things, so I hate phone calls and chit chat. In the right circumstances, I’m bright and witty and fun, but not so much when I’m overwhelmed.
So yeah, reading this has been hard. And so so so worth it. Jess is adorable and I felt like swooning anytime Anna spoke. We’re going to need this in audiobook, by the way.
I’m very character-driven, which makes this book all the more appreciated. Besides Jess and Anna, it is filled with quite a few lovely (and not so lovely) characters. Jess’s family wins all the awards, whereas Anna’s mother would go home with the Razzie. There’s a lot more to love in this book than its characters, however. It’s beautifully written, for one. It shows the other side of the fame coin, the price of success. It’s poignant yet never whiny, it’s full of angst and hope, it’s sexy and human and delightful.
My friend Jules said it best in her review, and allowed me to borrow her words: “Do not expect a big, loud plot. Instead, sit back and appreciate a masterful telling that is devastating in the passion and turmoil it creates. Pay attention to the quiet moments that the author uses to amplify their relationship. Anticipation can be brutally delicious, especially when the author delivers the heat with perfect timing. Read and be thrilled.” That’s it. Read and be thrilled.