Book Review: Just Enough Light, by AJ Quinn

Content warning for abuse and abandonment of a child. Genre : Romance, drama, F/F Fiction, thriller.

There's something about F/F romances and the outdoors that is just so… Appealing to me. I don’t know if it’s my own choosing of books but I find myself reading a lot of romances set in rural places, especially in the mountains. It really makes me want to raise a family (of cats) somewhere high, snowy, and quiet. Kind of what Dana Kingston, one of the lead characters of this book, is doing.

This story begins, as it happens, with a flat tire. More specifically, the flat tire of a car belonging to one Dana Kingston, ex doctor in charge of the busiest Emergency Service of New York City, and now hired as the doctor in charge of a brand new medical triage center built high up in the Rockies. She’s rescued by Kellen Ryan, who happens to be the leader of the search and rescue operation attached to the clinic. Both women hit it off immediately, but Dana quickly realizes that Kellen has a troubled past, one she keeps under tight lock and won’t easily divulge. But Kellen may have to, because a deadly threat has arisen, and she’ll need all the help she can get not to slip back into the demons of her past.

This book is a lot closer to romance and drama than to thriller, and for those looking for the latter rather than the former (like I admittedly was), you will be disappointed. Kellen is a great character. She’s smart, kind, strong and will go to great lengths to protect and save lives in the pursuit of her job. She’s fearless, perhaps too much so, but she also has a heart too big for herself, one she shares with her two ‘adopted’ daughters, a couple of young girls she’s rescued from the streets. She comes from the streets herself, a flight for survival that lasted more than ten years after traumatic events that she’s still scarred and suffering from. Dana, being a medical practitioner, soon sees her PTSD symptoms, and accepts it. Her desire to be with her and help eventually intensifies with their love.

I felt that the two women, while having good chemistry and beautiful love scenes, were at the same time too perfect a couple and an unhealthy couple. Kellen is an impulsive person. Her difficult past has left her with a paradoxical combination of recklessness for her own safety in the pursuit of her job and a habit for flight-mode impulsiveness. During the book, she does at least three important things that involves other people without consulting them for their consent first. She also constantly disregards her own safety many times.

And Dana, who I felt was simply too perfect to be real, accepted all of this. She never complains, never shows any hurt or bad side— while I’ve never been in such a situation, I think that being in love with someone who constantly gets close to death must hurt. And I’m not talking about SAR (Search-And-Rescue) though it holds its own risks, but about the way she goes beyond her job (and the way the author sets her up to, of course) in order to do it better. When Kellen flees twice without telling her, leaving her working herself up in a frenzy of sadness and pain at the idea that she might be gone forever, there isn’t a single second of resentment or anger at being hurt like this. That, to me, doesn't read like a third-dimensional character, and it doesn't help that the story is all about Kellen.

I also felt the plot was a little nonsensical. The killer’s motivation is somewhat flimsy, and it never truly explains why he is a serial killer, especially since being a serial killer is absolutely counter-indicated by his motivation. In short, if you have a grudge against someone, why do you go around killing half a dozen unrelated people, to train? All it means is that you risk getting caught before you even get close to your goal. And why would he need to train in the first place, considering his background? And why would he make very specific threats and then do the exact opposite? And finally, the ending was so rushed that there’s an ellipsis spanning the final confrontation.

This is the first book I read from A.J. Quinn, and it was a disappointing read. I know it wasn’t exactly what I expected at first (though I always enjoy romances). I thought it fell short on both promises of romance and thriller elements. The writing is however very fluid and easy to read, and the few detailed sex scenes we’re given are good. But in the end, I feel it would have been a lot better with some work on Dana’s characterization and on the plot.

Just Enough Light is published by Bold Strokes Books, Inc, and can be ordered on the publisher's website.

Rachel Vigo is a would-be critical geographer from Paris (the one in France, not the one in Texas). She is an avid devourer of books and plays video-games far too much.