It’s time for another Two-In-One, as I review two books by Max Ellendale. I received free copies of Wildrose and Rabbit directly from the author in return for review consideration. Both are lesbian romance/crime novels, set in the same universe. Wildrose was published in November 2017 and Rabbit was published in April 2018.
Below is the Goodreads synopsis of Wildrose:
Homicide Detective, Evelyn Grant, has her life wrapped up in a tidy bundle. As long as you don’t look too closely. When a child disappears from an end of summer party, Evelyn and her team set out to solve the case. With little to go on and a heavy need for forensic evidence, Evelyn is forced to rely on the genius medical examiner, Ainsley Monson, for information. As the two grow closer, Ainsley’s unusual behavior throws up red flags, confounding their working relationship and growing friendship. Can Eve successfully navigate the case, her social life, and copious amounts of wine or will she trip over her own feet and find herself in a less than tactful pickle?
And the Goodreads synopsis of Rabbit:
Bias Crimes Detective, Alice Lange, has spent most of her adult life building a sarcophagus around her heart. When a targeted hate crime hits close to home and lands Alice in the emergency room, the last thing she expects is to fall for the kind doctor who softens her inhibitions while she’s on the mend. Doctor Corwin isn’t without her own shadows, however, as she battles the grief and guilt that’s captured her for so long. Can two women, scarred by both love and their professions, submit to the budding desire between them? Or will they continue to trip through their old cycles and hide away from love’s starry light?
As Wildrose was published first, and comes before Rabbit chronologically, I’m going to take that one first. In the book, we follow Evelyn Grant as she takes on a harrowing case, and has her personal life shaken up by a potential love interest. Eve is a really entertaining character to follow – she’s awkward, she’s dedicated to her job but knows she still has a lot to learn, and she cares deeply about the people she’s trying to help. I particularly enjoyed the interplay between her and her colleagues, and the fact that she’s not shown as being perfect at her job already and that she sees the skills and knowledge they have and wants to learn from them.
The romantic storyline in Wildrose takes on the topic of consensually and respectfully dating multiple people at once. It’s not something I’ve come across much in romance novels, unless they’re specifically looking at polyamorous relationships. I thought it was dealt with really well in the book, and reflects a realistic situation, particularly in the early days of dating. The story also looks at what it means to realise your sexuality as an adult. I think this is a topic that needs careful handling, but Ellendale uses it well in the book, and this character’s realisation of what they actually want from their relationships seems honest and heartfelt, and with a slightly surprising ending, which I also enjoyed a lot.
Moving onto Rabbit, we follow Alice, or ‘Rabbit’ to her family, who works in Bias Crimes (investigating hate crimes) and walled herself and her heart away from everyone else. As she works on a case which ends up hitting close to home, she meets Doctor Corwin – Stella – and starts to consider how her life is still being impacted by past traumatic experiences. Through both her responses to the case she’s working on, and her burgeoning relationship with Stella, Alice shows real personal growth as a character, and I think Ellendale handles her coming to terms with her past traumas well, without it becoming melodramatic.
Outside of the case element and the romantic storyline, Rabbit also looks at what family means. Alice has parents and siblings, and whilst their relationships may not be perfect, it’s clear they’ll always be there for each other. Stella, on the other hand, has a very troubled past, and the family she does have aren’t in a position to help and support her. The contrast between their two situations is an important aspect of the book, and one which brings a lot of depth and heart to the story.
I will point out that Rabbit has some biphobic elements to it – Alice, and friends of hers, make remarks about Alice’s previous girlfriend having cheated on her with both women and, gasp, men, and these remarks are not called out within the book. I reached out to Ellendale to raise this with her, as it made me quite uncomfortable. She kindly responded, and explained that this was the point she was making – that some people within the LGBTQIA community hold opinions like this and if no-one calls them out, then they’re not likely to change. Through events later in the book, her intention was to show Alice realising no-one in the LGBTQIA community is safe from prejudice, and that the community needs to support each other. Though things like this can be uncomfortable to read, characters believing these kinds of negative stereotypes reflects people in the real world, which brings additional depth and realism to the story.
Overall, Wildrose and Rabbit are two novels which look at imperfect characters making their ways through the world, trying to find people they can trust, learn from, and grow with. If you’re looking for a romance novel with a crime storyline and a good cast of characters, definitely consider picking up one of these books.
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