There is something very special about a new novel being released. And ever more so, when it is the debut novel of someone you know *personally*. And even more more so, when
fanfiction reading was what actually brought you together. Way back in August 2012, Abby and I took our tumblr buddy-ship to the next level and started corresponding by e-mail. Yeah, next step, moving in together… The purpose, in Abby’s words, “I want to send you my fanfic recommendations”. Little did she (or I) know, that this would turn into a steady correspondence, a first meeting in London and then lead to a proper over-night visit at my house a little later. No, we have not moved in together yet, but we are working on it… So Abby’s interest in fiction was there from the beginning, and when she eventually unleashed her first piece of fan fiction on the world, it was clear that she was not taking the p*ss but was serious about attempting a long-form piece of writing. As she eventually launched into the adventure that is planning, and going through with, the writing of a novel, I observed her journey from the sidelines. And before I get to my review, I would just like to say first that I admire her (and any novel writer’s) will, stamina, discipline and courage to put a plan into practice and to produce a full-blown novel.
Disclosure: I did NOT receive a copy of Clean Break in return for an honest review. On the contrary, I purchased the e-book voluntarily and happily. That would mean that I had a) trust in Abby’s writing abilities, and b) high expectations of the novel. And to anticipate the conclusion: I was not disappointed.
Clean Break is the story of Lane Havilland. When we meet Lane, she is at rock bottom. Deeply in debt, without a job, no man nor family, homeless and the victim of a rent scam, Lane eventually settles into a hell-hole of a basement flat in a less-than-savoury district of NYC. Her landlady is a dragon, the caretaker is decidedly scary, and her flat is more of a cellar than an inhabitable space. The only upside is the kindness bestowed on her by the caretaker’s co-worker, a gorgeous – but mysterious – Russian. As Lane finds herself falling for Viktor, she also secures a job looking after two spoiled uptown kids as well as their incapable society mother. But the sexy Russian throws Lane’s feelings into turmoil, and the housekeeper-PA-nanny job in Manhattan proves taxing.
There is much more in this book than what I have summarised in the blurb-style teaser. But to say more would give it away, because this novel comes with several twists and turns that will surprise you and delight you. Essentially, Clean Break is a 5-in-1, a cross-genre novel that effortlessly incorporates elements of a romance novel, a thriller, a family drama, a mystery, and a story of redemption. Piece by piece, Abby discloses the stories behind Lane and Viktor bit by bit, evokes sympathy for her main characters, develops the secondary players and assembles them around Lane. She throws in some romantic scenes that never veer into pornographic territory (but will tingle you), and she puts in a few twists and turns that are unexpected and propel the story forward to places you did not think it would go.
I’ll be honest: I didn’t immediately click with the protagonist, Lane. I did not immediately understand her taciturnity, her resignation, yet naivety. And for happy-go-lucky me who has only ever experienced the kindness of life, the initial scenario was decidedly uneasy and very hard to grasp. But that is a good thing, right? After all we read fiction because we want to see life from another perspective. Reading on, I was quickly drawn into the story thanks to Abby’s light flowing prose, peppered with quips and asides in Lane’s internal monologue, and soon found myself understanding Lane better. As she set about rebuilding her life, I found myself gradually identifying with her, rooting for her and laughing at the preposterousness of her situation. Especially the contrast with side character Cynthia (Lane’s uptown employer), gives opportunity for many sarcastic digs – and Abby really excels at those.
As for Viktor – this is where the “OT” review turns into “not-so OT”. Tall, dark, handsome. Russian. Does anything click? Well, for me it did, and with the visuals of a more or less freshly-released-from-Russian-prison-hell Lucas North (see right to help you remember), the story definitely had another character whose journey I was keen to accompany. He is essential to the story, not as a mere romantic interest who provides some erotic relief, but as the driver of the climax of the story.
And no, please do not take the word ‘climax’ in *that* sense! And if you do, I seriously worry for your sanity… Much like Lucas North, you want to find out what happened to him – and where he is now. With the inclusion of the Russian handyman, Abby certainly made my dreams come true. Lucas North lives! *hooray*
But this book is definitely more than fan fiction. The heroine of the book is clearly Lane, Viktor is essential to her story, but he is not the main character. The plot does more than just give opportunity for hot sex scenes (not that all fan fiction does) – it is a full-blown thriller-cum-drama. The characters are all well-rounded and designed as figures of identification. You root for them – or boo the antagonist – and yet you can never quite anticipate what happens next. The novel provides a – surprising – end with a satisfying denouement. The only gripe is, that you will want to know what happens next… Only Abby knows – and maybe the writing of this novel hasn’t put her off writing forever, and she will satisfy the demand for more.
I certainly enjoyed reading this book. It left me with that wistfully sad feeling that sits somewhere between my heart and my stomach, the one that is sweet, but in a longing, melancholic way. Well, you may ascribe the latter to the inevitable Lucas North visuals – but if that isn’t a selling point, then what is?
You can order Clean Break as an e-book or a printed-on-demand version on Amazon here. I actually suggest you use richardarmitagenet‘s links to access Amazon.de, Amazon.co.uk and Amazon.com – that way you accrue referral fees for RAnet which proprietor Ali regularly donates to Richard’s charities via justgiving.com. She last donated £339 ($496/€442) in April for fees accrued in Dec 2015 and Jan 2016!