Cover Image: Secrets in a Small Town

Secrets in a Small Town

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Member Reviews

Secrets in a Small Town is a debut novel of Bold Strokes’ new talent and it doesn’t disappoint. The plot involves a stalker after Ice Queen Savannah and ultimately, Police Chief MacKenzie moves in with her to keep her safe. They are rivals to lovers and the story is mixed with suspense, danger, and oftentimes slapstick and ridiculous humor that made it a fun and balanced read at the same time. It’s not overly deep or creepy but it is entertaining and well worth the time spent.
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I must say, I was intrigued by Nicole Stiling's "Secrets in a Small Town" when I came across its blurb on BSB. And then the subversively crafted cover had a strange pull on my ever-inquisitive sense of curiosity. I know, another book whose cover played a role in my decision to read it apart from its blurb that obviously interested me primarily because of it sounding like it would be an ice queen trope. I'm always game for ice queen romances in lesfic because I'm forever curious to find out the many ways authors could come up with to thaw an ice queen character in a love story! Heh! What's more, there was a mystery attached to the romance involving a stalker! Crikey! Level of intrigue and curiosity increased, obvs! Anyway, about Stiling, I was curious because I never heard of her before so as usual, I had to find out more which was when I discovered that this book was actually only her first published fiction! Okay, then. So off I went to read it with a sense of anticipation as to how a first-timer would weave this mystery-romance using one of my beloved tropes. Needless to say, I was impressed. It was a light and speedy read for me but I had a lot of fun doing it! To me, it was a great debut effort from Stiling because I really enjoyed her writing style. There's nothing more satisfying than reading constructed wordings that flow smoothly throughout a book, is there? In any case, I'll certainly be checking out Stiling's future stories to see how she manoeuvres and hones in her craft.

Back to this story, first and foremost, I'm a huge sucker for some hard (tough) ice queen characters in lesfic especially when they're properly written and presented. So, I was thrilled to discover that Stiling's resident ice queen in the story, Savannah, the small town's manager, was really a hard case! I loved how Stiling portrayed the level of her aloofness, insensitivity, downright cold, attitude and demeanour against her otherwise stunning-looking appearance. I thought the dichotomy that Stiling displayed in Savannah's character made her, at times, intolerably childish behaviour even more jarring on the surface! This was especially evident whenever Micki, the other MC, was around. It was like Savannah's Jekyll-and-Hyde persona switch was solely triggered by Micki's presence alone! Although, Savannah's caustic ice queen persona was always in place whenever she was around people. But it was like Micki's mere existence alone would turn Savannah into a whole other monster altogether, which was delish to explore!

Speaking of Savannah and Micki, the source of their contentious relationship was interesting. Savannah's ice queen persona was a little different than the other ones I'd encountered in the past because hers was further infused by her utter insecurity about being embarrassed, shamed or perceived as weak in public by people especially those whom she saw as her subordinates. So her defence mechanism would flare up to the max when she felt like she had been made a fool of and would continue on for a very long time. Elephant memory, much? Needless to say, poor Micki found herself constantly "splattered" by Savannah's "venom" whenever they ran into each other! But, interestingly, the way Stiling portrayed Savannah's vitriol toward Micki would subtly translate into this underlining raw, animal magnetism that quietly simmered beneath that cold, disdainful attitude. The more caustic Savannah became, the more I could sense that chemistry, that attraction, growing undeniably, between these two so-called enemies!

Micki's attraction toward Savannah was more straightforward even though she wouldn't be caught dead being found out, obviously! I found myself looking forward to more scenes of Savannah wagging her caustic tongue at Micki because I knew that their hidden attraction toward each other would reach a boiling point, one way or another! To that, I applaud Stiling for deftly creating an atmosphere that was filled with an air of begrudging desire against both Savannah and Micki's own better judgement, particularly the former's, through her astute depiction of Savannah and Micki's inner emotions and psyche, mindset and monologue. I thoroughly enjoyed the utterly prickly banter between Savannah and Micki which Stiling constructed effectively. It was hilarious to discover Savannah’s guilt and regret for crossing the line with her over-zealous abrasiveness with Micki sometimes but then just couldn’t help herself! And these two just couldn't seem to leave each other alone. Both always wanted to upend each other with their retorts! But you know what they say about the thin line between love and hate - both sit on either end of the same intense emotional spectrum! There you have it!

Needless to say, I sure had a lot of fun with them albeit some of Savannah's actions were unreasonably childish, tbh. But it was amusing, nonetheless, just to witness her self-flagellation post-haste and Micki's defiant reactions. And when that pressure cooker finally combusted...! All that pent-up frustration, all that burning desire, all that sexual tension bursting to get out! Won’t spoil it but let’s just say, Stiling brought the described scenario to life! And all that in the midst of Savannah being the target of the mystery stalker and Micki trying to catch them whilst also being Savannah and her seven-year-old kid's live-in bodyguard! FFS! Yeh, talk about complicated, eh? That's what made that scene even more intense, not to mention, rewarding, and effective going forward in their character development and growth, imo. Anyway, their mutual love-hate sentiment (or was it?) quickly turned into a romance but not without bumps and bruises along the way because of their utterly mule-like obstinate characters!

Although, I wish Stiling delved more deeply into Savannah and Micki's respective inner psyches when it came to their emotional journey of falling in love with each other especially when it happened under a less-than romantic circumstance, to say the least, and the fact that they'd been each other's antagonists for years before! Imagine their states of mind when they both realised the truth behind their love-hate relationship catching their unawares, having to reconcile that whilst their physical and emotional intimacy deepened! I also thought there was a missed opportunity in not involving Eliana (Savannah's very astute kid!) more in Savannah and Micki's journey. As for the mystery side of the story, I thought it was sufficient enough for the purpose of advancing the relationship between Savannah and Micki. Don't think too much about whether it was realistic. Just enjoy the ride. I myself had a lot of fun with Stiling's red herrings, list of suspects, nevermind my very own guessing game about who the real perp was, especially when the stalker became more brazen in their threats. And when the cat-and-mouse chase came to a head, I was gratified by Stiling's choice of Savannah's actions vs Micki's. It was satisfying.

All in all, I enjoyed this book and had a blast with the enemies-to-lovers trope, with all the bickering and banters that amplified Savannah's ice queen persona, which only made her thawing so much more fun to read, especially when it was done by the ever-charming and adorbs Micki whom Savannah just couldn't resist falling in love with against all her natural instincts! I was gratified by Stiling's decision to use the dual-POV narrative because I really wanted to explore both perspectives as Savannah and Micki's characters and their complicated relationship developed and grew throughout their journey. So, thank you, Ms. Stiling! Plus, I thought some of the secondary characters whom Stiling introduced were very interesting especially Micki's roomie and Savannah's assistant.

Overall, Stiling did a great job creating enough intrigue and entertainment in the romance and mystery plotlines, nevermind the ice queen/age-gap tropes with a sound, well-grounded writing style, which I liked. The only thing was that I wish she went a little deeper. That said, "Secrets in a Small Town" turned out to be a very pleasant, entertaining and FUN read for me. Clearly a SOLID debut effort from Stiling, imo! I look forward to exploring her future work, that's for sure! Well done and congrats, Ms. Stiling!

*An ARC copy was furnished to me by BSB via Netgalley in exchange for an honest review*
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A really good mystery story. A nice light read but still packed with suspense and even a little romance thrown it. Loved it m. Highly recommended
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So I have to be honest - I had just finished reading JM Redmann's Micky Knight book 4 "Lost Daughters" right before I picked this one up, and I think it may have jaded my thoughts on the beginning of this read...  What I mean by that is that Redmann's characters are more deep, thoughtful, fleshed out detective type characters, where Stiling wasn't trying to go for that vibe in this book.  So, the first few chapters of this one irritated me just a tad before I realized that I had a book hangover and was projecting feelings from the detective in my previous read into this one.  I ended up putting the book down last night and stopped reading for a bit to clear my head, then picked it up again this morning with fresh eyes.  Basically - don't be stupid like I was, and make sure you take a breath between mystery / detective books instead of jumping from one to the next!

For a debut novel, this was really good.  As soon as I paused, set it down, reset my brain and came back to this book, I felt like I could really appreciate it for what it was.  It's not a deep novel, but it's still a wonderful book with a stalker as a main theme, but the reader isn't supposed to be able to solve the mystery along with the characters.  Stiling uses the stalker to bring the characters together, but this is a romance at heart.  The only issue I had was that it felt at times like a debut novel.  A little too much tell instead of show, but that will get better in time.

I was still wholeheartedly invested in the mystery, and liked the characters well enough.  MC Savannah's ice bitch persona was a touch overdone, but I enjoyed the push and pull of the two mains being so different from each other.  Their romance was a bit fast-tracked, but I suppose the fear in the situation threw them together faster than normal.  All in all, I'm looking forward to reading more of Stiling's work, and thought this was a well done debut.  3.75 stars.

**Many thanks to Bold Strokes for providing me with an ARC copy in exchange for my honest review.**
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Secrets in a Small Town was a good start for this new author.  The book was a quick, fun read well-balanced with mystery, suspense, drama, and blooming romance.  The characters were engaging and the storyline well-written.  The author did a nice job of holding the suspense and bouncing from suspect to suspect without giving away the stalker too early in the read.  The mystery itself was plausible and the plot was set in a realistic atmosphere.  There were a few wrinkles for me but nothing too overwhelming to stop me from reading or enjoying the story, overall.  I felt the antagonistic attitude Savannah had towards Micki was a bit much at times, especially since she was trying to help and her abuse of power concerning the necessities Micki required to better the police department and enhance performance were not really warranted, under the circumstances.  In a true setting, even if there were animosity, I believe safety, security and the ability to get the job done would outweigh pettiness and holding a grudge.  And the only other thing that really stood out for me was that Savannah’s daughter seemed to have disappeared at the end of the book.  When everything was wrapped up, I would have thought she would have had the same amount of presence she had in the rest of the read.  With those things aside, it was an enjoyable story.

*A thanks for the advanced copy I received thru NetGalley, via the publisher.  I am voluntarily providing my honest review; all thoughts and opinions are solely my own.
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I received an ARC copy of this book from the Publisher via Netgalley and voluntarily leaving my review.

This was a great first book of this author and I enjoy read it.

Savannah is the Town manger and she likes everything under control she keeps everyone at arm length which make people in town believes she is a ice queen and if it wasn't for her daughter Eliana you'll think that to as your reading but it's not the case as I see it when she was younger she lost her father and her mother sort of abandon her and she grieves alone which made her put walls up around her heart.

Micki is Deputy Chief in town and she and Savannah doesn't piticularly get along because Micki seems to challenge her but when Savannah starts to recieve gifts that seem harmless at first but things start to feel threatening her assistant Chloe goes behind her back and get Micki involve much to Savannah chagrin.

As Micki and Savannah get to know each other they realize what they thought of each other is true but that didn't stop them for falling for each other flaws and all and as the danger of the stalker grow near will Micki be able to protect Savannah without her feelings cloudy her judgement. 

I like the mystery of who the stalker is even though I guess who it was beforehand as the author did give us great suspects I knew two was a red herring and the one I knew was the stalker was true.

I'm looking forward to reading more from this author good first novel.
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I love the type of characters that are in this book. I’m a sucker for a stuck up, bossy, in control woman falling in love with the laid back but kind-hearted woman. The tension is usually great and this was no exception.  

I liked Savannah’s daughter and the side characters but I would have liked to see and hear from them more. For example, I would have liked to see interactions with Micki & her other two policemen. They sounded interesting. 

I also didn’t give it 5 stars because I wish it was longer and I also was left feeling like I wasn’t sure how they fell in love that quickly. Was it the heightened tension from the stalking circumstance? Or were they really that close from enemies to soulmates the whole time? A little more flirty banter from the past would have been nice to see. 

Overall, it was a great first book. I would read another from this author again.
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3.75 Stars. I thought this was a fun debut. It’s not a perfect read, it had a few issues, but it was really entertaining and exactly the kind of book I needed. For the past week I have had a house full of family company, including an eight month old baby. I love my extended family but they are loud and a bit messy so it has been a whirlwind with no quiet time for me to read. The reason I bring this up is a week without reading could be why I found this book so appealing. It was like finding a glass of water in the desert, so your mileage may vary slightly.

While this is a crime/mystery romance the crime part is not too heavy. I actually don’t think you have to be a mystery fan to enjoy this. There is just enough excitement and mystery to keep you turning the pages, but it never gets too dark or heavy. I liked that I didn’t guess who the “bad guy/girl” was. I had an idea, but I ended up being way off, so I appreciate that Stiling didn’t make it too easy to figure out.

When it came to the main characters I had fun with them. You have a really likeable and sweet Chief of Police in Micki and you have an ice queen Town Manager named Savannah. Savannah is an ice queen to say the least. I almost worried Stiling was going a little too far with her character, but it did give the characters this intense sexual love/hate chemistry in a few scenes. I did think the characters fell out of the “hate” into the “like” period a little quickly, but I think that is something that Stiling will get better at as she becomes a more seasoned author.

Overall, I thought this was a good, entertaining read. It has a few bumps, but it is a very readable and enjoyable debut. I would not hesitate to read Stiling again in the future.
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Great story, very well written for a debut. (If this isn't a pen name which I'm seeing more often) but I digress. 

These characters are like chalk-and-cheese, although that's not entirely true. Savannah comes across as closed off, but Micki sees right through her. 

Micki, is a likable character. Savannah, you'll either love or hate, or hate to love. I'm not a fan of bitchy 0ff-handed conflict, so she rubbed me the wrong way for the better part of the story. I also found her parenting skills questionable. Sure, it was sweet that Micki went to her daughter. But I would think most parents would run to their terrified child, not send someone else. Officer of the law or not.

Speaking of questionable, I found it highly odd/unethical, not only how, but how soon, Micki ended up in Savannahs bed. 

The mystery - To me it was so clear who the villain was from very early on. Or so I thought, how very wrong was? I Loved that. 

My quibbles aside, which truly are minor, this was an enjoyable story. I wouldn't hesitate to recommend it, and I would definitely read more by Stiling.

FOOTNOTE - I've tagged this story as bisexual due to Savannah being bi, therefore, some of the suspects are male ex's. But rest assured the story is lesbian fiction.
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This book has been a bit odd. The story is a mystery with a romance, involving Savannah, the mayor or something similar, of a small town with Micki, the police chief of the same small town. Savannah is mean with many and a bit commanding in the worst way of the word, so she is a character difficult to like. She has a daughter, Eliana, cute and smart, so different from her oddly. And to top it all, she treats Micki very badly, using her power to diminish Micki's efforts in her new position as police chief. So they are a bit antagonistic at first, but Micki always is on the good side and Savannah in the not so good one. And when mysteriously Savannah starts receiving notes and objects a bit scary, all her nastiness and disrespect toward Micki suddenly disappears.

The oddness go on with the way which Mickey tries to resolve the mystery and her level of implication, too much personal after Savannah behavior, not make much sense.

And by the end of the book, when all is resolving,  the reasons they disliked each other seem nonsensical, too. And poor Eliana disappears from the story.

I think this story had more potential and I do not think it is well resolved. But despite this, it is an entertaining read.
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4.5 stars - Excellent Debut Novel 

This was a unexpected but very pleasant surprise. I really enjoyed this book. Overall, this is light read - not a hard core or bloody mystery/crime drama or an angst-ridden romance - but Stiling manages to balance the mystery and the romance quite well to make it a great book to while away (wile away) a dreary afternoon. 

The mystery was plausible without going over the top - there's something just inherently creepy about stalkers and Stiling used it well to stir up the suspense. She also managed to include a decent set of suspects, alibis and red herrings to keep me guessing. Best of all, she didn't include the big bad's POV - I hate it when a book includes the bad guy/gal's POV in the narration - it ruins the flow and, honestly, it always seems cheesy to try to explain or demonstrate how batshit crazy they are. 

The dynamic between Micki and Savannah worked particularly well - gotta love the ice queen melts trope - with a great chemistry and some amusing dialogue. The love/hate dynamic works well in place of the "instalove" you sometimes find in lesfic novels - the idea that the attraction was there, but masked by the sniping/one-upmanship of the MCs. Both characters were engaging and believable and the evolution of their relationship worked. Even the secondary characters seemed three dimensional. 

I'm surprised this is Stiling's first novel and I will be looking for her next one. 

By the way - I do agree with the stalker, asparagus is better when it's steamed.
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