Overall Grade: More than ⭐️ ⭐️ ⭐️ ⭐️ ⭐️
I have to be honest with this review. I am very choosy when I decide to read a romance anthology. When I saw the release information for Top Shelf Romance’s Never Let Go anthology, a compilation of stories from Kandi Steiner, Ella James, Tijan, and Alessandra Torre, I decided to jump in because I adore Kandi Steiner and I had yet to read A Love Letter to Whiskey (her contribution to the anthology), and I had been intrigued with Tijan’s Teardrop Shot. What I found in my foray into this anthology is Top Shelf Romance’s genius in curating specific stories behind the theme of the book. That title Never Let Go isn’t just a title; it is the essence of this anthology. With that theme, the stories of this book take you on epic journeys of romance that oftentimes slow your heart, hurt your stomach, titillate you, and draw you through what are sometimes difficult moments in the stories by these authors. This book felt heavy with promise, and it didn’t disappoint in the least. I have spent the last few days drowning in the stories that feel substantial but make you work for that happily ever after. For this reader, it was a glorious journey that still weighs heavy in my heart.
Each of the stories was compelling. I had not read any of them prior to reading the anthology so I found myself entrapped by Ella James’s Sloth. James’s ability to create each moment of Cleo and Kellan’s story is overwhelming and beautiful and careful and engaging. I couldn’t stop. It’s 500 pages, and James provoked me to keep going even when the story became hard. Even when I wanted to throw my phone at the wall because their journey became difficult. Even when I wanted to reach through my screen and pummel Kellan for perceived curtness and disinterest. This story inspired me; it grabbed me; and it pulled me in, leaving me with a huge story hangover.
Alessandra Torre’s Love in Lingerie, the fourth story of the anthology, was actually the first one I read. I knew Steiner’s novella would make my heart bleed, so I decided to begin with what I perceived as a safer choice. To be clear, there is no safe choice here. Like the other stories of this anthology, Torre’s Trey and Kate are perfection. Seriously. Their chemistry bleeds off the page. Torre drives you through their story as they refuse to move their relationship beyond friendship even though the burn between them is palpable. Torre’s skill in moving the story forward without allowing the characters to give in until just the right time is the definition of edging. I found myself lost in Trey and Kate’s relationship praying that they would have more, knowing that Torre wouldn’t let me down. For me, Love in Lingerie was a perfect place to start.
Tijan surprises me. Each book that I have read, I come away wanting to know more about her process as a writer. Teardrop Shot is no different. I read Rich Prick earlier in the year, and it has such a different feel from Teardrop Shot. Like Sloth, like Love in Lingerie, and like Steiner’s A Love Letter to Whiskey, Teardrop Shot embraces the journey. Much like James’s Sloth, there is a secret in its story though, and that secret drives the gravity of it. In that gravity lies the brilliance of Tijan’s story. For me, Teardrop Shot drilled a small hole in my heart, and I found myself re-reading parts of the book because I didn’t want to let go of Tijan’s Reese and Charlie. One of my favorite parts of Tijan’s characterizations in this book and her other sports romances (that I’ve read thus far) is her ability to craft quirky, compelling heroines. Don’t get me wrong; Tijan’s Reese is a dreamy hero whom you fall in love with instantly. He’s the rock for Charlie that she requires. He’s created just for her, as Tijan illustrates in her story and I think that’s the reason I love Teardrop Shot the most. The vulnerability and precariousness of these two characters both compel you forward and hold you rapt. I wanted the story to both finish and continue. Like the other stories in this anthology, we are reminded that life progresses at an even, sometimes tedious, pace, and Tijan along with the other writers compose stories that allow readers to walk every step with the characters. That was my favorite part of Never Let Go.
Lastly, Steiner’s A Letter to Whiskey finds its brilliance in both her allusion and personification of Whiskey through Jamie Shaw. One of my favorite parts of writing, in general, is an author’s articulation of story through devices that illustrate their genius. Steiner keenly illustrates that through her style and construction of her story. Along with that, she points to the truth of her story when her heroine suggests “[I] think sometimes life is about embracing what hurts, because pain is one of the vivid emotions we can feel. Pain reminds us that we are alive, and I’ll always appreciate that stinging reminder.” I think this is why readers love angsty romances such as Steiner’s book. While it’s difficult to read Jamie and B’s journey, it reminds us that mixed in with the love and fun of life is a vat of pain, that we need that balance to truly acknowledge and understand the glories of living. That is the truth for each of these stories, and it’s an important one, hence the reason this book feels essential.
Top Shelf Romance’s Never Let Go anthology feels weighty and beautiful. Yes, it puts its readers through the paces of romance. But when this reader finished it, I felt as though I met an achievement. It also seemed like such a worthy bit of reading. While you must journey through the trials of Steiner’s, James’s, Tijan’s, and Torre’s heroes and heroines, every bit of it is a journey worth taking. Never Let Go is the best money you will spend today, tomorrow, and in weeks to come.
In love and romance,