Book Review: Climbing Fear by Leisl Leighton
This is the first in a romantic suspense series centred around the Coalcliff Stud, a property on the edge of Victoria’s alpine region which runs horseriding camps for kids, trail rides and some adventure activities. Matriarch Barb runs the show and specializes in taking in lost souls.
Years ago, Natalia was one of Barb’s lost souls. Coalcliff was a safe haven for her growing up, until she got mixed up with Barb’s grandson Reid, who at just 18 was four years younger than she. Unable to deal with the intensity of their relationship, Nat took off and ended up married to someone else… a marriage that ended in blood and tragedy and left her needing a safe haven once again, this time with her nine-year-old daughter Tilly in tow.
Reid’s lived his own share of disaster. A world-class climber with his own TV show, he’s lost his nerve after his best friend Luke died right in front of his eyes. He’s going home to Coalcliff to try and put the shattered pieces of his life back together… but the last person he expected to find there was Nat.
There is SO MUCH backstory for these two, and honestly… I think in trying to avoid info-dumping the backstory, Leighton has gone a bit too light on. Information is doled out in dribs and drabs, which is okay if it’s part of what leads into the suspense plot, but just confusing when it comes to the details of Nat and Reid’s prior relationship and why it failed. I was left with way too many questions. I checked twice on the series information for this, wondering if it really was a first in series, or maybe tied back in to an earlier series by the author, because there were all these hints about Previous Important Events, but we never got a full explanation of them. There were a few weird continuity things too - Barb is 63 but her grandson is 28? Something a bit hinky about the maths there.
Those things aside, the romance plot was actually really good. There was some gorgeous pining between two very damaged souls, Tilly was a delightful plot moppet, and there are lots of wholesome country activities going on with horses and dogs (though I have to give a trigger warning for animal death, so be aware). The suspense plot was intriguing and took a surprising twist at the end… though I admit I’d have liked to see the ultimate villain featured a little earlier. The reveal had me wondering yet again if this led on from another series where he appeared, because he did pop up a little bit out of the blue.
I did enjoy this, but I think it needed to be about 20% longer. Maybe it was cut down to meet a publisher’s required word count, I don’t know, but it reads that way, and what got cut was backstory that was actually essential to really understand and empathise with Nat and Reid’s situation. I loved Coalcliff Stud, and several characters were introduced who I suspect are going to get their own books later on, which would be good to see. Overall a good read. Four stars.
Disclaimer: I received a review copy of this title via NetGalley.