Split – Mel Bossa (Bold Strokes Books)

Buy it direct from Bold Strokes Books

Who hasn’t fallen at least a little in love with a childhood
friend? Most of the time we grow apart, but sometimes those bonds prove the
strongest ones we ever form—and if that person reappears in your life, second chances
can’t help but come to mind. That’s the case with Derek O’Reilly and Nicolai
Lund in Mel Bossa’s brilliant “Split.”

Derek is a quiet only child whose best friend is Boone Lund,
a somewhat more adventuresome spirit. Derek spends a good deal of time over at
the Lund’s, developing a crush on Boone’s brooding, dangerous older brother,
Nicolai. Flash forward several years to Derek today, practically engaged to the
controlling, manipulative Nathan—unwilling to take that final leap for reasons
he doesn’t understand. But the death of his aunt leads to a chance meeting with
Nicolai, and a second chance at the real thing.

Bossa wraps this story around marvelously illustrative
episodes from Derek’s childhood, weaving the two timelines skillfully. Her kids
are dead on target, never straying from age-appropriate behavior or language.
Derek, in particular, is well drawn—Bossa fleshing out the adult Derek while
she simultaneously shows how he got to be the adult he is. Dual character
building is tricky to pull off, but Bossa makes it look effortless.

She also handles the relationship between Derek and Nathan
with ease and assurance, moving Derek from a grudging tolerance of Nathan to
outright dislike with subtle shadings and gradual disinterest. You can almost
feel their bonds dissolving from the first time we see them interacting. Many
romance novels telegraph their HEA endings from the first page, but Bossa
throws enough doubt into the situation to keep the outcome a question until the
very end—and even then it’s not quite what you expect. Part of this is due to
the mercurial Nick, who has a penchant for leaving with no advance notice.

But my favorite character is Derek’s Aunt Fran who becomes
his linchpin after his mother’s breakdown (due to a stillborn child) and his
father’s absence. She is truly a force to be reckoned with, and her death
actually made me cry. That’s something for a reader as jaded as I am.Bossa is a
wonderful writer—her characters always ring true, her prose is sharp and clean,
and she has an incredible facility with the well-chosen detail. Her story
enraptured me, catching me immediately and not letting up until the last scene.

If you only read one romance this year, make sure this is
the one. Its ambition is only exceeded by its flawless execution. Bravo, Mel.
Let’s have another one.

Reviewed by Jerry Wheeler

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