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… [S]he took a few cleansing breaths and studied the bridge. Nearly twenty feet long and eight feet wide, the bridge was already stained and varnished. Something was carved into the posts, but she couldn’t make it out. She scratched her head. How had they built such an elaborate bridge overnight without her knowing?

Something wasn’t right.

Then she heard the joyful bark of a dog. And she knew.

Her heart broke open in her chest before she even saw him. Touchdown! Then the little six-year old beagle came barreling across the bridge toward her.

Blake.” pp.14–15

 

 

AVA MILES IS AN INTERESTING AUTHOR. Writing primarily in the romance genre, Miles pushes boundaries and challenges her readers by dealing with seemingly difficult and often shockingly overlooked issues. She writes in a very fluid, very accessible way and her characters are often engaging and funny. And yet, while all Miles’ books are undeniably love stories, they are also multi-layered and multi-faceted stories, with fairly complex plots, swimming in wounded characters trying to dodge life’s curve balls. In this sense, The Bridge to a Better Life, the eighth novel in the ‘Dare Valley’ series, is no different to the earlier novels, yet it is probably the most difficult and uncomfortable of all of Miles’ books to date. The reason for this is that, rather bravely, in Natalie Hale, Miles has created a female protagonist who, at first, at least, is neither particularly likeable nor empathetic. Although there are very valid reasons for this, Natalie appears to be a very cold, uncaring woman, in complete contrast to her male counterpart. When Natalie ‘comes in from the cold’, so to speak, it is through the unwavering love and belief of an extremely good man and with the support of their families, friends and a rather endearing dog.

The Bridge to a Better Life 187x300As in Miles’ other novels, symbolism and metaphor are important. In this case, the ‘bridge’, which former NFL quarterback Blake Cunningham builds across a stream between his new property and that of his ex-wife Natalie, forms the connection between their past, present and future lives, the bridge to a ‘better life’ in Blake’s words. He uses it to lure Natalie back to life, chipping away until the wall that she so carefully constructed around herself, after the death of her sister-in-law and best friend, Kim, disintegrates. The bridge is, thus, also the path to love, both to Blake and Natalie’s rediscovered love, but also, perhaps more importantly, to Natalie’s love of herself.

It is a good writer who can deal with the issues of death, grief, isolation and fear head on and not be heavy handed. Miles achieves this while certainly not pulling her punches.

Natalie’s grief is raw, uncomfortable, manifesting itself in bouts of excessive cleaning that leave her knuckles leaking blood. Yet, in many ways Natalie’s grief is also unrelentlessly selfish, in the way that grief can often be. It takes precedence over everyone else’s including that of her bereaved brother, Kim’s own husband.

Keep busy. Don’t touch anyone. Block everything else,’ Natalie tells herself after Kim’s funeral and she withdraws from her old life, shutting out anyone who and everything that can hurt her – Blake, of course, but her equally devastated family, also. This is grief embodied in probably its most negative forms – destructive, debilitating, isolating. And yet real.

Blake, by contrast, is almost too good to be true. A strong, confident man, completely in touch with his emotions, he willingly gives up his career as an elite athlete to follow Natalie to Dare Valley when she runs away from Denver. It is Blake’s perseverance and strength of character that enable him to do this and his kindness, humour and patience that gradually melt Natalie’s defenses. What is interesting is that even though Blake is dealing with his brother’s recent death, his grief is somewhat negated by Natalie’s all-encompassing, raging sense of loss.

This is a very good book, but it’s not an easy read, by any means, even with the comic relief provided by Blake’s athlete friends and the amusing antics of the rather quirky Hale family. It is certainly a challenging read, but it is realistic, particularly if one has experienced searing, all-consuming grief, the kind that can easily, in the blink of an eye, send one insane. And, as with Miles’ other books, from Nora Roberts Land onwards, this is a novel that leaves the reader enriched for reading it, as it is also about hope and, to some degree, redemption.

So, in sum, The Bridge to a Better Life is definitely worth reading, building on the already strong number of titles in the ‘Dare Valley’ stable. Read it and weep.

 

The Bridge to a Better Life, published 6 May 2015, available from Amazon and iTunes. It is the eighth book in the ‘Dare Valley’ series.

 

 

nora roberts landindex

 

 

Ava Miles – also of interest: ‘Believing in Nora Roberts Land – take Ava Miles advice‘ (review); ‘The banter sessions – best-selling authors Ava Miles and Kate Perry‘ (author dialogue).

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Daring Brides, a ‘Dare Valley’ novella, is published on 16 June 2015 and is available from Amazon; iBooks; Nook; Google; and Kobo.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Related reviews: ‘”Homeward bound” – Nora Roberts’ The Liar‘; ‘The beauty of Sara Taylor’s The Shore‘; ‘Kate Perry’s Give a Little – Beatrice in love‘.

 

 

Interviews/articles:Meet Kate Perry – Literary It Girl or “Demented Victorian”‘; ‘”Some like it hot” – the joy of Carole Mortimer, award-winning romance novelist‘.

 

 

Please note the above images and quotations are intended to be for promotional purposes only. In no way, have we have intentionally breached anyone’s copyright.

 

This review is ©The Literary Shed, 2015. All opinions expressed are our own. We welcome your feedback and comments so please do contact us or fill in the form below. If you wish to reproduce the review, please credit us fully. Thank you.