High Risk by Simona Ahrnstedt is a story of journalist Ambra Vinter and her famous step-sister, pop singer Jill Lopez. Both women are scarred by their childhoods spent in various foster families in Sweden.
Nordic Noir or Nordic Romance?
To be honest, I’m in two minds about this book. While reading High Risk, I kept wondering if this is a pure romance or a Nordic Noir mystery. The plot about the Laestadian couple who mistreat children in their care is so dark, that it really belongs in another kind of book. Even the prologue takes us right into Ambra’s spine-chilling experiences with a strict religious sect in the worst of her foster homes, which indicates that this is the main thread of the story.
However, High Stakes is really the story about Ambra Vinter’s relationship with Tom Lexington, an ex-soldier and international security expert.
Hunky, Tortured Ex-soldier And A Beautiful Journalist With A Mission
Much of the novel is taken up with the infatuation between the hunky Tom and the beautiful Ambra, doomed from the start because of Ambra’s lack of self-confidence and Tom’s PTSD caused by a mission gone wrong in Chad. To add to the complications, Tom is still holding onto a previous serious relationship.
Although lonely, Ambra’s focus in life is to uncover truths and to protect the weak, rather than to find a man of her dreams. Her job as a journalist at one of the main Swedish newspapers, Aftonbladet, doesn’t always allow her to fulfil this ambition, which is one of the biggest frustrations in her life. Ordered to cover a ‘soft’ story just before Christmas in Kiruna, the Northern Swedish town where she suffered the worst abuse with a Laestadian foster family, she reluctantly agrees.
In her former hometown, she meets Tom, and there’s an immediate, mutual, attraction.
Tom Lexington is suffering severe bouts of PTSD and although he flirts with Ambra, he cannot trust his own feelings. Before his secret mission, he was happily living together with another woman and wants nothing more than to have the beautiful Ellinor back. The only problem is, she’s moved on and is now living with a new man in Kiruna.
A Second Love Story To Boot
High Stakes also tells the parallel story of Ambra’s step-sister, the stunningly beautiful celebrity singer-songwriter, Jill Lopez. Jill too is damaged by her childhood experiences of abandonment and has an inability to commit to a man. Until that is, she meets Mattias, Tom’s old Special Forces friend.
I found the introduction of a second lovey story to the book a little unnecessary. There is enough plot with Tom’s secret missions and former life as a Special Forces soldier, as well as Ambra’s childhood tragedies, without having to add to it. We really do not need another complicated relationship with another damaged woman and another hunky, emotionally stunted soldier in the same novel. As friends of the two main characters, Jill and Mattias worked well, but they didn’t need to have a romantic connection as well. In addition, the novel is a whopping 545 pages, so this second storyline isn’t needed to bulk up the book. (Tom is bulky enough, anyway 😉 )
A Steamy Romance
However much the novel concentrates on other issues, such as violence towards children and women, or the emotional damage caused by trauma, High Risk is a steamy romance, which is very clear from the many sexual encounters in the book. These are quite graphic, something I didn’t expect because they only happened half-way through the story. I also found the build-up to the eventual love making a little forced – no-one can have so much bad luck with last minute interruptions and complications …
Some people may think me a prude, but I don’t actually like reading love scenes that are too descriptive. One of the best and steamiest encounters I have read is the library scene between childhood friends Robbie and Cynthia in Atonement by Ian McEwan. I’m sure there was not one mention of intimate body parts – or of bodily fluids. My imagination is strong enough to create the love scenes in my mind. I prefer not to see the explicit words on the page.
But that’s not to say that many readers who read romance wouldn’t find the love scenes tasteful and well-written. They’re just not for me.
Another Nordic Romance Author – Yes!
So although I loved to (finally) discover another Nordic romance author, and the narrative of High Risk kept me reading, I’m not sure I will go back and read the rest of the books in the High Stakes series.
Still, it’s good to know that there are other novelists out there who write in my genre. 🙂
Have you read any good books lately? Let me know by commenting below!
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