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Cassie is the only daughter of a homophobic pastor who preaches hate and intolerance. She has spent most of her adult life in denial about her sexual orientation, trying desperately to be happy with men who she feels no attraction for. Then she meets Luke. Luke is a confident, attractive woman and Cassie can't help being attracted to her. At first she denies that she could possibly be attracted to a woman but that becomes harder as she spends more time with Luke. Struggling to reconcile the strong attraction that she feels for Luke and the emotional attachment that follows with the promises of hell that her father preached to her as a child Cassie has to decide if she will follow her heart or give up on the only person she has ever loved.
Artists Dream is a lesbian romance novel and this is a genre that I've had mixed experiences with. I've found that the quality of books in this genre can be very poor. My theory is that there's probably less competition for writers of lesbian romance novels than in the general romance market (which admittedly also contains some really poorly written novels) so it's easier to get a novel published, even when it's not that good. This is the first of Gerri Hill's novels that I've read and I did worry that it would be one of those terribly written ones. However, this novel was wonderfully written. I absolutely loved Hill's writing style. I hate books that are overly descriptive or books that don't set the scene enough and although there were a few points when I felt that Hill described Cassie's work in too much detail (Cassie is an artist) this didn't happen very often. I found that Hill set the scene beautifully, giving the reader a good description of Cassie's surroundings and her background without going into so much detail that I became bored. She seemed to strike just the right balance.
The majority of the book focuses on just Cassie and Luke and there isn't really much of a plot outside of the romance so I think that having likeable, believable characters that the reader can empathise with is really important. This was what first drew me into the book. Most of the book is written from Cassie's point of view and she was a character who I empathised with immediately. I think a lot of lesbian and bisexual women have experienced homophobia and most people who I know have had difficult experiences of coming out to their family. Obviously Cassie's experience is a lot worse than most because of her father's religious views but I think that having been in similar situations it's easy for gay and bisexual women to empathise with this part of Cassie's life.
Luke's character is not explored in as much detail as Cassie's because the book isn't primarily from her point of view and I tended to view Luke more as I would a potential romantic interest than someone that I can actually relate to. In that role Luke is perfect. Attractive, intelligent, confident but with some insecurities.
The way that the relationship is built up between the characters is great. I find that some authors really rush it and try to throw in as many sex scenes as possible but Hill builds this relationship gradually. The sex scenes that are included are there to build up the relationship and the romance rather than purely for an erotic purpose and they worked well. Sometimes I read romance novels and find that everything progresses so fast that it's just not realistic, especially when the characters are just coming to terms with their sexuality. I was pleased that Hill didn't fall into this trap. She writes the romance realistically and explores the feelings on both sides. You have Cassie who is inexperienced and unsure of herself, wanting things to go further with Luke but clearly very scared and then there's Luke who is so attracted to Cassie but has to take things slowly in order to ensure that she doesn't scare her away or give her a bad experience. I really felt Luke's frustration at times during the book and I think that is a real strength of Hill's writing. She focuses on the emotions and draws the reader in that way.
There was a point about three quarters of the way through the book when I started to lose interest. I felt that the book lost a bit of momentum and things were beginning to drag. As I have said, I liked that Hill didn't rush things, that she built everything up and explored the emotions of both characters but I also felt that perhaps she dragged it out a bit too long. The book is only 234 pages long so I didn't really expect there to be any points where I was bored.
Fortunately Hill picks things up again and throws in one final hurdle towards the end. I think I should warn you that if you read the back of the book you will know what this hurdle is. I was really unhappy that the synopsis gave away something that happened right near the end of the book, it was just too much like a spoiler to me so I'm going to recommend that you don't read the back of the book and not mention what happens.
Hill has what I would consider a potentially controversial theme to this book but I think she explored it in a sensitive and somewhat balanced way (obviously you wouldn't expect LGBT writers to be completely balanced). She doesn't portray Cassie's father as being a monster and she doesn't suggest that all Christians are homophobic but at the same time she doesn't justify it.
I would certainly recommend this book.