In Darkness, There is Still Light rolls in hot, picking up immediately where its predecessor Wheeler abruptly ended and engrossing readers from the very first pages. The Wheeler series centers on the life of professional cyclist Loren MacKenzie, an American living in the United Kingdom, and the physical and emotional challenges that she faces. Darkness resumes where Wheeler left off, right after Loren has won a world championship title in cycling and kissed her movie star boyfriend, Graham Atherton, farewell for three weeks apart as he flies off to film his next blockbuster. As in her first novel, Zalesky is able to squeeze an incredible amount of action into just a few short months of Loren’s life, though perhaps even more impressive is her ability to fit all the thrills in a short 250 page novel that will fly by for readers.
In Darkness should be read after completing the first Wheeler, as Zalesky does not spend much time reintroducing characters or explaining past events. Readers will recognize familiar faces in Darkness, including Loren’s sassy cycling teammates and loyal friends, but Zalesky also introduces new and exciting characters to the mix. While the first Wheeler was a fairly even mix of romance, thriller, and women’s cycling novels, Darkness focuses more on the romance and emotional challenges of Loren’s life, spending more time developing her relationship with Graham and another key character (whose identify I will not reveal!), and spending far less time on the bike. While I missed the road race episodes that Zalesky created in Wheeler, Darkness takes place during the cycling off-season when competitions are infrequent.
Though In Darkness lacks the nail-biting cycling races and triumphant finish line scenes, it is just as thrilling as Wheeler for other reasons. Zalesky further develops Loren as a complex and sympathetic character as she delves into Loren’s troubled past and fractured emotional psyche. One of Zalesky’s greatest strengths is her ability to develop Loren as such a complex but also relatable star. Though hopefully readers have not personally experienced the abuses thrown at Loren, they can relate to the conflicting emotions she feels as her relationship deepens with Graham and the rollercoaster of ups and downs she experiences after traumatic events. But far from a damsel in distress, Loren remains a strong protagonist that readers will find themselves rooting for wholeheartedly. Where Loren shines, though, her knight in shining armor, Graham Atherton, appears rather dull. Even as their relationship deepens, Graham remains a bit one-dimensional as the Shakespeare-quoting, jaw-dropping handsome actor. But, trusting our protagonist Loren’s judgment, I will give Graham the benefit of the doubt and hope that Zalesky continues to develop him in Wheeler’s third installment.
A solid four-star novel, In Darkness, There is Still Light again offers a unique delight for readers with its combination of romance, thriller, and sports. As the name suggests, Darkness tackles challenging and sensitive issues, especially physical and emotional abuse, but Zalesky successfully handles these with depth, grace, and realism. There is never a dull page with Loren, and the few months of Loren’s life covered in Darkness fly by, ending abruptly once more and leaving readers ready for the next race, which is certain to be just as exciting as those in Wheeler and In Darkness, There is Still Light.
Pages: 295 | ASIN: B07BT52785
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Wheeler is a suspenseful romance novel that follows a strong female cyclist battling both physical and emotional challenges. What was your inspiration for this thrilling novel?
I have been been a fan of cycling for some years now but over the last five years I’ve been hugely influenced by the women’s peloton. Their grace under pressure, heart and incredible talent is an inspiration. My ultimate goal for the hard copy of Wheeler is for the proceeds of each book sold to be donated to the Homestretch Foundation, founded by Kathryn Bertine, a former pro cyclist. She saw a need for women cyclists who wanted to compete but financially, had no way to train and earn a living. Homestretch provides the housing, equipment, training and nutrition for elite riders to have a chance to compete at the pro level.
Loren and Graham connection develops into a complex relationship through the novel. What were the driving ideals behind the characters development throughout the story?
Relationships among creative types can begin intensely, with all the Shakespeare quotes and French terms of endearment, only to burn out in a few short months. Loren and Graham are both isolated and lonely, even though they are surrounded by friends and family. They each have personal issues to overcome and are willing support each other through their trials in order to make the relationship work, just like real people.
Wheeler starts in the middle of Loren’s cycling competition. What is your experience with the sport and why was this a good setup for your novel?
Being a cyclist myself, understand most of what they go through: the training, the discipline, sacrificing yourself for your teammates. I know the intense physical discomfort (i.e. pain) of taking your body to the limit and beyond.
There’s a parallel between being a pro athlete and an actor – long hours of training, constant travel, the media spotlight, but also the close relationships that can develop between teammates (co-stars). It takes the right mix of personalities to make it work or the film (or team) won’t succeed. I thought this would be an interesting, and realistic, pairing. They would need to understand how important their careers are, but also know that it could all end with one bad review, or the squeal of a car tire.
What is the next book that you are working on and when will it be available?
I am currently wrapping up the first draft of the as unnamed follow up and I hope to have it to my editor by Autumn, 2017.
To become an elite cyclist in Europe, Loren Mackenzie has overcome much in her life, but no one would know it. Her tragic past is hidden inside tarnished armor and her fear of it being uncovered has kept her out of the spotlight.
Known as the Ice Queen of the peloton, Loren rarely shows emotion in the heat of competition; she leads her team with quiet strength and determination. But when a chance meeting quickly develops into a whirlwind romance, the ice surrounding her heart begins to melt.
All is not rainbows and unicorns, though. The relationship with an A-list celebrity brings with it the microscope of tabloid-media attention but also exposes the jealousy and obsession of another, threatening to unravel Loren’s tightly wound life.
Can Loren open her heart to the love she has held at a distance, or will her fear and shame ultimately defeat her?
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A little bit romance novel, a little bit suspenseful thriller, and a thorough introduction to the world of women’s cycling, Wheeler by Sara Butler Zalesky is an enjoyable and well-written story of a strong female protagonist battling both physical and emotional challenges. Spanning just a few months in professional cyclist Loren MacKenzie’s life, Wheeler is a whirlwind of a read. It begins in the heat of her cycling competition season when she meets handsome actor, Graham Atherton, roadside after a well-timed popped tire and follows their blossoming romance as well as Loren’s cycling competitions across Europe. It’s not all easy riding for Graham and Loren though, as Zalesky weaves intricate relationships between Loren, her teammates, family, and a sinister former boyfriend who is dangerously obsessed with Loren.
Readers who are familiar with professional cycling will doubtless appreciate Zalesky’s attention to the sport, and even readers who have no prior knowledge will enjoy learning about the strategy, training, and teamwork involved in cycling. Zalesky expertly creates a believable and enthralling team dynamic, following Loren and her team through both victories and crashes. Crafting relatable characters and developing story lines over the course of the novel is one of Zalesky’s strengths. Though the first half of the story feels rather one-dimensional with clichéd characters (the hyper-driven female athlete; the handsome, Shakespeare-quoting actor; the jealous ex-boyfriend), Zalesky develops her characters so that by the second half of the story, each of these characters has a well-defined history and far exceeds expectations.
Whirlwind romances are, of course, fun to read and daydream about, but the almost instantaneous and passionate relationship that Loren and Graham form feels forced. Their relationship is full of Shakespeare quotes and French puppy-love nicknames (hundreds of variations on mon amour and ma cherie are tired after awhile). But midway through the novel, Zalesky seems to hit her groove and relies less on these easy wordplays for content, allowing Loren and Graham to have more meaningful conversations. This is pleasing for readers, who may not have realized the novel they were reading would have more Shakespeare than they had read since high school.
Overall, Wheeler offers readers an intriguing literary escape into the intense world of women’s cycling and creates a protagonist that readers will consider a good friend by the end of the story. While few people could withstand the physical challenges that Zalesky puts in front of Loren, it is the emotional challenges she faces that make Loren such a wonderful character. Wheeler examines challenging topics such as emotional and physical abuse, the difficulties of balancing work and relationships, and familial estrangement, and does not shy away from painful moments. Multi-dimensional, inspiring, and sometimes heartbreaking, Loren will have readers rooting for her successes and looking forward to a second installment. Hopefully Zalesky’s second novel will come soon, as Wheeler’s abrupt end may catch readers off-guard, feeling almost as if they’ve fallen off their bikes unexpectedly.
Pages: 456 | ASIN: B01I0DTSQU
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