Dark Choc Lit. What a wonderfully enticing name for Choc Lit’s new imprint, and the first book in that imprint by Laura E James delivers exactly what I wanted it to, a story with romance at the core, but with complex, hard-hitting threads, running right through it. The author has bravely tackled subjects such as abuse and the devastating impact of living in a dysfunctional, controlling relationship can have, not just on the victim of the abuse, but on the children, which leads us to what might be called ‘teenage’ issues around identity and image. That said, the story is written with huge sensitivity, teenager Tess telling her story in first person. Her pain is palpable, as is her natural instinct to protect her mother, Evie, recently remarried to Griff. The romance aspect is strong. I immediately fell in love with Griff, a good, caring man, whose mission in life is to save people. Griff has suffered loss. He’s also carrying guilt over the death of a friend and Evie knows he could never condone someone wanting to end their own life. Thus the reason for their estrangement. As the story opens, Griff is living apart from the woman he loves, a woman he feels still loves him, and he has no idea why they’re separated. Evie cares for his estranged and ill father, and she’s carrying a secret, a heavy burden she knows Griff simply won’t be able to deal with. The beauty of this book is that you are invested in the characters from outset, absolutely, including man’s best friend (no spoilers but there’s an emotional scene around Griff’s dog where you can feel Griff’s heart breaking). You really, really, want it to work out between Griff and Evie, at times you want to shout, ‘tell him!’, but you question with the moral dilemma whether it can. ‘What Doesn’t Kill You’, set in coastal Dorset where you can almost taste the salt from the sea spray, does deal with dark issues, but it’s real. It’s also uplifting because of those very issues. It’s a story of hope. A story of emotional growth. It’s compelling and beautifully written. I loved it.