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REVIEW: Hydraulic Level Five by Sarah Latchaw

Dear Ms. Latchaw:

Yes I was told this was Twilight fan fiction when it was pitched to me by the publicist. I don’t see even a hint of Edward and Bella anywhere in this book, but I appreciate the straightforward acknowledgment of the provenance of the book.  And I love the cover.

Hydraulic Level FiveThe title “Hydraulic Level Five” refers to a whitewater rapids.  A Class 5 is rather hazardous whitewater rapids requiring precise skill and a daredevil heart. It’s an extreme sport and since Kaye’s biggest adventure left her, she’s had to resort to skydiving and rafting dangerous rapids. Aspen Kaye Trilby  loved Samuel Caulfield Cabral since before she knew what love was. She wanted to be part of him and part of his family and when they were married just out of high school, she was deliriously happy.

But Samuel was not. Unbeknowst to her, Samuel was so unhappy with their life in Colorado he tells her that he is moving to New York City and that she’s not to come. She doesn’t listen to him and travels there by herself only to see something that sends her running back home whereupon she files for divorce.

In the intervening years, Samuel writes a bestselling novel which, from the excerpts, sounds a little like a Sarah Addison Allen novel – one part small town charm, one part magical realism. It becomes a bestseller as do all of his novels and Samuel himself becomes a celebrity after his bestselling novel becomes a major successful motion picture.  But celebrity attention uncovers that one of the major characters in Samuel’s books is based on his estranged wife Kaye. He took the “write what you know” a little too seriously.

When Samuel returns to his hometown for his sister’s wedding, Kaye decides its time to find out the truth.  Why did their marriage break up? And does Samuel really no longer love her?  Because Kaye has never, and will never, get over Samuel.  They were friends for so long. She’s part of the Cabral family – a big Mexican American family – and she’s always felt like Samuel was part of her story.  The Cabral family was a character all its own, from the parents who took both Samuel and Kaye into their bosoms to the vibrant daughter who encouraged Kaye to prank Samuel in hopes that these tricks would eventually bring Samuel and Kaye together again.

When Samuel turns up with his perfect editor in tow who clearly wants a romance with him and Kaye finds out that Samuel has killed off the character based on her, her subconscious conviction that somehow she’d always be part of his life is shaken.  What separated Samuel and Kaye wasn’t a silly disagreement but a fairly meaningful issue.  I wasn’t entirely convinced about the security of their future together which is why the ending fit for me.  The story is told primarily from Kaye’s point of view but Samuel’s feelings, both present and past, are revealed through snippets from Samuel’s last publication and a current work in progress.

What happened in New York, why their marriage failed, and Samuel’s true feelings are all part of what drives the story and provides the suspense of what happens. The outcome isn’t always clear even if the reader wants it to end a certain way.

There were things that weren’t quite perfect for me. Samuel’s writing seemed tortured at times and the snippets from his bestselling novel were confusing to read (something about water creatures eating up spirits??). While Kaye is billed as this lover of adventure, she comes off quite timid.  The secondary characters were so strong that they seemed to overtake the scenes at times. But the grief that Kaye has over the loss of her marriage and the loss of her childhood ideals resonated.  Despite their mid twenties ages, Samuel and Kaye came off older to me and the hence the story seemed grown up.  I look forward to reading the second book about their love.  B-

Best regards,


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Jane Litte is the founder of Dear Author, a lawyer, and a lover of pencil skirts. She self publishes NA and contemporaries (and publishes with Berkley and Montlake) and spends her downtime reading romances and writing about them. Her TBR pile is much larger than the one shown in the picture and not as pretty. You can reach Jane by email at jane @ dearauthor dot com


  1. Alison Robinson
    Sep 06, 2013 @ 09:16:58

    Parts of your summary made it sound a bit like the film Music and Lyrics – where Drew Barrymore is pilloried as the psychotic stlaker girlfriend by an ex who writes a thinly-veiled book about her. It doesn’t really sound much like Twilight – or is Samuel meant to be Edward, tired of being stuck in the same rural backwater for centuries?

    Anyway, interesting …

  2. Jenna
    Sep 06, 2013 @ 12:04:53

    I might have to check this out.

  3. Twilight, P2P, and the Future of the Romance GenreEvangeline Holland | Evangeline Holland
    Sep 06, 2013 @ 12:59:23

    […] thoughts on this topic didn’t coalesce until read Jane review for Hydraulic Level Five by Sarah Latchaw, another P2P Twilight fan-fiction. The Twilight fandom (YA in general) seems like an entire cottage […]

  4. Sarah Latchaw
    Sep 06, 2013 @ 15:08:17

    Thank you, Jane. Observant and extremely helpful crit for a debut novelist. Much appreciated!

  5. Kaetrin
    Sep 07, 2013 @ 05:59:33

    Now I want to know why they split up. :)

    It has HFN ending?

  6. Jennifer Garcia
    Sep 07, 2013 @ 15:33:06

    Great review. I absolutely love the way Latchaw worked this story. Your observations are pretty much like mine. ;) Thanks for sharing.

  7. Skeeter
    Apr 02, 2014 @ 19:56:42

    I read this entire story many times in its original form, and the flaws you struggle with (Samuels ‘tortured’ writings and Kaye’s timidity) can be explained.

    Samuels obvious distress will be explored in the next novel: Skygods. I don’t want to give away spoilers but you shouldn’t judge when you only have half the explanation. All I’ll say is that part of the story is where Latchew fully blooms to be an amazing author, as opposed to just great.

    Kaye’s timidity is pretty much explained: it’s Sams presence. Around her friends and family and clients she is happy and confident, but Sams distressing departure happened during a vulnerable time in her life and his presence reminds her of that unworthy feeling she has spent so many years trying to hide or overcome. You could say that her extreme sporting would be to overcompensate for the vulnerabilities she felt, left behind in Sam’s wake.

    This is perhaps the only remnant of twilight. I believe in the later books when Edward leaves, Bella numbed her upset by riding motorcycles and jumping off a cliff.

    I must admit that I love this complexity in Kaye’s character.

    The confusing excerpts: they are excerpts, taken out of context and yes, that can be confusing. If read carefully, however, they subtly foreshadow what you will find out about Sam in the next book. They also – and this is part of the foreshadowing – give insight into his mind during certain periods of time.

    This is a work of great strength and emotional clout. No one is truly evil; no one is truly blameless. If ever an author deserves to be recognised for what was once fanfiction, it is Sarah Latchaw. Her work surpasses its muse and all of its other byproducts (cough :: fifty shades :: cough) by many miles.

  8. Jane
    Apr 02, 2014 @ 20:02:26

    @Skeeter: Here’s the deal, though, I’m reviewing the book I read, not the book that comes next or the book that came before it. This is the only book that’s out and I have to judge the story based on the words on the page.

  9. skeeter
    Apr 02, 2014 @ 22:45:23

    I apologise. I suppose I do have a bird’s-eye view of this story and over the years I have hunted it down to re-read. On its disappearance in the fanfiction community I found it on Amazon and set up an account and downloaded kindle just to be able to re-read it once more.

    I am attached this work of fiction, I suppose because I kind of grew up with it, and I was just rising up in its defence like a child in a schoolyard defending an adored parent, blind to any and all their faults.

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