- Publisher: Zebra Shout
- Publication Dates: September 26, 2017, March 27, 2018, November 27, 2018
- Sold by: Penguin Random House Publisher Services
- Language: English
Hispanic American Literature/Fiction; Women’s Fiction, Contemporary Romance, Latinx
I had long looked forward to reading a novel by Priscilla Oliveras, not only because I’d read so many positive things about her work, but also because she writes about our shared Puerto Rican culture, which I was sure I’d enjoy. When I stumbled on the Matched to Perfection series and noticed it was complete, it was like hitting the jackpot.
Each book is centered on one of the three Fernandez sisters. They are as different from each other as any set siblings can be. Yazmine (Yaz), the oldest, is a dancer who has performed on Broadway and currently run’s Mrs. Hanson’s Dance Academy in the Chicago suburb of Oakton. She possesses a powerful sense of personal and familial responsibility, a quality that makes it hard for her to understand what she really wants. Rosa, controlled and sometimes too well-behaved for her own good, is a librarian who is just finishing school and has a job already lined up at the local Catholic school, if one moment of abandon doesn’t derail all her plans. And Lilí is a party girl who settles into her work as a counselor for a domestic violence center and struggles to be taken seriously by her own family. Artist, bookworm, social justice warrior – I love that Oliveras diversifies the strengths, talents, and therefore, potential conflicts of each sister.
Yazmine’s conflict in book one has to do with reconciling her father’s desires for success with those of her own. This perception of what she thinks she should want for herself and her career informs her relationship with Tomas, a single father whose ex-wife chooses her professional ambition over her family. Maria, his daughter, is a truly enchanting creation, As one of Yaz’s dance students, she is the reason Yaz and Tomás enter each other’s sphere. Tomás is an ambitious advertising executive in his own right, struggling to play a meaningful role in his daughter’s life. The resolution of this disparity of ambitions on the part of both Yaz and Tomás forms the primary conflict which of the novel.
Rosa’s book revolves around her unresolved crush for Jeremy Taylor, a close family friend. Little does she know, Jeremy pines for her also. This intense attraction leads to a moment of abandon, resulting in unintended consequences that force both of them to examine what they truly want out of a romantic relationship. Here, the backdrop of the family’s Catholicism plays an important role in augmenting the tension and stakes of the relationship. Much of the conflict is internal, with one obvious and enormous external conflict that nearly eclipses every other one. Neither Rosa nor Jeremy are quite sure of the other’s true intentions or feelings.
Finally, Lilí’s book features the very real conflict generated by the mutual attraction between her and Diego Reyes, a Chicago police officer. Diego at first thinks Lilí is a disconnected, rich social justice warrior, while Lilí is hesitant about entering into a relationship with a police officer, after having experienced a failed one in the past. For this couple, their greatest challenge is one of achieving emotional intimacy through honesty and admitting vulnerability, especially on the part of Diego, who hides so much of himself. His challenge is to break down the emotional walls he’s created to protect himself and others, while Lilí struggles to be understood.
I was absolutely thrilled that both books one and three features two latinx leads. A lot of romances I’ve read so far have featured interracial couples, which I actually love. There are many opportunities for conflict at the level of culture and language and make a novel interesting. However, there is something very refreshing about watching two latinx characters negotiate the pitfalls of their budding relationship without the added angst of cultural conflict.
Book two has an interracial pairing. However, the writer does not resort to the easy fallback of emphasizing Rosa and Jeremy’s differences. Jeremy has spent so many years in close proximity to the Fernandez clan as a close friend that he is a defacto part of the group. The othering of the latinx culture in this novel is sidestepped. This universe belongs to the Fernandez family and everyone operates in that status quo.
Olivera also doesn’t shy away from problems that are part of even the best possible life – the care of an elderly parent, the dangers of public service and the destruction caused by domestic violence. But the books don’t get carried away by these tough topics. Each one is confronted and overcome, making the HEA all the more sweeter in the end.
Olivera’s ouvre (I like the word!) appeals to me because, as a fellow Puerto Rican, I caught on quickly to the cultural shorthand she uses to describe the space in which the Fernandez sisters to live and fall in love. I understood the food, the mini-expressions in Spanish, the superstitions and cultural beliefs. There is a common refrain from book one, familiar primero or family first, that resonates throughout the novels and makes sense to me. When Lilí, in book three, prays to both her parents for guidance, it is a second-nature, authentic gesture I recognize from my own experience.
Music plays a major role in the novels, also. In book one, the beloved patriarch, Rey, has spent his life playing with a band and frequently jams in the makeshift studio in his basement. As in many Hispanic families, music forms the back drop of nearly every social gathering or important event. The motif of music comes full circle in the character of Diego, who plays the guitar and sings, becoming the music man Lilí has always been looking for.
Music and dancing are accompanied by descriptions of wonderful Puerto Rican cuisine. The three sisters cook together, reminding me of the comforts and pleasures of my family’s kitchen when my grandmother, mother, aunts descended en mass to make pasteles or other complicated dishes while the men roasted pork and played dominos in the backyard, the children always underfoot.
This series was a true pleasure to read. Oliveras is a master of emotional beats and pacing. Because these books are relatively low heat, the onus of the emotional payoff rests heavily on the relationship between the characters and the work they have to do to obtain a happy ending. That is not to say there isn’t sexual tension, and in fact, the books grow progressively steamier, but when it is resolved, it is done off the page.
Romantic, full of rich characters and cultural details, this series provides the joy of full immersion. Pair it with a warm blanket, a glass of wine and a bowl of asopao for the perfect book weekend.
His Perfect Partner – 5/5 Stars
Her Perfect Affair – 4.5/5 Stars
Their Perfect Melody – 5/5 Stars