I’ve been waiting for JuanPa’s book with alternate joy and sadness. Joy, because he will round out the dynamic foursome that form the central protagonists of Herrera’s American Dreamers series, a series that has brought me an immense amount of joy; but also sadness because it will soon be over (thought I notice there is a Christmas novel being planned for release, so this takes some of the sting out of the series coming to an close).
When I saw the excerpt for this book at the end of American Love Story, I knew I was going to love it.
JuanPa and Pris have been dating on and off for most of their lives. They and their family have a lot of history and it is interesting to note just how vested their respective families are in the outcome of their relationship.
JuanPa and Pris meet on a private plane after having had their last breakup over a year before. The plane carries not only their families but also the Patrice and Easton (American Love Story) to the Dominican Republic for the wedding of Camilo and Thomas (American Fairy Tale). Nesto is already there with Jude (American Dreamer), coordinating the catering for the event. It’s amazing because all the couples from the previous books play their parts in this novel.
Meanwhile, JuanPa and Pris try to play it cool but their chemistry gets the best of them – and the reader. The remainder of the book deals with how they’re going to make it last this time.
This is definitely a second -chance romance, and in this dynamic, Juan Pa has really done the hard work of trying to be a different man for Priscilla. Here, it is Pris who has to re envision what she wants out of life, what sacrifices she is willing to make to live authentically and how vulnerable she is willing to be to accept the love she wants.
The sex-positivity is amazing in this book. Priscilla engage in what Herrera has referred to as sex activism – based on the work of Audrey Lord. Pris runs sex positive workshops teaching elderly clients about sex toys. It is this side hustle that presents her with her internal conflict – should she give up her career as a police officer, a job that she not only once loved but also honors her family’s ambitions for her (her father is a retired police officer). As the daughter of Dominican immigrants, expectations for her success are high but what if her definition of success is different from the one her family has envisioned for her? And can she risks the collective dreams of her family if there is a possibility of failure?
The sex positivity doesn’t end there. While the other books in the Dreamers series are m/m, this one is m/f. However, JuanPa is bi, and there is an incredible pegging scene that blows the roof off the hotness in this novel.
As I’ve already mentioned – everyone wants these two to win. The sense of community in this series culminates with the families and friends all conspiring to help these two idiots build a love that lasts. But first they have to get out of their own way. Juan Pa fighting his old, bad habits and Pris learning to be vulnerable, take risks and give herself permission to live authentically is one of the best plot arcs in this entire series.
Adriana Herrera delivers the goods in this installment of a series that has nothing short of excellent. I never want it to end.
I received a copy of this book from Netgalley/the publisher in exchange for an honest review.
This month was an incredibly satisfying reading month. I DNF’d very few books (which we will not discuss) and really hit romance harder than in January. There are just too many great titles being published in the genre and I had to dive into that bounty. Reviews are presented in no particular order.
The Earl I Ruined/The Duke I Tempted/The Lord I Left– Scarlett Peckham (Audiobooks)
This month, I was fortunate to attend a panel on historical romance during Coastal Magic Book Convention. One of the panelists mentioned the importance of virtue as necessary for a reader to accept a romance heroine. I am so glad I had just finished Scarlett Peckham’s Secrets of Charlotte Street series because one thing these alpha-heroines are not is entirely pure…and I am glad of it!
Each of the leads in the trilogy are women who, in one way or another, represent unconventional femininity in Georgian-Era England. The women are true “alpha women,” turning the typical power dynamic between common women and landed men on its head.
Book 1, The Duke I Tempted, centers on the story of Poppy Cavendish, a self-taught botanist who will go to great lengths to fulfill her ambitions to own her own nursery and maintain her freedom – including entering into a marriage of convenience with the secretive and legendary Duke of Westmead. The Duke surrenders his heart to Poppy but struggles to come clean about his desires, which creates constant emotional tension as both he and Poppy try to arrive at what they both most want – each other.
Book 2, The Earl I Ruined, is about Lady Constance Stonewell, who accidentally ruins the life of the Earl of Arthorp with her anonymous gossip column and offers her hand in marriage to save his reputation. What she doesn’t know is that he’s been secretly in love with her, making for endless misunderstandings and frustrated feelings that are at the heart of this trope.
And finally, book 3, The Lord I Left, my favorite installment, tells the story of Alice Hull, a country girl who’s escaped to London in search of freedom and goes to work at Charlotte Street, the most secretive and notorious whipping house. Lord Lieutenant Henry Evesham, who readers meet in Book 2, is an Evangelical reformer bent on reforming the pleasure trade in London. The unlikely love affair of a “fallen” woman and a vigin minister is one of the best inversions of this trope I’ve ever read.
There is a planned fourth book in this series, which I am eagerly awaiting. The audiobook experience was worthwhile, though the changes between POV characters happened fairly frequently, leaving me at times confused about who was speaking.
A Taste of Sage by Yaffra S. Santos
The premise of A Taste of Sage is irresistible – Lumi (Illuminada) Santos is the owner of a failed restaurant who goes to work for the Julien Dax, an arrogant, pretentious head chef at his famous French Restaurant. Lumi has a special gift – she can sense the emotions of a person through the foods they cook. This is an incredible gift, giving her insights into the people’s emotions, no matter how they mask them from others.
However, Lumi’s first encounter with Julien leaves her so infuriated, she promises never to eat his cooking. Thankfully, this doesn’t last long and soon Lumi discovers there is a disconnect between the nearly intolerable Julien and the emotions he transmits into his food. She learns who he is and slowly falls in love with him.
The novel’s sensibility is well-developed – there is no question Lumi lives for and through food. Her relationship with food reminds me of Tita de la Garza in the novel Like Water For Chocolate, and in fact, Santos makes reference to this novel as an inspiration in her author’s note (fun fact – the first novel with romantic elements I read which featured Latinx leads was also Esquival’s masterpiece). Santos does a very good job of imbuing the food in the novel with meaning beyond that of mere sustenance – the care for the recipes and dishes created by Lumi’s hand is obvious throughout the narrative. The romance develops well, though Lumi’s character is more richly developed than Julien’s, even with the benefit of his POV chapters. There is more to Julien’s character than meets the reader’s eye, though he does too good of a job convincing everyone otherwise.
For me, the story was a lovely elegy to the importance of food as a means of communicating, not only culture, but value, affection and, eventually, love. There are strong elements of women’s fiction which might make a romance reader a bit impatient but in the end, what emerges is a delightful book that had me craving the delicious dishes featured within and the desire to share them with as much love as I could muster.
ARC graciously provided by the author.
Salt + Stilettos by Janet Walden-West
*cover reveal end of March
I was fortunate to receive an ARC of this book from the author. Set in Miami’s South Beach, this forced proximity romance is one of the best books I’ve read this month. Brett Fontaine is a celebrity image consultant fresh from a traumatic stalker and abduction situation that has left its mark on her in the form of panic attacks and insomnia. She is tasked by her best friend and restaurateur Richard with reforming chef Will Te’o’s image in advance of their four star restaurant opening. Will Te’o, an American Samoan who’s left his family and his island to realize his dream of opening a restaurant one of the most competitive culinary communities. What starts off with preconceptions and skewed first impressions turns into an undeniable attraction that threatens to up-end both their lives.
The representation is on point in this novel. Brett, coming from an impoverished background, possesses all the fears and flaws of a woman who has had to depend on herself and can’t afford the weakness that comes with surrendering herself to someone else. Will is ambitious but carries the wounds of a person rejected for nothing more than who he is and struggles to reconcile his insecurities, ambitions and culture, all while trying to build something solid with a woman who wants nothing to do with commitment. It’s nice to see the such a wonderfully strong female character depicted unapologetically, and a male character who is strong but also given permission to be vulnerable and emotional. Wonderful read.
With the Fire on High by Elizabeth Acevedo (Audiobook)
Acevedo’s verse narratives speak to the poor, somewhat confused teenager in me, the one who was raised by a single mom in Jersey City with small resources and big dreams. With the Fire on High presents us with the utterly compelling story of Emoni Santiago, a teen mother who possesses the extraordinary ability to create magic from nothing in the kitchen. The steretypical story of a single latinx teen mom is turned on its head by a story that highlights the aching beauty of a young mother for her daughter, the importance of dreams, and the sustaining power of love in all its forms. I identify powerfully with both Emoni and Xiomara, the protagonist of The Poet X, in the way lives that are often discounted by the dominant culture are often the ones that sparkle the most brightly with the rich beauty and significance. I had the pleasure of listening to Acevedo read this book in audiobook format, which added immensely to the experience.
The Worst Best Man by Mia Sosa
ARC provided by NetGalley
This book is everything I want in a romcom – Carolina (Lina) is sassy, driven and so much more in need of a real connection than she lets herself believe. Max Hartley wins it as a patient, witty and hot partner who proves himself worthy of being with her. Their chemistry makes for some swoon-worth and hot scenes. The fact that he should be the off-limits brother of the Lina’s ex-fiancé and is now forced into close proximity by their respective work situations makes for a delicious and passionate read, and both Lina and Max really grow as characters by the end of the novel. Brazilian culture informs Lina’s character and it is one of the pleasures of reading an #ownvoices novel, because the authenticity is undeniable. The tias in this story remind me of mine, women who have been through real challenges and confront life with high expectations, wisdom and not a little bit of racy humor.
I am so happy to see the success of this novel because it is well-earned.
Book two in the Kate Kane, Paranormal Investigator series, Shadows & Dreams continues Kate’s escapades as she avoids the usual cabal of supernatural beings while not being murdered, possessed or otherwise fed too many bananas by her assistant. Previously self-published, Carina Press reissued the trilogy with a new cover and some revisions to the writing. The third, never-released book, Fire & Water, is set for release later this year.
If you’ve been following the series, you’ll know Kate is the daughter of the Queen of the Wild hunt in Fairy who would like nothing more than to take over her mortal body each time Kate exercises her power. This makes Kate obviously hesitant to unleash her significant abilities, a problem she confronts with her typical sangfroid. Her ex is the Witch Queen of London, and her current squeeze is a Vampire Prince (catch all that?). She’s currently working a case in which she has to discover who is creating a vampire army all while trying to keep from being executed for murder.
Being an older book of Hall’s, I still struggle to find his voice in all the dry sarcasm and devil-may-car badassery that characterizes Kate. Still, the books are funny, ironic and just a ton of fun to read.
Fire & Water by Alexis Hall
Unlike many other readers, I came at this series in the last 12 months, so I never saw their previous iterations, nor did I have to wait so long for the third installment.
So I had another sensibility altogether when I picked up this series. While I found the first two books to be witty and engaging, I felt the writing was strongest in this installment. There is still a lot happening in these books, so many creatures betraying and realigning their allegiances, engaging plot twists and a break-neck pace that sucks you in, as is fitting of a suspense novel. Elise really comes into her own, and enjoyed the concept of her “sisters,” running amok (the scene between Kate, Russell, Lisbeth & Elise had me cackling more than it should have).
This installment really hiked up the stakes, which I think was hinted at in the earlier books, but is now coming to fruition in this book (god, it’s hard to write without spoilers but I’m trying!). The ending is…wow. But it’s good, even somehow appropriate, and opens up the possibility of future installments. I really liked this novel on its own merits and I’m not at all put out by the direction it’s taken. It’s perhaps my favorite of the three books.
*Note: The author has recently announced that there are, in fact, two more books in this series!
And since we are on the subject of Hall’s work, I had the pleasure of listening to Pansies on Audiobook (released in January, 2020.) Just as with Acevedo’s With the Fire on High and Scarlett Peckham’s books, listening to an audiobook is another experience, especially if it is a book that you’ve read before. While I’d enjoyed the reading of Pansies the first time around, there was definitely an improvement in my opinion of the book after listening to it, so much so that I upgraded my 4-star rating to 5-stars. If you get an opportunity to do so, I highly recommend you listen to the Spire’s novels in addition to reading them. They are novels of place, and the audio allows listeners to capture the different dialects of the characters and get a better sense of who they are.
Best Women’s Erotica of the Year, Volume 5 This collection contains excellent erotica . It’s well written and diverse, offering a range of kinks and tastes for everyone. Consent is a big and safety is addressed, which I matters to me as a reader because I like a dose of reality with my fantasy (if that makes any sense whatsoever).
In addition to writers I recognized, such as Sierra Simone, Sabrina Sol and CD Reiss, there were a few new-to-me writers that now I’m eager to read and follow.
Of course, not every story landed for me. I’m not interested in dubcon or intimations of abuse but, honestly, that was maybe one story out of all of them and I happen to have very firm personal limits that should not constitute the rule for anyone else.
An excellent read, probably one of the best collections I’ve read in a while. The representation is strong and there’s really something for everyone.
You Deserve Each Other by Sarah Hogle
A hilarious story with a biting humor that borders on meanness, I had mixed feelings about this novel. If you enjoy an enemies to lovers story, this one of the most refreshing ones I’ve read in a while, because the trope takes place within an already committed relationship. The premise is about a couple that no longer wishes to be together, so they do everything possible to get the other to break it off without being the one to call it quits. It becomes a cautionary tale on the ways resentment can build in a relationship until the relationship sours, revealing what we all know to be true about relationships – if they are not well-tended, it doesn’t matter how passionate or promising their coming together is, the relationship will fracture until there is nothing left.
It’s sad, gutting, and amusing at the same time, which speaks to the talent of the writer. At times harsh, it is nonetheless an excellent read.
When We Were Vikings by Andrew David MacDonald
This novel is simply epic! The MC, Zelda is born with Fetal Alcohol Syndrome from an alcoholic mother, who later dies. Her father is also deceased and she is raised by an abusive uncle. Here, the enemy for both Zelda and her brother, Gert, are the cycle of poverty and generational trauma that manifests in subtle and sinister ways in their lives.
Zelda is a triumph of characterization, embarking on her own heroic journey to protect her small group and save herself and those she loves from the tragedy that seems to lurk at every turn. The disability rep is powerful in this book and I found myself cheering for Zelda at every turn.
My thanks to the author, publisher and NetGalley for a free ARC of this book in exchange for an honest review
The Bear by Andrew Krivak
The Bear is a post-apocalyptic novel in the spirit of The Road, by Cormac McCarthy, except our archetypal characters are a father and his daughter. Girl is born during the summer solstice and they climb to the top of a mountain to visit the mother, who rests under a ledge shaped like a bear.
Each day is a struggle to survive, but also a grappling with the immense loss, not only of the human community, but the more personal loss of family and love. Less violent than The Road, the journey in The Bear is an emotional one that leaves you with a deep appreciation for the myths and stories that bind us to one another, and keep the memory of our loves alive.
Night of the Scoundrel by Kelly Bowen
This novella works well as a standalone, which is good because I hadn’t read any of the other books in the series. I love that Adeline is an assassin – making her a formidable love interest or King. The plot moves quickly and the sexy times are hot but King’s vulnerability and trust in Adeline make this novella worth reading. Suspense, heat, emotional depth and an excellent plot make this historical novella a worthwhile read.
My reading list for the first month of 2020 was characterized by the randomness that is typical of my reading tastes. While querying Incomparable, I’ve been making headway on research for my historical romance set in post WWII Puerto Rico, tentatively entitled La Trovadora (The Troubador), and many of my reading selections over the last few months have centered on researching for this manuscript.
I overloaded on romances in December so my selections this month tended a bit more towards lit fic and nonfiction, but a few wonderful kissing books made their way into my reads. I grouped each book accordingly.
Every single one of Austin Kleon’s books are must reads for me. They are easy to carry around, visually striking, and topically streamlined. They speak from an authentic place about the creative process and all the complications that come from balancing creativity with…everything else.
I expected a book about the merits of a social media purge, something I’m fond of doing periodically. However, what emerges in these pages is a reflection on the commodification of free time as a result of the gig economy and the resulting dissipation of boundaries between the personal and the professional. Odell covers multiple topics from the narrowing of focus in the context of art and social media to the history of unions in the United States. If you are really interested in harnessing the tools of the information age without being drowned in them, this book is a must read.
This selection is part of the research I am doing on my current work in progress – a historical romance set in post WWII Puerto Rico. This is a continuation of a now six-month research project to understand the important changes on the island as a result of the transition from agricultural to industrial economies. To accomplish this, I had to school myself on the role of slavery and sugar production to get a sense of the cultural, political and economic climate in Puerto Rico in the 1950s. This is an excellent non-fiction companion to Conquistadora, by Esmeralda Santiago, a novel set on a sugar cane plantation in southern Puerto Rico during the late 1800s.
When I discovered that Lydia San Andres’s romance novels set in the Caribbean, I squealed with joy. It is my dream to write a historical romance series set in Puerto Rico, my current WIP being the first in that series. She creates a fictional island and proceeds to set a delightful array of characters to the task of falling in love. Lush descriptions, and steamy, passionate scenes capture the sensibility of living on a Caribbean island and I, for one, became an instant fan. I’m looking forward to reading The Infamous Miss Rodgriguez in these upcoming months.
I have a soft spot for short story collections. When I read the reviews for Her Body and Other Parties, I knew I had to read it. She crosses genres, fusing elements of magical realism, horror, and psychological suspense for a collection that fixes its gaze on the way women’s bodies become the battleground for society’s prizes and punishments. For a writer, it is rich in lessons on pushing through prescribed literary forms to achieve narratives that resonate through the senses to strike at the secret travails of women’s lives.
A narrative composed of 12 separate storylines, Orange’s novel reminds the reader that Native American culture is a living, breathing thing rooted in the luminosity of spirituality, the generational pain of historic injustice, and the negotiation of vitality and relevance in a modern world. Orange manages the intersection of so many interconnected narratives with deft and delicacy.
There is something masterful and controlled about the writing in this novel, a true feat considering the young age of the novelist. Layers upon layers of stories run through this story, compounding the mystery, not only of the village Natalia, the main characters, visits as a physician, but also of her grandfather’s mysterious choices before his death. It is a novel about the power of stories, and the impossibility of secrets to remain hidden. Gorgeous.
I was recently awarded the Romance Includes You Mentorship Grant, hosted by Harlequin Romance. My debut novel, Incomparable, will be published in the Fall of 2021. In consequence, I began to snap up copies of recently published novels in Harlequin’s Special Editions and Desire lines, including this entry by Rochelle Alers. A veteran romance writer with dozens of novels to her name, Alers writes a steamy, delicious story about a physician who relocates to a small town and the sheriff who captures her heart. I’m looking forward to the other books in her series.
The Mantle that separates the kingdoms of Elsira and Lagrimar is about to fall. And life will drastically change for both kingdoms.
Born with a deadly magic she cannot control, Kyara is forced to become an assassin. Known as the Poison Flame in the kingdom of Lagrimar, she is notorious and lethal, but secretly seeks freedom from both her untamed power and the blood spell that commands her. She is tasked with capturing the legendary rebel called the Shadowfox, but everything changes when she learns her target’s true identity.
Darvyn ol-Tahlyro may be the most powerful Earthsinger in generations, but guilt over those he couldn’t save tortures him daily. He isn’t sure he can trust the mysterious young woman who claims to need his help, but when he discovers Kyara can unlock the secrets of his past, he can’t stay away.
Kyara and Darvyn grapple with betrayal, old promises, and older prophecies—all while trying to stop a war. And when a new threat emerges, they must beat the odds to save both kingdoms.
Note: I have not read the first book of the series.
A great epic fantasy captures you in an alternative world and envelopes you in its magic, but also delivers characters who live up to the call to adventure and the pursuit of goals that require resilience and self-sacrifice. L. Penelope’s Whispers of Shadow and Flame does exactly that. In book 2 of the Earthsinger Chronicles, the world-building is internally consistent but the characters of Kyara and Darvyn ol-Tahlyro are so well written, you have no choice but to follow helplessly in their wake.
One thing I always look for is excellent writing and L. Penelope’s writing is perfect for the story she writes. She builds a world that is on the edge of war, the tension razor sharp at every turn. The scenes are tautly written and no one is as they appear. As a romance reader, I was also deeply satisfied with the primary romance. The protagonists are the epitome of opposites – Kyara is a Poison Flame and Darvyn is the most powerful Earthsinger in the Kingdom, which makes their relationship fraught with all the contradictions of bringing life and death together in the bond of love. Watching them come together was an intense experience.
Tony award-winning musician Reese Matheson’s life resembles a natural disaster, and caregiver Jude De La Torre is caught in the eye of the storm. Can the love these two opposites find together survive caring for an ornery octogenarian with wayward balls and a meddling family insistent upon tradition?
A public break-up is not what Reese expects upon returning from the successful run of his musical in London. All he wants to do is spend time with his beloved grandfather and musical mentor, who suffers from Alzheimer’s. Reese knows he doesn’t have much time left before the elder Matheson doesn’t remember him. In classic “Hurricane Reese” form, he moves into the cottage by the sea, displacing Jude, the intriguing caregiver he’d hired two years before. When Grandpa proves too much for Reese to handle on his own, Jude comes to his rescue, taming Grandpa… and the Hurricane as well. Soon all Reese can think about is how to get Jude out of his scrubs and into his bed. Permanently. Will Hurricane Reese destroy everything in its wake, or will this gay odd couple learn to harmonize together?
A fun, quick read, I found the characters to be delightful and moving. Merrill tackles difficult subjects like Alzheimer’s, religious intolerance and coming out in a non-sensationalist way. I found the writing to be solid and the pacing good, except for the second half of the novel but that was because I was impatient for the characters to come together, and not a writing flaw.
Reese is impulsive and overbearing and Jude is stubborn and hard to read. But their character defects made them relatable to the reader and even complimented each other. Jude is Filipino and I really appreciate the author using Filipino culture in a meaningful way, addressing not only their food and religion, but she also captured the importance of family. Refreshingly, family also matters to Reese and it is another place in which their compatibility intersects. His care of his grandfather feels authentic and endears the reader even more to Reese’s character.
The book is part of a trilogy. I look forward to reading the other books in the series.
As Lucy Muchelney watches her ex-lover’s sham of a wedding, she wishes herself anywhere else. It isn’t until she finds a letter from the Countess of Moth, looking for someone to translate a groundbreaking French astronomy text, that she knows where to go. Showing up at the Countess’ London home, she hoped to find a challenge, not a woman who takes her breath away.
As Lucy Muchelney watches her ex-lover’s sham of a wedding, she wishes herself anywhere else. It isn’t until she finds a letter from the Countess of Moth, looking for someone to translate a groundbreaking French astronomy text, that she knows where to go. Showing up at the Countess’ London home, she hoped to find a challenge, not a woman who takes her breath away.
Catherine St Day looks forward to a quiet widowhood once her late husband’s scientific legacy is fulfilled. She expected to hand off the translation and wash her hands of the project—instead, she is intrigued by the young woman who turns up at her door, begging to be allowed to do the work, and she agrees to let Lucy stay. But as Catherine finds herself longing for Lucy, everything she believes about herself and her life is tested.
While Lucy spends her days interpreting the complicated French text, she spends her nights falling in love with the alluring Catherine. But sabotage and old wounds threaten to sever the threads that bind them. Can Lucy and Catherine find the strength to stay together or are they doomed to be star-crossed lovers?
I read this novel over the summer, picking it up for several reasons, but primarily because of the lavish cover and the promise of a fascinating f/f romance. Rich and passionate, the novel delivers on the promise of its cover. It is a particular delightful read because it is smart, gets the science right and captures the concerns of scientists of the time. But more importantly, and central to the primary romance, is the depiction of the way women were relegated to supporting roles in the lives of male scientists, even when their contributions and insight were far more significant than their spouse’s. Or in the case of Lucy Muchelney, that of her recently deceased father.
I’ve read a few ff romances and I find they are either euphemistic in their approach to feminine passion or they emphasize the sweetness of the affection of the characters and not the passionate nature of their love. While there is a great deal of affection and respect between Lucy and Catherine, their physical passion is also powerful and the author does not hesitate to show that. Each love scene increases in intensity as they give themselves over to their mutual attraction, giving both women their due agency and sexual expression.
Excellent novel – I enthusiastically recommend it.
A Haitian American woman survives a brutal kidnapping in this “commanding debut novel” from the New York Times–bestselling author of Bad Feminist (The New Yorker).
Author and essayist Roxane Gay is celebrated for her incisive commentary on identity and culture, as well as for her bestselling nonfiction and short story collections. Now, with An Untamed State, she delivers a “breathtaking debut novel” (The Guardian, UK) of wealth in the face of crushing poverty, and the lawless anger produced by corrupt governments.
Mireille Duval Jameson is living a fairy tale. The strong-willed youngest daughter of one of Haiti’s richest sons, she lives in the United States with her adoring husband and infant son, returning every summer to stay on her father’s Port-au-Prince estate. But the fairy tale ends when Mireille is kidnapped in broad daylight by a gang of heavily armed men, just outside the estate walls. Held captive by a man who calls himself The Commander, Mireille waits for her father to pay her ransom. As her father’s standoff with the kidnappers stretches out into days, Mireille must endure the torments of a man who despises everything she represents.
An Untamed State is a “breathless, artful, disturbing and original” story of a willful woman attempting to find her way back to the person she once was, and of how redemption is found in the most unexpected of places (Meg Wolitzer, author of The Interestings).
I needed days. Days to recover from this book. It is not a book for the faint of heart. I’m only going to say this – if you are a sexual abuse survivor, heed all the warnings, because this book is not written to be comfortable and easy. It is made to confront and challenge the dominant narrative about women’s subjugation and abuse at the hands of a patriarchal society and what it takes, at the level of individual and culture to recover from that.
I’m not going to waste my time on review and summary. I had to walk away, cry, and bite my fist to get through parts of it. There’s a telling sentence in this novel – it’s the women who bear the price of what men want. The protagonist bears it all during 13 days of captivity, and spends the novel after her experience returning from a personal hell that renders politeness and easy conversation impossible. PTSD is depicted, not in a superficial way, but in all its terrifying implications. Gay has taken the powerlessness of victimhood and womanhood and augmented it a thousand times, forcing the reader to stay with Marielle during the entire ordeal. The signs are written into Mireille’s body and soul and the reader is not spared one moment of her torture.
Besides being intensely personal, Marielle’s trauma is also useful metaphor for the trauma that the Caribbean islands have experienced at the hands of the West. But make no mistake – while Gay also puts on striking display the way history has victimized the island of Haiti, this does not distance the reader from the intensely personal and visceral consequences of Marielle’s captivity and abuse. We are not allowed to use pat cultural narratives to anesthetize us against what as many as 1 in 5 women will experience at some point in their lives, experiences we are told repeatedly that we are responsible for, that are not as bad as we say they are. She shows rape, trauma and recovery in all its unmitigated horror. Nothing in this novel spares us from this truth.
Of all the taxis in all of Cape Town, Sophia Roux had to stumble into his.
She should be at her “perfect” sister’s bedside, awaiting the arrival of the newest member of her family. But the thought of spending hours at the hospital with her suffocating relatives has Sophia hailing the first taxi she sees. Only to realise too late that the man at the wheel of her getaway car is the most unpleasant one she’s ever had the misfortune to meet.
Parker Jones, the handsome yet surly driver in question, is used to dealing with baggage of the family variety. And it just so happens he’s in need of temporary escape from his own. Witty banter with a beautiful—if exasperating—woman while chauffeuring her around the city on a gorgeous spring day makes for an ideal break from reality.
But a lot can happen in twenty-four hours: babies can be born, family can reconnect. And maybe the most unlikely pair can fall in love.
One Day to Fall is the second novel about the Roux sisters set in South Africa, though in the interest of full disclosure, I did not read the first novel. This is an oversight I hope to rectify, as this novel was a pleasure to read.
Beharrie’s romance takes place in the course of an intense and emotional day. There aren’t many circadian novels, and the ones that come to mind are not romances, such as Michael Cunningham’s The Hours, Saturday by Ian McEwan and Christopher Irshwood’s A Single Man, so I was particularly excited to see her take on this particular structure and execute it so well. The emotional intensity is heightened but it is punctuated with moments of humor that keep the narrative from being claustrophobic.
A further variation that I truly enjoyed in this novel is the Sophie, a heroine who is prickly, bad-tempered and not in a particularly good place, emotionally. Parker, the driver for the car service who picks her up and with whom she falls in love, is also suffering from his own personal complications. They essentially use each other to distract themselves from the distressing facts of their lives but in doing so, discover that they have stumbled on the one person who might understand them better than anyone else in their lives.
I also enjoyed the way the author used the premise to treat readers to a tour of Cape Town, the setting of the romance. I’ve never visited so my natural wanderlust was stimulated by the descriptions of the places they visit.
No one should have to choose between love and justice.
Haitian-born professor and activist Patrice Denis is not here for anything that will veer him off the path he’s worked so hard for. One particularly dangerous distraction: Easton Archer, the assistant district attorney who last summer gave Patrice some of the most intense nights of his life, and still makes him all but forget they’re from two completely different worlds.
All-around golden boy Easton forged his own path to success, choosing public service over the comforts of his family’s wealth. With local law enforcement unfairly targeting young men of color, and his career—and conscience—on the line, now is hardly the time to be thirsting after Patrice again. Even if their nights together have turned into so much more.
For the first time, Patrice is tempted to open up and embrace the happiness he’s always denied himself. But as tensions between the community and the sheriff’s office grow by the day, Easton’s personal and professional lives collide. And when the issue at hand hits closer to home than either could imagine, they’ll have to work to forge a path forward…together.
American Love Story is the third novel in Adriana Herrera’s American Dreamers series. I’ve enjoyed this book series so much, both for its multicultural aspects and the relationship between the love stories and social issues. Every novel in this series addresses some aspect of power and race, featuring leads from Afro-Caribbean backgrounds. But nowhere is this concern illustrated more powerfully or compellingly as in the romance between Professor Patrice Denis and Assistant District Attorney, Easton Archer.
The relationship between Denis and Archer throws into sharp relief the issues of institutionalized racism and the responsibilities of those in power to agitate and work in favor of change. Even allies who see the repeated aggression against oppressed peoples and identify with the victims at times hesitate to act because of internal pressures that hinder positive change, thereby making them complicit in the abuse. The police harassment of young men of color (specifically, black men) in the fictionalized version of Ithaca, New York offers the opportunity to both test the growing relationship between Denis and Archer, as well provide an illustration of how environments in which police feel enabled to profile and misuse their power are often allowed to flourish while allies turn away from fear of reprisals, or simple indifference.
The actions (or lack thereof) on behalf of the DA and the Sheriff’s offices have real consequences on the circle of friends that constitute the core characters of this series. But the consequences on the central love story are direct and immediate, and drive the romantic plot forward. It’s a credit to Herrera’s writing that she can center the issue of power and law enforcement in a narrative that never forgets that it is, first and foremost, a love story. The attraction between Denis and Easton is explosive and leaps off the page, but there is also genuine respect between the two leads derived from common values around serving the public good. I’ve read reviews calling out Denis for being strident in his beliefs and allowing them to potentially sabotage a relationship he deeply wants and needs. But the fact is, if you live our life constantly aggrieved by microagressions and you are victimized for things you can’t control (your race, culture or sexuality), then situations that are merely abstract for some become realities for others. This reality is lived every day and I absolutely love that the novel doesn’t relent in showing this.
And yet, despite the constant possibility that things will go sideways, love flourishes. Denis and Archer share a relationship that is built on mutual trust, vulnerability and the desire to learn and grow, to be active in their support, not only of each other, but of their beliefs. Easton, as a privileged white man, does not hesitate to be humble, to admit he is still learning, and willing to be guided in his desire for justice. His allyship is a verb and exists independent of his relationship with Denis. It makes their romance that much stronger because they already come to it with similar values.
Romance, at its heart, is always about the negotiation of power. Romances contend with power structures that inform the settings and cultures of the main characters, whether the author is conscious of this or not. I love that Herrera’s romance doesn’t shy away from showing how central this negotiation of power can drive a narrative, with consequences that are a reflection what is happening in the broader culture. It is a different kind of idealization from the one we come to expect in romance. This version of the romance fantasy says that, even in an imperfect world, where injustice is a rot that must be battled constantly, love and dignity can flourish. One informs the other, but in the best scenario, you can have both love and justice.
I received an ARC from NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.
Fairy-tale endings don’t just happen; they have to be fought for.
New York City social worker Camilo Santiago Briggs grew up surrounded by survivors who taught him to never rely on anything you didn’t earn yourself. He’s always dreamed of his own happily-ever-after, but he lives in the real world. Men who seem too good to be true…usually are. And Milo never ever mixes business with pleasure…until the mysterious man he had an unforgettable hookup with turns out to be the wealthy donor behind his agency’s new, next-level funding.
Thomas Hughes built a billion-dollar business from nothing: he knows what he wants and isn’t shy about going after it. When the enthralling stranger who blew his mind at a black-tie gala reappears, Tom’s more than ready to be his Prince Charming. Showering Milo with the very best of everything is how Tom shows his affection.
Trouble is, Milo’s not interested in any of it. The only thing Milo wants is Tom.
Fairy-tale endings take work as well as love. For Milo, that means learning to let someone take care of him, for a change. And for Tom, it’s figuring out that real love is the one thing you can’t buy.
Review: American Fairytale is the second installment of Adriana Herrera’s American Dreamer series. I read the first book, American Dreamer, and fell in total love with Nesto and Jude (check out my review here). This book is a perfect followup to the brilliance of her debut novel.
American Fairytale centers on the relationship between Camilo (Milo) Santiago Briggs, a Cuban/Jamaican social worker, and Thomas Hughes, a wealthy, Dominican/American tech CEO who, together with his two friends and co-owners, sells the company for an obscene amount of money. Milo and Thomas have an explosive hook up that, over the course of the novel, results in a relationship based on hard-earned understanding and mutual respect.
There is so much to unpack in this novel, so much that is done well. The negotiations between Milo and Thomas, given the huge wealth differential are critical to their blossoming relationship. They also share cultural understandings that can only come from people who come from a similar background. Kudos to Herrera for representing mixed identities in romance, something that doesn’t get depicted often. Both protagonists are of mixed parentage and this influences the way they navigate the world and their romance.
The only tiny complaint I have is that, at the end, I grew a bit exasperated with both characters – Thomas is a bit pig-headed about throwing money at problems after he is told, over and over, not to do so. Camilo, though, is also very stubborn about accepting help and complicates his existence in consequence. However, this also makes the novel more realistic because sometimes our biggest obstacles to happiness are not in external conflicts but in our own inability to get over intrinsic flaws that cause us to repeat the same damned mistakes over and over. Refreshingly, our protagonists are guilty of just that.
And can I say, I love an m/m romance that features every kind of relationship, including straight ones in a non-toxic way? Especially friendships with straight women.
I get the feeling sometimes in m/m romances that women and straight folks are characters-non-grata and, while I understand why this is the case, in the real world, things are a bit more nuanced. So kudos to Herrera for depicting that dynamic and generally giving primacy to healthy friendships as well.