Priscilla Oliveras is a new-to-me contemporary romance author and one I’d heard good stuff about from romance-reading Twitter friends. I was happy to add her title to my TBR and appreciated what she had on offer: as Oliveras herself self-identifies on her bio, a “Latinx” heroine, Sofía Vargas.
Resort To Love opens with the hero’s, Nathan Hamilton III’s, arrival at the now-defunct, dilapidated, Floridian Paradise Key Resort, where he and Sofía fell in love, consummated their love, and set a path to an on-again, off-again romance through their college and early-career years. Sofia hasn’t seen Nat in two years, but the sight of him sets her immediately back in their high-school sweetheart days and everything their love entailed, especially as illicit “cross-class romance”: “Their forbidden romance – him in management, her a summer employee – had heightened their adolescent hormones.” Sofía is beset by memories and feelings, but her primary emotions are grief (she’s recently lost a friend), anxiety, and anger. On his part, Nathan too is overcome by tidal waves of desire and love, but he’s also hurt from Sofía’s rejection: “It’d been two years since they’d been together. Two years since she told him not to contact her again.” There be reasons!
Oliveras sets up her reunited-lovers romance with lovely descriptions of Florida’s sun, surf, and sea, Sofía’s love of “familia”, and bittersweet memories of two people who, though they’ve hurt each other, have bonds of youthful love and longing, adult desire, and a deep, abiding affection built on friendship and support. Oliveras’s romance’s richness comes from creating the lovers’ shared history and well-thought-out, credible conflict. It begins, as I quoted above, with a hint of Nate and Sofía’s social and economic gap when they met and wooed. Sofía is employee to Nate’s rich-boy, daddy’s-business privilege. Now, years later, Sofía wants to buy, restore to its former glory, and run, as a way of renewing her beloved community, the very resort where she met Nate. And Nate, in turn, has been sent by his still formidable, domineering father to do the same. Nate and Sofía are estranged lovers, as well as business competitors. Rich and rife with conflict and Oliveras’s fine writing and strong use of dialogue drew me in and had me nodding in enjoyment as I read, especially the novel’s first third.
[For some readers, what follows may be spoilerish, though it happens quite early in the narrative.] Oliveras also builds bit by tantalizing bit the reason behind Nate and Sofía’s recent estrangement. This is where Oliveras lost me, not totally, not DNF-territory lost me, not curling-lip contempt lost me, but a persistent dull, low-grade awareness that took me out of her story. As readers of this blog may know, I’m interested in what I call the betrayal moment in the romance narrative, what others call the “dark moment.” Oliveras’s version is compelling, but unappealing. Two years ago, on a romantic getaway week-end, Nate told Sofía that his father wanted him to make a business “merger,” with the daughter of a powerful, wealthy family friend, in other words, a marriage if not of convenience then definitely of profit and power. Sofía, understandably, was devastated: ” … he’d told her about his father’s demand he put a ring on Melanie’s finger … Until Sofía hadn’t asked him not to do it.” Poor little immature rich boy wanted Sofía to ask him not to marry another woman. Now, two years later, Sofía thinks: ” … the man who hadn’t been strong enough to stand up for himself. For them. A man who hadn’t wanted her enough to do so.” Damn right, he didn’t.
With this twist in the romance plot, merit as idea, rotten tomatoes because I didn’t like it (others may), my enjoyment dimmed. I’d loved Sofía and suddenly I loved her less. Nate, whose grinning charm has never been a fave as far as hero traits are concerned, annoyed me to no end. At the time, I thought, “the only way this is going to work is if the novel becomes one long Nate grovel, or at the very least, much Nate-humbling-and-amending.” Which is what it became. Sofía’s fight for the resort went by the way-side as she struggled with loving Nate and Nate, not that there was much to begin with, was leached of personality. The HEA was one romantic grand gesture after another, but this reader wanted someone else to sweep Sofía off her feet. Someone Not-Nate. As for papa’s-boy Nate, I pretty much spent the novel’s second half thinking, “Would you please grow up?” Add my dislike of the “closed-bedroom door” romance, I didn’t feeling as great about Resort To Love at the end as at the start. (‘sides, Nate’s bedroom moves might’ve helped raise him up a notch in interest and attraction.)
My pissiness aside, Oliveras did manage to write great chin when she has Sofía stand up to Nate’s domineering father, Nate the II, with: “She jutted her chin in a ‘kiss-my-ass’ response.” Wish she’d jutted to fils as to père. Nevertheless, there was much to like about the novel, especially the writing, and if Oliveras doesn’t write another betrayal, closed-bedroom-dooor romance, I would read her again. For now, with Miss Austen, I say Resort To Love is “almost pretty,” Northanger Abbey.
Priscilla Oliveras’s Resort To Love is published by Tule Publishing. It was released on May 15th and may be found at your preferred vendor. I received an e-ARC from Tule Publishing, via Netgalley.