I thought Ruby Lang’s Uptown series first, novella Playing House, pleasant, but slight. Nevertheless, I love Lang’s elegantly irreverent voice and looked forward to a more substantial treatment in Uptown #2, Open House, and got exactly what I was looking for: a layered, sophisticated romance, with likeable, realistic, engaging characters, and depths of feelings like a sinker going at the end of a fishing line. You never know where this light, humourous ethos will take you, but it’ll plump interesting depths along the way. Open House is the story of debt-ridden real-estate associate Magda Ferrer and accountant Tyson Yang. Magda and Tyson find themselves on opposites sides of the garden-fence when he becomes the defender of a geriatrically-occupied, spontaneous (ahem, not exactly legally-sanctioned) Harlem-set community garden as Magda is the agent set to sell it to the highest bidder, or as she puts it “She was going to have to kick a bunch of aunties out of their fucking fairy-tale meadow.”
Spade-in-hand knight-in-chinos-and-t-shirt of grannies and gardens Tyson will go head to head with Magda, except he finds her mesmerizingly beautiful at first sight: “Ty felt himself go very still inside. Maybe he’d stay kneeling and gaze at her forever. That would be nice. The garden needed a statue.” With a sampling of these two pithy quotations, you can see why I think Lang’s writing is the cat’s ass (though I’ll have to wait till #3, Playing House, for a bonafide cat-character).
Lang is a meandering kind of writer: her narrative doesn’t take romance’s straight-and-narrow (meet, conflict, come together, darkest pit of conflict, avowal/clarity/reconciliation, HEA) and that can be both engaging and disappointing if the S-&-N is what you’re looking for. But I like it, though I like the straight-and-narrow too. One of the compellingly original aspects to Lang’s ethos is that every romance is worked out within the context of the hero and heroine’s families.
Oh, the conflicts aren’t huge and dramatic, but they’re painful, real, and long-standing; they stand as authentic, organic impediments to love. In Magda’s case, her status as the baby in her successful, stiflingly overprotective family (two older sisters and a doctor-mother) makes her hyper-conscious of her less-than-successful life at 29: grad-school-dropp-out, culinary academy dropout, shored up debt in the process, now trying desperately to prove herself by selling a) the lot-cum-community-garden b) her widowed uncle’s town-house on Strivers Row. Madga is frazzled, run off her feet, and puts up one of the bravest of fronts. In Tyson’s case, his mother’s death has left him running scared of loss, of attachment because of the loss that might ensue. And yet, Tyson is no alpha-HP-hero, but a soft-hearted, affectionate, caring person. He’s drawn to caring for the aunties; he’s drawn to caring for Magda. He can’t resist taking care of others, shoring them up, empowering them. He’s really really lovely.
Open House may take the enemies-to-lovers trope as its starting-point, but it doesn’t let it define the journey. Magda and Tyson run into each other, but neither fools the other for a moment that he/she isn’t attracted to the other, or that there isn’t genuine respect and liking there. It was refreshing and welcome as a romance ethos. Not all romance can be devil’s food cake, we need a good dose of one of my faves, carrot cake, and frankly, Lang’s writing is the cream-cheese frosting. She sure can set and execute a scene: one typical summer NYC blackout, one chance encounter, one bed … ’nuff said. Tyson and Magda’s revelations are as attractively gentle and yet quietly important as they are: a resolution to be stronger, to stand her ground, to confess her love, to see herself as worthy; a resolution to allow himself to love, to risk his heart, to stay and take a chance on loss. Oh, it’s also sexy as heck and Tyson and Magda are sexy and tender. In this age of lockdown, romance has stood as a good friend and companion to me and Miss Austen. I am very glad we spent a few hours in Lang’s Open House‘s company because therein is “a mind lively and at ease,” Emma.
Ruby Lang’s Open House is published by Carina Press. It was released in November 2019 and may be found at your preferred vendor. I am grateful to Carina Press for an e-galley, via Netgalley.