by Mia Hopkins
Series: Eastside Brewery #1
Publication Date: March 13th 2018
Reading Challenges: Title Hunt Quarterly Challenge: January - March 2018
I received an advance review copy of this book from NetGalley. This does not affect my opinion of the book or the content of my review.My rating:
A gangster hiding from his past. A single mom fighting for her future. Can she show this bad boy the man he’s meant to be?
“Mia Hopkins is an imaginative author who doesn’t take the easy road to a formulaic book.”—USA Today’s Happy Ever After blog
My name is Salvador Rosas. Back in the barrio, my past is written on the walls: ESHB. Short for East Side Hollenbeck, my father’s gang—my gang. Hell, it’s a family tradition, one that sent both my brothers away. They used to call me “Ghost” because I haunted people’s dreams. Now I’ve got nothing going for me except a hipster gringo mentoring me in a new career. An ex-con making craft beer? No mames.
Still, people in this neighborhood look out for one another. That’s how I became Vanessa Velasco’s unwelcome tenant. Chiquita pero picosa. She’s little, but with curves so sweet they’re dangerous. I remember Vanessa from the old days, the straight-A student with big plans. Plans that were derailed by another kid stupid enough to think he was bulletproof. Now Vanessa knows better than to believe in empty promises. There’s fire in her . . . and if I touch her, I might get burned.
I’m trying everything I can to go straight. But when East Side Hollenbeck comes calling, I might have to risk it all to find out if there’s a future for Vanessa and me. Because she’s the only one who can quench my thirst for something real.
The Rosas brothers will return in Trashed!
OK, wow. How in the world did I get lucky enough to read two such different but equally amazing books in a row? This is a unique sort of romance book, considering it’s first-person POV from Sal’s point of view.
“’It’s not as easy as you think it is, Vanessa.’ I say.
She narrows her eyes at me. ‘It’s not as complicated as you want it to be, Sal.’
‘What do you mean by that?’ I whisper. I can hear my own heartbeat, pounding blood through my body.
‘I mean,’ she says quietly, ‘my whole life people have been trying to tell me what I am. A nerd. A good girl. An honor student. A slut. A whore. A failure. They were wrong each time. No one else is going to tell me who I am. Never again.’
She’s right. But her situation is not my situation. ‘That may be true for you. For me, it is complicated.’
‘The word complicated is nothing but an excuse to keep from thinking clearly and making a clean choice. It’s a coward’s word.’
Sal “Ghost” Rosas has been in prison for five years for car theft, and after his release he goes back to his old neighborhood. He’s sleeping on one of his old gang friend’s couches, working two overnight cleaning jobs, generally keeping his nose clean and saving up money to rent an apartment for when his brother gets out of prison in a few months. While he’s been in a gang for most of his life (as has the rest of his family) he’s overall a good guy – he crashes on his friend’s couch, and when his friend cheats on his wife and leaves her, Sal still keeps coming around to help clean the place up and takes his friend’s wife and her kids to the church carnival. He works hard – he leaves in the dark, commutes via series of trains and buses, and comes home before dawn. He’s also brutally honest with himself about his chances of making anything of himself, with his conviction and the fact that once you’re a gang member, you’re always a gang member – as his own father learned. While he earned his nickname in the gang for other reasons, Sal’s pretty much a ghost now, working a job that nobody really notices, not really making an impression on anyone around him – “[u]nderpaid, often exploited, ignored, dismissed.” Vanessa is the girl everyone thought was going to get away from East LA – until she got pregnant by another gang member and had to give up her dreams of going away to college. Instead, she went to the local community college while living with her grandma and raising her daughter. She’s hardworking and stubborn, but still loving and sweet with her daughter and grandma. Sal’s noticed her since they were in school together, but thought he never had a chance with her. When her grandma offers Sal a place to stay in return for clearing out their old garage, it almost seems too good to be true. Of course, you can probably guess what happens next!
“’Do I look guilty?’
‘No.’ She stares at me a bit longer. She touches my cheek with the tip of her finger and it feels like a match igniting against my skin. ‘You look like you’re in pain.’
There are people who dance around what they mean and hide what they know. There are people who talk to you and ask you questions not because they care to know about who you are or what you feel but because they want to know how to exploit you, how to use you for their own purposes, and how to use your pain against you. Vanessa does none of these things. She gets right to the ugly part of the matter and shines a bright light on it. I suppose that’s what accountants are supposed to do. See where the numbers are wrong and shine a spotlight on them. To say, ‘Here’s where you’re weak. Here’s the hole where the money’s draining out. Here’s how to fix it.'”
Sal is buried under so many expectations of what he’s supposed to be – tatted ex-felon from the eastside – that it’s hard for him to be who he really wants to be. Vanessa helps him learn to say no to things that don’t fit his vision for his life, rather than just going along with whatever will get him attention, and grateful for it. Their relationship is good for Vanessa because it gives her something to focus on for herself – not for her job, or her daughter, or her grandma – oh, and lots of seriously steamy sex. Watching the two of them work out how a relationship would work was sweet and oh so fulfilling.
“’It’s a process, Sal. Just like brewing beer.’
‘Making . . . making a man. Making yourself.’ He pauses. ‘You know, you remind me a little of myself back then.’
I put down my fork. What do I have in common with this skinny white dude? ‘What the hell are you smoking?’”
As for cons – the book ends on a serious bombshell. Not exactly a cliffhanger, but holy crap, I want to read the next book NOW. I also wish Ms. Hopkins would’ve went into Sal’s mental health issues more. Otherwise – I pretty much loved the whole thing!
Overall, this is an intense, delightful romance. Highly recommended!
Reading this book contributed to these challenges: