by Priscilla Oliveras
Series: Keys to Love #1
Also in this series: Anchored Hearts
Publication Date: April 28, 2020
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:
Sought-after social media influencer Sara Vance, in recovery from an eating disorder, is coming into her own, with a potential career expansion on the horizon. Despite the good news, her successful siblings (and their perfect spouses) have a way of making her feel like the odd one out. So, when her unreliable boyfriend is a no-show for a Florida family vacation, Sara recruits Luis Navarro—a firefighter paramedic and dive captain willing to play the part of her smitten fiancé . . .
Luis’s big Cuban familia has been in Key West for generations, and his quiet strength feeds off the island’s laidback style. Though guarded after a deep betrayal, he’ll always help someone in need—especially a spunky beauty with a surprising knowledge of Spanish curse words. Soon, he and Sara have memorized their “how we met” story and are immersed in family dinners, bike tours, private snorkeling trips . . . sharing secrets, and slow, melting kisses. But when it’s time for Sara to return home, will their island romance last or fade with the stunning sunset?
Content warnings: View Spoiler »eating disorder (discussion of triggers, past history, but no actual occurrences), parent with cancer (in remission), drunk driving (that leads to a death) (before the book began), religious content (both characters are Catholic and go to Mass, feel Catholic guilt over lying) « Hide Spoiler
I’m a pretty big fan of Priscilla Oliveras. Her books are like a warm hug to me, full of fundamentally good-but-flawed characters with loving families who may clash but always come back together stronger. So while I was sad that we had to say goodbye to the Fernandez sisters from her last series, I was looking forward to meeting the Navarro familia, and I was not disappointed!
“Familia was familia. Good, bad, or indifferent.”
I loved Sara. I loved how driven she was to succeed at her job, even if the roots of that drive were to prove herself to her family. She was an oops baby, and her siblings were much older than her, something that I can empathize strongly with. Since her parents worked long hours at their medical jobs, Sara was basically raised by her nanny, Mamá Alicia, and she speaks Spanish because of her. Sara grew up being envious of Mamá Alicia’s boisterous, loving Mexican family, so she’s not completely out of her depth with Luis’ similar Cuban family. She feels like she’s not fully a part of her own family, separated by age and profession (they’re doctors, she’s a social media influencer). And while on the surface the Navarros are a complete 180 from the Vances, there’s unresolved issues between Luis and his youngest brother that put a strain on their family as well. Luis’s solution to dealing with his problem is throwing himself into his work as a firefighter, or barring that, helping someone else out. So jumping in to help Sara by pretending to be her boyfriend is right in character for him. The instant chemistry between the two of them definitely helps, as well!
“Maybe she couldn’t allow herself to fall for him, but she could damn well do her best to make sure her firefighter in shining armor found a little bit of peace in his part of this beautiful paradise he called home.”
But despite their growing friendship, Sara and Luis are reluctant to share their secrets with each other. Sara doesn’t want to tell Luis about her eating disorder, even after he’s put in an uncomfortable position when it’s clear everyone else in the family is expecting him to know about it. Perhaps some of it is because she’s the baby of the family, but they treat her as someone who’s unable to take care of herself, and she’s afraid to tell Luis for fear that he’d treat her differently, constantly second guess whether she’s eating enough, try to shove food at her, question all her decisions. Luis, for his part, doesn’t want to talk about what caused the rift between him and his younger brother, and while he urges Sara to embrace the chance to repair her relationships with her family, he doesn’t want to take his own advice.
“It all seemed so cozy. A little surreal. An average family snapshot she’d always dreamed of. Her entire family together with her not feeling like an outsider, either too young or too different or too emotionally weak to be an equal.
Time had eroded the age gap once she’d reached adulthood. Regular therapy had helped with the other two.
But somehow, having Luis here with her, partnered with someone she respected and cared for like her parents and siblings were, gave her a sense of belonging she had always craved.”
Their relationship, though it starts out as fake, is very sweet and exactly what I expected from Ms. Oliveras. One of my favorite examples is how much Sara melts when she hears Luis earnestly telling his mom he loves her over the phone. His Vin Diesel exterior hides a soft gooey center, and nothing shows that more than his commitment to showing her family around his hometown, taking them dancing, or teaching them to play dominoes. They bring out the best in each other, and each gradually encourages the other to resolve the rifts in their families.
While I ended the book with the warm fuzzies, I wasn’t completely satisfied with the HEA. While the main driver behind the dark moment is addressed, View Spoiler »and while there was some talk about Sara moving to Miami to work on her clothing line, I was left puzzled by how they were going to work it out. Would they trade commutes every weekend? Would Sara move to Key West and then commute to Miami? I would’ve appreciated an epilogue a few months down the line showing how things worked out. « Hide Spoiler I was also a little wary of the way the eating disorder was portrayed. I may just be overly sensitive, but there were a few times where I didn’t feel like Sara was making healthy eating choices (eating an appetizer instead of an entree for dinner, skipping breakfast).
Overall, though, this book was like a mini-vacation that filled up my heart. I will very much be looking forward to the next book in the series!