by Priscilla Oliveras
Series: Keys to Love #2
Also in this series: Island Affair
Publication Date: April 27, 2021
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:
Key West is the ideal backdrop for the summer read you need! Perfect for fans of Abby Jimenez, Jasmine Guillory, and Jen DeLuca, this gorgeous and stirring new love story from the author of Island Affair will touch your heart…
Award-winning photographer Alejandro Miranda hasn't been home to Key West in years--not since he left to explore broader horizons with his papi's warning echoing in his ears. He wouldn't be heading there now if it wasn't for an injury requiring months of recuperation. The drama of a prodigal son returning to his familia is bad enough, but coming home to the island paradise also means coming face to face with the girl he left behind--the one who was supposed to be by his side all along...
Anamaría Navarro was shattered when Alejandro took off without her. Traveling the world was their plan, not just his. But after her father's heart attack, there was no way she could leave--not even for the man she loved. Now ensconced in the family trade as a firefighter and paramedic, with a side hustle as a personal trainer, Anamaría is dismayed that just the sight of Alejandro is enough to rekindle the flame she's worked years to put out. And as motherly meddling pushes them together, the heat of their attraction only climbs higher. Can they learn to trust again, before the Key West sun sets on their chance at happiness?
Content warnings: View Spoiler »injury (including medical description of contraption to keep a leg bone straight), estranged parent, mention of character with eating disorder in recovery, alcohol « Hide Spoiler
I’ve been reading Priscilla Oliveras’ books for what seems like forever. I’m a big fan of how important families are in her romances, even if those family relationships aren’t always on the best footings, as is the case for this book. It’s also an extremely slow burn second chance romance, the second in her series set in the Florida Keys. I think you’d be fine reading this as a standalone, however.
“The odds of her being nice to the man who had broken her heart were about as good as a snowball’s chance of surviving a Key West summer day.”
Anamaría is busier than ever. Besides her job as a firefighter, she’s seriously stepped up how much effort she’s putting into her fitness company, AM Fitness, and business is booming. The last thing she needs is for her mom to guilt trip her into checking on her high school boyfriend, who’s back in town for the first time in twelve years after seriously injuring himself. Alejandro has spent his time since high school exploring and photographing all corners of the world – well, everything except his hometown. After a giant blowup with his father over his refusal to take over the family restaurant, he’s made himself scarce, but his broken leg means he’s back in the thick of all the family guilt, and, perhaps even worse, the matchmaking Cuban mamas. Because even though they both pretend they’re over it, neither Anamaría nor Alejandro ever got over each other or the hurtful way they broke up. But with Alejandro stuck on the island until he’s better, events (and those Cuban mamas) keep conspiring to throw them together again.
“She wanted what he couldn’t give her. Stability, a home here on their island.
He wanted what she refused to consider. A life of their own outside of familia obligations, on their own terms.”
The main tension in this story is about following your own dreams versus fulfilling your family obligations. While Anamaría had initially intended to go with Alejandro to Spain for the summer following their high school graduation, a family health emergency and then Alejandro’s insistence that his move away was permanent, led her to follow in the rest of her family’s footsteps and join the local fire department. She loves her family and how close they are, complete with mandatory weekly family dinners and daily phone calls with her mom and siblings. Her passion, however, is fitness and healthy living, and with her brother’s fiancée’s help, she’s working on building her AM Fitness brand. I loved how strongly she believed in what she was doing, from creating healthy (but still tasty!) versions of her family’s favorite foods to donating her time to run a free class for women at her church. What Alejandro can’t understand is why it took her so long to turn her “hobby” into a serious pursuit. Quitting her firefighting job – her family job – to pursue it full time seemed almost unthinkable.
“This was the real Ale. On set, Canon in hand, enjoying the people and places he captured through his lens. Living his dream.
And now he was lending his talent to help her get closer to living hers before he left.”
Alejandro is quasi-estranged from his family, especially his father. While he’s an award winning photographer, his father still hasn’t forgiven him for what he sees as turning his back on his family. Alejandro does still love them; after all, one of the reasons he hasn’t come back is because he doesn’t want to cause strife between his father and the rest of his family. But he strongly believes in being free to pursue his own dreams, and his breakup with Anamaría was because he felt like her not moving to Spain with him meant she didn’t support him – never mind what her own dreams were. Being back in Key West just means being faced with how much he feels like his family doesn’t support him, something that’s even more clear when he sees how Anamaría’s family is working to help her business.
“His earthy patchouli scent blended with the smell of spices and sautéed onions and peppers redolent in the restaurant’s contained space, and somehow she knew she would always seek this special blend whenever she was here.”
When I say this is slow burn, I mean it’s slooooow burn. While there’s lots of accidental falling into each other and faces smooshed against chests due to Ale’s crutches, the first chaste kiss is at almost 60% into the book and it’s over 70% into the book before there’s anything more than that. It’s understandable considering how badly everything ended twelve years ago, and they both have to relearn each other. It also takes quite a bit of self-realization for them both to see why their relationship failed so spectacularly. And obviously, since they know Alejandro is leaving as soon as he’s medically cleared, what’s the harm in trying to end things on a better note?
“Sometimes, you might need to peek out from behind your camera. Try connecting with those who are important to you. Try showing them why you see the world the way you do. You have a gift, Ale; don’t use it as a buffer. Use it to unite, the way your stunning photographs do.”
I loved the Key West setting. It’s obvious Anamaría (and even Alejandro) love their hometown, and all the touristy descriptions felt like a mini-vacation. And as I’d expect from this author’s books, especially one involving a restaurant-owning family, there’s lots of delicious Cuban food. I was definitely craving piccadillo! There’s bits of Cuban Spanish sprinkled throughout the text (and not italicized, which I loved) but the author’s great at incorporating a translation into the text for people like me who, despite a pandemic Duolingo habit, still barely speak it.
Overall, this was another enjoyable entry into the Keys to Love series, and I’m very much looking forward to the next one. If you’re looking for a summery read with lots of family angst, a slow-burn second chance romance, and delicious food, I’d recommend this book!