by Penny Aimes
Publisher: Carina Press Adores
Publication Date: August 31, 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:
April French doesn't do relationships and she never asks for more.
A long-standing regular at kink club Frankie's, she's kind of seen it all. As a trans woman, she’s used to being the scenic rest stop for others on their way to a happily-ever-after. She knows how desire works, and she keeps hers carefully boxed up to take out on weekends only.
After all, you can't be let down if you never ask.
Then Dennis Martin walks into Frankie's, fresh from Seattle and looking a little lost. April just meant to be friendly, but one flirtatious drink turns into one hot night.
When Dennis asks for her number, she gives it to him.
When he asks for her trust, well…that's a little harder.
And when the desire she thought she had such a firm grip on comes alive with Dennis, April finds herself wanting passion, purpose and commitment.
But when their relationship moves from complicated to impossible, April will have to decide how much she's willing to want.
Content notes: View Spoiler »transphobia/transmisia, misgendering, estranged family, discussion of racism (including police violence), discussion of safety issues for trans women who don’t pass, kink with poor boundaries (due to inexperienced dom, in the past) « Hide Spoiler
You know the hurt/comfort trope? This book felt like that for me, where I was the hurt person and this book was doing the comforting. It’s centered on a queer friendly kink community in Austin and a very loving and accepting relationship, but it also smacks you in the face with the realities of what’s like to be a trans woman who doesn’t pass.
April moved to Austin to give herself a fresh start, and, well, it’s sort of working. She has a job that pays the bills and she helps out at the local kink club, where everyone knows her. And if being a kinky trans woman in Austin is sometimes exhausting, well, she can deal with it. And then she meets Dennis at the club. Dennis left the high tech startup world in Seattle for a hopefully slower paced job in Austin, and visiting the club his friend suggested is just another way of trying to settle into his new community. And then he meets April. The two hit it off right away and they both can see the inklings of something more in their one night stand, but April’s hesitant. After all, why would such a kind and handsome man chose her?
“And once it had seemed like enough, like such a precious thing, just for April to exist, for April to be allowed to exist. But now she wanted more, a huge ugly angry wanting, and she didn’t know how to fill it.”
I spent most of the book alternately wanting to wrap April up in a cozy blanket or smack her upside the head. April is a sweet, kind person, except she doesn’t apply that same kindness to herself. She’s the person who’s always there to lend an ear if someone needs help, always willing to help organize an event at the club, but she’s shocked at how kind Dennis is to her. And while she wants a relationship with Dennis, she’s convinced that he’ll get tired of her before long. April tries to convince herself that she’s content having fun with Dennis while it lasts – and she knows, deep down, that it won’t last very long. April’s head isn’t always a great place to be; she’s so vulnerable and insecure that I absolutely ached for someone, anyone to show her an ounce of the caring that she habitually doled out to everyone else.
“How good to let herself go, be totally out of control, and then be brought back under control by someone so kind and handsome and thoughtful. For once, she didn’t have to control herself, because this gentle stranger was doing it for her.”
And there was Dennis, a cis Black man and a dom. He’s kind and has his own caretaking streak (which extends into his kink, some permutations of which I’d never heard of before), and he’s not about to let this chance with April go. While his own struggles with racism and finding his community are included, they’re not emphasized as much as April’s are. What’s important to him is being the man that April deserves. He’s got his own demons to work through from a past relationship, but he does the work to own up to them (partly through therapy, and I loved that both characters went to therapy) and prevent them from happening again.
“You can make a place for them that’s safe,” she said. “A place they can always come back to and see how love is supposed to work. But they’ve got to decide to come back. And sometimes that means they have to change, and not everyone is ready to do that.”
The way the author uses alternating POVs was masterful. Like most romances, the book starts with alternating POVs between April and Dennis until the pivotal moment where April lies about not wanting a more formal relationship with Dennis, afraid of how much it’ll hurt when he eventually dumps her, as she’s certain he will. The next portion of the book is solely from April’s POV, covering a span of months in their relationship and all of April’s certainties that Dennis isn’t really that interested in her. It culminates in another pivotal moment, when we switch back to Dennis and then get to see those same months from his perspective. Now, you would think that rehashing the plot, down to the exact same conversations, would be boring, but instead it was fascinating to see everything from Dennis’ point of view. While he doesn’t want to coerce April into a relationship with him, he’s convinced there’s something special between them and he’ll do everything he can to show her how good they could be together. After that second moment, the POVs start alternating more frequently as they grow closer together, culminating in POV switches nearly every paragraph. Rather than being confusing, it’s enlightening as to how far they’ve come. It’s not a narrative choice I’ve seen before, but I absolutely loved it.
Overall, an easy four-and-a-half stars, and I hope to see more of Frankie’s and some of the other side characters. I will definitely be following the author to see what she writes next!