Ok but just look at that cover!!!! That alone would have gotten me to glance twice at this book. But I also had this one at the top of my “contemporary romance TBR backburner” list, that I have constantly in mind, since I need to be ready when the mood hits! Which, it seems, is my very real state right now, as this is my second from the genre in as many weeks.
Jasmine and Ashton are set to be leads in a new streaming service’s (think Netflix) mainstream take on a telenovela/soap (think Jane the Virgin). Jasmine is coming off a very public breakup with a popular singer, ready to break out as a “Leading Lady.” Ashton is hoping that this is his chance to break out as a bigger, Hollywood-type, actor, with a private life that he is very intent on keeping out of the public eye. Although neither Jasmine nor Ashton is looking for romance, because it sure won’t fit with their new plans/life goals, and despite a messy first meeting, it turns out they have some serious IRL chemistry.
Ohhhhh I loved this one!! It was so much fun and super creative and wonderfully steamy. Jasmine and Ashton were both really well-written and developed as characters, both separately and together, which I really appreciated. Ashton’s “Incident” and subsequent fears and anxieties is really realistic and understandable and so well written for sympathy. Although a slightly deeper exploration of it as PTSD would have been nice, it was recognized (and therapy was mentioned), and I’ll take that. The way his family, and his treatment of them, was used to explore and deepen his character was done well (and for the record, I freaking loved his abuelos). Similarly, Jasmine’s evolving understanding of what her “Leading Lady” plans means, and how it can be applied to all of life, was a great “self-discovery” arc. And I truly loved that it was able to happen in a way that allowed her to keep her love of loving others, a hallmark and core of her character. It’s important for readers to see that wanting to give love and be loved is a wonderful trait when there is a healthy focal point, and I love that message here because it’s such a common and recognizable “want.” In another parallel to Ashton, I liked that the potential pitfalls of this trait are recognized, and again therapy mentioned (a little more there would have been nice as well, but again, I feel ok about what we got). Family-wise, her cousins, and her relationship with them, was so warm and wonderful and, when necessary, the good kind of tough (especially in helping her come to the realization(s) that some of her reactions were a little…overdramatic, telenovela/soap-style!). Honestly, every time I read about close cousins (like I just read in Cemetery Boys as well), it makes me wish I had grown up closer to my own!
One last note about the leading couple that I want to mention. Well, kind of about them and kind of related to Daria’s writing…I absolutely and totally loved the way the scenes when Jasmine and Ashton were acting together as Carmen and Victor were woven in. Seeing the way they interacted there, their feelings, reactions, dialogue, etc. played out in that fabricated setting, added such a fascinating and fun extra layer to the unfolding of their relationship in real life. Somewhat on this topic, one of the things that is so fun for me about reading in general and, often, especially in contemporary romance is learning all about the various jobs and industries that I have no personal experience with. Understanding that it all may not be exactly accurate to real life, I really do feel like I get a lot of insight through the variety of roles characters have. In this case, I loved reading about the behind the scenes of filming shows/soaps, like the work that goes into choreographing scenes, the filming schedules, the script-readings, etc. It was just all really fascinating. One thing that stuck out to me, and I don’t think it’s likely very common (that was alluded to even in the book), but was so great to see that it’s at least something starting to be considered, was the focus on consent involved when filming/acting within a role itself. I hope that, if it’s not widespread, it becomes more so as fast as possible!
One last thing before I wrap up. I was so into the Latinx rep in every aspect of this novel. Daria’s pride in her Puerto Rican heritage, her roots in that culture, is just palpable and made reading about it throughout the book such a positive experience. It was so lovingly and perfectly present. Also, I appreciated the way she represented the way that language specifically is a marker and how it’s passed in different ways to future generations. Jasmine and her cousins all speak Spanish with different levels of comfort/ability (which is clearly sometimes a point of discomfort/nervousness for Jasmine), while on the opposite side of things, Ashton is concerned that he’ll never get rid of his accent enough to become mainstream. It’s a complex and powerful exploration of a very sensitive area of culture and the way assimilation affects it.
Overall, I’m gonna end this review as I started it: reiterating that I loved this book! It was entertaining, well-paced and written, had well-developed lead characters and a great supporting cast (see what I did there?), was smart and original, and, as is always so important in this genre, had some fire in the sex scenes. There was chemistry and emotion and I sped right through, not wanting to put it down.