When a rogue wave strips Tess Dunn of her bikini top, desperate, half-naked times call for desperate, please-cover-me-kids-are-coming-closer measures. Enter Lucas Karlsson, AKA that flirty Swede in the water nearby. When he prevents her bare buoys from being exposed to fellow vacationers, even an ocean can’t drown the sparks that fly.
Tess and her best friend have saved up to take a two week vacation at a luxury beach resort and celebrate Tess’s 40th birthday. Lucas is pretty sure she engineered the bikini top incident to meet him and he is all in favor. Tess isn’t interested because all she sees is an aimless, unformed youth. Tess’s best friend forces the issue by buying Tess tennis lessons with Lucas. They make a lot of assumptions about each other, but strike enough sparks that they keep coming back. Lucas and Tess have a Pride and Prejudice vibe. Not in the seeking marriage and property way, but in that Lucas’s pride and Tess’s prejudice are barriers to their relationship. Lucas is dealing with the aftermath of giving up his professional tennis career. Tess first assumes that Lucas is aimless because he is young, and then that a fit, young man couldn’t possibly be serious about building a life with her, a middle aged woman with a demanding career.
“Belle is a dead woman.” Tess was breathing a bit hard, and he tried his best not to check how that would look below her neckline. “I was more than clear with her. You may be charming and handsome, and I may have rubbed my naked boobs all over your unsuspecting back, but I don’t have time for extra socializing on this trip. Especially when that socializing involves lessons in a sport I don’t actually play.”***He let a smirk curve his lips. “And please don’t worry about my back. It may have been unsuspecting, but it was more than willing.”She rose to the bait beautifully, just as she had that morning. “I misspoke. My guess is that your back has been suspected many, many times over the years.”“More my front, really.” She huffed out a laugh, and he felt it like a caress of his chest.
40-Love gives me all the feelings about what romance is and how it can change our lives in the best ways that pop culture can change our lives. I’ve been banging on for more than 6 years about why the romance genre is important beyond a pleasant read. In my review of Courtney Milan’s The Brothers Sinister series I said,
Very few of us travel through space, but most of us fall in love at some point. That period of romance and falling in love is ripe with possibility. It can be a time when we re-think who we are and what we want. It’s a time when we are taken outside of ourselves and start considering the wants of a new person. Romance novels can take us back (or forward) to that feeling and re-open us to the world.
All my favorite romances have cracked me open in some way and this isn’t the first time Dade has laid me bare to the bone emotionally. Dade’s Teach Me was one of my favorite reads last year. In Teach Me, Rose, an unapologetic fat woman, ate food without it being a big deal and it was such a big deal for me to read it. There have been times where every bite I even thought about taking had to be weighed against the judgement that would be directed at me. Here again, Tess gets to eat food, wear a bikini, and live her fucking life while being fat. Most importantly, Tess’s weight is not the conflict between Tess and Lucas. What they need to resolve is the way they see themselves. They need to expand their understanding of themselves. They have to choose to be vulnerable to one another, which is a big ask for a vacation romance. Dade pulls it off. Relationships – family, friendship, romantic – make us grow and change. What romance books can do is make us reimagine how we can grow and change, how we deserve love and acceptance, and what the love we deserve might look like.
As much as Olivia Dade’s fat rep means to me (it means a lot), where she has really ripped my heart out with 40-Love is in the narrow view Lucas and Tess have of themselves. Each believes they only have certain things to offer and those things aren’t enough for someone else to desire a relationship with them. I’m sure there have been men who looked at me and thought, no thanks, but I’ve never been told that my weight was a barrier by a potential romantic partner. What has ended a few romances before they got very far was my own insecurity about being worth the effort of a relationship. Tess and Lucas repeatedly choose to make space for each other, to fight through the insecurity, and to become bigger people emotionally. They could only choose each other if they chose to believe better about themselves than they had when they first met.
I received an arc of 40-Love from the author in exchange for an honest review.
40-Love is available now in hard copy from Love’s Sweet Arrow and The Ripped Bodice, and will be available as an e-book June 18 (next week).