Friday, December 28, 2018

Review: Far From Home

Far From Home by Lorelie Brown is a book I meant to read ages ago.  When it was first published (a lifetime ago in 2016...), it garnered a number of positive reviews (including a couple of "starred reviews" in the professional journals) and finaled for Best Contemporary Romance: Short in the 2017 RITAs.  But, as I perpetually do with most of the books I want to read, I pushed it off until, finally, my hand was forced (Day Job related project...).  I had quibbles but Brown does so much right that it's easy to see that the praise was well earned.

Rachel is a Southern California girl, a recovering anorexic, and drowning in student loan debt.  She thinks she's straight, but given the state of her life (did I mention her relationship with her mother is eff'ed up bordering on neglect?) romantic entanglements aren't exactly high on her list to fret over.  So it's pretty outrageous when an flippant remark at a party leads to her accepting a marriage of convenience.

Pari is Indian and came to the States on a work visa sponsored by her employer.  However her ambition is to start her own consulting business which means bye-bye work visa, hello get a green card.  Cool, calm, put-together Pari is going to marry Rachel - at least for a couple of years until the green card goes through.  Pari gets to stay in the US, Rachel gets to live in Pari's very nice condo rent free and get some help paying off her oppressive student loans.  It's win-win really - well, except they both have emotional baggage.  Pari with her large, Indian family and past hurt over a relationship gone sour ; Rachel with her dissatisfaction in her career, her mountain of debts, her messed up relationship with her Mom and her anorexia recovery.

There was a lot I really liked about this story.  This is first person from Rachel's point-of view and Brown knocks her characterization out of the park.  She felt so real to me that I'm pretty sure I may have gone to college with this girl.  The romance is also of the slow burn variety, with Pari and Rachel working their way towards friendship that eventually combusts into full-blown passion.  The author sets her stage and it takes time for the characters to "get there" - which frankly in today's genre that seems to constantly be harping on "faster, sooner, yesterday..." was a welcome breath of fresh air.

The California setting is picture perfect (Rachel "thinks" like someone who lives in SoCal - for lack of a better description) and the added addition of Pari's Mom as a secondary character was inspired.  Mileage will vary here, but I also loved the way the author handled the interracial aspects of this romance and Rachel's complicated relationship with exercise and food.  I'm not sure how to describe it - it felt authentic and well-written without the author trying too hard to convince the reader that she's "woke."  There was a maturity and matter-of-factness to the story and relationships among the various characters that simply clicked into place, like puzzle pieces finally put in the correct order.

So, what didn't work as well?  Well, this is a short read - around category length - and some of the issues here are hard.  But I'm also a reader who likes characters to flail themselves on the rocks for a bit before settling into the happy ending.  Also, as richly drawn as Rachel is, it takes a bit longer to wrap your arms around Pari.  Part of this is her personality and part of it is because of the first person point-of-view.  For example, there's a past relationship that burned Pari badly but it's pretty well dashed off in a few short sentences and not given the same depth as Rachel's baggage.

There's also the small matter of Rachel being straight...well, she thinks.  There's references to past male sexual partners, but and here's the thing, prior to Pari there hasn't even been a whiff of a lesbian fling for Rachel.  Not even a "I kissed a girl and I liked it" moment. Not even a "Oh look at that woman across the room, she's hot and I'm physically attracted." Brown gets around to explaining this smacks dangerously close to Gay For You territory for me.  It's not Gay For You precisely...but...yeah.  No questioning.  No attraction to women before Pari.  The slow burn to the romance helps out considerably (and it was a smart move on the author's part) but...yeah.

Mileage of course will vary on this.  Again, it's not Gay For You precisely - but I'm a reader who has a HUGE issue with that particular "trope" so anything that flirts around the edges and my red flag comes up to at least half-mast.

But, happy sigh, the ending is so lovely that any quibbles I have are washed away in a pitch perfect epilogue.  It simply works and I read the last sentence with a song in my heart and waving a fond bon voyage to the characters, picturing in my mind's eye their incredibly happy future together.  Which, at the end of the day, is how I want a romance novel to make me feel.  Brown has created a lovely world, interesting characters, and a happy sigh on my lips.

Final Grade = B


Rowena said...

Lovely review, Wendy. I'm putting this on my TBB list because it sounds like a great f/f romance. I don't think I've read anything by Lorelei Brown before so I guess I'll start with this one. Thanks for sharing your thoughts boo!

Wendy said...

Rowena: I had only read a couple of erotic romances she co-wrote with Carrie Lofty (under the Katie Porter pen name) - but yeah, that was it. And this was contemporary romance - so a sub genre shift. I really liked it, I plan on reading the next two books in the series.