It’s 11:30 pm. The doors are locked, the kids are in bed, your partner is snoring next to you, and the warm body of a sleeping dog is rests at your feet. You’re hungry. Tiptoeing out bed, you shuffle downstairs and open the refrigerator. A blast of cold air shakes the sleep from your eyes. Cheese, leftover chili, expired yogurt, a Lunchable – nothing looks appetizing. Then you spot it, the perfect snack to quiet your growling stomach:
Once Upon a Kiss by Rachael Tamayo.
This is the second book I’ve reviewed of Tamayo’s, and unlike her heart-pound thriller Crazy Love, Once Upon a Kiss is a lightened-up, sweet tale of desire well-suited for a Hallmark channel movie. Talia is our spunky, unconventional heroine with an attitude and a not-so-broken heart. Her fiance, the mysterious Stephen, has left her at the altar – but it’s not what you think. Talia is determined to bounce back with the help of her friends – a very eclectic group of women I want to see more of; maybe Tamayo can give them each their own love story? – but ends up bouncing right into the arms of Jessie.
Jessie, Tamayo’s other POV character, is a traditionally handsome, quietly wealthy mechanic with an obsessive taste for Talia. While it’s nice to both read about and from the point of view of a male character who isn’t afraid of commitment, Jessie feels a little bit basic. His chapters are filled with recycled descriptions of Talia’s body, many of which play into too many stereotypical tropes. For instance, he croons about “[Talia’s] tiny body in my oversized shirt, eating like it’s her job.” Tiny women housing hamburgers is a damaging fetish I just can’t get behind. Before this line, I picture Talia as a strong, powerful, curvaceous goddess. I’m frustrated to read this kickass heroine – I mean, literally kickass as she owns her own gym – deconstructed into a little woman. Talia’s dedication to her job, her ingenious plan to foil a terrible scam, and her touching relationship with her friends and family deserve more than a swaggered appraisal.
Unfortunately, Jessie’s chapters file Talia down to fit the perfect Barbie heroine expected in every romance.
And I’m here for the romance. Tamayo excels at the steamy scenes, groping, tasting, grabbing, and feeling every intimate moment. Her character’s natural dialogue fuels the novella’s pacing through twists, turns, and tumbles into the bedroom. While her prose suffers from a few clunky phrases and awkward transitions, the accessible, fresh plot and fun characters keep me turning the pages. Tamayo’s skill with taking ordinary people and placing them into difficult and emotional situations creates a feeling of rare familiarity. I feel like Talia could be my friend; I’d recognize her on the street and already share many inside jokes and memories with her.
You should read this book if: you enjoy the romance genre, are looking for something light and fresh, or need a book you can start and finish on a plane, a train, or during an afternoon at the beach. It’s likely you’ll finish Once Upon a Kiss in one sitting. Like midnight snacks, Tamayo’s stories always end with a satisfied sigh, and I can’t wait for her next happy ending.
*I received an advanced readers copy (ARC) of Once Upon a Kiss . The following review does not address any potential grammatical or formatting errors as I did not receive a final copy.*