This review was first published on Love in Panels:
Letty Gonzalez is trying to rebuild her career after her ex-boss/ex-boyfriend fires her when he realizes that he won’t be getting into her parents' deep pockets through her. Max Delgado is a sculptor on the verge of breaking out, trying to get ready for a major exhibition of his work. When Letty shows up at his door, he is expecting a model not a temporary assistant.
Letty can’t afford to let this grumpy and much too sexy artist send her away. She needs this job. Although she won’t pose for him, her presence in his studio as she goes about her work organizing his life is irresistible and all-consuming, tempting him to want things he shouldn’t. Since his meddling matchmaking Abuela Lola hired her, he can’t even fire her.
While this book was solidly likable and enjoyable, it felt like it was trying to be three different books at the same time. The first - an erotic romance about a grumpy sculptor trying to convince his shy plus-sized artist’s assistant that she is beautiful and desirable. The second - an angsty romance about a couple struggling to communicate, scarred by unhealthy and abusive family dynamics. And finally - a forced proximity rom-com about a kooky but irrepressible grandma trying to set up her grandson with a pretty girl. A book can try to do all these but in this case, the mash-up wasn’t fully successful and the story moved forward in fits and starts while the mood would swing wildly.
Once thing the book did very successfully is portraying complex and dysfunctional Cuban-American families that were utterly relateable. Letty’s and Max’s families value social status and appearances, but it manifests in different ways. For Letty, this means constant negative comments about her looks and passive aggressive policing of her diet by her mother. She seeks financial independence from her parents because she has long ago learned the kind of emotionally manipulative strings that come attached to any financial help. Letty is smart, determined but has been emotionally battered by first her parents and then her ex. She over-thinks and misconstrues comments, as she is so used to expecting every comment to include a hidden barb. I wasn’t completely satisfied with the way this storyline was resolved as I wanted her journey of self-acceptance and self-confidence to be more internally motivated rather than having the unexpected validation of becoming a plus-size bathing suit model confirm for her what Max and her sister have been telling her. I did love the truly supportive relationship Letty has with her swimsuit model, size-2 sister. They are not pitted one against the other to the reader because of their body shape. They are both beautiful. They are both interesting, funny women and they love each other very much.
In Max’s family the importance of status and image lead to a long-term denial of his mother’s addiction and his father’s use of money to manipulate and control. Max’s conflicted and fraught relationship with his newly-sober mother felt realistically drawn and as was his hyper-awareness of his short-temper. I really appreciated that Christopher had Max verbalize his fears and open up about the reasons he was scared to death to get involved with someone seriously. Too often these kinds of feelings are only expressed in internal monologue and the other MC has no opportunity to challenge those notions. And it felt true to life that even knowing the issues involved two people might still misunderstand and misconstrue things because they are working through their own emotional baggage. The one issue that Max struggled with that I was surprised the book did not challenge more directly was his preoccupation with being able to provide Letty the kind of life he imagines she is used to. He holds on to the mistaken idea that Letty would care that he is not yet as financially self-reliant as he wants to be.
The ending had too many of the conflicts and villains vanquished off-page by the power of Lola's Fairy Godmother-like witchiness and the actual reconciliation felt somewhat rushed but I am still interested in reading more books in this series because of the genuineness of the family relationships and the frankness of the characters about their messy feelings. This is a solid romance that could have used some more focus, but delivers in sexiness and emotion.
Content Warnings: Past trauma (child abuse), fatphobia