I just finished Susan Fox’s Love, Unexpectedly. I think I got this as a free download, and it’s lingered in my e-reader TBR “pile” for ages. What made me pick it up was a Twitter conversation about Greek food in which someone mentioned that when she visited Vancouver, Susan Lyons (aka Susan Fox) took her to a great Greek restaurant. Hey, I thought, I’ve got a book by her. I should read locally.
Love, Unexpectedly is part of Fox’s Wild Ride to Love series about three sisters travelling home for the wedding of a fourth. They feature planes, trains, and automobiles; this is the second, set on a VIA train from Montreal to Vancouver. Nav Bharani (from the description I’m picturing his namesake Naveen Andrews) has been in love with his best friend Kat Fallon for years, but she’s got him in the “buddy zone.” So when she asks him to be her date to her sister’s wedding, he decides to play a stranger on the train, hoping to shake up her view of him. This results in a lot of hot sex, but also in Nav and Kat discovering things about themselves and each other. The “alternate world” of the train and the pretense of being strangers frees them to be honest.
I enjoyed the book, though I thought it could have done with less sex (not all the sex scenes advance the character/relationship development) and more on the complications of their relationship. Nav’s parents want him to move to India, go into the family business, and marry a bride of their choosing. There are going to be some difficult times ahead for him and Kat, but because of the constraints of the series concept–the book ends before the sister’s wedding–those could only be touched on.
This book is fun, but nothing particularly special. Except that for me it was special, because it’s set in a world I recognize. There’s the physical setting, sure: my uncle’s a train buff and takes that VIA trip to visit us; the book mentions Vancouver places I know. But there’s also the cultural setting: living in Vancouver, I know quite a few couples like Nav and Kat where one partner is European-Canadian, the other is Asian- or Indo-Canadian. In some ways this is no big deal–it’s not to Nav and Kat–but religious and cultural differences can also cause conflicts for the couple or between them and their families–as it will with Nav’s parents. There are so many white middle-class characters in contemporary romance; I loved seeing a couple that reflected another side of the world I live in.
Another “pretty good” book that became something more for me is Pamela Ford’s Her Best Bet, which is set at a family-run resort in northern Wisconsin. I grew up spending summers at my family’s cabin beside just such a resort; Ford evokes the setting well, and her book filled me with nostalgia.
There are risks to reading a book set locally, of course; sometimes authors get it wrong or see it differently from you. But I get tired of fantasy American small towns or a Europe that’s all vineyards and Greek islands as settings. I like to see places and people that seem familiar sometimes. After all, I like to believe that romance can happen in the real world, not just Romfantasyland. Do you like romances set in places or featuring characters familiar to you? Got some recommendations?