– by Jae
I’ve been really looking forward to this story, after Jae announced that she’d give Ashley her own story in her next book. Ever since “Perfect Rhythm,” where Ashley first appeared as a significant secondary character and quickly became my favourite in the book, I had always wished she would have her own story to tell. So, just imagine my excitement when Jae basically fulfilled my wish with “Not The Marrying Kind” starring Ash!!! Needless to say, I had such a blast exploring the deconstruction of deeply and fearfully closeted florist, Ashley Gaines!
Ash’s tumultuous journey of finally accepting herself and living her life in truth, honesty and love was told against the backdrop of Leo and Holly’s wedding planning and preparations, ending with the town celebration of their wedding ceremony. Before I continue, I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention that whilst it’s not necessary to read this book’s predecessor, “Perfect Rhythm” (also coined as Book 1 of the Fair Oaks series), since all the relevant characters, primary and secondary alike, appearing in this book, were all introduced and depicted in the Book 1, I reckon it’s to the reader’s best interest to do so first, just to better understand where they were coming from in terms of their characters, situations, circumstances..all of which are important going forward when delving deeper into them in Book 2. Obviously, it’s not compulsory, but if you ask someone like me who values the exploration of characters in great detail in order to enjoy the story completely, I’d think reading Book 1 first would be a no-brainer. But that’s just me, obvs! Anyway….The other protagonist in this story was Sasha, Fair Oaks’ baker. Sasha and Ash were in high school together, just like they both were with Leo and Holly. In Book 1, it was established that she was also Holly’s best friend. Sasha, as we discovered in this installment, had a long-term crush on Ash since high school, unbeknownst to Ash or anyone else in her clique, not even Holly. She had kept it to herself all these years. There wasn’t really any interaction between Ash and Sasha in Book 1 despite knowing each other, obviously, and belonging to the same clique, but in this installment, Jae established that one of Ash’s daily routines was to pop by Sasha’s bakery to order her usual vanilla cupcakes, which pique my interest immediately, as I finally got to observe how Sasha suppressed her crush on Ash with purposeful nonchalance in their brief, casual interactions! Needless to say, Jae’s description of their awkward interactions, verbal and non-verbal alike, was humorous and fun to read, whilst at the same time, feeling their chemistry building each time! Whenever they were in the same room, I could literally feel the air of nervousness mixed with aloofness from the words and expressions that Jae created in those scenes ever so effortlessly, which made me even more thrilled about how their undeniable attraction to each other would lead them to getting more friendly and closer with each other!
Now, you may ask, hmm, Ash and Sasha weren’t strangers. In fact they’d been friends since their high school days. So, why would they suddenly feel this magnetic pull toward each other now? Well, that’s the amazing thing about matters of the heart, innit? It’s always about timing. Right place, right time, and most importantly, right point in life. That’s exactly what happened with Ash and Sasha. When the right time came, Cupid made an appearance and shot the arrow at the two unsuspected souls and the rest was history. But not so fast, though! Saying that Sasha had a steep hill to climb before reaching Ash’s heart and soul was an understatement! Yup, Ash was really something else when it came to staying in the closet! Jae brilliantly portrayed Ash’s psyche as she struggled to maintain her “heterosexuality” in front of everyone, including her own friends. Whilst I didn’t agree with Ash’s views and her actions, I understood how crippling fear would have on someone like Ash who’d spent her life worrying about what others thought of her, wanting to please everyone, especially her uber-conservative parents, so keeping up appearances was her survival. But we all know that truth wills out eventually. And it couldn’t be more true for Ash, much to her chagrin!
Jae also revealed that neither Ash nor Sasha were looking for a relationship as both acknowledged that they weren’t the marrying kind, if only for different reasons. Obviously, this was played against Holly and Leo’s incessant wedding planning talk. It also didn’t help that the marrying couple had asked Ash to do the flowers for their wedding and Sasha to bake the wedding cake. So, obviously, they’d have to work closely together. As such, the more they tried to deny that growing feeling inside them about each other, when they spent more time with each other, the more that invisible thread, that seemed to be binding them together, was tugging them closer to each other, much to their dismay! Especially disastrous for Ash, who was already livid at the mere thought that people might find out she was gay just because she was spending more time with Sasha! The push-pull between Ash and Sasha was portrayed with a sense of authenticity, especially where Ash was concerned, because Jae was mindful about the intricacies of the coming out process with someone like Ash who’d been deeply entrenched in living a lie all her life. Her internal processing obviously held a deep-seated resistance initially but slowly eroded as characterised by Jae’s astute depiction at every stage of Ash’s character growth. Hence, the slow-burn romance between Ash and Sasha was oh-so enthralling, intoxicating and emotionally resonating.
One favourite thing I loved about this story was how Jae ingeniously used the language of food and flowers when depicting Ash and Sasha’s interactions. All the rich descriptions and meanings of a variety of flowers, not to mention, all the baking activities with a variety of ingredients, none of which, I have any experience or knowledge in at all! Jae’s brilliant use of the language brought the words to life! It was like she was kneading and arranging the words like one would with flower arranging and baking! I feel so inadequate in my explanation and elaboration of how affecting Jae’s use of food and flowers to depict the language of love was! But I’m sure that when you read the book, you’ll realise that, too! See, like they say, food and flowers represent romance, desire, passion, love. Some are even aphrodisiacs, if you know what I mean! Jae definitely used these characterisations as metaphors to Ash and Sasha’s physical and emotional reactions to and feelings for each other – their attraction, desire, passion and love – with a delish level of playfulness and flirtatious fervour! As if using flowers and baking language weren’t enough, Ash and Sasha also used other foods, i.e. pizza, steak dinner and appetisers, as metaphors for…get this… describing relationship and hookup types!!! Utterly genius and hilarious! Needless to say, I was mesmerised by all the food talk! Read it and find out for yourself! You won’t regret it! I don’t think I’ve ever come across reading food talk described and elaborated THIS sexily, erotically and sensually! Well done, Jae!
Speaking of, my favourite moment was indeed the food fight scene in Sasha’s bakery kitchen! Ohhh…when it started, it immediately reminded me of that instant-classic and memorable scene between Ruth and Idgie in “Fried Green Tomatoes“!! What a perfect homage! Cheers, Jae! And so befitting of Ash and Sasha’s characters, too! As you know, the food fight scene in the movie was a metaphor to sexual intimacy between Idgie and Ruth. But in Ash and Sasha’s case, Jae portrayed it literally, amplifying the playfully erotic and flirtatiously sensual effects of their physical intimacy that quickly turned serious. I loved how the scene abruptly ended! Startled me, too, because I was so engrossed! This scene, if anything, needs to be read in order to really appreciate the enormity of its implications to Ash’s overall state of mind, more so than Sasha’s, for obvious reasons, really, imo. Once again, Jae nailed every nuance with aplomb!
The most emotional moment of the book for me was a surprising one, actually. I didn’t expect the scene to happen, least of all, having any emotional reaction to it. It was Ash’s impromptu vocal performance to Leo’s guitar playing on the beach, surrounded by their close mates. I never thought I’d be experiencing that moment. But thanks to Jae’s superb description of every motion, every feeling, every body language, every pensive look, I could feel Ash’s emotions stirring in her mind as she sang the lyrics, reflecting on its meaning and realising what it meant between her and Leo. Forgiveness. If you’d read Book 1 of this series, you’d know the history between Leo and Ash, and why this scene had such a huge impact on these two who used to be band mates and were close. Needless to say, I was riveted. Jae’s words brought to life all the nuances and unspoken but deeply felt emotions between Ash and Leo. This scene was also an eye-opening revelation to Sasha when it came to Ash’s enigmatic character. There were so many hidden qualities that Ash possessed when she was just being herself.
Throughout Ash’s journey, she finally realised that the only time she could be herself without worrying about anything was when she was with Sasha. There was no denial about that anymore. Love is an involuntary reflex as Ash eventually realised. She couldn’t help falling in love with Sasha, no matter how hard she tried not to. For Sasha, it was a matter of Ash opening herself up to her, taking that plunge, going all the way with her. In essence, Sasha left it to Ash to make the fateful move as the ball was on Ash’s court.
Ash’s moment of truth came when she realised there was only one thing to do. Make the choice of her lifetime – choose whether to keep her status quo and continue living her life in misery or Carpe Diem! Seizing the chance to finally let go of her lifelong fears and live her truth openly, live for herself, for her soul, going forward. Sasha, in essence, was Ash’s catalyst, really, imo. It was Sasha who ripped open the last bastion of her protective armour, forcing her to take that one singular step which had been awaiting her all her life. One small step for her heart, one giant leap for her soul. All in the name of true love and freedom. Epiphany struck inspiring Ash to finally confront and come clean to her parents. The scene with Ash and her parents was written with a lot of heart. Ash’s depicted trepidation, her emotional exchange with her mum and dad reverberated with affecting results. I was utterly spellbound when everything previously unsaid or avoided amongst them came out with such acute honesty. Everything that happened with Ash and her parents in that emotionally-charged scene played out in a manner that was true to the characters. Hence, it felt real. It’s truly a must-read scene. All I can say is, the intensity of the “stand off” that quickly turned into a raw heart-to-heart talk amongst three people was heartfelt, enlightening, soul-awakening and bittersweet. It deeply resonated.
The irony was, Ash’s truth and reconciliation with her true self and her parents, and finally her closure with Sasha, all happened at Holly and Leo’s wedding party! FFS, talk about right time, right place, eh? The promise of love and hope, truth and happiness. SPOT. ON. So exquisitely symbolic! What a fabulous ending to a fantastic story about accepting and embracing one’s true self, celebrating true love and living life without fear but honesty and truth. In the end, love prevailed. In the end, truth willed out. In the end, hope persisted.
“Not The Marrying Kind” is a MUST-READ for all fans of lesfic romance, especially for those who’d read its first installment, “Perfect Rhythm!” It’s truly a brilliantly written slow-burn romance (Jae is the Queen of Slow-Burn Romance, see!) that will warm your heart and soul, keep you amused, provoke your mind and make you feel. I utterly enjoyed every bit of Ash’s soul-searching journey, Jae’s skilful deconstruction of Ash’s character, and her self-reflective, contemplative road to finally accepting herself for who she was and embracing the once-feared love she found that truly transformed her heart and soul. She truly is one of my favourite lesfic characters! Also, I utterly adored Ash and Sasha’s endearing love story and will defo be revisiting it time and again! Thank you, Jae, for an utterly captivating and compelling voyage of Ashley’s self-discovery and giving her a well-deserved love story!
p.s. Look out for a surprising appearance by a couple from another series who turned out to be Leo’s close mates! What a perfect crossover, indeed!
“I was given, with much thanks and appreciation, an ARC of this book from Ylva in return for an honest review.”
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