– by Erin Zak
Erin Zak‘s latest, “Create A Life to Love,” was a story I was looking forward to exploring ever since finding out what it was about. And then the cover! Who wouldn’t wanna gawk at its splendour of colours and read its contents, eh? Well, worked for me, anyway! Gosh, lately, I’ve been gifted with really intriguing covers that caught my attention, further enhancing my reading pleasure, which doesn’t happen often, I must say. So, lucky me and well done to the authors/cover artists!! Anyway, back to the blurb, I thought it was going to be original with a very creative twist. So I was chuffed that my assumption came to fruition when I read the story! Even the antagonistic situation related to one of the MCs (elaborated more below) was crafted with a twist in the end! Everything about this book could be summarised into one word for starters: Unexpected. A word that Zak used in the story which hit the nail not just for her characters but for me as a reader, too!
In addition to the nature of the story, the big unexpected surprise was Zak’s narrative style this time! I mean, THREE first-person POVs?! As you may already know, I’m partial to POVs from both MCs, be it in first or third-person. And I’d just recently read a brilliantly crafted dual-POVs in first-person format which I utterly enjoyed and appreciated because it’s quite rare. But I never thought I’d be lucky enough to be served not two but three POVs from 3 MCs in ONE story so soon after! In first-person POV style, too, no less! I felt truly spoiled with such a reading delight! Bloody well done, Ms. Zak and bleeding thank YOU! Needless to say, I finished the book in one gulp of air, so to speak! Totally satiated, I might add!
Speaking of Zak’s creative 3 first-person POV style of telling the story, I thought this particular format created a brilliant juxtaposition of vantage points coming from all three characters who were the foundation of the story and how it shaped up throughout the story. I was able to dive into the inner psyches of all three characters, shedding light on their individual perspectives in every situation, scenario and circumstance. I felt so much more in-tuned and involved in the development of Jackie, Susan and Beth’s individual and collective journey throughout this superbly constructed and truly entertaining, absorbing story. I can’t really explain but being given an inside look at all three of them in every stage of their development and growth only further deepened my understanding, perspective, engagement and investment of their characters and journey. Perspective. Vantage Point. Different Angles. We all know there are different sides of each story, incident, event, occurrence, don’t we? Well, Zak exemplified that truth with total zeal through the eyes of all three involved parties, that’s for sure!
As mentioned, this story was about the UNEXPECTED. You know the saying, just when you least expect it, it happens? It’s life, innit? So bloody true! Well, that’s essentially what happened with Jackie, Beth and Susan. Imagine you were Jackie, renowned lesbian romance novelist going about your business and one rainy evening, someone popped into your existence declaring she was your kid whom you’d put up for adoption sixteen bloody years ago! To say it was unexpected would be a major understatement, wouldn’t it? That’s exactly how Zak opened her story and it was fan-bloody-tastic! Yup, Beth was the kid who gave Jackie the shock of her life by single-handedly resurrecting her long buried past in a blink of an eye! And OMG, wait until you read how Jackie met Beth’s adoptive mum, Susan! And the circumstances surrounding Susan’s life as Beth’s mum, a wife, in a big house she always wanted or thought she wanted, will suck you in with intrigue at how everything would unfold throughout the story. I was totally absorbed with the development but also felt a sense of foreboding….Crikey!
I absolutely adored all three characters just as soon as Zak introduced them. They were written with so much authenticity in their characters, their struggles, their dilemma, their overall states of mind. Her writing style had a comfortable ease in its tone so the words just glided through like they weren’t scripted, be it the dialogue, inner voicing or simply the descriptions in-between. So natural and organic that I forgot that I was reading, not observing the characters and the situations that Zak constructed! I had to constantly remind myself that they were fictional so it wasn’t like I was eavesdropping on their convos or invading their private thoughts for real or anything! Looking through the window, more like.
The chemistry amongst these three MCs was very organic. Jackie and Beth’s had a sense of comfort and security despite the initial shock and uneasiness. Jackie and Susan’s, though, was instantly sizzling and palpable. There was this unexplained, invisible layer of connection between these two strangers which they initially chalked it up to Beth’s connection, biological and adoptive. Zak’s first-person POV of each of them really breathed life into how their relationship evolved from the start as strangers. It gave me the opportunity to truly delve into their mindset at each turn as their relationship steadily developed and grew between birth mum and kid, birth mum and adoptive mum, and as a little family unit, so to speak. I was thoroughly invested in each of their individual and collective journeys every step of the way, at every stage because Zak gave me the opportunity to truly understand where they were coming from, mentally, physically and emotionally, via reading through their inner emotions, private thoughts. In addition, there were secrets about Jackie and Susan’s past that Zak skilfully manoeuvred so they were slowly revealed at the right moment. My curiosity was off the charts as I breezed through every page, trying to figure out what they were, especially Jackie’s reason behind Beth’s adoption. It was surprisingly…unexpected. *you see the pattern there?*
Jackie built a life to live without her child, accepting her fate that love and family were merely pie in the sky for her. Susan built a life to live without true love, accepting that the love for her child was enough to fill her heart. Beth built a life to live with a growing sense that there was something missing, thus, feeling like an outsider at all times. In essence, all three of them built a life to survive, really. Until Beth literally brought Jackie and Susan together unwittingly. Basically, she became her two mums’ conduit of destiny! Talk about an unusual serendipity between two of the most unlikely people, eh? Needless to say, I was utterly enamoured of the developing romance between Jackie and Susan. In essence, they were both at a turning point in their lives where realisation hit – the lives they built had a gaping hole in it – emptiness, loneliness. Just when they thought their fate was sealed, the unexpected happened! Falling in love with the most unexpected person ever!
Naturally, I was tickled pink with anticipation about Jackie and Susan’s love story simply because of the fact that Jackie was Beth’s birth mum and Susan her adoptive mum! What were the odds, right? But then their journey to embracing their undeniable desire and growing love for each other was one that was not without trials and tribulations, methodically crafted and explored by Zak that were contemplative and resonating. Susan’s conditioning and reconditioning about herself, her perspective about marriage, family, love, sexuality were depicted with such authenticity that her journey to self-reflection and reconciliation was grounded in reality. This portrayal alone is reason enough to read this book! Zak nailed every nuance of Susan’s dilemma, her struggle to accept the inevitable change in her life, her fear of letting go of the comfortable confines of her conditioning to face her true self. I was floored by the destructive effects that years of being conditioned still haunted Susan, affecting her innermost psyche. The Svengali hold that the deep-seated, conditioned fear had on her was poignantly portrayed, it was emotionally stirring.
As for Jackie, I adored her hilarious neurotic monologue! Wait ’til you read the things she thought of about Susan, her own self-contained life that was transforming right before her eyes, Beth..and then there was Susan’s sexuality to contend with! Zak’s knack for using street vernacular, everyday language to tell her tales always makes her characters and their situations so personable, grounded, empathising and relatable. Also, in this story, she depicted both Susan and Jackie’s emotional psyches with equal avidity that I could relate to both of them fervently and understood their perspectives as they slowly came to terms with what their heart and soul desired. I was totally invested in every stage of their relationship. Zak’s portrayal of their growing intimacy, emotional and physical, was weaved with a level of sensitivity that was befitting of their characters especially Susan’s, which I won’t divulge here since I thought Zak crafted it brilliantly because it was a journey in and of itself. Their chemistry was so organic, so natural and off-the-charts, tbh! You’ll feel the temperature rise to a boiling point as they got closer and more intimate with each other which Zak ever-so teasingly set up in slow-burn stages with such desirable effect, I might add!
As for Beth, I was gratified by Zak’s persistence in ensuring she was a real part of the trio in the entire story but not without purpose. In fact, Beth’s role was pivotal in Susan and Jackie’s relationship. Apart from that, though, I was especially appreciative of Zak giving Beth her own story to tell, her own journey of self-discovery which I thought was never more perfectly suited in the grand scale of the trio’s story. I was initially reserved because I really didn’t want Beth’s story to detract from Jackie and Susan’s journey especially if it was going to be about that particular thing which I had absolutely no interest in reading in lesfic but thank goodness it didn’t go that way, so I was not only relieved but felt more inspired and thrilled about Jackie, Susan and Beth’s collective life-changing journey! Oh, you’ll know what I mean when you read it (disclaimer: my own personal view and preference only, mind!). As I said, Beth played an essential role in Jackie and Susan’s love story, not merely just a side character, which is usually the case in lesfic romances where kids are in the picture. No, Beth was the centre of both Jackie and Susan’s universe. She was the key, the conduit, the reason.
What made this story so captivating to me was Zak’s usage of art as the backdrop for epitomising the love story between two unlikely souls in a complicated set up that could only be possible with destiny. Jackie was a celebrated author. Beth was a gifted young artist. Art is an expression, innit? True freedom. Love. Passion. Desire. Life and art. Life imitating art imitating life. Intimately connected, threadily correlated. When you read the story of Jackie, Susan and Beth, and their winding path to the journey of their truth, I reckon you’ll see the beautiful tapestry that Zak so skilfully crafted. Like a series of paintings that tells the story through an illustration of colours. Colours of emotions. Hence, the perfect illustration of the book cover, imo!
So, the true essence of this book for me? Unexpected. Transformation. Journey to Truth and Reconciliation. Acceptance of who you are. Who your soul is. Accept love. To love. To be loved. To LIVE. Love is the quintessential ethos of life. To live is to love. To love is to live. To have a full life is to love unconditionally and unreservedly that derives from deep within the very essence of the heart, the mind, the body and ultimately the soul. And never expect what life brings. Unexpected happens – the good and the bad. Jackie and Susan’s complicated love story truly embodied the essence of what life and love mean. Well, that’s how I interpreted it, anyway!
You know, it’s incredible that I read this book at the same time as I was re-watching “Fantastic Beast and Where To Find Them” and it struck me that both the book and the movie shared something similar. Rowling’s masterfully crafted subversive message about living a lie, denying one’s truth, hiding who one was – that compressed, suppressed energy would become darker and more dangerous until one day it would explode. The psychology of a soul-destroying act. Rowling aptly called the dark energy (denial, hate, fear, lie) “Obscurus.” Her metaphor couldn’t be more befitting because it applied to the dark/ugly side of what Zak injected into this raw and honest part of the story involving Susan’s antagonistic predicament. How it unfolded. How to reconcile it. Speaking of, how it was reconciled was yet another unexpected turn of events which surprised me, but worked out well as it was inline with the obscurus psychology. Needless to say, I was utterly satisfied with the outcome, to say the least! I have to disclaim that this parallel comparison is based on my own warped interpretation only.
My favourite quote not only summed up the true essence of this book. It was the tone and the rhythm flow of the phrase that Zak deftly constructed that transformed into a lyric, a poem, a poetry of the inner soul, really (at least for me!):
How often did people
get trapped in horrible circumstances
and think they couldn’t get out,
they couldn’t escape?
It wasn’t only about creating a life to be able to live in.
It was about creating a life to be able to survive in.
It was creating a life to LOVE.
All in all, I absolutely loved and savoured this story! So many unexpected discoveries! Original, very creative in approaching well-used tropes. The love story between Jackie and Susan was absolutely captivating to me because of its implications, the nature of their bond, affinity and their undeniable love that simply oozed sensuality! I couldn’t get enough of them! And the incredible story of how Jackie, Susan and Beth slowly built their lives together as a family unit was told with such genuine fervour that it had an everlastingly enduring effect on me. The epilogue? Perfection. I couldn’t ask for a more ideal bookend to a superbly written and told story! A delish icing on the cake, really! Zak’s writing style just keeps getting better, more acute, effortless, natural, and downright fluid in how the words flow ever so smoothly like they’re part of the real-life daily conversational routine. The secondary characters were intriguing, interesting and realistically portrayed as they played important roles in enriching the multi-dimensional character development and growth of all three main characters. I especially LOVED Peggy! Oh, you simply have to read the book to discover just how enchanting her character was to the growth of one of the MCs! Simply adorbs! ‘Nuff said.
“Create A Life To Love” is a definite MUST-READ! Guaranteed to give you all the feels plus loads of fun, funny and heart-tugging moments! What a fantastic trio Zak created in Jackie, Susan and Beth! The family unit that also comprised of the oh-so endearing camaraderie of mates around them was utterly gratifying to immerse myself in as I explored the journey along with all of them! I’ve read all of Zak’s work, thusfar and I must say, her craft just keeps getting more solid, brilliant and what a creative writer/storyteller she has become! She’s now one of the latest lesfic authors on my list whose work I will definitely be looking out for and explore from now on, that’s for sure!
Congrats and well done, Ms. Zak, for creating another brilliant romance with all its creative glory! Thank you for sharing yet another utterly satisfying and entertaining story which has landed on my re-read pile, obvs!
I was given, with much thanks and appreciation, an ARC of this book by BSB via NetGalley in return for an honest review.
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