Everything to Me
The Caribbean island of Tobago is hosting its annual jazz festival, and music journalist Dakota Merrick is there to cover it – except her assistant failed to book her a hotel room. Producer Trent Walker takes pity on the damsel in distress and lets her take a room in his suite at a couples resort. But Trent and Dakota have a history: Dakota’s expose on Trent’s top client (and lover) Shanique exposed the performer’s substance abuse and sent her to rehab. Can a relationship form between two professional rivals?
Trent and Dakota have good chemistry. Trent is a likeable guy, which is nice because so many wealthy professional guys in Harlequins are written like complete jerks. He isn’t with Shanique anymore but wants to help her, both professionally and emotionally. He rescues Dakota, the enemy journalist, and offers her a room at his suite despite being rudely rejected the first couple of times he tries to help. He doesn’t have a horrible woman in his past. He’s nice to kids and fans. Honestly, he’s a star.
Dakota is a complicated woman. Unlike Trent, she doesn’t have her life completely together. She’s clearly working through issues about intimacy in her personal life (she pushes back at Trent with the old pre-emptive “thanks for the one-night stand” and is quite suspicious, accusing him of sleeping with Shanique). But what frustrated me most was the portrayal of Dakota’s career. When Trent talks to her about jazz, she “listened like a devotee at the altar of a guru, although she knew a thing or two herself about the industry.” I would have liked to see her in a conversation instead of as a starry-eyed audience.
Both the author and characters treat Dakota’s piece on Shanique as something underhanded, which I disagree with. Shanique is a public figure who was abusing substances, and for Trent to be angry at Dakota for writing about it is really shooting the messenger. Plus, it marginalizes Dakota’s professional ambitions. Dakota feels “shame” that “she hadn’t written that story because of anyone’s right to know. She’d written it because it would have been a shot in the arm for her career.” Isn’t Dakota allowed to do that? Trent forgives Dakota because her story pushed Shanique into rehab. But it’s not the job of a music journalist to write pieces that are only nice or helpful – just to write pieces that are useful to her readers and that are true. To expect her to be nice and useful felt gendered, especially because Trent, Shanique’s producer and, at the time, lover, seems to not be held to this standard despite his closer proximity.
This book is an interesting exercise in the importance of own voices, because a couple of the portrayals of Tobago were ones I might have called out (the author is from Trinidad, not Tobago, so perhaps I should mention them anyway – is there an island rivalry?) from another author. Trent and Dakota stay, as mentioned, at a couples resort with sexuality front and center. A fellow hotel guest tells them;
“These are the islands. There’s magic everywhere you turn… Spirits everywhere – ask any Tobagonian. Under bushes, up in trees. You can even buy a love potion, if you know where to find them.”
An old woman sells a local handicraft called jumbie beads, which she claims have a magic love charm on them. The local author connection helps these feel more like atmospheric details than stereotypes, especially when run alongside details like hungry Tobagonian street kids.
The author is, as I’ve noticed in her other books, an elegant writer (“he felt as if every word was a picket hammered into the fence she was building between them”). Her descriptions of how Dakota and Trent feel listening to the jazz performances not only capture the music well, but also help develop Dakota and Trent as authentic music lovers. A lot of books write describe people as experts in a field but don’t bother to develop their characters as credibly passionate or even interested in it. I definitely believed that these two loved music.
The plot points here are relatively standard, from the rescue to the forced proximity to the one-night-stand-becoming-more to the test of trust that leads to a temporary separation before a reunion. A B read, to me, is something that may be a little formulaic, but it’s well executed and a pleasant way to pass the time. Everything to Me may not be everything, but it’s definitely enough.