Desert Isle Keeper
For the Love of April French
A story of people who want to be the best they can for each other, and who realistically put in the work? Penny Aimes’ For the Love of April French gets a big “Yes, please.”
April French calls herself the “welcome wagon” – newcomers to Austin’s kink community hook up with her, but everybody moves on. So when newcomer Dennis – a hot new Dom with impeccable suits and equally terrific chemistry with April – shows interest, she can’t let herself believe it will last. Dennis, while he wants to build trust with April, recognizes that he has to do work to do. A bad experience has left him unsure of how to be a good, safe Dom, and April is trans, which means he needs information and education on her own particular needs.
I always appreciate it when a book doesn’t oversimplify the process of healing from trauma. Both Dennis and April go to therapy here, and it’s necessary. Dennis inadvertently harmed his ex-wife in their BDSM relationship, while April’s ex-wife harmed her in a way that was all too advertent. April’s trauma is compounded by her feelings of unlovability, that she is someone to get off with rather than someone to form a relationship with, a sentiment tied to her trans identity. She envies, for instance, the diminutive height of a ciswoman sub at her kink club, and is convinced Dennis can get equal sexual satisfaction from other girls “who don’t have to shave twice a day.” She also worries about being a fetish object, and sighs that
“the band between people who weren’t attracted to trans women and the people who only wanted her because she was trans seemed impossibly narrow.”
There’s a lot for them to work out, but the book never stoops to a ‘magic lightbulb moment’ or ‘healed by pure love.’
Overall, while this is a good novel, it’s also… tough. I don’t mean to underrate the challenges experienced in love and dating by both characters (especially April), and with the physical aspects of transition and sex. But their professional lives are also difficult, as April takes on a promotion that saddles her with tasks she dislikes and Dennis has to fix multiple crises while being the only Black individual in leadership and being undermined by fellow executives. (The plot device of April knowing and not telling Dennis that they work together isn’t great either, because it’s predictable). Their hobbies – April’s DnD group and Dennis’s trivia crew – don’t get fun, lively scenes. April’s orgasm denial kink means that even the sex scenes aren’t fulfilling – at least to me, a reader who doesn’t share that kink. I wish there had been more joy in these characters’ lives.
For all that this book is set in the world of kink, its sensuality level isn’t that spicy. There are BDSM trappings – handcuffs, a brief tie-up scene, and flogging (including with a non-relationship partner), plus April’s orgasm denial kink – but they’re deployed in a way that feels closer to warm than to burning. The language is euphemistic and full of elision – think ‘He slid inside her’ or ‘she touched him’. The main message of BDSM in this story is trust. April and Dennis must recover from past trust issues and establish and maintain it for themselves.
One last interesting thing about this book – its structure. The author writes several months from April’s point of view, then jumps back in time and tells it again from Dennis’. I don’t generally like this device because it feels repetitive, but that’s not the case here. April and Dennis have spent a lot of this time apart, as Dennis travels for work. It’s actually interesting and revelatory to learn what Dennis is doing with his time when away from April – for instance, how he goes about learning to become a safe Dom. There are realistic misunderstandings between the couple, and reading from Dennis’ point of view is interesting because it highlights how these issues look to him.
Romance belongs to everyone, and it’s nice to see a well-written OwnVoices trans romance. I’m glad Carina Adores picked this book up, and I hope for more from Penny Aimes.
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I'm a history geek and educator, and I've lived in five different countries in North America, Asia, and Europe. In addition to the usual subgenres, I'm partial to YA, Sci-fi/Fantasy, and graphic novels. I love to cook.