When I think of Priscilla Oliveras’ books, ‘joy’ is the word that comes to mind. I don’t consider her novels fluffy romps (at least not the ones I’ve read so far), but there’s a deeply joyful quality to her stories that never fails to lift my mood. Island Affair deals with deeply emotional topics, but there’s also a ‘happy to be alive’ quality to it that left me a very satisfied reader.
As the book opens, both Sara Vance and Luis Navarro are somewhat at loose ends. Luis has an unwanted week of mandatory leave from his job as a firefighter so that he can deal with the psychological impact of working an accident that brought up memories he would rather not acknowledge. Sara, on the other hand, is being faced with a week’s vacation in Key West with the family that always makes her feel inadequate.
While she has a successful career as a social media influencer, Sara comes from a family of high-achieving doctors and she feels like she can never meet their expectations. She had planned to bring her boyfriend to the week of family togetherness, but he calls to cancel just as she arrives in Key West. As luck would have it, Luis happens to be walking out of the fire station. The two meet and just like that, Sara has picked up a fake boyfriend for the week.
It’s a little crazy, but I was in the mood to just roll with it, so I kept going. As it turns out, this was a good decision because the ensuing story is not only fun but also warm and charming. In the opening chapters, one can feel the distance between Sara and her family, and it really is awkward. However, even before romantic feelings develop, it’s clear that Luis has Sara’s back. That made me like him right off the bat even though as a reader, I knew he and Sara were keepings secrets from one another.
There’s not a lot of external plot action in this book, but as we see Sara and Luis navigate a week of family vacation together, there’s a lot of emotional development going on beneath the surface and Oliveras handles it adeptly. It quickly becomes clear that Luis has the gift of being able to talk to and connect with lots of different types of people, and this comes in very handy as he quickly wins over both Sara and her family. Throughout the book Luis acts as something of a bridge, helping Sara learn how to relate to the family she has long held at arms’ length.
And then there’s the connection between Luis and Sara. Their budding romance feels natural even when the circumstances bringing them together are anything but. Not only do we see Luis fitting in beautifully with Sara’s family, but we also get to see Sara in Luis’s hometown, complete with chance encounters with his friends and an impromptu family dinner with Luis’s close-knit Cuban-American family. Family plays a key role in this book, and I loved watching the lead characters navigate those relationships as well as building their own romantic one. These scenes show people from two very different backgrounds getting comfortable with each other, and convinced me that this whirlwind romance could work.
There’s a plot twist thrown in near the end that felt unnecessary. The story had plenty of tension to it without that plot point, and it jerked me out of the story just a bit. However, aside from that, I enjoyed this sweet and emotional novel. If you need a pick-me-up during this challenging year, give Island Affair a try. This book is first in a new series, and I am looking forward to seeing what comes next.