Desert Isle Keeper
I love realistic looks at low-income characters, heroes who win you over by who they are and not what they have. So how have I never read Mia Hopkins before?
Eddie “Trouble” Rosas has just completed a five year prison term when he encounters a stunning but sobbing woman in the east LA community herb garden. Her emotional state makes him turn her down when she propositions him, but she convinces him to join her in what is the hottest encounter of his life. Unfortunately, he doesn’t know how to get in touch with her. Six months later, he finds out she’s up-and-coming chef Carmen Centeno – because his parole officer has assigned him to wash dishes in her kitchen.
The bulk of the story, however, is not set in the workplace, but in Los Angeles’s east side. See, like his brother and father, Eddie joined the Eastside Hollenbeck gang, and whereas his older brother Sal has left, Eddie’s still in. That kept him safe in prison (where he spent most of his time reading romance novels), but now the gang wants more from him. And Eddie wants more too – more than anything, answers about what happened to his father. How can he reconcile the demands of the gang and the mistakes of his past with his conviction that educated, talented Carmen deserves much better?
This is a romance that realistically centers the economic struggles of the characters. Unlike chick-lit heroines who somehow rent one-bedroom apartments in New York while working entry-level jobs, Carmen, a well-reviewed chef, lives with her parents so she can chip away at student loans. Eddie doesn’t even have a home, crashing instead on a trailer floor, and when he talks with his dad’s friend in a coffee shop, he can only afford to buy a drink for one of them. The author says in a note at the end that she conducted interviews with gang members exiting prison as part of a previous job, and those details inform her characterization of incarceration, gang life, and gang politics.
I’ve read a lot of books where the heroine is on an emotional journey and part of that is finding a hero. Here, that’s flipped: Eddie is on a journey of finding out who he should be in his new post-prison life, and part of that is falling in love with Carmen. I loved that the story focused on the inner life and capacity for love of a poor Hispanic gang member. Eddie is loyal and romantic, but sometimes those same desirable traits in a hero put him in bad places, especially when one of his loyalties is to a gang. It’s very unusual to find a romance novel narrated entirely in the first person by the hero, but here, it helps to be in Eddie’s head so you can understand his motivations for doing things that aren’t always sympathetic.
With just Eddie’s narration, we don’t get to know Carmen quite as well. She is competent and hard-working, which I love in a heroine. However, I could have used a few more details or scenes to help us understand why she believed in Eddie without the access to his thoughts that the readers have.
Well, it could certainly be the sex! She and Eddie burn it up in this story, and it’s only because the standards have shifted in Romancelandia that I settled on ‘hot’ rather than ‘burning’ (basically, the scenes are exclusively two people, and there is some anal play but not anal sex.)
Trashed is sexy and thoughtful, with one of the most realistically developed heroes I’ve read in a long time. If I’d read this book in 2019, it would absolutely have been in my top ten of the year. I’m sorry I got to it late, but I’m delighted I got to it, and I know you will be, too.