Review: Real Love
Real Love is the third book in the Love After series by Alexandria House and one of my favorites. With some of the most serious content warnings out of her books, it's one that I recommend with a bit of caution, but this was actually a reread for me, which should tell you how much I love it.
I listened to the audiobook on Scribd, as my second book for the Audio in Black 2023 challenge.
Week 2 Prompt: Listen to an audiobook by your favorite author.
Now, I'm pretty much up to date on Alexandria House's catalog. The only full-length novel I haven't gotten to yet is her newest release, Goal. It's on my tbr, but there's no audiobook yet, and it also has some pretty intense content warnings that I'm not in a place to read at the moment. So, to the backlist it was! And Real Love was one that I've been meaning to reread ever since I finished it.
Basically, the book is overall fairly light in tone, but there's a point where one of the characters has to reveal some very heavy information about their past, including CSA. As with all of her books including major character trauma, I think Alexandria House handles this really well. It's told in memory, not a flashback or in the moment. It's not graphic. It's not romanticized or minimized. And it's not used as a "cheat code" for character development or for the romantic arc. Alexandria House treats this as what it is, something serious that happens in real life and that can be therapeutic for people to read in fiction, especially in fiction that has the safety net of a guaranteed HEA.
I wanted to reread it to see how my understanding of the characters would change reading the whole story back with that knowledge already in mind. It made some parts of the story, which on first read weren't particularly emotional, carry so much more weight. And it made me appreciate how the characters interact with one another in the face of arguments even more than I already did.
If this is content that you can't or don't want to engage with, I still highly recommend reading the first two books in the series. There are travel bloggers and poets, great friendship between the three Black women who are the leads of the respective books in the series, and men who love hard. On the other hand, if you end up finding the way Alexandria House wrote about childhood trauma therapeutic, I recommend you look up the St Louis Cyclones series, in which each book features adults dealing with different forms of childhood trauma and really emphasizes the importance of therapy and mental health.
Anyway! On to the synopsis!
Denise has worked her ass off to get her life back on track since her ex-husband screwed up her credit and left her broke and living in her mother's house. She's done with him and done with men who can't meet her energy, but seeing her two best friends over the moon in love is a reminder of what her life is lacking.
Sure, she's got a great job as a loan officer at the bank. Well ... great in terms of pay at least. Turning away people rejected by the bank and getting yelled at by those who can't take their frustrations out on the ones truly making the decisions is never her idea of a good day at work.
Especially not when the person yelling at her is a drop-dead gorgeous Black man with a great business plan but a history of bad credit from when he was in his early 20's and making the same bad decisions that would have had little to no consequences for someone walking through life in different shoes.
After their argument at the bank, Hasan receives some good advice about crowdfunding and is able to finally open his tattoo studio, which does great because he truly is a talented artist. When that tattoo studio just happens to be across the street from the brick-and-mortar restaurant Denise helps her mom open after years of selling plates out of her apartment, the two can't fight the way they're drawn to one another.
Using a not-so-random drawing and the ruse of a free tattoo, the two finally drop the walls between them, going from friends with benefits to lovers. Until a family secret that's been buried for over two decades insists on coming back to light.
older woman/younger man
friends with benefits to lovers
I gave you most of my thoughts up top, but I really love the characters in this book. The relationship between Denise and her mom is hilarious, from the first moment Denise is snooping through her mom's kitchen in search of pie to the way Denise's mom only refers to her boyfriend(ish) as "Friend" the entire book.
The growth and improvement in Hasan's relationship with his family is huge, and I really appreciate that he confronted them instead of just stewing in his emotions. Like I said, I love a hero who (1) is willing to put his emotions and feelings right out there and (2) is able to communicate.
Hasan and Denise are perfect together--definitely one of my favorite couples I've read so far this year. They have good banter and great sexual chemistry, and they're both good communicators.
The audiobook itself is good. It's not the best performance-wise in Alexandria House's catalog; there are a few places where the end of a chapter gets cut off in the final word, and I'm a sucker for all of her books that have Jakobi Diem and Wesleigh Siobhan as the narration dream team. But overall, if you want an audiobook you can listen to and enjoy while cleaning, walking, catching up on some arts and crafts, etc. this one won't let you down.
Overall Rating: 4.25 Stars (rounding up to 5 for Goodreads)
I loved this one just as much on the reread, if not more. Check CW, otherwise, it's a 10/10 recommendation.
Romance Rating: 4.5 Stars
I love these characters even more the second time around. Hasan is the sweetest cinnamon roll, and I love a hero who isn't afraid to put his feelings right out there on the table.
Heat Rating: 4 Stars
I suppose this book could work without the sex, but the steamy scenes really drive the early stages of the romantic arc. The first scene in the tattoo studio???!
Kink Rating: 2* Stars
Very mild exhibitionism but overall vanilla by design
Dark / Taboo Rating: 2* Stars
Childhood trauma (CSA) is discussed.
Are you doing the 2023 Audio in Black challenge?