I’ll be honest: I’m picky about my romance.
It’s probably a side effect of growing up queer and creative. Watching and reading traditional romances, I never really related to the characters or stories: they were too straight, too thin, too cis. The happily-ever-afters were too predictably heteronormative for me to enjoy. It wasn’t that I didn’t like the tropiness of it–who doesn’t love a good friends-to-lovers story, or enemies-to-lovers, or mutual pining, or all three put together?–but I just never saw myself.
Welp, fellow chubby enby queers, grab a bottle of wine and some bubble bath, because Graham’s Delicacies is the romance we were waiting for you.
This collection of three stories by #ownvoices author Em Ali is a sweet, steamy read, perfect for an afternoon or evening of easy escapism. It’s not high literary fiction by any means, but it’s not trying to be. The stories are honest and genuine and delightful in their open-heartedness, and the diversity of the characters is a welcome break in a genre saturated with straight white thinness.
Graham’s Delicacies centers in a bakery by the same name, with a beautifully diverse staff that forms the backbone of the stories. Emilie and Alex, who are both nonbinary and use they/them pronouns, work in the kitchen, whipping up beautiful baked confections. Alex is Arab-American and queer, and Emilie is white and chubby, with a history of anxiety that the narrative explores with tenderness and care. In the front of the store, we meet Jen, who is Black and bisexual; Sam, Black and gay, and James, Mexican-American and also gay. Through Alex, we meet, Yujin, a gay Korean-American YouTube star who features the bakery on his dessert tour.
Each story focuses on a different pair of characters, with the others featuring in and giving peeks at the plot points of the other stories. We see a lot of favorite rom-com tropes show up in the individual stories–Saccharine, Jen and Emilie’s story, is ripe with friends-to-lovers sweetness; Delectable, James and Sam’s, is chock-full of mutual pining. You do get the sense, as you read, that there’s a bit of an over-reliance on the trope to sell the story, particularly in the third story, Ravenous, about Alex and Yujin, and somewhat with James and Sam’s story as well–other characters and the book’s description imply a deeper sense of animosity and tension than the narrative really conveys, so you need to sort of push it along yourself.
The different dynamics between the three couples are an absolute delight to read. Jen and Emilie are soft and sweet and sexy, Sam and James playful and teasing and entertainingly bashful, Alex and Yujin straddling the line between longing and self-denial and delightfully sharp. The sex scenes are definitely explicit, but in an indulgent way that never feels fetishizing. Even though each couple has an incredibly different sexual vibe, there’s an undercurrent of sweetness that runs under every scene, and a distinct emphasis placed on enthusiastic consent. It was refreshing to read, and wove in organically and easily.
One very minor drawback of the book in general–and in slightly the same vein–was that there really wasn’t an overall sense of tension or urgency. The stories moved along, and they were sweet and fluffy and occasionally a bit angsty, but there wasn’t a deep sense of risk in any of them. If you like your romance with higher stakes, you might not walk away delighted. But as a bathtub read designed to leave you feeling warm and cozy inside, Graham’s Delicacies does its job very well.
As a reader, I also really, really appreciated the content warnings that the author provided at the beginning of the book. None of my triggers showed up, but in general, I think this represents a trend of authors becoming more aware of their readers and being more intentional about making sure readers have a safe experience–which is great.
This is an adorable, steamy read after a long day when you just need to relax your brain and chill out with some sweet, easy, and–well, saccharine cuteness. Grab yourself a treat, snuggle up, and pick up a copy of Graham’s Delicacies. Indulge–you deserve it. And don’t forget to drop Em a line on Twitter @emaliwrites to let her know how great it was.
Disclosure: I received an ARC of this book in exchange for writing and posting a review.