A very good small-town romance by Melissa Brayden
At the beginning of The Last Lavender Sister are doughnuts. If you’ve followed Melissa Brayden on social media for more than five minutes, you know how important doughnuts are to her. Aster is the youngest daughter of the Lavender family, the only one not working for the family business. The one whose name people don’t remember, hence “the last Lavender sister”. Her boutique doughnut shop is wonderfully successful but Aster’s dreams go beyond smartly-named heavenly pastries. There’s so much to explore food-wise and she’s thinking of leaving her boring small town and applying to culinary school in Boston. Just before she takes the plunge, Aster meets the vet who is temporarily taking over the town practice and sparks fly, hot, swirly sparks that both women try to harness into friendship and nothing more. Because Aster will be leaving soon and even if she didn’t, Brynn, the new vet, would.
I am so grateful for this book. I’m a huge fan of Melissa Brayden’s books. I’m incredibly proud that I got to translate two of them (which is why I keep mentioning it, it’s not bragging, I simply loved every second of it) and I wish I’d had the opportunity to work on more. I love the way she writes, I fall in love with almost all her characters, she makes me hungry half the time with her food descriptions, and I have a never-ending crush on Jessica Lennox. Kiss the Girl was my first Brayden romance and I have AfterEllen (before they became all TERFy) to thank for that.
In recent years, however, while I’ve enjoyed Brayden’s new releases (even when she’s not at her best, she’s always a good writer), they didn’t touch me as much, they didn’t feel as exhilarating as her older ones. With each new one, I was thinking, will this be the one? Is Brayden back at the top?
This time. This time I think it’s the one.
Melissa Brayden left the old tried-and-true but boring-by-now formula behind and gives us something new. It’s both new and one hundred percent Brayden, which is what I’ve been hoping for for a while now. It’s also a slow burn, with some gorgeous writing. I’ve had to take some breaks while reading to delight in a turn of phrase here and there, and that’s the best feeling.
One of the things I loved is that Aster is all about communication. She says what she has to say, asks questions when she wants answers. She may be the baby of the family and some people might not notice her, but she’s not a pushover. She wants what she wants. She’s brave, she’s determined, she’s kind, she’s relatably flawed. Brynn is at first the mature one in the relationship, but as time goes by, both characters grow, each in her own way, Aster by asserting herself and Brynn by opening up, letting the suffering she still struggles with since the breakup that led to her moving to Homer’s Bluff show more and more. She’s honest about it, honest about the fact that it somewhat dictates her actions. Both characters are very self-aware and that’s what makes the relationship plausible. That and the chemistry. Aster and Brynn are freaking hot together.
I love Brayden’s trademark banter but in recent books, it felt over the top, holding the fort while everything else was scrambling to find its footing again. She’s toned it down in this book and guess what? It’s still funny, it’s still quirky, and it stops before becoming tedious. It’s like getting the best of Melissa Brayden again.
The previous best with a bonus, though. One thing is better than before: despite all my love for the characters Brayden writes, I’ve often felt that their voices weren’t distinct enough. That they all spoke the same, with the same mannerisms, the same sense of humour. To different degrees but with the same basis always. Not Aster and Brynn. When I hear them in my head, there’s no mistaking one for the other.
Also, food is my love language. Granted, I don’t cook. Dyspraxia gets in the way and I don’t have enough patience. I don’t know which one is the chicken and which one is the egg but the result is, that I don’t cook. Cook for me though, and I’m in love (just ask my wife, she knows all about it). So Aster wanting to cook for Brynn? Major swooning here. Add the fact that books are fundamental to this relationship and my day is made. There’s this perfect metaphor but it’s 84% in so I can’t share the quote but I love it. It’s perfect for this book, it’s perfect for these characters, it’s perfect for a lot of readers I think.
Side note: one of my favourite scenes to translate in Kiss the Girl involved carrots doing carrot stuff (get your mind out of the gutter, please) and I smiled every time carrots were mentioned here too.
Yes, The Last Lavender Sister is fluffy. Yes, it’s predictable, to some extent. No, it’s not perfect, I have once again issues with the editing and proofreading, and why does Brynn read straight romance when so much excellent sapphic romance is everywhere now? None of this however diminished my enjoyment of the story. I’m a very happy camper right now. 5 stars.