Book Review: Sunsets and Shades, by Erica Lee
Brittany B. | 04/08/2020
This week on The Queerblr’s repeat author review is Sunsets and Shades, by Erica Lee. Sunsets and Shades is a book that will take you and your heart on an emotional journey as Kinsley Scott and Grace Harper figure out each other and, in turn, themselves:
Kinsley Scott is a lesbian romance author who doesn’t actually believe in love. While her alter ego, Laurel Lake, loves happy endings and epic love stories, Kinsley has a more cynical view of the world.
Grace Harper is a hopeless romantic hanging on every word of the lesbian romance novels she reads. She believes her happy ending is right around the corner if she can just move on from the ex who cheated on her. When Grace’s childhood best friend, Leah, suggests that she comes to Philly to get space from her ex, it seems like the perfect opportunity to start over, especially since Leah’s roommate is none other than Laurel Lake – Grace’s favorite romance author.
Grace quickly learns that people aren’t always how they appear online and is disappointed to find that Kinsley Scott is nothing like Laurel Lake. She’s rude and vulgar and, unfortunately, irresistibly sexy. There is also much more to her than meets the eye, and as the two grow closer, her tough exterior is quickly stripped away, revealing much more than Grace ever bargained for.
I want to start off by saying that I read Sunsets and Shades almost immediately after reading and reviewing Anyone But Her. It was the strangest feeling because although I didn’t give Anyone But Her a bad rating (it was a three our of five rainbows), I felt like I’d been too harsh on Lee’s writing because I absolutely loved Sunsets and Shades. I rarely have reviewer’s remorse but sometimes, I’ll admit, I probably just don’t read the right book for me by an author. Erica Lee is an author that I am so glad that I gave another chance because my experience reading Sunsets and Shades was so much more enjoyable.
It was enjoyable because the two protagonists could not be any more different. When I read Anyone But Her, I couldn’t get over how much Reagan and Charlie read the same. But that wasn’t the case at all with Kinsley and Grace: Kinsley is a playboy, for lack of a better term, who doesn’t believe in relationships while Grace is a diehard romantic. Kinsley writes under a pseudonym and her stories are everything Grace wants from relationships, with grand gestures, romance, and happily ever afters. The two are brought together through their mutual friend, Leah – who is Grace’s childhood friend and Kinsley’s best friend and roommate – after Grace goes through a breakup and needs to get out of her small town for a bit to recenter. Once it comes out that Kinsley is the famed Laurel Lake, the same Laurel Lake that Grace has obsessively read all of her published work, the dynamic between them becomes strained.
The book then goes into an interesting take on the “they were roommates” trope as Grace stays longer than she’d originally anticipated, as Leah spends most of her time at her boyfriend’s place. Grace and Kinsley have to learn to get along and once they start to, Kinsley takes it upon herself to try and help Grace get over her ex. Of course, this wouldn’t be a lesbian romance novel unless the two of them got together, which they eventually do.
I enjoyed a lot about this book – the way that each character was written, how each character has their own unique arc that is set in motion by another person but ultimately they have their own agency in their arcs resolution, and the tension is on point throughout this book. From reading Lee’s work before, I trusted that despite the emotional turmoil she puts her protagonists and readers through, I knew I was going to get a happy ending. Despite knowing I would get that happy ending, there were definite moments towards the second half of the book where I genuinely thought “maybe these two won’t end up together” and it kept me reading nonstop until the end. This was a book that I read in a single night and it was due to the tension expertly pulling me along to see how things resolved or how Kinsley would bounce back from her latest playboy fuckup.
Lee does a really good job with Sunsets and Shades with having the plot be solely character-focused. There isn’t an overarching plot happening simultaneously to what is happening in our protagonists’ lives, unlike with Anyone But Her. Having a story that is successful, full of tension, and purely a character story is rare in my reading of published works. I’ve really only seen is successfully done in my sparse reading of fanfiction, where the world and plots are pre-establish and the stories are most often character development or romance filler to an existing plot (along with your coffee shop alternate universe stories and all kinds of other stories). It was beyond satisfying to experience the personal drama and created tension between Grace and Kinsley without having to make room in my head for tension from another overarching plot source.
My criticism comes from having slight outside knowledge of the author and having read Anyone But Her. The outside knowledge comes from following Erica Lee on twitter because I saw some similarities between Kinsley and what I’ve seen online of Lee. Now, having a self insert original character isn’t a bad thing, but the inclusion of Kinsley having a chinchilla (which Lee does, and they’re adorable, and Lee uses them in her promotional twitter giveaways) was a little too on the nose for me and frankly distracting in most scenes that he was mentioned. I did enjoy how the chinchilla plays a part towards the end of the book, but having a sex scene pause just as it’s getting started to talk about a chinchilla’s penis and humping habits was pretty off-putting. And I know – you probably read that and became fairly confused. I promise that that is how I felt as I read the aforementioned scene.
The criticism from having read Anyone But Her was that the setting was very similar. Kinsley lives near a big city while Grace comes from a small conservative town. That was the same case for Reagan and Charlie. Granted, Grace’s small town wasn’t as homophobic as Charlie’s hometown, but it made for similar backgrounds and growing up with not a lot of dating opportunities due to the low population. This is a realistic way of growing up and I’m not trying to say that it isn’t – I just wanted some more differences between the books and found it hard to ignore these similarities.
The other similar setting was that the story was taking place over summer, which meant that Grace, who is an elementary school teacher, was off work for an extended period while Kinsley worked from home and at her own pace. This creates it so the story is focused on their time together, which is fine, but that was the case in the Anyone But Her, too (the entire Miller family is on a five-week vacation and Reagan works remotely so it doesn’t impact her income). I would have liked to see how the story would have been different if either of the characters had a day job that they had to go to. Would it have created more tension because Kinsley did something stupid that upset Grace and there was then forced to not be able to talk to her about it because she had to be at work? I don’t know but it would have helped put another difference to the two books.
All in all, this book is lovely and is a book I look forward to reading again. The characters are fun, the circumstances are believable, the tension is on point, and it doesn’t fall into the lesbian romance formula that I often see in books. There are tasteful sex scenes throughout, not just two at different junctures in the book, and takes a fun twist to the “they were roommates” trope, which, I’ll be honest, is one trope that I’m always happy to read.
4 out of 5 Rainbows
Recommended Reader: Anyone looking for an unapologetically queer wlw story with a plot that is focused solely on the protagonists. Or anyone looking for a wlw story that will take them on an emotional ride alongside the characters on the page.