Review of the Nested Hearts Duology

Empty Nests and Bowerbirds by Ada Maria Soto. Dreamspinner Press. 2015.

I think of these books as one whole story, an arc stretched over two volumes, so for the most part, I want to talk about them that way.

I have really loved previous reads by this author, but this duology following the same couple didn’t work for me as well. The duology is tropetastic in a way that Tactical Submission and His Quiet Agent are not. It very much stays within the lines, and I think the strengths of those other books are partly in the ways they twist and turn unexpectedly, and defy easy categorization, push genre expectations. I like a good tropetastic romp, don’t get me wrong, but this duology didn’t feel like it was being playful within the tropes, or hitting the beats of them with precision, which are my two main preferences for tropey romances.

This story is ownvoices for Mexican American representation, and it shines there, in a lot of ways. It is Bay Area set and has a lovely sense of place to it. I liked the secondary characters in the story quite a bit, and loved the way it showed both chosen and blood family. It’s a single parent romance with a teenager, and very much about what its like to parent a kid who is in his senior year and about to leave the nest. I liked that the gay single dad MC had been a teen parent, as that is super common and representation that is not very common. I also liked his relationship with his son, a lot.

One of the central conflicts is about the MC being a workaholic; these kinds of character arcs rarely interest me, so I definitely focused more on the other elements of the story in my read; the single parent letting go, the class differences being a huge source of tension. I will say that I enjoyed the fact that this is a billionaire romance that’s not a wealth fantasy; the other MC is mainly uncomfortable with displays of wealth, and I liked that.

In Empty Nests, one MC is self conscious about taking off his shirt because he’s not as muscled and the other MC says “Unless you’re secretly a girl under there, there’s nothing I don’t want to see.” In case you were hoping he might get challenged on his trans hating cissexist joke…unfortunately, the other MC chuckles. I found this moment in the story hurtful as a trans reader, and seriously considered putting down the book for good because of it. It made it difficult for me to care about the MCs, going forward.

Empty Nests ends in a way that is very clear there is more story to tell, and I continued on to read Bowerbirds mostly because of that. They work much better together than they do by themselves. It’s like together they make the full arc. It resolved to an HFN not an HEA, which surprised me. It felt like it could have used a bit more at the end of Bowerbirds to wrap things up.

Representation

  • Mexican American gay man MC
  • Gay man MC
  • Queer woman secondary character
  • Mexican American woman author with dysgraphia and phonological dyslexia.

Content Warnings (in white, highlight to read)

Description of car accident in the past. Rejection from family members based on queer antagonism. Brief references to physical violence. References to an abusive relationship in the past. Trans antagonism and cissexism in Empty Nests. Alcohol use, including a character getting blackout drunk. Sex on the page. 

Disclosures

  • Source of the books: I borrowed them from the San Francisco Public Library via hoopla.
  • I have had brief contact with the author on Twitter.

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