Review of From Scratch

From Scratch by Katrina Jackson. 2017. 

from scratch by katrina jacksonI found this contemporary m/m/f polyamorous erotic romance utterly delightful! It has so many things I love, all together in one fluffy package: a lovely meet-cute, a really sweet friends to lovers arc, humor, heat, heart, baked goods, queerness, excellent friendships, polyamory, stellar fat representation. I laughed out loud more times than I could count, and fell really hard for all three of the main characters; the moments when they were sweet to each other were just so swoony.

I really liked the way we got to know these characters at least partly through learning about their careers. I especially liked hearing the backstory of Mary’s struggle for tenure and with a job she hated, and her jumping at the chance to open a bakery after her tenure is denied, then watching her devote herself to the bakery. I also smiled at the way it was framed almost as a joke made real: what if the fire chief, the police chief, and the baker fell in love?

I loved Mary’s friends so much. I really appreciated the moments we got to witness those relationships, and see the way they stayed strong even when she moved to a town where she didn’t know anyone. Long distance friendships can be such a great source of support and this friendship group made me happy. I would love to read books about each of her friends, too.

The fat representation in this book was wonderful! It even has this moment where the author pokes fun at terrible fat rep in romantic comedies. This lampshading of fat antagonism through humor cracked me up and signaled early on that this author was offering a fat celebratory story where the fat MC was actually centered. It definitely delivered there. I really appreciated the moments where we got to witness how hot the heroes found Mary. They are this lovely mix of desire and sweetness and the MCs are so very clearly not fetishizing her fatness, while really being into her and her body. I also just want to take a moment to appreciate the cover, as that’s what made me one click. A fat Black heroine on the cover! And this cover evokes the joyous fluffiness of the book so well.

That’s the thing. It felt fluffy to me, even with some of the difficult bits in the story. (Check the content warnings for more information.) Your mileage may vary, but this story felt lighthearted, funny, and fun to me in its tone and in my reading experience.

I loved that this triad begins with both a meet-cute and a friends to lovers arc at the same time, and that these three start off dating as a triad, with barely a hint that it could have been a love triangle. That hint actually felt more like a gentle nudge against the normalization of triangle over triad, and I liked that aspect of it. The friends to lovers arc made me all verklempt at a couple of points, in the understated way we got to see the heroes realize that they cared deeply for each other, and the tenderness they showed to each other.

This story is an example of polyamorous insta love, in the way that it framed the triad feeling so right, as a unit that clicks into place right away. I liked the way that was balanced by their nervousness around it, the way each character needed a different kind of reassurance that they were really going to do this thing. It’s rare to get polyamorous insta love contemporary romances (I usually only see that in paranormal romance), and I enjoyed that aspect of this one. It felt really validating to me as a polyamorous reader, to see that represented on the page. Quotes like this really got me in the feels:

They talked and got to know each other and ate dinner. It was comfortable. Just a regular date. Sure there was one more person along, but no one was extraneous. Everyone was integral.

I loved that the closed triad wasn’t a source of conflict within the relationship. Instead the conflict was external, and not really central to the story. I’m on the fence about the antagonist in the external conflict being gay. That said, this kind of internal queer community conflict around respectability politics was also resonant for me as a queer polyamorous reader. I will say that I’d love for polyamorous romances to focus less on the acceptance of polyamory by monogamous folks, but that didn’t rankle much with this particular story.

There were some places that the story strained credulity. For example, one of the MCs switched branches of the armed forces, from the Marine Corps to the Air Force, which is unlikely; it wasn’t really a big aspect of the plot as it happened in the past, so I’m not sure why it was included. I was generally able to hop on board for the ride, despite small things of this sort, and just enjoy the fluffy fun romp of the story.

One of the MCs was an adult survivor of childhood abuse. He has a fairly common perspective on grappling with trauma, one that felt real even as it worried me a bit as a survivor reader. That said, I really appreciated that this didn’t go the route that many polyamorous romances have; the book never implies that he is polyamorous because of his abuse history. Instead, it shows him having relationship struggles around trust and feeling worthy of love that are definitely resonant for me as a survivor reader. I liked seeing these kinds of issues as part of the story in a polyamorous romance, and really appreciated that the story doesn’t try to fix them or cure them with love.

This romance centered three main characters of color moving to a small Southern town. The heroine and one of the heroes are Black, and the other hero is Latinx. One of the heroes identifies as bisexual on the page, the other one says he is attracted to the person, in a way that marks him as multi-gender attracted, probably pansexual or bisexual. I appreciated the way the book makes it very clear that this small town has a complex history around race, and a long vibrant history of Black leadership. And, it also makes it clear that there are other queer people in town, referencing a gay couple having the support of the town council against queer antagonism. Given the ways that so many small town romances imagine small towns as entirely white and allocishet, it was wonderful to read a small town romance that centered characters of color, two of whom were queer and was set in a small town that was definitely not all white or allocishet.

I really appreciated the way this book balanced the heat, humor and heart; when an author gets this right its magical and rare. This really hit that sweet spot for me; the sex scenes were smoking, it was funny as hell, and the romance made me so happy. This is my first book by Jackson, and she won me over. I’m now off to devour her backlist.

Representation

  • Black woman MC
  • Black bisexual man trauma survivor MC
  • Latinx pansexual/bisexual man MC
  • Black woman author

Content Warnings (in white, highlight to read)

Mentions of past physical child abuse, mention of spousal abuse, mention of abuse leading to death. Mention of childhood sexual abuse (not experience by MC). References to professors sexually exploiting students. Mention of past sexual partner’s internalized queer hatred, including that partner physically assaulting and using queer hating language against MC in the past (not detailed). Reference to fistfight in the past. Mention of parental addiction, mention of drug use and alcohol use. References to racism and microaggressions. References to enslavement and Reconstruction. Newspaper publicly exposing triad’s relationship. Triad experiences prejudice for their polyamory, and fight back against it. On page sex.

Disclosures

  • Source of the book: I bought this book myself.
  • I have had a brief conversation with the author about interviewing her for this blog.

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