Xeni: A Marriage of Inconvenience by Rebekah Weatherspoon. 2019.
I loved this book to pieces. It’s one of my favorite romances I’ve read in 2019, so full of humor, heat and heart, and it just lifted my day up.
This is book two in the Loose Ends series, where Weatherspoon gives romances to secondary characters from her published books. The heroine of Xeni first appears in Rafe as one of Sloan’s friends circle, and the hero first appears in Sanctuary, as Silas’ cousin. I loved this aspect of the story, and all the references to characters I knew from other books. I spotted characters from seven of Weatherspoon’s books, and now want to do a massive reread of all of them (the aforementioned Rafe and Sanctuary and also Sated, Wrapped, and the Sugar Baby series). I am super excited for Meegan’s book, which is the next one coming, and am really hoping that the brief mention of Duke Stone means that Weatherspoon will soon be writing him and Daniella’s romance, which I have been wanting for quite some time.
This romance has all of the strengths I generally find in books by Rebekah Weatherspoon: smoking hot sex scenes, heroines I want to be friends with, Black women supporting each other, awesome friendship groups, queerness, engaging writing, wonderful humor, and awesome fat representation. This is definitely a comfort read along the lines of Rafe, it has similar qualities, is low conflict and the angst doesn’t come from the romantic relationship. Instead we have family secrets and drama around them, and a central grief arc for the heroine, and a hero who has family issues of his own.
I really appreciated that both of the MCs are bisexual; I love queer m/f pairings in romance. And I loved how queer their relationship felt, from the way they had sex to the way they grappled with heteronormative expectations. The hero has dealt with a bunch of queer antagonism, including from his father, and he is estranged from his father because of it. (Spoiler: highlight to read.) I really appreciated that this doesn’t go the reconciliation route. He deals with the family issues, but it’s not reconciliation focused, and that was a big relief. I generally struggle with the ways queer romances often shoehorn in familial reconciliation, so I was pleased that wasn’t a part of this story.
The way grief worked in the story made it feel not as angsty as I often see grief arcs working in romance. It felt like it made room for the heroine to grieve, and in general be struggling and not have to be okay or pretend she was okay. It didn’t feel like the aim was to take the reader on a cathartic journey around the MCs grief, which is often how I see grief arcs working in romance. This went a different direction, instead focused on how she was grappling with her grief, caring for herself through it, was being cared for by others in her life, including the hero, and not pushing herself to be done grieving. It took a subject that could be quite difficult and drew out the comfort and care aspects of it, and I loved that. I like cathartic grief stories, too, but I really appreciated the way this took a different path.
I thought the family drama/you must marry to inherit plot was great (Spoiler: highlight to read) and I really liked the way the secret baby aspect played out for the heroine, how she got to have a whole bunch of feelings about secrets and familial estrangement and what she missed out on, and also still got to have her relationship with the mom who raised her be really important and central. I liked seeing Xeni grapple with all of her complex feelings and reactions, and really felt for her as she did. And I loved the way the MCs approached the marriage of convenience.
This has a bunch of things I often get excited when I see them in books, so I just want to name that it includes socially awkward MCs who still manage to be really attracted to each other even as they fumble, an m/f pairing where they don’t want kids, a reference to a character having an abortion in the past and that being the right choice, and is a contemporary romance with an MC who is a witch (not in the paranormal sense, but as her spirituality). And a couple other things I want to discuss in a bit more detail, that are also rather rare.
The first of those is that these are characters that are both pushed to a crossroads by the events of the book, but were also not really sure about their life direction in a lot of ways. They are sort of treading water and fumbling and maybe settling for choices that aren’t things they are really into, and the events of the book push them to make choices and really go for what they want. I love stories like that. The ending felt a teensy bit rushed, but I really didn’t mind that.
There’s this moment early on in their sexual negotiations where they talk about how they haven’t really gone for the kinds of sex they want, and maybe don’t really have a sense of what that might be, and I just loved that, so much. I loved the way they each accept each other’s desires and are into giving each other what they know they do want in bed, and also are into experimenting and figuring it out together. I also really loved how queer their sex felt, and I actually did a fist pump and cheered out loud when (spoiler: highlight to read) the idea of pegging was introduced. I am so so happy to be able to recommend this as a romance with that particular sex act because they are rare and also because it’s such a great scene. This is yet another in my list of romances that feel like they have rather subtle femdom vibes, possibly the most subtle of the bunch. There is a way that it feels like the hero wants to serve her, to please her, and it has just a whiff of D/s about it, for me.
In general, I loved both these MCs so so much, and wanted to be friends with both of them. I usually want to be friends with Weatherspoons heroines, but it’s more rare with her heroes. I fell hard for Mason as a person, how kind and caring and careful he was, how much he wanted to support Xeni as she grappled with hard things, how invested he was in being authentically himself, how romantic he was. I love love love that he is fat and bearded and she is super into him, that he is the gentlest giant with a very soft heart who cooks for her and wants to make her life easier, and basically lays his heart at her feet. This felt like the swooniest of all the romances I’ve read by Weatherspoon, it had all these lovely small moments of romantic attraction and I ate them up and was glad for each and every one.
- Black bisexual woman witch MC.
- Fat bisexual immigrant man MC.
- Black queer woman author.
Content Warnings (in white, highlight to read)
Central grief arc. Recounting of an abortion experience. References to a miscarriage in the past. Parental rejection around queerness. References to controlling relationships. A moment where a white character reaches to touch a Black character’s hair, and is called on it. References to similar incidents in the past. Serious illness of parent. Sex on the page.
- Source of the book: ARC from the author
- I am friends with the author on Twitter.
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Related reviews and posts
- Interview with the author about Rafe, book 1 in the Loose Ends series
- Review of Rafe, book 1 in the Loose Ends series
- Review of Sated, also by the author
- Essay where I discuss the fat representation in So Sweet, another book by the author
- Review of Something Like Love, another m/f romance where both MCs are bisexual
- Review of His Convenient Husband, another marriage of convenience romance
- Review of In the Middle of Somewhere, another grief-themed romance
- Review of His Perfect Partner, another grief-themed romance
- Review of On the Brink of Passion, another grief-themed romance