Overall Review: ⭐️⭐️⭐️1/2
Many years ago, I found this indie romantic comedy set in Los Angeles on Netflix. It had one of my favorite character actresses in it, Sara Rue. As I was watching her character seek out love in her beloved Los Angeles, I noted that the true love affair of this movie wasn’t the one between her and the hero of the story. Instead, the love relationship of this movie was her character and the city of Los Angeles. Many of LA’s little known treasures were highlighted in this movie, and the city became a character as prominent as Sara Rue’s character. It actually made the movie more charming to me, and as a Southern California girl, it made me both nostalgic and proud of my proximity to a diverse, eclectic city rife with possibility.
As I was reading debut author’s Stacy Travis’s new book, French Kiss, I recalled the movie I’ve just described because, like this rom-com, Travis’s book is more than a friends-to-lovers romance. It is a love affair with the City of Lights and Love; the true romance resides in her heroine’s love affair with Paris. In some ways, this enhances the story, as it underscores the heroine, Hannah’s, falling into love with her best friend, Josh. These two love affairs feel simultaneous and create the power behind the story.
However, it is also the limitation of Travis’s story. She makes it clear in her bio that Paris is HER city, and it’s clear how much she adores it in her apt descriptions of this beautiful city. Since I had visited Paris last summer, as she took her reader through its streets and iconic places, I could remember vividly the beauty and history of this place. Yet, it also detracted from fully developing the romance of her hero and heroine. While I love that Hannah finally sees Josh’s strengths and falls for him, she does this as she falls for the city of Paris, and the common problem of the friends-to-lovers trope is glaring.
(Be aware of potential spoilers.)
First of all, before I move into some of my issues with the story, let me be clear. This is a good start for Stacy Travis. She has an adeptness at storytelling in her ability to set her scene and develop chemistry between her characters easily. That she can take us from wanting Hannah to indulge in Maddox, the playboy of this romance, to rooting for her to fall for Josh illustrates her dexterity in moving our emotions.
However, one of the glaring issues with this book is its point of view. I believe the story would have been stronger as a dual point-of-view story. Everything is written from Hannah’s point of view. It isn’t until later in the story as Josh and Hannah begin to fall for each other that we get any hint that Josh has feelings for her. As this is a romance, you can surmise it early on, but without Josh’s point of view, I think Travis missed out on an opportunity to build more tension in her story. She needed a stronger story arc. Maddox and Hannah’s confusing limbo was more annoying than acceptable. I would have only endorsed their coupling IF it was casual. Therefore, Travis spends more time building their illusory chemistry than building Hannah and Josh’s. While I readily accepted it, it felt a bit disingenuous. Constructing Josh’s point of view would have gone further to enhance the eventual chemistry and coupling between these two.
With the friends-to-lovers trope, which so many readers struggle with, you need it to be believable. Readers already grapple with believability with this trope because it makes one question why they were friends in the first place. I think Travis, to a certain degree, mutes this issue with believability in her detailed journey through Paris. For this reader, I found myself skimming those details to get to Josh and Hannah’s story. It would have been a stronger story had the focus been greater on them than their trip through Paris.
Now, it isn’t lost on me that Paris is used as a metaphor for their developing relationship. As Hannah falls in love with Paris, a city she had no intention of visiting, after being spurned by Maddox, she also falls in love with Josh. They are two unlikely sources of love for a heroine whose life has been planned and prescriptive. In losing herself to love, Hannah is anyone of us who has struggled to let go of control and just live. Stacy Travis’s French Kiss is a reminder to embrace love, no matter where you find it because it will ultimately set you free.
In love and romance,