Overall Grade: 4.5 ⭐️
How to write this review? Hmmm…well, it seems as though I’d love to start with highlighting the chameleon-like nature of Jewel E. Ann. While there are qualities of her stories that both frustrate and endear her readers to her, making her mark on our souls, from book to book, Jewel E. Ann reinvents herself with each new tome. Yes, there is a guaranteed “a ha” or “oh wow” that troubles your spirit. She loves to play with themes that challenge her readers, and she writes real stories for real people, even when she loves to reimagine tropes through a filter that makes them more acceptable, but not always comfortable to consider.
Her newest story, The Naked Fisherman, book 1 of her Naked duet, enacts the qualities I’ve listed above beautifully. Your heart will not be in one piece when you leave this story, but she will use the second book of the duet, The Lost Fisherman, to piece it back together…well sort of. It will take the scope of that entire book to do so, but I digress.
The Naked Fisherman, as it’s labeled, is a coming of age, age-gap, forbidden love story. Remember, though, that in the world of Jewel E. Ann, the story is always more than its labels. It follows Reese, who for this book, is the voice we have to consider the most and is the only voice we get from Ann. Fisher Mann is her foil, her roommate, her mother’s friend, and her boss. And yes, he’s ten years older than her. Yet, from the moment they meet, there is a connection, an attraction, an interest, and at first, Jewel E. Ann allows us to feel the discomfort of this pairing through Reese’s, her heroine’s, naivete. Raised in a strict Christian home with its empirical values, Reese has yet for her values to be challenged by the real world. However, from Day 1 in the shadow of Fisher Mann, Reese begins her journey to experience the world and reconsider the values by which she was raised.
What I loved about this book is the banter and camaraderie between Reese and Fisher. Ann writes their discourse as foreplay. Without their disagreements, there would be no attraction, in my opinion, between Reese and Fisher. It’s what makes their chemistry palpable with their physical attraction as the cherry on the sundae of their relationship. Add in the complications of age and experience, and there is a whole lot of tension in this book. And that is simply the surface-level stuff of The Naked Fisherman.
The real stuff, the gravity of Ann’s book, is its insistence on challenging values and “norms.” Reese comes to Denver with a set of values that she’s been told to believe, untested. From Day 1, she is met with the “real world” through the characterization of Fisher. Through the testing of her beliefs, Reese’s growth begins. Yet, as we find with this book, she needs various teachers, and by the book’s end, Reese’s journey must continue elsewhere. When you get to the end of this first book of a duet, you will moan and cry and NEED the next book. Again, this is the beautiful torture that brings JEA readers back for more, but it’s a poetic end, one carefully constructed by a master storyteller.
I’ve been curious as of late about the romance books written and published in 2020 and 2021. In future years, will we look back and re-see romance authors using the genre to interrogate the way in which a post-COVID world handles truth? When you consider Jewel E. Ann’s Naked Duet, more specifically for purposes of this review, The Naked Fisherman, can we see it as a response to the “truths” and “values” of a certain population in our world? It feels like it. And her duet adds to a pile of books that seem to be doing the same: highlighting the challenge to ‘truth’ and ‘values’ in our current world. I think when you get to the end of this book you might consider that suggestion. It might be better than running for the tissue box to dry your tears or one-clicking The Lost Fisherman in anticipation of Fisher and Reese’s continued journey. But then again…maybe we should take the space to consider Reese’s response to her changing values and sit with it. I think it would make us better people in the end.
In love and romance,