Book Review: Once Upon a Sunset

It’s been a long time since I read a romance novel. The last one I read involved phrases like “turgid tool” and “heaving bosom.” It was quite the heady material for my innocent, inexperienced 13-year-old self! (Big thanks to my cousin, who had an entire walk in closet to devour during the summer before eight grade!) My preferences, however, have always been inclined towards fantasy or at least magical realism. Romance wasn’t something that I sought out if I had access to other things.

Through the magic of Twitter, I discovered a handful of Filipina romance authors. Their words made me realize that the genre had evolved beyond the doe-eyed main character and the rippling muscled love interest who saves her. I decided to look into things, while also diversifying my bookshelves and supporting writers who are like me.

I decided to start with Once Upon a Sunset, by Tif Marcelo. While some people have grandiose, artistic reasons for why they choose their reading material, my reasoning was simple: Marcelo seems like a really nice person on Twitter, and the cover of her book depicts two of my favorite things (beaches and sunsets).

It was a fast-paced, enjoyable read, with characters I came to care and worry about quickly. Diana and Margo are not women who need a man to swoop in and save them. I really love the fact that they are women with their own identities and passions; having love interests is more of a bonus, and not an act of completion. It was also enjoyable to read about their foibles, and the ways they eventually overcame or at least became at peace with them.

The minor characters grabbed me by the emotions and squeezed, too, despite their relatively short page time. I don’t know how to go into this without releasing spoilers, so I’ll just say that, as with real life, things are not always black and white. I felt a lot of sympathy for the way everybody was just trying to do the best they could.

“Trying to do the best they could” might be a sticking point for non-Filipinos, or maybe even Filipinos who are “Americanized” and very distanced from the culture. Growing up as a comfortably middle class kid, I naively viewed some types of survival as selfishness. A little self-reflection and acceptance that not everyone had the opportunities that I did goes a long way. I hope people can put aside their own narrow experiences and expectations and appreciate where some of the characters are coming from.

I’m glad that I read this book, and plan to read more within this genre.


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