As a popular author of lesbian fiction, Jackie Mitchell is used to fans occasionally seeking her out, but she quickly learns that the teenager on her doorstep isn’t a fan. She’s the daughter Jackie gave up for adoption sixteen years ago, in what Jackie thought was a closed adoption.
Jackie drives Beth the five hours back from St. Petersburg to Savannah, where she’s surprised to learn that Beth’s mom is hot as hell. She spends the night at their house and hangs out with them in the morning, heading back to Florida thinking that’s all the contact she’ll ever have with them.
Susan Weber is trapped in a loveless, abusive marriage, but it’s all she’s known for so long. When her husband, Steven, steps over the line by nearly hitting Beth for the first time, Susan and Beth hit the road to the one place Steven will never find them: Jackie’s condo.
Jackie takes them in, no questions asked, putting all three of them on the path to learning more about themselves than they could have ever imagined.
It was pretty easy to get attached to Jackie, Susan, and Beth, especially since the story is written in the first person, shifting between their perspectives. All three of them go through tremendous changes, which is handled well.
Jackie is guarded and used to keeping people at arm’s length, including the friend who gives her all the “benefits” she can handle. Susan has long been used to keeping the peace with a volatile partner, protecting their daughter from knowing how bad he is. And Beth is still young, so she just has a lot of growing up to do. Oh yeah, and Beth and Susan both think they’re straight.
As they spend time together, all three of them feel the pull between the lives they had before and the lives they potentially could have. It’s beautiful to see how they rise to the occasion and build that new life that’s so good for all of them.
Beth also makes a friend in St. Petersburg named Peggy who is completely lovely and I was so happy for where things went there. It would have been nice to get to know her a little better, but I also get that she wasn’t one of the leads, so I’m still happy with what we learn about her and how she nudges Beth.
The Writing Style
With a premise like this, and having read Zak’s two previous books, I expected Create a Life to Love to be an angst bomb and I was pleasantly surprised that it wasn’t! There are some serious feelings and tension that happen, thanks to the questions about whether Susan is straight or not, when Susan and Beth will head back to Savannah, and whether Steven will find them, but I was thrilled that there wasn’t an unnecessary and overblown breakup.
Great characters, excellent chemistry between Susan and Jackie, a solid and compelling premise, and oooooh my goodness was that first sex scene ever off the charts. I also loved how Jackie was so supportive of Susan and willing to go at whatever pace she needed for every step of their relationship, from acquaintances to partners and co-moms to Beth.
Also, I loved getting to experience Susan’s bisexual awakening. It’s not perfect because she’s not perfect, but it felt pretty damn real as she worked through the confusion of coming to terms with her queerness at nearly 50.
I want to give a content warning for domestic violence, because Steven backhands Susan near the beginning of the story and she also reflects on past incidents of domestic violence.
Related to that, my other con is that Steven felt a little one-dimensional, acting more as a prop to push Susan and Beth to Jackie than a fully fleshed-out character. At the risk of sharing a minor spoiler, he’s apparently gone through some growth by the end of the story, but I would have preferred to either see more of his journey on the page or get more skepticism from Susan because he’s such a bad person at the beginning.
I want to share one other content warning around Susan and her infertility, because at one point she refers to herself as “barren” and I have friends who have dealt with fertility issues that would (understandably) flip a table at that.
Note: Since this review was first published, it’s been brought to my attention that this book is also problematic from an adoption representation standpoint. If that’s likely to be a problem for you, you might want to skip this one.
If you’re looking for something a little different from your typical lesfic story, this is the book for you! Erin Zak delivered a heartfelt romance with a super satisfying ending, and I can’t wait to see what’s next from her.
Excerpt from Create a Life to Love by Erin Zak
“Beth, my God.” I could hardly get her into my arms fast enough. “Don’t do that again. Do you hear me?” I said into her hair. In between the short seconds of being pissed off and being relieved, I breathed her in as much as I could. She smelled like Beth still, which made me so happy. I knew she was sixteen, but she had never disappeared like that before.
“I won’t, Mom. I promise.”
Her words were muffled by my shoulder, but I could tell she was near tears. “Oh, honey.” I pulled her away from me and kissed her on the cheek. “What happened? Where were you? Why weren’t you answering my texts?” I finally glanced at the woman standing behind my daughter, and the sight of her with her long blond hair took my breath away.
“Mom, this is—”
“Jackie Mitchell,” I whispered, finishing Beth’s introduction. “You’re Beth’s birth mom, aren’t you?”
“Um, Mom, what the heck? How did you know that?”
I watched Jackie standing there with her arms hanging at her side, the same striking green eyes as my daughter, the same dimple in her chin, the same awkward look on her face. I couldn’t stop staring at her. “You look exactly like her.” My words weren’t meant to come out in a whisper, but they did. The expression that washed over Jackie’s face made my heart ache.
“Yeah, I mean, my genes must be really strong,” Jackie said. She shrugged and smiled at me. She was nervous. That much was obvious.
“Yes, they really are.”
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Bits and Bobs
- ISBN number: 9781635554250
- Publisher: Bold Strokes Books
- Erin Zak Online
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