Sparks Like Ours: A Review

Sparks Like Ours: A Review

Melissa Brayden
Sports romance
4 stars

I know a lot of people are on the lookout for quality f/f. I also know Melissa Brayden is kind of a superstar of f/f and I’m very late to the game, but please let me shine a spotlight on her newest release anyway. We’ve got some quality f/f right here!

Firstly: It’s a surfing romance, and the surfing was awesome. I’m not a surfer myself, but I grew up in a beach town with a surf-cultured family, and the competitions brought me back to those days. I realized I haven’t had so much fun reading about sports games since Harry Potter’s Quidditch matches (I know how basic that sounds. Still true.).

Brayden tweeted that she “immersed” herself “quite a bit in the world of surfing, but what a fascinating study that turned out to be.” I can tell she did her research. It felt really detailed, and I liked the light glazing of surf politics:

The surfing world was just as sexist as any other sport out there. The women were rewarded for their appearances with ads, sponsorships, and endorsement deals. Others used their charisma to pull in the necessary cash to compete. But if you were a less-than-attractive or shy person, the going was rough, if not impossible. Didn’t matter how great a surfer you were. Your only hope was to have been born independently wealthy and bankroll your travel and tournament fees personally. It didn’t make sense.

The second core part of the story is the rivals-to-lovers romance. The characters progress from distrust to love, and I was on board for every part of it. There’s an immediate “spark” there that makes all of their interactions pop out on the page.

Elle raised her glass and touched Gia’s. “To taking each other down. That should be the story of our joint memoir.”

Honestly, there are plenty of books that would bank of those two aspects of the story (surfing, rivals-to-lovers) being compelling enough and be done with it. Brayden adds so much more, and that’s what turned this from a light, decent read to a page-turner that I greedily read in one day. I didn’t realize this was the third book in the Seven Shores series before I began, but Gia is part of an established friend group, most of whom were protagonists in books one and two. Their friend group was so lovely. I’ve complained in the past about fictional characters who never stop bickering—I think argumentative dialogue sounds quick and witty to a writer, making endless banter tempting to write, but it quickly grates on my nerves and feels unrealistic. Brayden wrote a mature, loving friend group that felt like real life, supportive adults. I really loved them.

Also? There’s a pregnant lesbian in this book. This is kind of personal, but the pregnancy subplot made me cry, because I realized that the only other times I seen pregnant lesbians in fiction, they’ve been the butt of cruel, homophobic, and misogynistic jokes, like in shows such as Queer as Folk and Friends.

When Gia’s pregnant friend suffers from mood swings, worries about overeating, and experiences the anxieties I’ve known pregnant people to suffer from, Gia (and her other friends) are continuously supportive. They compliment her, boost her confidence, and Gia never has a single mean or annoyed thought in her head about it. I didn’t realize how rare that was until I saw it. We’re often really cruel to pregnant women in our fiction, especially when those women are lesbians.

Another thing I loved? Gia is out before the story begins, but Elle’s arc is one of recognizing her sexuality and then coming out. I really loved the arc with Elle’s parents. I don’t want to spoil it, so I’m going to write about it in detail at the bottom of this review. Overall, it felt touchingly real, and it was another thing that made me tear up.

Another another thing I loved? There’s a surfing accident in the book, and unfortunately I have been there in my life. I’ve been the person waiting in the hospital, more than once (I grew up in a beach town). That arc also felt true to life.

Sparks Like Ours is made up of myriad bits of truth that make for a cozy, lovely summer read. I can’t call this book enemies-to-lovers because Gia and Elle are both too kind to have enemies. This is about two people trying to make it work in the best way they can, and there’s no immature, emotionally unintelligent, forced drama getting in the way. It felt organic and refreshing, and it made the loving moments so much lovelier, and the drama so much more tense for feeling utterly real.

I can't wait to read more of Brayden's books. I think the next title might be Strawberry Summer because who can resist a title like that? But I also know I'll be reading the rest of the Seven Shores series this summer.

Spoiler bit:

So Elle and Gia go out to dinner with Elle’s parents right after Elle came out to them. Her mom and dad told her they were fine with her being with Gia, but it turned out they just didn’t take the relationship very seriously. The dinner goes quickly south:

Elle went numb. Her mother thought this was a phase. She’d been supportive while quietly waiting for it to pass. Elle met Gia’s sad and uncomfortable eyes and sent her a reassuring smile.

I loved this because I related to it. Sometimes lesbian romances either ignore homophobia or use homophobia to create forced drama. When it is used purely as a plot device, a certain psychological realism is sacrificed. That’s not what happens here, because this isn’t the central arc, and it’s definitely not forced. Here’s another part that really touched me:

“Maybe [your relationship with Gia] is a whim,” her father said with annoying confidence. “She’s not who I imagined for you, Elle. Not even close, and that has nothing to do with sexuality. Are you willing to throw away your career for an exciting few months?”

God, it was cathartic to read this! The annoying confidence bit, in which a prejudiced loved one thinks they understand you better than you understand yourself. And the assurance that this conversation has nothing to do with homophobia, thereby invalidating the feelings Elle is experiencing, also rings true. Later, of course, Elle’s mother tells her it was totally about Elle dating a woman, and while her parents ultimately accept her, Elle’s father still can’t speak to her until he works more on accepting it. I really just loved every aspect of this, because I think it happens so often, but I rarely see it on the page. You never realize how cathartic books can be until you read stuff like this.

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