Guest Review: Full English by Rachel Spangler

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Full English

by Rachel Spangler
February 12, 2019 · Bywater Books

NB: This guest review is from Reader Tara Scott. If you want to read her previous guest reviews (and we highly recommend that you do), you can see them all here.

Tara reads a lot of lesbian romances. You can catch her regularly reviewing at The Lesbian Review and Lambda Literary and hear her talk about lesbian fiction (including romance) on her podcast Les Do Books. You can also hit her up for recommendations on Twitter (@taramdscott).

I’ve mentioned before that I’m a huge fan of Rachel Spangler’s lesbian romances, so I was pretty excited when Full English was announced. It really should have come with a warning label, though. Something like, “This book may cause cravings for all the scones with jam and clotted cream.” Or maybe “Get your credit card ready, because Full English will make you want to run away to an English seaside village.” So, before we go any further, consider yourself warned.

It starts with Emma Volant as she rolls into Amberwick, a sleepy fictional village that I’m disappointed I can’t visit in real life. As a famous author living in New York City, she’d seemingly had it all, until Emma’s ex-wife had turned out to be a total dirtbag who’d made sure EVERYONE knew all the sordid details of the end of their marriage. Emma, being a sweet, private person, needs a place to lick her wounds and figure out how to rebuild her heart. What better place in which to buy a cottage and hide from the world than the town her grandmother grew up in and had told magical stories about?

Brogan McKay is a bartender from a large, boisterous, Irish family. She also happily takes on other odd jobs so she can help her parents and siblings in the village she loves and has known for all her life. Because she’s one of the few lesbians in the village, it’s not exactly easy for Brogan to find a girlfriend, but she’s more than happy to have a good time with many of the women who find their way into town on holiday.

It doesn’t take long for a small contingent of villagers to show up on Emma’s door with scones and a keen interest in why someone like her would buy a cottage in Amberwick. They also have plenty of ideas for how Emma can help raise the village’s profile, although, given her emotional state and natural introversion, she has ZERO interest in any of them. And when they realize Emma’s single, they make sure to suggest to Brogan that maybe she should get to know Emma too. Brogan knows the score—she’s fling material, not long-term relationship material. But that doesn’t mean she can’t be friends with Emma, and maybe even help Emma spread her wings a little as her heart heals.

Emma and Brogan strike up the loveliest of friendships on the way to their romance, and frankly, I’d have been happy even if they’d just ended up as best friends (I mean, except for the part where Full English is a romance, so I also would have had WTactualF feelings for the broken marketing promise). But seriously, the friendship is developed very well before any chemistry starts developing between the leads and I liked that a lot because they have such a solid foundation in place.

They also have some seriously cute moments together like this, when Emma tries to thank Brogan for all of her help:

Emma held out a package of her favorite biscuits and said, “I got these for you. I know it’s not much. And you work in the store where I bought them, so you can probably make way better things at home, but it’s the only thing I could think of to buy for you to say thank you. I mean, I know it’s not enough for everything, the garden and sailing and driving and tea and cakes, and”— she sighed— “listening.”

“It’s more than enough,” Brogan said quickly, touched by the gesture and the fact that Emma had cared enough to remember her favorite snack.

“I would’ve made you dinner, but I value your life, so I set out with the intention of offering to buy you dinner, but I remembered you already work at the best restaurant in town. And you’re probably headed there now. I won’t keep you, but I—”

“I’m not.”

“What?”

“I’m not going to the pub tonight,” Brogan said. “It’s Monday. We don’t serve food on Mondays until summer holidays.”

“Oh.” Emma frowned. “I would offer to buy you dinner then, but I’m told the pub is closed tonight.”

Full English is a super gentle romance. Having read all of Rachel Spangler’s books, I’d even say it’s her gentlest to date. There’s very little actual angst, with most of the tension coming as Emma and Brogan each do their own healing and growing, reshaping into the right emotional sizes so they can better fit together. While the low angst level works well because the story has a cozy, British vibe going for it, it might not be enough for readers who like books to make them hurt a little (or a lot) before the HEA rolls around.

I have one main problem with the story: I didn’t feel a lot of chemistry between Brogan and Emma. I totally believed the love between them and their HEA. And was there attraction between them? Yes, definitely, especially as Emma starts getting past her pain, and they both felt something when they’d occasionally kiss. But part of what keeps me coming back to romance is chemistry, especially seeing how it builds over time, and while I know that not all relationships are like that in real life, Full English doesn’t deliver as much of that as I would like. This is likely at least in part because the burn is SO SLOW, with Emma and Brogan still working through communication and confidence issues even three quarters of the way in. I’ll admit, it feels like a weirdly hypocritical objection to have as someone who married a friend and had a quiet, slow burn romance of their own, but *shrug*. I like what I like. That said, if you’re a fan of the slowest of burns, this is the book for you.

Related to this, one element to the story significantly confused me to the point that it affected my overall reaction to the book, but it’s a major plot reveal so it’s hidden as a spoiler.

Show Spoiler
About a quarter of the way through the story, Emma meets Lady Victoria, the Duchess of Northland, and they have fabulous, almost instant, chemistry. Like, check out this conversation snippet from the second time they talk to each other, when Victoria invites Emma to an event at the family castle (you know, as you do when your family has a freaking castle):

[…] My family is having a reception for local artists, and it will be terribly boring and frumpy, and I’ll have such a hard time staying awake unless someone interesting comes along to keep me entertained.”

“Then I know you have the wrong number,” Emma said, not sure she liked the sound of a formal invitation to a group event any more than she liked the idea of a private tour. “I’m always the least interesting person at any given event. I’d probably find the quietest corner and stare at pictures or books on the shelves until I could sneak out.”

“But you wouldn’t here,” Victoria said confidently, “because after I made my obligatory opening speech and a quick walk around the other guests, I’d whisk you away on a tour of the castle, and I’d take you to see our extensive library.”

“What makes you think a library is enough to make an avowed introvert willingly attend a reception full of strangers?”

“I’ve seen Beauty and the Beast.”

Emma’s resolve started to waver.

I loved how Victoria totally had Emma pegged like that and I was equally delighted by all of their interactions. So, even though, from the blurb, I was pretty sure Emma was supposed to end up with Brogan, I was kind of rooting for Victoria to win Emma’s heart. That felt weird, especially since Brogan is so damn sweet, but Victoria is such a great character and is charismatic AF; I seriously hope Spangler writes a book for her.

I was happy with how everything ended up for everyone, but the energy between Emma and Victoria definitely threw me off and even prompted me to check the ending to make sure I was understanding exactly where things were going.

Overall though, much like Amberwick itself, Full English gave me a lovely, easy, low-angst getaway from life, and now I just have to figure out that plane ticket…

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