Book Review: Luca

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Title: Luca
Auth
or: Sarah Castille
Genre: Romance
Version: Paperback
Page Count: 362
Publisher: St. Martin’s Paperbacks
Synopsis: GoodReads
Notable Notables: Mafia love interest, steamy sex scenes
Recommended Readers: Fans of contemporary romance and mobsters
Rating: ★★★☆☆

Listen, I won’t lie. I picked this up because I have a thing for Italian men and the mafia, and dammit, good gangster smut is so hard to find these days!

Luca is the second book of Sarah Castille’s Ruin & Revenge series, the first of which being Nico, which I have not read (yet). While the books follow members of the same crime family and their associates, it’s not necessary to have read Nico to understand what’s going on in Luca. In typical romance series fashion, each book follows a different character and introduces a new relationship.

In this one, we meet Luca Rizzoli, a capo in Nico Toscani’s crime family. After protecting Nico from getting shot, Luca winds up in the hospital and meets Gabrielle Fawkes, also there because of a gunshot wound. The attraction between them is instant, but what Luca doesn’t know is that Gabrielle is a police detective. And she only knows him as the owner of an Italian restaurant, not a mobster. Cue the forbidden romance!

While Luca struggles with his growing feelings for a cop (something that could cost him his status in the mob at best and his life at worst), he’s also trying to take out the drug lord who keeps moving in on his territory. The Toscani crime family has a “no illegal drug dealing or using” policy and is probably the only moral stand they’ll take. Meanwhile, Gabrielle is looking for that same drug lord who murdered her husband and who she believes shot her in the first place.

Overall, I thought the book was okay. Just okay. While much better than a previous gangster romance book I read, Luca suffers the way most romance books suffer: not enough tension and anticipation between the two leads before sex starts happening; not enough time passing and conflict to ward off insta-love; a flimsy overall plot to wrap around the romance.

I will say that I love that Luca didn’t change completely, going from being a hardened capo who gets his hands dirty to being a secretly sweet and upstanding/perfect person for their lover. That nonsense bothers me. Gabrielle was also an enjoyable heroine, who was, as she admits herself, willfully blind about Luca’s mafia connections and about some other people in her life. But they both work great together. They argued, they pushed each other, they had each others’ backs, and they had great chemistry. I genuinely enjoyed their relationship and growth, both as lovers and through their individual journeys. Whenever they were both on the page together, I was having fun. Plus, all that banter and Italian was A+++.

While the sex scenes were hot and well-written (aka not ridiculous), the dirty talk during sex was unfortunately too much, too often. I’m a fan of some dirty talk, but the type happening here was just…eh. You know the type. “I’m gonna stick this in your this, and then I’m gonna do this”—dude, I’m asleep. I don’t need an itinerary. Just do it! You’re ruining the surprise! But I know that’s a personal preference. I just wish more romance writers appreciated the subtle art of sensuality, of using dialogue to tease and seduce even during sex rather than going straight for the graphic and explicit.

I will say, though, that this is one of the better romance books out there. Castille understands grit. She knows how to write mobsters and make her characters interesting. She knows how to write violence and brutality. She knows how to write sex and doesn’t shy away from it, doesn’t use ridiculous words like “meatwand” or “snooch” or whatever the hell that completely takes you out of the scene because you’re laughing so hard. I just wanted a little bit more from her, because I’ve been exposed to other genres that deliver consistently for me whereas romance usually does not.

Also, what ended up happening with the drug lord I saw coming from a mile away. I hate predicting endings and don’t consciously do it, but this one was too obvious, and Gabrielle was being too dumb about it to be a believable in-character reaction. So it lost points there.

I will be checking out Nico when I get a chance, probably from the library. I’m also looking forward to the third book, Rocco, to come out because I found his character to be full of possibility. I am also, admittedly, desperate for Italian mafia romance books, so I’ll take whatever I can get with high hopes and a thirsty heart–I mean, a willing heart.

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