Short Stories 366:332 — “Mangos and Mistletoe,” by Adriana Herrera

The circles involved in the Venn Diagram of “Mangos and Mistletoe” are all basically things I adore: Baking? Check. Only one bed? Check. Two people having a bit of a disaster-cute? Check. Revealed depths that bring them together? Check. I could go on, but the short version is Adriana Herrera would be hard pressed to put more things I adore into a single novella, and so I dove in and basically just kept going until I was done. Both the women in this women-loving-women holiday romance are intriguing and draw the reader right in, but wow do they get off on the wrong foot with each other.

The set-up is simple enough: a baking competition, hosted this year in Scotland, which pairs expert bakers with talented amateurs and then sets them up with daily “one couple must go!” eliminations. Think “Great British Bake-Off” but with two chefs per team, and only four teams. It just happens this year there are two Dominican women among the candidates, and of course the organizers of the show want to capitalize on that, so they place them together. Which would be great, except they basically hate each other from their first interaction.

The whys of this are the meat of the story, which I won’t ruin, but I really appreciated that both of their reasons were completely valid, and especially in the case of Kiskeya, also vitally important. I appreciated the realism in one character who faces the frustration that comes from having a connection to a culture that also refuses to respect your queerness. That the two had varied experiences from the same source was real and three-dimensional, and really added to the story. The sizzle that came from their friction-and-desire, however, was also off the charts, so the ongoing twisting of the heat a little bit higher every moment through the competition was fantastic. Ultimately, the ending delivered a bump that was enough to satisfy lovers of angst, but didn’t take so long as to leave those of us who like lighter fare too far removed from the joy and heat of the tale. I really enjoyed this one.

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