Descante Woods is probably a touch more upscale than Ursula was thinking when looking for a new home. But when she finds out a so-called friend stole her identity to purchase a condo in the complex, Ursula decides to pay this friend a visit. Little does she know this friend recently died and, legally speaking, the place in Descante Woods is all hers. It turns out to be the perfect place for Ursula to make a new home. Each of her neighbors is as wonderful as they are individual. There are Cole and Harrison, the power gay couple commanding daytime television as producer and heartthrob respectively. There are Amber and Tommy, two devoted love birds who struggle to cope with massive personal issues that could tear them apart despite their love. There are Isobel and her husband, who become the focus of the tight knit group of neighbors as they rally around cancer-stricken Isobel. There are Margaret and Bea, two lovers with career aspirations like oil and water. And finally, there’s Roseanna, a genteel elderly lady just waiting for her time to come so she can join her dearly departed husband.
Quite apart from the neighbors, there are several other characters that come and go—often bringing no small amount of angst and trouble with them. Most notably for Ursula is the “friend” who passed and left her the Descante Woods apartment, a friend apparently in deep with some local drug dealers. When Ursula finds some telltale baggies and piles of money, she wants to just wash her hands of the stuff and be done with it. But trying to ignore her problems isn’t how she wants to start her new life. It turns out contacting the police is a gift in disguise because it reunites her with her on-again-off-again flame, Kris. Together, they begin to unravel some of the mysteries Ursula’s so-called friend was involved with…and it starts to draw in the other Descante Woods neighbors in the most amazing ways.
This was an utterly delectable read! The presentation really works with Morton’s characters. There are dozens of short chapters and each usually focuses on one set of Descante Woods residents. In effect, although Ursula feels like the de facto main character because the book kicks off with the events that lead to her moving into Descante Woods, several of the other residents are equally well developed as characters. I particularly enjoyed the Ursula chapters, the Cole/Harrison chapters, and the Amber/Tommy chapters. Morton’s ability to pack delightfully three dimensional characters into chapters just a few pages long never failed to entertain. Even with chapters jumping between sets of characters, I never had any issues keeping up with each of the various threads…and indeed, the quick, meaningful chapters really whet my appetite for what would come next with each set of characters.
Some specifics about the storylines:
Ursula is a transwoman and works in a drag club. In addition to the friendships she makes with her fellow condo residents, it’s clear she’s got fabulous relationships with the drag queens. I really enjoyed just how distinct the conversations were when the drag queens were on page. Their voices were so clear and descriptive. While Ursula’s interactions with her neighbor’s focus on the neighbors’ issues, Ursula’s interactions with her fellow performers focus on the rekindling of her romance with police officer Kris. Kris also takes on a bigger and more significant role towards the end of the book as he and Ursula reinforce their romance and as Kris and his team of officers begin to make a lot of headway on the drug paraphernalia Ursula found in her new home.
Cole and Harrison offer what I think of as a very traditional M/M romance experience. Harrison is a hot daytime TV commodity who is in the closet for the sake of his career and Cole is at his wits end always being sidelined when it comes to supporting Harrison professionally. There’s also a thread that touches on Cole’s desires for more rough physical connections with Harrison. After that, there’s the faintest of hints that perhaps Cole and Harrison might possibly be open to a third partner, but this never really develops beyond a tantalizing chapter title and a “threeway” nap the two lovers share with a straight friend.
Then there are Amber and Tommy, two cishet characters who are besotted with each other and worry themselves sick by keeping major secrets from each other. Amber’s secret makes her fear that Tommy might even leave her. It was never really clear to me why she might feel that way because everything we see of Tommy indicates he’d just as soon sacrifice a limb for Amber as he would leave her. Yet he’s convinced the secret he’s keeping would absolutely end his relationship with Amber. This provides no small amount of suspense as Tommy enlists the help of another Descante Woods resident to help him resolve his situation.
I think Morton has woven together a wonderful and substantial cast of characters in a way that really kept me turning pages. Not a single grouping of characters was a disappointment or a bore and the fast-paced chapters meant I didn’t have to wait long to find out what happens during particularly hot threads. I rather enjoyed the way several characters’ stories would overlap, but Morton doesn’t go overboard and connected everyone to everyone. If you enjoy large casts filled with amazing characters and a lot of fast-paced action, a bit of romantic drama (nothing racier than a couple of on-page kisses), and a tidy HEA ending, I cannot recommend this book enough.