Monday, January 7, 2008

Cabin Fever? Head to South Beach!

Sex and the South Beach Chicas
South Beach Chicas Catch Their Man
by Caridad Pineiro

If you are looking for an escape from the winter doldrums, look no further. Caridad Pineiro’s South Beach chicas will have you planning a trip to Miami to indulge in sun, sand and spicy Cuban food before you’ve turned the last page!

In Sex and the South Beach Chicas, Pineiro introduces us to Tori, Adriana, Sylvia, and Juli. The four women, long time friends, rely on each other for help dealing with love, career, and family issues. Straight-laced Tori believes she has found her Prince Charming, but isn’t quite sure how to break the news to her girlfriends or her parents. Adriana has to confront her feelings for oh-so-handsome Riley, who has been a friend since childhood and who has recently announced his intention to get engaged. Juli, a talented chef and co-owner (with Adriana) of one of South Beach’s hot restaurants, needs to find a way out of her shell and to deal with her mother’s disapproval. Meanwhile, Sylvia’s hot job as an entertainment reporter is leaving her cold, and she is struggling to get a chance to prove herself a serious journalist while fighting her attraction to sexy bad boy Carlos.
Though all of the girls have a story, this book focuses a little more on Tori and Adriana.
Tori has always been the good girl – a high achiever who does what is expected of her.
That is, until her girlfriends convince her to take some risks, and she meets and falls in live with Gil. As the book opens, the two are happily cohabitating (much to her parents dismay) and contemplating *gasp* Marriage! Tori struggles to be true to herself in the face of parental expectation and the possibility of disappointing her friends. In the course of the story, she is forced to examine everything she thought she valued, and make some tough decisions. Of course, having her sexy sweetheart by her side certainly helps. Although Gil is not as finely drawn as the female characters in the book, he does come across as likeable and believable, not just a cardboard cutout playing “the boyfriend.”
Riley, Adriana’s love interest, is about on par with Gil. I could see his appeal, and I like him well enough, but I don’t feel that I really know him. Adriana, on the other hand, is presented in all her Type A glory, complete with overworked PDA. She can run a business and play a great game of beach volleyball, but can she risk losing her old friend Riley by admitting that her feelings for him are more than that of a buddy? The fact that their parents are in business together raises the stakes even more, and like Tori, Adriana must decide which risks are worth taking.

South Beach Chicas Catch Their Man picks up where the first book left off, this time focusing more on Sylvia. In a nice addition to the story, Pineiro brings in Sylvia’s mother, Virginia. Virginia is 47, successful, sexy, and single. Moreover, she feels that the way she handled her relationship with Sylvia’s father has led to her daughter’s lack of trust in men. So while Sylvia fights her growing attraction to Carlos, her hero from the last book, Virginia tries to find some kind of closure with Pablo, her first love and the man she has never truly gotten over. The dynamic among the three adds some humorous moments to the story, as Sylvia must come to terms with her mother having a love life.
She also has to learn to trust, not only in Carlos but in her mother’s judgement and her father’s sincerity. This is no small feat for a woman whose relationship philosophy can be summed up in three words: Men are dogs.

Overall, the author does a nice job of weaving the girls’ stories together without losing momentum, and gives enough detail of their day to day lives that their concerns became very real and understandable to me. They shop and worry and bicker like thirty-something girlfriends everywhere, struggling to maintain a work/love/friendship balance.
Pineiro also does a great job conveying the atmosphere of South Beach without getting bogged down in an excruciating amount of detail. I like to be able to picture the place where a story is set, so if I’ve never been there I appreciate a nice amount of background smoothly integrated into the story; I don’t want to feel like I am navigating through the verbal equivalent of MapQuest. As the chicas went swinging through the streets of South Beach, I was able to follow right along, appreciating the weather and the scenery. I also found that the author’s use of Spanish words and phrases did a lot to convey personality and atmosphere. Even though I don’t speak Spanish, I was easily able to understand everything from context. (Let’s face it – a fight with your mother about your boyfriend runs along some pretty standard lines; we can all probably supply the dialogue from memory.) So even though most of the reviews I read of these books lump them into the category “Latina romance” I would say they are stories of friendship and romance that happen to have Latina heroines. The characters’ ethnicity has a definite effect on their careers and on how they deal with parental expectations, but the overall themes are universal, making these books a good choice for general readers of chick lit and contemporary romance.
And if, like me, you live in upstate New York, they are a far cheaper way to escape winter than buying a plane ticket to Miami.....