“…having roots wasn’t holding her back.”
Rose Alban, 41, has been happily living alone and single in Manila. When her entire family moved to the US she became responsible for their house and since then she’s transformed it into her home, her sanctuary, and base for a new and more fulfilling career. She was even able to convert the garage into a studio apartment, that she’s now renting out to her friend’s brother Pascal Cortes, 39, former MBA professor who’s now heading operations at an exciting education startup at a nearby business district.
That’s not enough for her mother and well-meaning relatives, who want nothing more than to see her join them in the US by any means necessary. When they surprise her with a visit, Rose knows the only way they’ll finally stop plotting to get her a green card is if they see her settled down—so of course she asks the hot prof next door to pretend to be her fiancé.
(Part of the Six 32 Central series, but can be read as a standalone.)
One of my favorite tropes in romance is the fake/contract relationship and Totally Engaged by Mina V. Esguerra (MVE) totally nailed it by not only being a super cute story but also featuring mature and self-made characters that have effortlessly sizzling chemistry. Added to the romance is a sensitive exploration of how family ties evolve when families are kept apart either by economic reasons, career changes and/or education opportunities.
Of course it didn’t hurt that the author is a Filipina and writes stories about characters in a contemporary Philippine setting. When I read “They shared a stick of pork barbecue at some point. Of course they were a couple,” I realized that the happy smile I have had on my face since I started reading is because of the fact that I felt right at home. There are a lot of very Filipino elements that would probably only appear as a highly detailed backdrop to non-Filipinos, but man I can definitely smell the garlic in the sinangag scene (sinangag is garlic fried rice).
“Oh God, she was making sinangag. Did Tana know— his sister was pure evil. Even worse, Rose made eggs, sunny side up. Sprinkled some chili flakes on them. Popped some longganisa into the microwave. Soon, the kitchen, though remodeled and on the surface unfamiliar, warmed up into the welcoming space he used to know, used to enjoy hanging out in for a few minutes before his sister was ready to go, and he drove them back home. Garlic and rice— that was part of the character of the house apparently, and he didn’t notice until now.”
The narrative truthfully acknowledges both the privileges and limitations of the characters, and went without ignoring the country’s social and political climate. This is only the second book I’ve read from MVE, and I’m looking forward to reading more from her. The first one was Better At Weddings Than You and I highly recommend it as well, and for the same reasons. I just love the author’s writing, how immersive her scenes always are, how fleshed-out the characters, and all the fuzzy feels that could be had that are always refreshing and never cloying. Sometimes I feel like I’m too old and jaded to appreciate romance novels, but MVE reminds me of why this genre is my first love and what I love about LOVE.
“We’re told to dread turning forty. Like we’ve missed something if we’re not married or with a kid or— or if we’re living here. In this country.”
It’s always a joy to read about strong independent women, with loving families as their only kryptonite. Too many times the ones who love us the most are the ones who become the villains in our stories. This kind of family dynamics was delightfully presented here. I’m so proud of our heroine Rose for standing her ground but more than that I’m happy to see her exhibit a different kind of bravery: one that you’ll need to have in order to accept the vulnerability that is falling in love. I could not have thought of a better match to her than Pascal.
“Things are scary, and there are so many problems we collectively need to fix, but I believe in my decisions now, you know?”
“It was hard to clearly and irrevocably say “no,” when her own country was the way it was, and things could go sideways at any moment. It was easier to not say anything, or say thank you and ignore messages forever.”
In real life I have met MVE a number of times during book events, and have enjoyed hearing her talk about writing, publishing and the awesome work she is doing at #Romanceclass along with other talented Filipino authors. I highly recommend their titles for anyone looking for fun, diverse and kilig romance reads.
About the Author
Mina V. Esguerra writes contemporary romance and young adult novellas. She has a bachelor’s degree in Communication and a master’s degree in Development Communication, put to good use in her work as trainer and content management consultant. Mina lives in Metro Manila, Philippines, with her husband and daughter.
She finds inspiration in the lives and experiences of other people, so the answer to “Is this story based on you?” is always, always “No.”
Totally Engaged (Six 32 Central #4) by Mina V. Esguerra
Kindle Edition, 171 pages
Published May 14th 2021 by Bright Girl Books
Original Title: Totally Engaged
Edition Language: English
Series: Six 32 Central #4
Genres: Romance | Contemporary | Fiction | Filipino
Mina V. Esguerra’s website includes the order form for Philippine-based readers who may want physical copies of her books. Visit her website here.