Brown Sugar & Spice (ParisDude’s Review)

Title: Brown Sugar & Spice
Author: Mathis Bailey
Publisher: Self Published
Release Date: April 5, 2019
Genre(s): Contemporary
Page Count: 270
Reviewed by: ParisDude
Heat Level: 3 flames out of 5
Rating: 3.3 stars out of 5


It had been a whirlwind of change from a year ago for Pierre Jackson … on track to becoming a chef extraordinaire, living it up in a plush up-town condo that he shared with his successful and debonair fiancé, De’Andre Harris, the world’s hottest news anchor, Pierre thought he had his future all mapped out. He hadn’t imagined that he’d be alone, in between jobs, lose his passion for cooking, living in a run-down apartment, and entertaining the thought of having to share space with a stranger. That is, until he received a phone call from his best friend asking for a huge favor. If that wasn’t enough, he’s beckoned home to deal with a death in the family, and having to travel to a far away land, a place from his distant past, a place of faint memories of an unaccustomed culture, tropical heat and the sweet scent of mangoes.

Pierre’s new roommate is Zola Washington, a beautiful, charismatic, young African American woman, who unbeknownst to Pierre has her own agenda and wrestling with her own ghosts. Zola is trying to escape a tumultuous relationship with her crazy ex-boyfriend, Jaizon, and rebuild a brand-new life. She has big dreams and makes a risky decision to open a bistro in the heart of the bustling city of Toronto, but she doesn’t know where to begin until she meets Pierre.

While Pierre and Zola push ahead in their pursuits of living better lives, they both finds themselves at a crossroad when their past comes back to haunt them and has them turning to copious amounts of delicious food and the search of spirituality.

Life seems some sizes too big for Pierre Jackson, his longings, ambitions, desires a bit too vague, too shapeless. No career, no friends to speak of. A fascination for cooking, but all the inspiration gone. There’s De’Andre (or Dre), of course, that bisexual, rich hunk he’s been engaged to but who’s been cheating on him. Pierre has shrugged off the unwholesome thing they had going, yet Dre is still part of his system, still obsessing him. There’s the odd paid writing job, too, but everything seems… aimless. Pierre is hanging out. Or drifting. Drifting through existence, drifting through Toronto (preferably in Ubers and UberXs), ogling hot guys (as who wouldn’t), fantasizing about them, but never giving in to his urges and longings.

That’s when he accepts to take in Zola, who has just fled an abusive boyfriend. She’s a somewhat fragile woman, but she has a Dream, capital D. And she’s determined to follow it through. Dre pushes himself back into Pierre’s life, too, still as ambiguous as ever. On one hand, he swears his everlasting love for Pierre; on the other, he announces his engagement to Kendra, a high-class, high-bitch New York lawyer who visibly loathes Pierre. At that point, Pierre’s grand-father dies, and he has to return to the Bahamas, his mother’s home-land. There he meets London, a handsome, hot and well-to-do local minister who more than once tries to bed him. When he gets back to Toronto, Pierre is hard put to find a way out of the shambles his life has become.

Positive things first. I really liked this novel. It was a refreshing read insofar as it followed a well-paced, albeit vague narrative; by “vague” I mean you can’t constantly hear the precise ticking of a plot-machine. You could say the story is just as “plotless” as real life, actually. You go from scene to scene, wondering without ever knowing in advance where the next development will take Pierre and therefore you. Some might not like it, preferring a tighter-woven, more constructed narrative. I enjoyed it. Secondly, despite his short-comings and annoying sides I can perfectly relate to Pierre, who spends lots of time mulling over things and going in circles. He more often than not doesn’t have a clue about what he ought to do in any given situation; he procrastinates, lingers, hesitates. Pierre is no robot-like, created character; he’s very much a breathing, contradictory person. The relationship with Dre (whom I despised with much gusto throughout the book) rang a bell too (this reviewer has a past, after all) as did all the questions, doubts, and bouts of hope that assailed Pierre each time he met the guy. Don’t look for romance for there is none; not in the sense of a happily ever after. But there’s chemistry if you accept Pierre steaming with pheromones and sex hormones more than once. That led to some nicely steamy scenes, too, where all I wanted to do was either scream, “Get! Laid! Dude!” or push Pierre out of the picture to take his place (that London-character! Anytime!).

So, obviously, I liked the book. A lot. But. And this is a HUGE but. Look at this example from the blurb: “While Pierre and Zola push ahead in their pursuits of living better lives, they both finds themselves at a crossroad…” (emphasis by me). It should be “find” and “crossroads”, of course. I had sincerely hoped these typos of the blurb (there are others) were an accident and the book would turn out more thoroughly proofread and edited. That was not the case, alas. Throughout the novel there’s an annoying, sometimes even confusing tendency to forget that past-perfect tense exists (it not only exists but does have a purpose). In many, much too many places an unwarranted present tense appears out of the blue. For the first two chapters alone, I counted almost 20 (!) errors of this kind. I also stumbled upon phrases like “she was sleep” instead of “asleep”, or someone was “waiting on” instead of “waiting for” someone (only waiters wait on you), or “what” was used for “want” and vice versa. I can overlook the odd typo—shit happens as we all know. But in these proportions—no, sorry, that is simply inexcusable.

A shame, and I really mean it. This book would deserve at least 4.5 stars. As it is, this would be unjust. Let’s hope I was only provided an advanced copy and not the definite, published version.

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Galley copy of Brown Sugar & Spice provided by the author in exchange of an honest review.

If it weren't for the poor editing and proofing, this book would deserve at least 4.5 stars.

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Dieter, born and raised in Austria, studied Political Sciences in Vienna in the early 90s. He's living in Paris, France, with his boyfriend and working as a graphic designer. In his spare time, he loves to write, read, cook, take photos, and travel as often as possible. He’s already published two short-story collections as well as four poetry collections. His first murder mystery novel “The Stuffed Coffin” featuring Damien Drechsler and the dashing Greek student Nikos has been released on Jan. 6, 2019, and is available in English, French, and German. By the way, the French version "Le cercueil farci" has won the prestigious Prix du roman gay 2019 in the category murder mystery. Dieter runs a gay book reviews site in French and is also writing reviews for Gay Book Reviews under the pseudonym of ParisDude.