I was hovering near a reading slump for awhile. Slumps are always frustrating but this one was particularly maddening. Usually, slumps happen when I’m not clicking with the reading material. However, I’ve been reading some great books lately, but I was feeling resistant to settling in to read.
It just wasn’t happening.
I turned to podcasts for a bit to shake things up and Fated Mates had an episode about erotica. In the episode, they pitched Sierra Simone’s Priest as an inspirational romance disguised as an erotic romance.
The sound of a record scratched echoed in my brain. WHAT??
An inspirational romance is a sub-genre of romance in which the romance plot revolves around the couple and their relationship with god. God is central to the resolution of their conflict, and directly tied into their happily ever after.
This is not my go-to sub-genre.
However, I was delighted and amused by the idea of mashing up inspirational romance with erotica and getting a new hybrid of romance novel. Like some twisted, tragic, Frankenstein creature.
Then I let it go, tried to get myself back to reading “my” books. The books I knew I’d like. If I could just get myself to settle in and read them!
But this book haunted me. Instagram readers started to rave about it. It popped up in my group chat. There was quiet tittering about the sexy priest book and how great it was.
I was curious and glanced to see if my library had it. They did.
I checked it out.
And I justified. Maybe the hot priest would be good for a laugh. A little stereotypical taboo erotica should be fun, right? I’d just read a page or two.
Okay one more.
I devoured that book in one sitting.
It was amazing.
There are many rules a priest can’t break. A priest cannot marry. A priest cannot abandon his flock. A priest cannot forsake his God.
I’ve always been good at following rules.
Until she came. Then I learned new rules.
My name is Tyler Anselm Bell. I’m twenty-nine years old. Six months ago, I broke my vow of celibacy on the altar of my own church, and God help me, I would do it again.
I am a priest and this is my confession
The summary above is more like a teaser. So I’d like to dive into the characters and their backstory a bit deeper for this review.
Before we move forward, I feel it’s best to be upfront. Clearly, this is not a book for everyone. It’s erotica, so it’s taboo and quite dark. However, I feel a content warning would be appropriate at this time.
CW: sexual abuse, suicide, power imbalance
Okay – for those of you still with me…
Tyler’s sister was molested by a priest when she was a young woman. This news came out as a result of his sister’s suicide. The event splintered their community, and his family turned away from the Catholic church. Instead of turning away, Tyler turned toward the organization and vowed he would bring about change from within. He’s a good priest, he loves his community, and his vocation is dedicated not only to the church, but the memory of his sister.
Talk about a layered character.
Meanwhile, Poppy is new in town. She comes to confession as she sorts out the new direction her life has taken. She’s a debutante on the run from her old life, and trying to make something out of herself without her parent’s influence. She’s also wounded after her the man she thought would be her husband married a “more appropriate” woman. Specifically, a woman who is less overly sexual than Poppy. Seeking guidance, Poppy turns to religion to help her sort through her life and complicated feelings.
Their story beings when Father Bell hears Poppy’s confession and she stirs something in him.
It gets wild. It’s erotica.
But it’s also firmly rooted in romance. There’s growth and the drive to the Happily Ever After.
Sierra Simone crafts two broken people who find themselves trapped between the expectations they, and the world, inflict upon themselves and their deeper, darker natures.
Simone is deft at wielding the themes of guilt, shame, and sexuality in a way that feels fresh, modern, and satisfyingly feminist. I’ve never read a book quite like this before. The layers of work going on in Sierra Simone’s novel is truly wonderful.
And it’s hot as hell.
Is it an Inspirational Romance?
Poppy and Tyler fall into the deep end of their desires for each other, and as they question the boundaries they are crossing, and what their future holds, there is absolutely a spiritual presence guiding them.
An important aside, this book set in first person perspective from exclusively Tyler’s point of view. This was the first book I’ve read with an exclusively hero POV and I really enjoyed it. Because we were so close to Tyler, we got to see so many shades of his personality and dig deep into his motivations and feelings.
However, because Sierra Simone is such a brilliant writer I didn’t feel we lacked getting Poppy’s side of the story. Specifically, Poppy’s developing relationship with god was featured in such a lovely and wonderful way. Furthermore, it was used to give Tyler more angst about his choices and desires towards Poppy. Their relationship would not only ruin so much from him, but it could risk Poppy’s exploration of faith. It was such a powerful presence in the novel.
There was one moment in particular where Father Bell has promised he would help teach Poppy how to pray. At this phase in the book Tyler is really struggling with his feelings for Poppy and facing his own temptation. When he finds her, she’s alone in the church and he discovers that’s she’s deep in prayer. Tyler is struck by the moment and immediately knows they are not alone, there’s a spiritual presence.
To Tyler it’s a nudge. This is safe. This is good.
The mood and tone of this scene is so deliciously noir and gothic. I could perfectly see the scene play in my head and I’m telling you it’s going to stay stuck there for a long, long time. In a book that’s dripping with really raunchy sex, I’m walking away with a moment a woman learns how to connect with a spiritual power.
Doesn’t get more inspirational than that.
I’d recommend this to romance readers who can handle lots of steam and don’t mind the taboo. This book delivers on nuanced characters, full transformative character arcs, and a happily ever after.