This post includes reviews of the books in the Priest series:
- Priest (#1)
- Sinner (#2)
- Saint (#3)
Priest (Priest #1)
I enjoyed this book a lot more when I stopped thinking about it as a romance. I have very little patience for the religious angst of white guys, especially when it involves a religion with as tricky a past as Catholicism. Therefore, Tyler’s attraction to Poppy and the subsequent dilemma he faces was not what drew me to this story. I enjoyed it far more for the beauty of Simone’s writing and her ability to weave a story around the depth of her characters. At its heart, this is the story of Tyler Bell finding his true place in life and serving his faith. I adored his character arc, which feels separate from the fairly contrived romance arc.
Poppy is far from evil, but she is a bit of a jerk at first. She can’t have known from their first encounter, but afterward, she forces a sort of intimacy on Tyler with her confession to him and how she treats him outside of those moments. Tyler is enough of a cinnamon roll that it’s no wonder he falls hard. However, they both have to face the consequences of their actions, which is where the pile of religious angst comes in. Even when sexy, I didn’t necessarily find it fun to read.
Except this is a book by Simone, and her gorgeous writing continued to draw me through the story even when I wanted to roll my eyes at all the characters. Tyler is a fascinating man, and I’m pleased that he found his happily ever after, even when I had little patience for the road he took to get there.
Sinner (Priest #2)
Though very different from the first in this series, Sinner once again tackles the themes of desire and belief. The books can stand on their own, but I always love seeing main characters from the perspectives of previous heroes. In this instance, Sean (one of the Business Brothers) is a very different character from Tyler. He proclaims himself a sinner, but I felt that he was a “better” man than former priest Tyler in many ways. Sean embraces everything about his life, and even when Zenny reappears as an adult and starts to trip him up, I appreciated that his doubts centered on caring for others rather than supporting the tenets of an archaic, controlling institution.
That rather shows my bias, doesn’t it? That’s okay. At its heart, romance stories are about characters. And as an avid fan of both nontraditional romance stories and amazing characters, Simone wrote a story that I thoroughly enjoyed. How Sean interacts with Zenny is amazingly sexy from the beginning, but I loved the various ways in which he cares for her just as much. Honestly, I think I would have been equally satisfied with this book even if the expected “romance-appropriate” ending hadn’t occurred. I had already fallen in love with Sean and his story.
I appreciated that all of the differences between Sean and Zenny were explored, beyond their (obvious) differing opinions on religion. Their age and race are also indicators of why they might not be a good “match” (not to mention the best friend’s little sister issue). An issue regarding Zenny’s race is used as a sort of teaching moment for Sean, but Simone focuses much more on how cultural expectations lead Zenny down the life path she chooses. Even though the entire book is from Sean’s point of view, it is not a story about a Black woman doing a bunch of emotional labor to “fix” a white man. Instead, these characters walk side-by-side for a time and help each other, resulting in a poignant but perfect happily ever after.
Saint (Priest #3)
The problem with giving Sinner five stars is that I now want to give Saint six or seven or ten stars. While I enjoyed the previous books in this series, this latest installment blew me out of the water. Simone truly hits her stride here with an honest interrogation of the role and purpose of celibacy and chastity within the Catholic church that hits a lot harder than in the previous books. It is framed in such a way that is accessible to readers of any (or no) religious persuasion so that we genuinely feel for the dilemma Aidan faces regarding where his dedication should be.
At first, all of this is mostly just angsty AF. However, as the full backstory of what went down between Aidan and Elijah is teased out through the narrative, larger mental health issues become a framework that cannot be ignored. Sure, Aidan “found” religion. However, he found it along with adequate treatment for his depression rather than as a substitute, which I thoroughly appreciated as a story element. When Elijah reappears in his life, the newfound religious aspect of his life is upended, and the events that follow are a thoroughly epic love story. As a treat, it’s infused with a bit of “idiots in love,” my particularly favorite trope.
An additional bonus is the bits of Elijah’s point of view sprinkled through the narrative via excerpts from his private journal and published articles. I think this elevates the strength of the love story that I was also missing from the previous books.
And as much as these books are rooted very much in reality compared with Simone’s Thornchapel series, a familiar face from both series does evoke a more supernatural (or perhaps miraculous) element that is impossible to ignore. Overall, these books are not to be missed by fans of Simone’s work or by those readers who appreciate genuine emotional conflict in their romance stories.