Thursday, June 11, 2015

Illusions & Dreams by Z. Allora

Illusions & Dreams was a lovely story, with the slow burn of mutual flirtation, taking nearly 100 pages before either pair of lovers consummate their vacation romance. I loved that Z. Allora took her time with the story, establishing the characters, and showing us around Thailand before getting into anything intimate.

Jake and Randy are two single men, looking for a little vacation fun. Jake is good-natured but lonely, an introverted young man who hasn’t really been intimate since the last year of his marriage - itself a cold period plagued by problems of arousal. Randy is his exact opposite, extroverted, loud, and something of a male gigolo - a man who doesn’t believe in love, but who is happy to explore lust in all its variations. It’s Randy’s idea to take the vacation, but it’s Jake who obsesses over the promotional videos for Illusions & Dreams, and who falls in love with a certain ladyboy dancer.

That ladyboy dancer is Lalana, a veteran dancer at the club. She’s a woman who has seen and hurt too much, and who has seen too many other girls devastated by vacation flings. She genuinely likes Randy, but she’s not sure she believes love is possible, especially once he discovers the secret of her illusion. You see, she’s long since come to terms with her gender, and is quite happy being a woman with a little something extra between her legs. Boon-nam, on the other hand, is a virginal dancer who is still dilating twice a day as part of her surgical recovery. She’s having a lot of fun with Jake, and wants him to be her first, no matter how much Lalana may caution against it.

There are more than a few surprises here, especially in terms of how Allora frames the tale. Initially, I expected it to be Randy's romance, but he actually shares the tale with Jake. There's no doubt I liked Randy more, but Jake gets the most significant amount of character development here, eventually turning a tale of potential heartbreak into a second storybook romance. There erotic elements are subtle, but well done, and there's quite a bit of humor to balance out the tears and the fears. Allora surrounds the loves with some great supporting characters, and takes them on some fantastic travels across Thailand, rounding out the romances into a solid novel with some real depth and variety.

In the end, what you have here is a story of four lovers, finding each other and finding themselves. Cynics may argue that Illusions & Dreams is a bit too perfect in the end, but don't we all want our romances to have a happily-ever-after?

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