An Exaltation of Larks
September 11, 1973: Eleven-year-old Alejandro Penda watches from his apartment window as Santiago, Chile falls to a military coup, destroying his family and his childhood. Arriving alone in America, he’s taken in by the Larks: a prominent family in the town of Guelisten. Though burdened by unresolved grief for his disappeared parents, he becomes fiercely loyal to the Larks, eventually marrying one of their daughters, Valerie.
September 11, 2001: Javier Landes watches from his apartment window as New York City falls to terrorism. As one of Manhattan’s top-paid male escorts, this professional lover has never lacked for company and is loyal only to himself. But in the wake of 9/11, Jav is named guardian for an orphaned nephew in Guelisten and must open his carefully-guarded heart to pain he’s long suppressed.
Alex, Valerie and Jav meet first in their twenties, with a sudden attraction each finds strange and compelling. When they meet again in their forties, they discover not only is their bond still strong, but their life experiences are strangely similar. All have been shaped by separate 9/11’s, and their unfinished business from the past will change everything they know about love, loyalty and friendship.
“Life has rules. You cannot come in the middle of the night and take what we agreed isn’t yours.”
Across three decades and two continents, Suanne Laqueur’s fifth novel explores the unpredictability of sexual attraction, how family ties are forged, torn and mended, and how love’s downfall can turn to exaltation.
A Charm of Finches
“I swear. Give me one more chance and I will make the most of it.”
Ex-hustler Javier Landes is asking for his third chance at love. The third time proves to be the charm when he meets a Manhattan art therapist named Steffen Finch. What starts as casual and curious deepens into a passionate, soulful relationship—everything Jav has ever wanted, and everything he fears losing.
Stef’s business card reads Curator & Sailor. His creativity and insightful nature have made him into a talented therapist, the one to call for tough cases. His professional success can’t conceal a deep need to connect with someone, but Javier Landes is the last person Stef expected.
Geronimo “Geno” Caan is Stef’s most challenging case. To cope with his ordeal, he’s allowed an alter-ego called Mos to make decisions, and now lives a double life within a web of lies. Under Stef’s navigation, Geno uses art to express what Mos forbids to be spoken aloud. But as Geno’s attachment to Stef gradually extends to Jav, the boundaries between professional and personal begin to blur.
Over the course of a year, Jav, Stef and Geno form an unexpected and unconventional triangle, revealing how men make love in times of war and how love is a great wisdom made up of small understandings. The long-awaited second book of the Veneryseries, A Charm of Finches is an epic tale of survival and secrets guaranteed to make you think and feel and remember.
Karen: It seems fitting to kick off 2018 with the last two books I read in 2017, and a big thank you to Fra, if she hadn’t persuaded me that I’d misread the tags for these books I don’t think I would have read them. ( I though they featured m/m/f which I don’t particularly like). Larks, the first book, captured so well the essence of an established relationship, and how adults react when faced with events they never thought they would have to deal with. And Finches was on one hand a more traditional love story, then also a terrible and uplifting tale of how a young man dealt with some terrifying issues.
Fra: I think you are right Karen, 2017 was a very good reading year and these two books seriously closed it off with a bang. They made it right to the top of my favourite reads and I loved them so much I also ordered the paperbacks!
Excessive enthusiasm aside: it must be said, whomever labelled the books as m/m/f romance really did this series a great disservice.
The inaccurate label implied a completely different story than what we read and, as we said several times while reading, I almost did not even bother with Larks never mind jumping straight into Finches. Instead I fell head over heel in love with the story, the writing, the characters!
Karen: I read these books back to back, and while they are linked, in that some of the characters feature in both books, you could read either of them alone, but I feel that you would be missing out. I think that when some authors write romantic or love scenes they can infantise their characters. Often this can be done to provide tension, and of course the great misunderstanding/ miscommunication leads to the great declaration. But not here, Larks in particular takes some highly emotive issues, and has the characters talk about them. Often highly emotionally but always intelligently and with the kind of humanity and understanding that one always hopes will happen, if the situation happened to you.
Fra: This series is epic in scope, sweeping over a 20 years arc framed and punctuated by some of the most tragic of world wide events. The writing is rich and sensual – like chocolate, a treat for a rainy, cold day.
The plot intertwines the lives of the protagonists in the most realistic manner and while it is sustained by some outstanding writing it never skirts on the difficulties of the characters lives and choices. I am not sure I could have waited between one book and the other.
Fra: One of the things I loved the most about the series is the amazing portrait of women, especially Val. She is one of the most beautiful fictional women I have read in a long time: she is creative, emotionally intelligent and understands love – with her siblings, with Alex, her daughter and Jav – in all its facets. She is strong and vulnerable at the same time, loyal and brave. I was in awe.
Her relationship with Alex, her marriage, is beautifully portrayed and I especially loved and appreciated how these two work at making it work, how they understand the difference between “wanting” and “having” and end up with strongest relationships all around because of it.
If Val was the driving force of Larks and Alex its loving center, Jav – IMO – is the beating heart that bridges both books.
Jav is a splendidly written character especially in showing the reader an emotionally stunted man who has a whole lot of growing up to do when it comes to being loved and love in return. In the most loose and distant way he reminded me of Hsin Vega, another male character with a lot of circumstances that stunt his emotional growth.
In Larks the narrative establishes the possibilities of love in all of its facets in Jav’s mind, and in Finches it delivers a loving relationship together with full acceptance of himself and his sexuality. And it was a thing of beauty.
Karen: Val is a wonderful character, in her 20’s her involvement with Jav set the tone perfectly for the woman she was becoming, honest and with her own morality, something that doesn’t disappear when she’s faced with situations that could easily turn into book melodrama.
Fra: The writing is gorgeous and the author delivers a perfect story, series even, which tackles character development, love, loss in the most realistic manner.
With Val and Alex strongly ensconced in an even stronger relationship, Finches focuses Jav and Stef’s growth as individuals and as a couple and crosses it with Geno’s hineous ordeal echoed by Micah’s. Each step in the characters development linked to a history of past abuse and survival. It is really beautifully done and as contemporary literary novels go Larks and Finches are some of the best I read last year, if not ever.
The series is ultimately about love. The main characters are spread all over the sexuality spectrum but the romance is not the main focus of either book nor does it pay lip service to the almost voyeuristic interest in the characters orientation. There’s no unnecessary angst used as a narrative tool to progress the relationship – all of these characters talk, they are willing to talk and grow and accept each others strengths and flaws.
The characters in their 40s are not described as “silver foxes” in some superficial attempt to inject life in old, boring people. This novel and his brother deliver a realistic, relatable picture of people at this point of their lives. The empowering knowledge of who they are and what they like and their understanding of where their lives are at. Comparatively the teenage protagonists benefit from being portrayed faithfully as teenagers and from being able to rely on adults who are uncomplicatedly so. Both men and women are portrayed beautifully and at full capacity and potential and none as in need of the “magic dick/shag” that will sort their lives out.
Karen: I couldn’t agree more. For me the most surprising book was Larks, I found how the author dealt with complicated relationships extremely powerful and emotional without ever feeling fake or angsty. The love story in Finches was more traditional, in terms of how it unfolds, and that steadfast love worked so beautifully with the turmoil that Geno is dealing with.
I have really struggled to find books that match the emotional maturity of this series since.
All in all I we were really happy that we did not let the mislabelling stop us from reading both Larches and Finches: it was an incredibly rewarding experience and one that we highly recommend.
A note/TW: Geno’s hideous ordeal is realistically described and informs much of the book. It was hard to read. A heartfelt sadness at the horrific treatment of this very young man pervades much of the story while also realistically describing the steps Geno takes towards recovering at least parts of himself. It does not make easy reading but it is rewarding and creates awareness of the cruelty many young people are subjected to in the world.
A note: Alex is forced to move from Chile in the aftermath of 11/9/1973, he speaks Spanish frequently; Javier is of Dominican origin but born in New York, he also speaks Spanish frequently. Although I understand them I have no reference to establish whether the Spanish they speak is genuine to the characters that they are. It felt genuine to me but we have heard feedback from Spanish native speakers that there were some grammar mistakes.