Marcelo, Tif. Once Upon a Sunset. New York: Gallery Books, 2020.
ISBN-13: 978-1982115937 | $16.99 USD | 352 pages | Women’s Fiction
The author of The Key to Happily Ever After—“a true gem filled with heart, laughs, and a cast of delightful characters” (Nina Bocci, USA TODAY bestselling author)—returns with a heartwarming and charming novel about a woman who travels to the Philippines to reconnect with her long-lost family…and manages to find herself along the way.
Diana Gallagher-Cary is at a tipping point. As a Washington, DC, OB/GYN at a prestigious hospital, she uses her career to distract herself from her grief over her granny’s death and her breakup from her long-term boyfriend after her free-spirited mother moves in with her. But when she makes a medical decision that disparages the hospital, she is forced to go on a short sabbatical.
Never one to wallow, Diana decides to use the break to put order in her life, when her mother, Margo, stumbles upon a box of letters from her grandfather, Antonio Cruz, to her grandmother from the 1940s. The two women always believed that Antonio died in World War II, but the letters reveal otherwise. When they learn that he lived through the war, and that they have surviving relatives in the Philippines, Diana becomes determined to connect with the family that she never knew existed, though Margo refuses to face her history. But Diana pushes on, and heads on a once-in-a-lifetime trip that challenges her identity, family history, and her idea of romantic love that could change her life forever.
Infused with Tif Marcelo’s signature “sexy, adorable, and heartfelt” (Kate Meader, USA TODAY bestselling author) voice, Once Upon a Sunset is a moving and lyrical celebration of love, family, and second chances.
Having been underwhelmed by Tif Marcelo’s previous release, I decided to give her one more chance, as Once Upon a Sunset seemed like it had promise. And while I knew better than to go in expecting a full-on romance this time, I still came out with somewhat mixed feelings.
Marcelo’s prose is evocative and engaging…in fact, so much so, that in spite of real-life stuff I was dealing with, I still managed to devour it in a manner of hours. The story is also full of cultural nuance about the Filipino immigrant experience, and how it impacts two generations of a family.
I also really liked the World War II storyline, and would have liked to see it developed beyond the interstitial letters and scattered mentions in the contemporary plotline. There was an air of mystery in that complex love story in this family’s history that I feel could have been expanded on, but knowing Marcelo’s back catalog is primarily contemporary, I can understand if she feels more comfortable examining things from that lens looking back.
I had mixed feelings about the contemporary storyline and characters. I feel like the ideas are there, but it isn’t executed in a way that I found particularly compelling. Beyond an understanding of the cultural aspects, such as being interested in Diana’s re-connecting with her culture, I didn’t care much for the characters or feel that I was invested in them. And the family drama lost steam the more I progressed into the book, so while it was still a compelling read, it wasn’t one that gripped me.
All that said, while this book may not have entirely worked for me, I also recognize the importance of the representation this provides for many Filipino-Americans, as put in context by this review from Filipina-American romance author and reviewer Maida Malby, which I’m linking for another perspective, to help you make an informed decision.
Tif believes in and writes about heart-eyes romance, the strength of families, and the endurance of friendship. A veteran Army Nurse with a Bachelor of Science in Nursing and a Master of Public Administration, she is a craft enthusiast, food-lover and the occasional half-marathon runner. As a military spouse, she has moved nine times, and this adventure shows in some of her free-spirited characters. Tif currently lives in the DC area with her own real life military hero and four children.
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