It’s been a minute since I’ve picked up a romance novel that’s swept me off my feet. While perusing the library one day, I happened upon Bolu Babalola’s Honey & Spice in the New Fiction section. I’ve always found myself snickering at Babalola’s jokes on Twitter, so I wanted to see what her novel would be like! Long story short, I absolutely adored it. Or, I guess as the Brits would say, I really rate it?
Anyway, the story takes place in the African-Caribbean Society at Whitewell College in England. On her college radio show Brown Sugar, Kiki names Malakai, who has a bit of a “player” rep, the “Wasteman of Whitewell” — that is, a man who wastes a woman’s time and energy. Her sweeping exclamation comes to bite her later on as her favorite professor pairs her up with Malakai, who just happens to be an academic rival. Anyway, they end up in a fake relationship to help Kiki with her show but inevitably catch feelings.
I found this book quite moving because of how fully realized the main characters are — to avoid spoilers, I’ll just say that they have really wonderful interior lives that make for sparkling chemistry. The lead characters both come with baggage and things they don’t particularly love about themselves, but they find ways to support each other as they start to fall in love with each other. This dynamic makes for lots of witty and warm dialogue; the conversations between Kiki and Malakai simply pop. It’s not a particularly super spicy book replete with steamy misadventures (there’s some spice, of course), but my goodness do you want these two people to get together.
Honey & Spice treats romance novel enthusiasts with some of the most delicious tropes, including enemies to lovers, friends to lovers, and fake dating. You can tell that the author has a deep appreciation and reverence for the romance genre (which, unfortunately, is often derided as trivial) — you can absolutely tell that this is an author who appreciates classics such as When Harry Met Sally and To All the Boys I’ve Loved Before. Hell, Kiki herself loves romance and even regularly attends a RomCon (romance convention).
If you’re someone who loves love, pick up Honey & Spice. Babalola’s writing is so generous and sweet and warm and delicious, just as its title promises.