Absinthe by Winter Renshaw is perfect for those who enjoy taboo romance and SLOW burn. Our review + teasers.
My rating: 3.5 of 5 stars
[For Mature Audiences; Some Spoilers]
Halston Kessler has had a really tough childhood. Her meth-addicted parents essentially abandon her, but at 18 (almost 19) her Uncle takes her in and offers a chance to attend one of the most prestigious schools in Illinois. It’s important to her Uncle that she be a responsible member of the family, and in the summer before her senior year, the bargain expands to include Halston getting a summer job. For the most part, Halston is happy to have the stability, but truth be told, she’s bored. Halston is a voracious reader who has a deep and abiding love for classic literature. Given the experiences of her youth, coupled with what she’s gained from books, Halston is definitely older than he years. So when she sees a random online ad for an online dating app, she takes a chance. She takes on the username “Absinthe” (because of her green eyes, plus she has the confidence to know that she’s a bombshell, addictive to any man 😉 ) and then starts chatting with a fellow literature lover, Kerouac. They talk about their favorite books, life, and dirty, dirty sex. Unfortunately, when the school year starts, they find out that Kerouac is Ford Hawthorne, the new principal at Halston’s high school. UHOH.
Throughout the school year, Halston and Ford try to keep their distance. Even before Ford knows the truth of Absinthe’s identity, he’s anti-commitment. And now, he knows he’s worked way too hard on his career to take a risk like this. But the attraction is still there: Halston is gorgeous, smart as a whip, and hella witty. Similarly, Halston craves the companionship from Ford, who seems to understand and accept her in a way no one else has. They say they know better, and even though their physical contact is very limited, the chatting continues. And just when Ford and Halston want to make some promises to each other, their secret gets out…
What I enjoy most about Absinthe is its great pacing. The story flows really well and it’s so easy to read. I binged it all in one sitting on a Monday morning. Yet, I don’t know that I’d classify this as a straightforward romance. There are erotic and romantic elements. We get chat/phone sex early on and the first kiss around 50%, which makes sense given the taboo nature of Halston’s and Ford’s relationship. But actual intimacy doesn’t emerge until last 20% of the book. Yes, the romantic relationship is fairly central, but the two main characters are apart for the bulk of the book, first because of the forbidden principal/student relationship, then later by forced separation and resentment.
I do like that Halston/Absinthe is so confident. She’s brilliant, forthcoming, and completely unashamed about who she is, including the terrible circumstances of her childhood. Ford is pretty similar. He’s smart, honest, and has grows up in unhappy circumstances. But, whereas Halston’s issues with abandonment cause her to crave intimacy, Ford runs away from it, at least at first.
Cupping her face, I realize this is the first time I’ve ever touched her—really touched her. I let my palm linger, my thumb running over her pillowed lips.
“I’d give anything to kiss you right now,” I say, my voice a remorseful whisper.
My heart thrums at a dangerous pace, the distance between our mouths closing. But I won’t kiss her. I can’t. Her green eyes are lost in mine, holding for what feels like an eternity. Her scent fills the space between us, soft and wild at the same time. I’m seconds from telling her I’ll wait for her, that there’ll be a day when we can be together—until her mouth grazes mine.
Halston kisses me, pressing her lips into mine harder, slinking her arms over my shoulders and rising on her toes. For a brief moment, I lose myself, relishing in this kiss like it’s the only one that’s ever mattered in my life. And then I push her away.
“Why the fuck did you do that?” I’m seething, jaw clenched and shoulders rising and falling with each breath.
“Wh-what? ”She’s somewhere between laughing and crying as she floats back down to earth.
“This is bad. This is really fucking bad.” I pace the living room before stopping in the center, massaging my temples and refusing to look at her.
“Kerouac,” she says. “You’re overreacting. It was just a kiss.”
Turning to her, I shake my head, lips pressed into a hard line. “You don’t understand. I could lose my job over this.”
“No one’s going to know.” Her eyes widen. “I’ll take it to the grave.”
“You say that now.” I cock my head before dragging my hand across my cheek. “One day I might piss you off and—”
“God, no. I would never do that.” She approaches me gingerly at first, then rushes to my side, placing her hand on my chest. I brush it away. “I’m not like that. At all. I would never.”
“You shouldn’t have done that.”
*SIGH* I really am rooting for these two the whole time.
Even though resolution is really sweet, it seems improbable. Given all the obstacles that keeps them apart for chapters and years (including misinformation, bitterness, and their own family members), for it to be resolved over a few chapters and a few days feels very rushed. At the same time, Halton and Ford are really only like seven or eight years apart, so it makes sense that, as adults, the age difference wouldn’t be that big of a deal. Plus Halston’s and Ford’s HEA does make me happy and goodness knows they’ve earned it.
I recommend Absinthe to those who are into taboo (teacher-principal/student) romance and sloooooowwwwwwww burn, with a definite HEA.
Many thanks to the author for an advanced review copy.