Priest by Sierra Simone
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This book is wildly inappropriate and sacrilegious and I absolutely loved it.
I should start by saying that if you’re easily offended by religious themes used in an erotic context, you probably shouldn’t read this. And if you’re an observant Catholic, you definitely shouldn’t read this.
The sex in this book is crazy super extra dirty filthy hot. So if you’re offended by extremely explicit sex scenes, you also should not read this. (Sidenote: I’ve seen this book categorized on Amazon and Goodreads as BDSM. While there are faint elements of this in the sex scenes and Tyler is certainly dominant, I personally didn’t consider it heavy on the BDSM.)
Now that I’ve told you why you potentially shouldn’t read this, let me explain why I loved it so, so much.
Father Tyler Bell is a 29-year-old Catholic priest who took his vows three years ago following the suicide of his sister. In many ways, her death was the catalyst for Tyler wanting to find meaning and purpose in his life. Tyler is certainly not a conventional priest. When not tending to his congregation, in his off-time he listens to Britney Spears and peruses The Walking Dead reddit. He sincerely loves his parish and throws himself into his ministry through various forms of community outreach to dull the grief left behind by his sister’s death. He also does this as a form of penance because he blames himself, in part, for her suicide.
So when a stranger enters his confessional one day, the last thing Tyler expects is to be drawn to this woman. Her confession is filled with sordid detail but also anguish, and as a priest, Tyler’s first instinct is to want to comfort her and help her find peace. But in another sense, Tyler finds himself drawn to her in far more inappropriate ways.
I was supposed to be a shepherd of the flock, not the wolf.
Poppy Danforth’s family life growing up is the definition of American blue blood. But immediately upon her graduation from Dartmouth with her MBA in hand, she walks away from her family’s privileged life. She knows what’s expected of her, but she wants more than marrying someone as a business transaction and ultimately becoming the requisite trophy wife.
So Poppy moves from city to city. She is a classically trained dancer but somehow finds herself working at an extremely high-class, exclusive strip club. She ends up in Weston, Missouri, where Tyler lives. She feels directionless and in an effort to find clarity, enters Tyler’s church and confessional.
Thus begins Tyler and Poppy’s relationship. She’s not Catholic, yet she finds comfort in the act of confession and Tyler is increasingly pulled in by Poppy’s magnetic personality. He also sees how hopeless she feels and wants to help her find her way. But from the beginning, their relationship is anything but appropriate. Tyler continues to hear her confessions, even though he knows he should step aside and refer her to someone else because he’s undeniably attracted to Poppy on a sexual level. Tyler has an interesting way of justifying his decisions. I’d say that he’s not a very good priest, but in some ways that doesn’t feel entirely accurate. In terms of his love for the community–and God Himself–Tyler actually is a very good priest.
The voice in my dreams that had comforted me, enlightened me, guided me. The voice that had told me what I needed to do with my life, where I needed to go to find peace. And the worst thing was that I knew He wasn’t angry with me. He’d forgiven me before it had even happened, and I didn’t deserve it.
Tyler is a good priest in many ways–he’s just not good at the celibacy part. Which, by the way, doesn’t last long. As you can imagine, Tyler breaks his vow of celibacy with Poppy early on and at times it’s almost comical how he splits hairs in efforts to justify his sins. Although he confesses them to God and prays for forgiveness, he also continues doing the same things over and over again, so obviously he’s not really interested in ending his sexual relationship with Poppy–despite the fact that they both know they should. In addition to this, by necessity they have to sneak around to spend time with each other, so there’s a constant shadow of secrecy and shame whenever they’re together.
However, although he spends a great deal of time justifying his actions, I don’t want to make light of Tyler’s struggles. He actually is tormented by his guilt, along with conflicted about his faith and his future as a priest. He not only has to reconcile who he is with who he wants to be, but also he has to figure out where Poppy fits into all of this as well. These issues become even more complicated when Tyler realizes that he’s not merely in lust with Poppy; he’s falling deeply in love with her.
Ultimately, Tyler has to make a choice. As a Catholic priest, he obviously can’t be with Poppy and remain in his spiritual position. However, he’s so conflicted by his feelings and how they just won’t reconcile with the vows he has made to God. As much as he tries to avoid making a choice, he has to decide whether he wants to follow what he thinks God wants, or what he knows his heart wants.
“Si vis amari, ama,” you tell me. If you wish to be loved, love.
One of the only things I didn’t like is Poppy’s ex, Sterling, and how prominent he is in the second half of the book. I wanted more of the focus to be on Poppy and Tyler, and the conflict necessarily involves Sterling, so unfortunately he’s in the book quite a bit. I also thought that the resolution is a little rushed, but the ending is satisfying.
For obvious reasons that I’ve already mentioned, this book is not for everyone–not even for every romance reader. But for me, it worked on pretty much every level and I loved it. There are passages throughout that are so beautifully written that I had to go back and reread them. There’s a poetic quality at times that’s so lyrical as to be Biblical in nature. The author did an amazing job of showing the dichotomy of Tyler the man of God versus Tyler the man in love. I just loved the author’s writing style and really want to read more from her.