I continue to get such a kick out of this series. It continues to openly pander to my desires, and the fantasy of a group of men willing (enthusiastically!) to work at their emotional intelligence, and undo toxic masculinity in their lives is a potent one. That they are choosing to do this through a romance novel book club is both sweet and silly. (It’s also practical! The men rightly point out that all these romance novels are a huge window into the desires and needs of the people they want to form healthy relationships with.*)
*I do wish it were a bit less white-feministy. Some queer and trans/gender-nonconforming characters would be nice, or even just a nod that not all women are cis and that gender is malleable would be adequate at this point. I really don’t know how up on those things the author is; despite possessing a relatively racially diverse cast, it’s not exactly intersectional.
This book follows two characters we met in the previous book, eighteen months after they met each other. Alexis was Liv’s friend, one of the survivors who came out with allegations of sexual assault against a celebrity chef, and Noah is the former hacktivist turned security expert that helped the Bromance Book Club bring those allegations to light. Alexis also owns a cat café called ToeBeans, which is very important because it’s adorable, and basically I want to know why no one in my city has done this. Her rescue cat Beefcake plays a not insignificant role in the book.
Alexis and Noah have developed an emotionally intimate friendship, and are basically best friends. Both of them secretly want more from their relationship, and both of them are afraid to take things to the next level, for lots of reasons. They get a little push when Alexis’s formerly unknown half-sister comes into ToeBeans (at first Alexis thinks she’s another sexual assault survivor, as many of them have been seeking her and the café out as a refuge and place of healing; Alexis even runs weekly yoga classes for them). Turns out Alexis’s biological father is dying from kidney failure, and Alexis is his last chance at a donor match.
There were points where I grew very frustrated with both characters for their poor life choices, and I think that means the author didn’t do quite as good a job making me understand those choices in the moment. (At one point I highlighted something Alexis said/did and wrote as a note in my Kindle app: “You are stupid.” SPOILERS It was during their first kiss and Noah asked her to stop for a second, and instead of, you know, just stopping for a second to see what he wanted, she stormed out, automatically assuming he was rejecting her. It was completely overblown, even for a character with her particular hang-ups. The line was something like, “she could see the disgust on his face” and I just rolled my eyes, and then wrote that note END SPOILERS. But overall, this was really sweet and funny, and the presence of the book club continues to act as a fantasy Greek Chorus of enlightened masculinity doing double time as group therapists and friends. I also thought the secondary plots with Alexis’s surprise family, and Noah dealing with his own family issues that he’s been repressing for years worked really well. Unlike in the second book, the focus here was Noah and Alexis and their relationship, and the main plot only enhanced that instead of taking up space.
I’m very curious to see where she goes with this series. The next book is listed and has a release date, but no details yet. (Context clues from this book would indicate that the Russian may be up next, and if so, I have no idea what to expect from that.) UPDATED AS OF POSTING TO CBR 12/17/2020: The next book is indeed about the Russian, who is apparently a closet romance novelist himself, and it will involve a marriage of convenience. I am still skeptical that she will be able to redeem this character from the caricature she has made of him so far.