I think there’s a really great story about Dr. Grace Porter, newly minted astronomy PhD (just astronomy, nothing more specific than that) suddenly realizing that the semi-sheltered world of academia and the years she’s spent studying haven’t prepared her to deal with being an adult almost-30 human being. This story involves a cast of quirky(tm) friends (a veritable bingo card of characteristics and personalities), unresolved issues, and lots of good, honest work that takes place over time. Also I think I would kill for her hair–the cover is a real thing of beauty.
There’s also, imo, a shoehorned in “[insert trope romance]” plot throw in there, almost as a framing device. But the thing is it’s not needed in the slightest (spoiler: and as a matter of fact it vanishes during the pivotal third arc while Grace is doing her soul searching and growing. That’s how inconsequential the author finds it).
No spoilers: Grace has done exactly what is expected of her by her military father–be the smartest, work twice as hard–her entire life. Partially because he is Military and Strict, and partially because as a WOC (biracial Black/white) in the sciences she will have to work twice as hard for half as much credit (ten times as hard for a tenth as much credit?). That she is shocked (shocked!) by her first terrible job interview is both not her fault and also completely unsurprising (and, as such, it is surprising that she is surprised) (then again, I had one professor once cast vague aspersions as to my gender being the reason I was struggling in his class and therefore the major, and I literally never recovered) (although I had at that point never encountered sexism that I couldn’t disregard by virtue of being, usually, the best science person in whatever pool I was wading in).
Her trip to Vegas, and the drunken marriage that she ends up with, are supposed to be the catalyst that pushes her off this strictly designed path and towards a new reckoning with what she wants and who she is. The thing is a) you cannot do that, you have to go to the marriage office and get a license, even in Vegas (so she’s not “really” married, whatever change that makes to the plot) and b) that’s not at all needed for the plot. And it actually makes things worse, because the relationship of Grace and Yuki starts on a very meh Manic Pixie Dream Lesbian note which doesn’t compel me to root for the two of them to stay together. So you got non-bindingly married in Vegas in a drunken haze you don’t remember. That’s not the foundation for a meet cute, or at least one that doesn’t then occupy the main plot of the book.
Because this is a book about Grace and her journey. The romance was always going to be secondary, and as such should have been less…quirky.
I went back and forth with whether there’s some latent discomfort or higher bar I give to non-het romance stores. Am I being harsh on this particular romance subplot in a way that I’m not with heterosexual stories? I think there might be an element of not yet finding a style that jives with me, which is an issue with the number I’ve read–it’s this and Written in the Stars, both of which feature characters whose personalities can be summed up in one word as “astrology,” which you know will make me eye roll v hard. So I think I need to actively find more lesbian romantic novels, because the balance is pretty skewed (because I do have multiple gay romance novels that I’ve enjoyed).