Thanks to Netgalley and Berkley for the ARC. It hasn’t affected the content of my review.
For the first like 15% of this book, I was giddy with how much I was enjoying it. I was like YES THIS BOOK and highlighting stuff and writing notes. Then the shine wore off a little. And then there were some bits at the end that made me roll my eyes. So overall, this was an average reading experience, with some very high highs and a couple lows. Mostly, the book does very well by our favorite Russian Bromance Book Club member.
Vlad absolutely deserved his own book after the author didn’t even give him a name for most of two books. And forced him to be the butt of many a scatological joke. (Her author’s note say she only did it because readers wanted her to.) Turns out he’s not even lactose intolerant! He’s gluten intolerant, and now he can eat his beloved cheese again. (There’s a delightful subplot in here about an underground cheese market that sells illegal cheeses, and I have to tell you, I want that to be real. Somebody hook me up.)
Long the most sensitive and empathetic of the book club, it turns out Vlad’s living out several of the many tropes in his beloved books, including: the marriage of convenience and friends to lovers. His wife Elena, whom no one has ever met, married him seven years before so she could leave Russia. They’ve been friends since childhood, but Vlad is secretly in love with her. He has been pining for years, and he initially joined the Bromance Book Club to try and win her over. But after an incident at Mack’s wedding where Vlad finally got up the courage to ask her for a real marriage, it turns out she’s going back to Russia to be a journalist, and Vlad in turn descends into a depression (this involves the illegal cheeses). ALSO he’s writing a romance novel!
Vlad himself is an utter delight. I was less enamored with Elena. I think the author could have done more character work on her beyond “obsessed with what happened to her father who was probably murdered”. I did like how much she cared for Vlad, and the little glimpses of her desire to have friends and a family. I wish that had been played up more, and there was less of the dire journalism plot involving her investigation into her father’s disappearance.
One thing that just really did not work for me was Vlad’s romance novel. There are really only two excerpts from it, but I thought they were pretty boring. Also, I didn’t like that the book club decided to help him with it. It would have been much more satisfying if he had done it all on his own. That was more than made up with all the lovely stuff in here with the book club (Colton and Vlad’s friendship is lovely in this book). And I loved Vlad’s neighbors, and how Vlad just attracts random neighborhood animals with his presence. There’s a weird tone in these books that I’ve never exactly been able to put my finger on where they seem to deliberately not take place in the real world, and slightly unreal things happen all the time (like Bromance Book Clubs, and men that attract animals with their presence) but then the author also decides to put weirdly harsh things in there like sexual harassment and sexual assault storylines, and Russian crime gangs kidnapping and disappearing people. It never clicks all the way for me.
Anyway, despite its flaws, I will continue to read this series because the moments it delights me make up for the occasional weirdness in the tone and eyeroll worthy climactic moments (Elena seemed ridiculously obtuse to me at a key emotional turning point).