Don’t Hate the Player
I did not expect to like this as much as I did! It’s a lovely, charming story with engaging lead characters and just the right level of stakes given their relative ages.
The story is your classic “I have two lives” hyper focused female lead, except in this case she is both a straight A field hockey type with a tiger mom and a pretty good eSports player on a team that’s one step away from just being called Evil Guys.
There’s some suspension of disbelief that’s required for the sorts of hoops that Emilia puts herself through. For example, why wouldn’t she tell her best friend that she’s an eSports player (I think she doesn’t. Er. It’s been a while since I’ve read it)? How does she maintain that much anonymity?
You can see the plot coming from a thousand miles away, obviously–Emilia is way too good for Darth Vader’s Team and there’s a jerk on the Inclusivity and Rainbows team–but it’s fascinating how well Nedd built the world of this game and got you invested in the various game strategies. I think it’s a fictional game (clearly not my strong suit) but I could sense how the game worked and the mechanics therein, which is important in order to understand the action that happens.
Ten Things I Hate About the Duke
There are three types of romance books, and only two that I can bring myself to read. The type I cannot deal with involves power dynamics going male > female, i.e. where there’s some sort of leverage differential that exacerbates what is the reality of the patriarchy. Student/teacher, large age gaps, wealth disparities–they all give me a bit of the heebie jeebies, and I have to either willfully headcanon it away while reading or abandon ship.
My favorite is when neither character has the upper hand and there’s an even balance–hi, The Last Hellion! These are the best but require some skill to pull off so that there’s enough frisson to make it interesting as well.
This book is probably sort of the third category, in which there’s an imbalance and it’s going to the other way. While yes, we start off with Cassandra’s reputation in tatters and no choice but for her to marry Ashmont, the book quickly turns into a story wherein he’s trying to redeem himself and bring himself back into her good graces, a place he used to be many years ago.
And look, I don’t hate it. Cassandra never changes who she is and the fancy Duke tries to woo her? Sign me all the way up. I didn’t feel like reading any of the other novels in this series, and honestly I haven’t felt the urge to re-read this one as I have Chase’s other books, but I’m glad I added this to my Chase repertoire!
The Soulmate Equation
Definitely a mark for how having two clever authors helps to pull together good books! I definitely found the premise for this book ridiculous and so didn’t want to read it for the longest time–I mean, this is just not how attraction or genetics works, no matter how many Caltech scientists you get to create AI machine algorithms for you (…the joke just writes itself but: have you considered that having a Caltech AI might be…worse?).
But if you can look past that, then what’s left…has even more complicated things you have to overlook, to be honest. But all in all, this book has a real sparkle that makes it enjoyable even without those elements.
For example: there’s no real way to get around the fact that there is a huge power differential between Jess and River, and that Jess is being paid to go on dates with River. She’s constantly struggling to juggle her kid and her freelance work, which doesn’t pay nearly enough to cover all the costs of raising a child. Of course it’s weird that she has a relationship with the soon-to-be-tech-gazillionaire, even if there’s a contract in place to make sure it seems on the up and up.
When you add in the kid and River being an all around good dude, it’s not a surprise that it’ll end up going towards HEA land. I do think that the third arc reveal was, for once, good and genuinely surprising! [I don’t think it’s realistic that River would have just ghosted her when he found out–that’s like, 0 EQ–but whatever, he’s a workaholic we’ll take it].
Portrait of a Scotsman
Evie Dunmore knows how to write these books to directly get to me. She has figured out the perfect set of elements such that you both enjoy these books and feel like you’re getting a real history lesson while reading them as well.
This time, we learn mainly about labor laws with a lovely jaunt into ever more intersectional feminism (this time, with an SES flair).
Dunmore does a great job of having her various heroines differ when it comes to their set up. While Lucie is all about the freedom of singledom vs the subjugation of marriage, Hattie ‘understands’ it while not really caring much because, well, she doesn’t have to! She’s wealthy and has never had a true care in the world. She idly wants a romantic marriage and a gentle gentleman husband to carry her off. It’s only when she gets neither of those things that she’s forced to reckon with the truth.
It’s also lovely how the characters in these books maintain their friendship (and activism) along the way. Lucie very lovingly helps Hattie understand her privilege later on, without shaming her or rolling her eyes (or at least not too much). Hattie gets to keep her desires for romantic love while also standing up for herself and what she wants in a spouse. It’s possible to “have it all” so to speak, even if that ending is only available to a select few.
The Love Hypothesis
So let’s be clear, I definitely was like “hmm this SEEMS like Reylo fanfic” because I am clueless to the extreme. This is a remake of a fan-favorite fanfic, but I would say Hazelwood deserves a lot of credit for the edits made to turn it into a standalone romance novel!
Our set up is this–a Grumpy meets a Sunshine. But the Grumpy is an Adam Driver stand in (named…Adam) who is a hotshot biology professor of unknown import (to be discussed) and our Sunshine is a biology grad student who is not in the same line of work (and is in a line of work that makes…very little sense, to be discussed). The set up is one that is timeless–your best friend wants to date the guy that you were casually dating and aren’t into anymore, so you make up a fake boyfriend to demonstrate that you’re totally over the first guy and then when caught out at the lab when you said you were on a date you kiss the first guy you see to prove you are actually dating someone, and that someone happens to be both an infamously tough professor in the field AND the unknown man who helped you through a crisis of confidence earlier on when you were interviewing for your PhD position.
I think on the whole the story works–sort of–except that you have to expend a lot of energy in glossing over the implications of Olive dating a professor in her department. And, to be honest, I’m not even quite sure why he had to be in her department? Professor Adam is noted as this super hard nosed computational biologist who trashes research and proposals for being underpowered, insufficiently significant, etc. And yet he has some of the cushiest lab space…despite not really needing it? He could have been in the math department??
I enjoyed this in spite of the fact that academia is already complicated to navigate as someone who identifies as female without the additional element of interpersonal relationships!
Oh, and the fact that a pancreatic diagnostic researcher would need to use a electron microscope. Like. What???
One Good Earl Deserves a Lover
I really should have read the first book in this series first! A Rogue by Any Other Name has an epilogue which leads almost to the minute into the start of this book. It’s not hard to figure out what Pippa must have asked to have Cross in such a state of mental disarray (it rhymes with “mave mex mith me”) but it does mean you start very much in medias res.
The conceit here runs through the men–all the Scoundrels of this series are part owners/management in a notorious Hell, or gaming/boxing/pleasure hall that exclusively services the most rarified clientele from the nobility (and gentility). They are all, of course, in some way damaged goods who need rescuing from themselves or vengeance on those who wronged them or to prove to the world that they are more than their lowest moments.
MacLean writes some snappy, funny dialogue that lets you fall into the conceit that a woman like Pippa would be able to escape as often as she does to bounce around with a person like Cross, friend-of-her-brother-in-law-though-he-may-be. It’s lovely to see her in a relationship that isn’t terrible by any means (boring is not a crime) and trying nonetheless to figure out what could be better out there. Her characterization might be slightly one note (she is Quirky and Science-y, but interestingly so such that her various experiments span the entire gamut of what could be reasonably pursued at home) and Cross’ cross to bear is obviously going to last until the climactic (heh) third act, but you enjoy the journey and that’s what matters in this genre of novel.
A Rogue by Any Other Name
Definitely a series that is worth reading in order–the epilogue is the scene I would have liked in One Good Earl Deserves a Lover to make sense of the first scene…
I think you have to be okay with some level of ye old historical romance era chicanery–which is to say, there is a semi-literal abduction that starts the entire plot. And while yes, Penelope is obviously going to fall in love with Bourne and vice versa, it’s a bit Stockholm-y that she’s forcibly held overnight at his house such that her reputation is besmirched and she has no option but to marry him.
Er, now that I think a bit more about it it’s pretty messed up.
But that ASIDE, the rest of the novel deals with Bourne attempting to make it up to Penelope, doing whatever he can to ensure that her sisters are happily situated in their future lives (that being said–we know that Pippa isn’t long for her intended, and it finally makes sense why throughout the next book Penelope and Bourne are making those side comments trying to get her to ditch Lord WhatsHisFace). It’s got a very Ten Things I Hate About the Duke vibe in that sense (actually…it’s almost exactly the same plot).
I guess at the end of the day I keep going back and forth on how to rate this book but we’re going to land with four stars, as I think the eventual forgiveness comes from an earnt place!
The Gentleman’s Guide to Vice and Virtue
I will say that one of the most interesting parts of this novel was reading the author note at the end, where Lee talks about real life Grand Tours and what they meant in the context of real life nobles in ye olde England. Similar to Evie Dunmore and how she weaves in real life history into historical romances, it give what you just read an extra shine as you reflect back.
This was a great recommendation found while digging through the 2021 lists of my friend Evin! This book has everything: intrigue, drama, alchemy, sibling drama, adventure, Roman J Israel Esquire…
Seriously, though, I appreciated the balance between interpersonal dynamics and slapdash adventure. We know where we want to go (Monty + Percy 4eva) but for once the hurdles in place aren’t the usual set but the long arm of homophobic laws of the time. Towards the end the book does veer off a bit into uh…magical realism, we’ll call it? Not in a way that brushes aside issues with an anachronistic wave, but as a logical conclusion to a storyline that we’ve been following. I’m looking forward to the second novel, although have been told it’s not as good so it’s on the shelf.
The Charm Offensive
Shelfie: judge not my pitiful book shelf…I had to get rid of many books in my last move
I’m surprised that this wasn’t blurbed with Boyfriend Material, because that’s what I actually ended up re-reading after reading this!
I think it’s because both are about flawed men with mental issues that they are trying to resolve while also trying to relationship. If I take it a step further, I think this might be why women (het/bi at a minimum) find stories with queer men engaging–while there’s been this sea change towards allowing characters, especially men, in [romance] novels/media to openly have mental health issues, the working on said issues has yet to catch up. Gay romance novels (often written by women–an interesting intersection of ownvoices x women are the primary producers and consumers of romance fiction) place men into the the self-analyzing, vulnerable position that are usually the provenance of a) the female lead and b) the male lead in the last three seconds of the novel.
BACK to The Charm Offensive! I’d say that the set up was probably the weaker part of the whole formula–that someone like Dev would truly believe in the premise of Ever After after watching/producing the show for so many seasons defies common sense. And that being on this show (without divulging his plethora of anxieties) would help get Charlie a job in the tech industry also requires a bit of squinting. But once we have that excuse-for-a-romance-novel out of the way, there’s something very engaging about Dev and Charlie (and very amusing as well).
Both of these men have serious issues to resolve, but they are very cute and hot as they go about trying to do so. There’s a classic “but we have to pretend” rationale that gets them through the first hurdles, and then we’re just part of the audience seeing how it’ll all pan out. [I do think that it’s a bit of a cop-out to have everyone’s main issue solving happen off-stage–i.e., Dev vanishes and doesn’t answer his phone (?) for months (??) and doesn’t know what’s happening with the show (???) which stars him (?????). Charlie shows how much he’s changed by revamping the show and (presumably) going to therapy while it’s airing. The book would have been pretty long if that all was happening on screen, I get that part, but it would have been nice nonetheless to see some of that growth in the main action].