I’ve been a huge fan of Roni Loren’s work ever since I read The Ones Who Got Away as my first book of 2018. The emotional depth, the mental health, the banter, it’s basically everything I want in a romance. And that’s exactly what you can expect from this workplace friends-to-friends-with-benefits-to-lovers romance!
Eliza may come off on social media as a therapist who’s completely got her life together, but in real life, she’s frustrated with the dating scene, though she keeps hoping each new first date is her chance to meet The One. Things start going sideways when an impromptu Christmas morning visit to WorkAround, the coworking space she rents an office at, leads to her oversharing with her not-very-friendly office neighbor, and a trip to the animal shelter! So when one of those first dates goes viral, she reaches back out to Beck, a cybersecurity specialist, for help. While his job involves a lot of technology, he prefers to live his life offline, and talking with him leads Eliza to swear to take a social media detox for six months. But without dating apps, Instagram, and TikTok, what’s a girl to do? Beck offers to show her around the social-media-less world of NoPho parties and movie-and-ice-cream marathons, but when the chemistry between them sparks, he’s careful to let her know that he’s not capable of being husband material. But when their friendship turns into a friends-with-benefits situation, will both their hearts get broken?
“I wouldn’t want to sleep with a woman who thinks aliens run our government unless she can lay out a compelling scientific argument to convince me. That could be an interesting conversation.”
Eliza wants what her parents had: not a fairytale romance, but a loving partnership that lasted until they died in a car accident. But everyone she meets on dating apps are only looking for hook-ups, and most of them seem to not be worth even the time for that. And after the viral disaster of one date, taking Beck’s suggestion of trying to meet people offline – and maybe even turn it into a self-help book – seems like a relief. Beck’s younger than Eliza by almost a decade and she’s initially a bit ageist in relation to him. Don’t all “youngsters” not know what they really want in life? Aren’t they all glued to their phones 24×7? But as Eliza spends more time with him, she realizes exactly how wrong she is.
“I think there’s only one way this friendship is going to work,” she said softly. “We need to get this part out of our system. You’re making it hard to concentrate on Star Wars, and that just won’t do.”
While Eliza’s actions seem like a straightforward (if occasionally misguided) result of her motivations, Beck is more complicated. Even from his POV, it takes a while before what makes him tick is revealed, and it’s a doozy. But regardless of that, he’s adamant that he doesn’t buy into Eliza’s white picket fence dreams, and he’s not the kind of person who’s willing to string her along no matter how much chemistry is between them. Their friendship develops through work chats and Star Wars movie nights until denying the heat between them becomes practically impossible. The romance develops gradually and with just the right amount of angst. I am a sucker for banter, and this book truly delivers. Seriously, any book that involves Star Wars-related flirting is nerd heaven in my book! Their chemistry is off the charts, and the consent is gorgeous as well. Most of all, though, what I love about these characters is how human they feel. They have realistic motivations, and while they have good intentions, of course they mess it up occasionally. When that happens, for the most part Eliza and Beck talk it out, or if it’s too heated in the moment, they have the maturity to walk away and truly consider the other person’s side. Also, because of the way they met (Christmas animal shelter trip and viral video), neither feels like they have to hide their messy bits. They’ve already seen the worst (and the best) of each other, so they can simply be themselves.
“I don’t need the glossy version, Eli. The therapist who has all the answers. This thing we have, this…heat. I think it’s because we’ve been messy with each other from the start.”
I love how Roni Loren’s previous work has dealt with mental health, so of course the one involving a therapist does as well! Each character has their own challenges and past trauma, and the author deftly handles showing how these affect them while still being respectful. They feel like real people who are doing their best to overcome their pasts, but who still make frustrating decisions due to their insecurities. Both of their pasts have shaped who they are and what they think they want in life, but their relationship shakes things up and makes them question themselves. I especially loved how even though Eliza is an excellent therapist to her clients, she’s shown as being a normal messy person in her personal life, especially how it ties in to the themes of the book. There’s a lot about manufactured authenticity, how we present ourselves versus how we really are. What we show on social media is a curated version of ourselves, the same as the way we act on a first date. It’s a performance, not reality, and sometimes even the things we think we want are just us putting on a performance for ourselves, not necessarily what’d make us truly happy.
“Honey,” Andi said with a little laugh, “a happy ending is the one that makes you happy. The hard part is figuring out what that is.”
Another favorite thing about the series is the female friendships. Hollyn, Andi and Eliza are so wonderful together! They’re there for each other through thick and thin, celebrating or threatening castrations, and it was wonderful to see them all interacting on-page again. The epilogue especially made me cry happy tears. Like all of Roni Loren’s characters, I’ve grown very attached to these three friends and getting a chance to see their happy futures – happy for them, in all their disparate ways – felt wonderful. Sure, it’s a bit sappy, but what can I say?
Overall, a fitting end to this series! While I’ll miss Hollyn, Andi and Eliza, I can’t wait to see what Roni Loren comes up with next!
I received an advance review copy of this book from NetGalley. This does not affect my opinion of the book or the content of my review.