Wednesday, 5 July 2017

#CBR9 Book 63: "Dating You/Hating You" by Christina Lauren

Page count: 368 pages
Audio book length: 9hrs 39 mins
Rating: 4.5 stars

Carter Aaron and Evelyn "Evie" Abbey (nicknamed Evil by Carter shortly after their first meeting due to her nefarious and wicked laugh) meet at an early Halloween party. They seem to be the only single people in a sea of couples, and both drift towards a corner of the room away from the "marrieds", discovering that they coincidentally both came in Harry Potter costumes. Hitting it off instantly, their enthusiasm towards one another wanes a bit when they find out they are both celebrity agents, working for rival agencies in LA. Dating people within the business is never a good idea, so they agree to just be friends. The chemistry between them is undeniable, and their mutual friends certainly try to push them towards each other. Since neither can stop thinking of the other, they go on one very good date, which ends in a fairly steamy encounter in Evie's bedroom.

Before they can decide what to do next, the company Evie works for buys up Carter's in a takeover, and suddenly they are working on the same team. Not only that, Brad Kingman, the sexist dinosaur who runs the team thinks it would be an excellent idea to pit them against each other - making them compete for a permanent position on the team. The person who loses might get reassigned to the company's New York office, or lose their job altogether.

Evie has worked for the company for six years, with an almost perfect record. She has one major flop in her past, that Kingman still loves holding against her, but she is older, more experienced and deeply resents being forced to compete with Carter, a new hire with years less experience than her. Carter, meanwhile, moved from New York to LA specifically to be an agent and has uprooted his entire life for the job. He's determined to prove himself and get the position. Evie and Carter might find each other cute, funny and incredibly sexy, but nothing kills potential romance faster than that other person you like suddenly being the one who might steal your job away from you.

If Evie and Carter hadn't both been driven professionals who pretty much lives for their jobs, so similar in many regards, the conflict wouldn't really be an issue. If they didn't both want the permanent position so badly, even as they resent Kingman for forcing them to compete, one of them could have just quit and gone on to do something else, and then they could date in their spare time. That's not what happens here.

What is possibly somewhat unusual in what on the surface seems like a funny, sexy friends to enemies, enemies to lovers work place comedy is the very strong feminist themes that run throughout the book. Evie and her female colleagues in the business face blatant sexism at every turn, and this is made very obvious throughout the book. Brad Kingman is a chauvinist pig and the women who work for him just have to learn to ignore his comments and treatment of them if they want to keep their jobs. The women have to work so much harder than their male counterparts, because they are scrutinised so much more. They have to be pleasant, outgoing, attractive (but not too obviously attracting male attention) and it's quite obvious that most of their male colleagues don't even notice what they're going through, because their realities are entirely different.

It takes Carter a while to realise just what a douchebag Kingman really is, and how much more difficult the whole competition aspect is for Evie. To his credit, while it takes him a while to clue in, once he does, he really does try to stand up for her and other women on their team.

This book really is very funny in places, especially when it comes to the practical jokes that Evie and Carter start playing on each other to get the upper hand during their competition. They never do anything too malicious to the other, so it's possible to enjoy their rivalry without it ever getting uncomfortable. Even when they are at their most competitive, they also very strongly have to fight their natural chemistry and mutual attraction. They never really hate or even dislike the other person, just the situation they are both in, so this isn't really a true "enemies to lovers" story.

When I first read about this book, it immediately brought to mind my favourite book of last year, The Hating Game by Sally Thorne. What I did not know is that Christina Lauren, the writing duo who wrote this one, are actually friends with Thorne (I love it when authors I like are friends in real life, it makes me so happy) and put off reading her book until they'd finished their own book, worried that their workplace romantic comedy would be influenced by hers. As they said, in the interview I read, they needn't have worried, the books are very different, but both very entertaining reads.

As well as admiring the authors for dealing with sexism in the workplace without it ever becoming an issue that takes away from the central romance or ruins the fun of the book, I really liked how fully fleshed out the protagonists were and how well we get to know them and their friends. Evie has several good female friends and Carter has a staunch supporter in his best friend since grade school, Michael Christopher, as well as his wife Steph, who used to work with Evie. It's at their Halloween party the couple have their first meeting and it's nice to see how they manage to support both sides of the couple, even when they are bitter rivals, without messing up their own relationship and secretly hoping that they'll get together in the end, so the couples can double date. Even Carter's spoiled and rather annoying little brother Jonah, a celebrity photographer who can do no wrong in the eyes of their parents was a nice touch, as it's not like everyone has wonderful and supportive family around them all the time.

If there's a villain in this story, it's Brad Kingman, who I sadly suspect isn't actually unrealistically sexist or horrible as bosses go. The final quarter of the book, when Evie and some of her friends discover a way to finally take him down and it all goes a bit action movie for a while, felt a bit out of place. I think Carter's dawning realisation and decisions to get himself out of the problems he was in was a better solution, but it was nothing that took away my enjoyment of the book too much.

A final note, I got the Audible version of this, narrated by Shana Thibodeaux and Deacon Lee. They both do a very good job and I can highly recommend the audio.

Judging a book by its cover: Christina Lauren don't really go in flashy or overdone covers, and this fits with their simple and clean aesthetic. While the background is a stark white and the people (probably meant to be Evie and Carter, although I pictured Evie as more petite and Carter with glasses) are in black and white, the colourful font in pink, yellow and orange still brighten the cover up nicely and make it rather inviting, in my opinion. So much better than a lot of the overdone romance covers nowadays.

Crossposted on Cannonball Read.

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