Tuesday 27 October 2020

#CBR12 Book 77: "His Grumpy Childhood Friend" by Jackie Lau

Page count: 197 pages
Rating: 4 stars

I was given an ARC of this by the author. That has in no way influenced my review.

Charlotte Tam doesn't really leave the house unless it's to meet her friends at the local cider bar and even then, she sort of resents having to change out of her pajama pants. She mainlines coffee and is clearly the grouchiest and most pessimistic of the friend group, but is starting to miss a more personal connection, having sworn off dating after her former boyfriend proposed to her publically during a baseball game (a genuinely literal recurring nightmare for her, since she saw one on TV when she was a little girl). She's aware that she's pretty rusty in the dating department, so one of her friends suggests she ask a male friend for dating lessons, low-pressure "practice dating" to get her confidence back.

Charlotte initially rejects the idea, until she runs into her former childhood bestie, Mike Guo, at the bar that night. Twenty years ago, they lived next door to one another, pretty much inseparable until Mike's family suddenly moved away one day and Charlotte never heard from him again. Mike is handsome and charming and they pretty much instantly fall back into their comfortable rhythm, so Charlotte decides to ask him if he'll agree to give her dating lessons. She's sure that someone as good-looking and easy-going as him has tons of experience with women and dating, and will therefore be the perfect teacher. 

Mike is very surprised to meet his former childhood crush at the bar and rather taken aback when she proposes that they go on a series of practice dates to ease her back into the dating game. So happy to finally have reconnected with her again, Mike doesn't tell Charlotte that he doesn't really have the suave ladies man image she seems to think he has, rather he's gone through years of therapy to come to terms with the emotional abuse heaped on him by his parents all through his childhood and he's never really found a woman who he felt comfortable committing to because deep down, he's still unsure if he's worthy of anyone's love and affection. He really wants to spend more time getting to know grown-up Charlotte, though, so agrees to her dating plan so he can see as much of her as possible.

Of course, the two of them very quickly realise that the practice dates are becoming more serious and they develop feelings for one another. But can Charlotte and Mike get over their former emotional traumas and make a relationship work for real?

His Grumpy Childhood Friend is the second book in Jackie Lau's Cider Bar Sisters but works perfectly well as a standalone novel. It's not quite as light-hearted and frothy as Her Big City Neighbor, mainly because of the emotional abuse Mike suffered in his childhood. I don't tend to trigger warning my reviews, but people who are sensitive to these sorts of things should know that while it's not a big part of the story, there are flashbacks to the ill-treatment that Mike and his sister suffered and it could be upsetting to some.

Like Amy in the book before this one, Charlotte is supported and cheered on by her fellow Cider Bar Sisters, who give her dating advice and in general try to take care of her and accept her for who she is,  without letting her give in to her impulses to become a caffeine-fuelled misanthropic hermit who never leaves her house. Charlotte also has a younger sister and expectant, but very kind parents.

Mike has cut all ties to his horrible parents, and the only family he's now in contact with is his sister and niece. He has good friends who support him and give him advice, however, and it's always encouraging to read about characters who have struggled with issues and sought out the help of mental health professionals to deal with their problems. Therapy can work wonders, but it takes a lot out of a person, and a childhood like Mike's and the self-esteem issues he's developed aren't cured in an instant. 

Having now read two books in this series, I'm now eagerly awaiting the books featuring the rest of the Cider Bar Sisters. I also hope that Charlotte's younger sister might get a happy ending in a future book of Lau's because I really liked her too. His Grumpy Childhood Friend is released today and is well worth your time and money.

Judging a book by its cover: While Charlotte is the title's titular grumpy childhood friend, the cover model portraying her doesn't exactly look too morose, which to be fair, isn't exactly Charlotte's overall mood when she's with Mike. The happiness and easy chemistry between the two very attractive models on the cover is one of the things I really like about it. Even if I hadn't already loved the author and been given an ARC of this, this cover would very likely have made me buy the book. 

Crossposted on Cannonball Read.

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