Rating: 4 stars
Olive Smith is a Ph.D. candidate working on her thesis at Stanford and really has neither the time nor the inclination for anything romantic. However, she did briefly date a guy who her best friend is now gaga over, and because Olive needs to convince her BFF, Ahn, that she is well and truly over said guy, she lies and claims she dating someone else. However, since her friend remains skeptical, Olive needs somebody she is supposedly dating, and this is how she ends up panicking and kissing a random guy in the science labs while she knows Ahn is watching. That her fake boyfriend turns out to be Professor Adam Carlsen, Stanford's science darling and well-known bane of many of the Ph.D. candidate's existence was NOT what Olive was prepared for.
To Olive's surprise, Adam agrees when she goes to him to suggest that they continue to fake date for a while, just to make absolutely sure that Ahn believes the charade. While he is famously moody, dictatorial and a pain in his students' backsides, he's also tall, dark, and decidedly interesting-looking and must surely have no reason to entertain far-fetched schemes from strange female students. However, Adam explains that the Stanford funding board is worried he's going to take his giant brain and brilliant research and leave for another university, and they're holding a large chunk of his funding money hostage. Appearing to have an on-campus girlfriend who has yet to finish her own Ph.D. would very much serve his purposes, as it might reassure the people holding the purse strings that he intends to stick around at Stanford for a good while yet.
So Olive and Adam agree to meet publically for coffee at least once a week, and at various faculty events, and as is the case with all fake dating stories, one or both of the parties inevitably catch real feelings. Olive discovers that while he may not be as outgoing and effortlessly charming as some, Adam is nevertheless not the ogre that many at Stanford would paint him as. By the time a big out of town science conference comes around, the fake dating has been convincing enough to Olive's friends that they assume she's going to share a hotel room with Adam, and while there is, in fact, more than one bed in the room, it still involves even more up close and personal time to act on all those feelings. Will their fake dating ruse become the real thing by the time of their mutually agreed deadline?
This book was published in September 2021 and it didn't take long before it took romance internet, not to mention Book Tok, by storm. I started seeing mentions of it everywhere, including on many Best of the Year lists, and for months now, I've also seen the paperback widely advertised anywhere that sells books. I'm very happy for Ali Hazelwood because as well as being a delightful romance that I had trouble putting down, the science and academic backgrounds of the leads feel so much more true to life than in many books, probably because Hazelwood herself is a scientist. I know absolutely nothing about lab procedures, experiments that need to be run, or the many hoops you have to jump through to successfully achieve your Ph.D., but the descriptions included in this book all felt very realistic.
My main gripe with the book is that we only get Olive's POV throughout. I much prefer romance novels where we get an alternating perspective from both of the leads, and after reading the bonus chapter Hazelwood released to her newsletter subscribers, from Adam's POV, I am even more bereft at being denied his gloomy thoughts on things throughout the book. Adam is of course, for all his lacking social graces and foul temper, a wonderful and deeply emotional romance hero, Olive is just the first woman he's met that he feels enough for to want a romantic and sexual relationship with. While it's never addressed directly in the text, the description of both Adam and Olive makes me suspect they may be demi-sexual, and that's the reason they haven't really met anyone before who fascinates them enough to distract them from the science that so dominates their lives.
I'm very happy I finally took the time to read this book and even happier that Hazelwood has several titles due to be published this year. It's always fun to discover a new author, and I will happily take more romances set in the world of STEM.
Judging a book by its cover: While I long for the days when publishing decides that we're done with cartoony covers, I absolutely adore this one. It doesn't hurt that the cover artist has made the book leads look a lot like the Star Wars characters which they are (most likely) inspired by. It's just such a cute cover, and I keep seeing it pretty much everywhere right now - which in itself makes me super happy, because romance SHOULD be widely available, even in Norwegian book shops.
Crossposted on Cannonball Read