Monday 28 March 2022

CBR14 Book 5: "The Love Hypothesis" by Ali Hazelwood

Page count: 384 pages
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

Sunday 20 March 2022

CBR14 Book 4: "Something Fabulous" by Alexis Hall

Page count: 363 pages
Rating: 4.5 stars

Official book description:
Valentine Layton, the Duke of Malvern, has twin problems: literally.

It was always his father’s hope that Valentine would marry Miss Arabella Tarleton. But, unfortunately, too many novels at an impressionable age have caused her to grow up…romantic. So romantic that a marriage of convenience will not do and after Valentine’s proposal she flees into the night determined never to set eyes on him again.

Arabella’s twin brother, Mr. Bonaventure “Bonny” Tarleton, has also grown up…romantic. And fully expects Valentine to ride out after Arabella and prove to her that he’s not the cold-hearted cad he seems to be.

Despite copious misgivings, Valentine finds himself on a pell-mell chase to Dover with Bonny by his side. Bonny is unreasonable, overdramatic, annoying, and…beautiful? And being with him makes Valentine question everything he thought he knew. About himself. About love. Even about which Tarleton he should be pursuing.

Just in case anyone was wondering, this book is unashamedly and extremely queer. It would not surprise me if several of the innkeepers and random people who are encountered over the course of the story and barely get to say two lines are also queer, it just didn't fit into the narrative to confirm how and in what way. So considering it's also a Regency romance, some disbelief will need to be suspended, because the very illegal nature of many of these queer relationships is not really dealt with in any way. Which was fine by me. 

I wanted to give this book five stars, but Arabella Tarleton made it utterly impossible for me. I get that she's a woman of meager financial means placed in a pretty undesirable situation with regards to her family wanting her to marry a duke she in no way likes or wished to spend any time with, but the completely irresponsible way she runs off and keeps spreading melodramatic lies about her situation was just insufferable to me. It might have been fine if it happened once, but the second or third time Valentine and Bonny catch up with her and she still keeps on with her ridiculous slander, I wished someone would drown her in a lake. I'm sure I should feel more sympathy for someone of my own gender, but I found her deeply frustrating and couldn't understand why her lovely companion put up with her either. Everyone in this story, including her twin, would have been better off without her. 

The rest of this book was delightful and I laughed out loud several times. Poor Valentine may be a rich and powerful duke, but he's deeply out of touch with his feelings and it was probably good that he had to go haring off through the south of England on an unusual road trip with a handsome young man, even with some of the misadventures they have along the way. 

Boyfriend Material is still my favourite Alexis Hall novel, but until the sequel comes out later this year and possibly surpasses it, this is in second place for me. 

Judging a book by its cover: I'm honestly not entirely sure what I think about this cover. I think I like it? I do like the very colourful coats on our heroes, but the face of the individual I think is supposed to be Valentine seems too leering and wrong to me. I also would have wished for more of a background image, not just ghostly outlines of buildings. 

Crossposted on Cannonball Read

CBR14 Book 3: "I'm Only Wicked with You" by Julie Anne Long

Page count: 400 pages
Rating: 3.5 stars

Hugh Cassidy is an ambitious man. He knows exactly what he wants from life, he's going to run for mayor of his hometown, from thence devote his life to politics. While his parents may not have been particularly distinguished, they clearly loved one another and raised Hugh and his siblings to believe in hard work, as well being moral and upstanding people. Hugh is in England to try to track down the runaway daughter of a good friend (and as the story progresses it becomes clear that there may have been some form of sentimental attachment between Hugh and the young lady), and while he's travelling around, he's using the comfortable Palace of the Thames as his home base. Complications involving the beautiful high-born daughter of a nobleman complicating were the last thing Hugh expected to face. 

Lady Lillias, the eldest daughter of the Earl and Countess of Vaughn, is both angry and frustrated. Stuck in some pokey boarding house near the docks just because her idiot brother decided to bring a snake home and a large hole was shot in their wall, she now finds herself confined to her chambers, chastised like a naughty child, just because some insufferable American caught her in the garden, smoking a cheroot. Hugh Cassidy may be tall, trapping, and very handsome, but as far as Lillias is concerned, he may as well be the devil, having tattled to her parents and gotten her barred from shopping, socialising, and anything else that could make her involuntary exile somewhat more bearable. All the while, the gossip sheets are speculating about her absence, not to mention what advantageous match she is likely to make during the end of the season. Of course, no one, not even Lillias' family, knows that she's nursing a broken heart, convinced that she'll never really find love, as the only person she's ever felt close to seems likely to offer for another. 

Hugh and Lillias may not seem like an obvious match, and while this was a perfectly fine romance novel, I must admit I found it rather lacking compared to Long's previous entries in The Palace of Rogues series so far. The book is probably still better than the most forgettable of her Pennyroyal Green books, but nevertheless, a diverting read, if a bit slow to start.

I think part of the problem is that it takes too long for the reader to get a proper insight into what Lillias is going through, and at the start, she just seems like a spoiled and bitter society maiden, with too much privilege and not enough experience about the world around her. It's difficult to see how she and Hugh will ever find any sort of common ground, and it takes a bit too long before the story progresses from sniping disguised as banter or insta-lust. It probably doesn't help either that to me, living in upstate New York in the early 19th Century, sounds like a fate worse than death. Rustic pioneer life really never appealed to me, I really didn't care how enthusiastically Hugh kept describing his home.

I very much enjoyed spending more time with the already established supporting cast of the series, however, and Lillias' family is also fun and remarkably understanding for your high-born noble parents. There's also the fact that even a middling Julie Anne Long historical is usually at least entertaining, and if I don't exactly remember all the details of the plot a year from now, that's OK - she still has some solid gold classics that make her worth my time and money. 

Judging a book by its cover: For some inexplicable reason, all the covers for this series are just a bit off, and there's always some element in them that doesn't work for me. In my review of book 2 in the series, Angel in a Devil's Arms, I mentioned that I hoped Ms. Long would be luckier with her next cover. Yes...and no. The many shades of green are very soothing to the eye, and we thankfully can't see the hero's face, as he's facing away from us (no sad Antoni knock-off cover model here), but the woman who I'm guessing is supposed to be Lillias looks sickly somehow. Possibly she's going through some sort of stomach bug? I think the look on her face is supposed to be flirtatious and sexy, but I think whoever drew this made her look bone-tired and/or possibly drunk instead. Sigh.

Crossposted on Cannonball Read