Wednesday 9 August 2023

CBR15 Book 38: "Love, Theoretically" by Ali Hazelwood

Page count: 368 pages
Rating: 5 stars

CBR15 Bingo: Getaway (I don't see a good way to fill the South America square)

For this review, I resurrected Mrs. Julien's romance review template from way back in 2013. I've tweaked it, but the major framework is still there. 

Love, Theoretically is a romance of the enemies to lovers AND I’m scared and unworthy of love: Hero meets heroine. He is the disapproving older brother of the man who is paying her to be his fake girlfriend. He thinks she’s a librarian, and later, when she shows up at MIT for a job interview, he believes she’s been scamming his younger brother in some way. She hates him because as a teenager he wrote an article that not only discredited her mentor but made the branch of theoretical physics (which she works in) seem less viable than experimental physics (which he works in). He is one of the professors on the panel who decides who gets the job and tells her from the outset that she’s clearly not going to get the job, no matter what. That doesn't exactly endear him further to her. Despite having gone through most of her life trying to tailor herself to be the perfect person to whomever she interacts with, she’s incapable of being anything but her rather sarcastic self with him. Once he realises that she is, in fact, not his brother’s girlfriend or some sort of grifter, he is delighted with her true self and spends most of his time trying to make her realise that her actual self is worthy and deserving of love. Hero and heroine eventually move forward together secure in their love and commitment. 

A contemporary romance focused on scientists, in this case, physicists, and written by Ali Hazelwood, Love, Theoretically is my third book by this author. I’ve liked her previous books, although she does seem to have certain hangups, and her second novel wasn’t as different from her first as I and a lot of other readers would have liked. Hazelwood is, most famously, the author of The Love Hypothesis, which started out as Reylo fan fic and has for years been beloved by BookTokers. I found Love, Theoretically very enjoyable, laugh-out-loud funny, and probably my favourite one of her books so far. I very much recommend it, even if you might have found one (or both) of her previous novels a bit annoying. 

This book is a slow-burn romance and features some of the same tropes as Hazelwood’s previous two novels, but the complications keeping the couple apart are resolved much earlier in the plot, which the story benefits greatly from. Once our couple actually does the deed, so to speak, the sex scenes are very steamy and a lot less cringe-worthy than in many other romances. I only have Hazelwood's STEMinist novellas still on my TBR List and look forward to reading them while waiting for Hazelwood’s next foray into romance.  

The main plot of Love, Theoretically focuses on the mistaken assumptions of both our hero and heroine and then the journey of acceptance that the heroine needs to go through to accept that her pathological people-pleasing to the point where she doesn’t really know who she really is or think what she actually wants is unnecessary. Jonathan “Jack” Smith-Turner is a respected (if not always well-liked) physics professor. Having discovered in his early adolescence that his stepmother is not, in fact, his real mother and that his real mother died when he was just a young child, he hates untruths and dissembling. At seventeen, he wrote an article aimed to uncover the lax editorial practices of a renowned science publication, which caused a significant stir in the physics community, and no one has allowed him to forget about it since. He pretty much only cares for his younger brother and his acerbic grandmother. Until he meets Elsie Hannaway. Jack is a protector, and once the truth comes out about his younger brother’s true relationship with her, Jack wants nothing more than to take care of Elsie, in every conceivable way. 

Elsie is an adjunct professor working three different teaching jobs to make ends meet and is desperately hoping for a tenure-track position. As an additional source of income, Elsie works for Faux, a company that allows people to hire fake dates/partners. Elsie uses her powers of observation and strong social antennae to read anyone she meets and does her best to turn her into the ideal persona for that person for as long as they interact. She’s not even entirely truthful to her best friend and roommate of seven years.  Her ability to be a social chameleon is why she’s so good at being a fake girlfriend. The employees of Faux aren’t really supposed to go on multiple dates, but Greg Smith is just so helpless and non-threatening that she keeps helping him, meaning she’s now been to several big family events with him and keeps running into his older brother Jack, who she is convinced hates her. Jack and Elsie start out as antagonists, at least in Elsie’s eyes, yet as is always the case in Hazelwood’s novels, the hero doesn’t hate the heroine at all – rather the opposite. Thankfully, once they traverse the challenges they face, they make an excellent team.

While Hazelwood seems to have a thing for large, brooding men who are nevertheless secretly tender and protective, paired with much smaller women, who probably have some sort of health issue (Elsie has type I diabetes, which makes her nearly faint in Jack’s presence more than once, Bee in Love on the Brain had that fainting thing). If she wants to explore a bold new direction in her next book, perhaps make the hero short and a bit timid? Maybe make the heroine taller than him? Just throwing it out there, Ms. Hazelwood.

Both Elsie and Jack have some wonderful and supportive friends, and Jack’s elderly and frightfully wealthy grandmother (who threatens to disown her offspring or grandchildren whenever the mood strikes her) is delightful and steals every scene she’s in. I don’t think I’m spoiling anything when I reveal that Elsie’s aging mentor is not as good for her career as she thinks he is, and Jack maybe wasn’t the cold-hearted villain he first appears for trying to discredit the man. This is one of my favourite contemporary romances so far this year, well worth your time. 

Judging a book by its cover: Just as I'm pretty sure this is my favourite Hazelwood so far, this is absolutely the cover I like the best. Hazelwood's cover artist, @lilithsaur (on Twitter and Instagram) just seems to capture the essence of her books so well. I've loved this cover since I first saw it, and my heart leapt with joy when I saw it for real in the bookstore.

Crossposted on Cannonball Read

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