I was looking for a lighter, fun contemporary romance type thing. I feel like I have been reading less/slower over the last few weeks, work has been so busy (like, SO busy) and it’s getting colder (which never is great for my mental state) and just really, I needed a literary pick-me-up. This f/f romance has been on my radar since the summer and my library hold on the audiobook just came through and overall it was just meant to be.
“…an inevitability. Not like fate, not like they didn’t have a choice, but like in a thousand different universes they would always make the choices that led them here.”
Emma is a personal/admin assistant to Hollywood star Jo…and she loves her job. When Jo asks Emma to accompany her to an awards show, they find themselves in the middle of a storm of rumors that they’re in a relationship; rumors that threaten not just Jo’s new movie project and Emma’s future job prospects, but also their actual relationship with each other. As they separately, and together, work through complications with family, teasing from friends, and workplace projects and stressors, Emma and Jo start to realize that perhaps the rumors aren’t quite so off-base.
Yup, this was the sweet, romantic escape that I needed right now. It was alternately narrated by Emma and Jo, which is probably my favorite format for romance novels. I love getting to see inside the heads of each of the players in the relationship and it makes the unfolding feelings much more fulfilling, for me, to watch how both characters deal with and go for it (or not) with the other. Things started out pretty fun right from the start, with the invite to and prep for the award show. I do love reading about fancy outfits and events! I also liked that the way the story was paced and played out was a bit different than the typical contemporary romance format. In this case, it wasn’t “tension build-get together-drama and break-up-ending make-up,” but rather tension build and drama consistently through (though coming in different forms) and ending with a great moment of finally ( for the first time) and lasting “get together.” It made the unfolding story more tension than steam, as far as level of sexiness, but I liked the mix-up and departure from the “normal” plotline. And it was nice to not have the roller coaster of emotions quite as dramatically… I mean, you know when you pick up a romance how it’s going to end, eventually, (which is for sure a part of why I read them) and so the steady build and good-feels finale without extra ups and downs was perfect for my current mood. Last, I really loved some of the smaller details (well, not smaller, but more background, I guess), like the fact that Emma was bi (yay for what I felt like was pretty positive bi rep) and that Jo was open and confident about not wanting children (this is something that I almost never see, or at least never see without hedging or qualifiers, and I loved the strong and positive rep for that as well).
I also want to point out a few other really wonderful positive things that I found while reading, mostly related to power dynamics and consent. There were a number of places where this novel could have gotten…sticky…as far as those topics go. Jo is Emma’s direct supervisor, and reasonably older than her, which is a recipe for a very uneven power situation in a relationship, that could easily (and quickly) get unhealthy. And since this was meant to be a light read, I was bit nervous that that aspect would kinda just be brushed past, in favor of writing in the romantic tension and relationship development. Well, I judged too soon. This was handled so well. It was definitely a barrier, and their communication about it struggled, but you know, communication issues are central to romances, so that was expected. But Jo was so aware and so conscientious about handling that conflict from the start. Later, after Emma experiences a different sort of office sexual misconduct experience, Jo is the freaking perfect example of a supportive boss, going above and beyond to support Emma. And it makes her even more careful with her own position of power – she never takes anything for granted. At the end, when the two women are able to finally be together, they both verbally and consistently check in that the other is ok and wants to continue. I just…I really was here for the spotlight on consent and healthy romantic interactions! Relatedly, some great time was spent on the topic of the #metoo movement and how it plays out in Hollywood and how, even with best intentions, those who are there to help may still not be providing all the necessary resources to encourage and support victims coming forwards. It wasn’t a huge part of the plot, but shows promise for the future, and was also a balanced discussion of how it’s not so easily accomplished within the current structure of the industry. Anyways, I appreciated those deeper and more meaningful aspects that were thoughtfully included, but never overwhelmingly so.
I have a few small critiques as well, that I want to mention, to be even-keeled in my review. First, the writing was solid, but fairly basic. There wasn’t a lot of subtlety to it, but it was good enough that I’m definitely into seeing what Wilsner does next, with one novel already under their belt. Similarly, I felt that most of the side characters were quite one-dimensional, with the exception, perhaps, of Emma’s sister. Now, most romances are biased towards development of the primary MCs, but this one felt just a little too flat around Emma and Jo. Also, some of the miscommunications causing drama between Emma and Jo felt a bit too silly(?) to start. Like, they weren’t really things to take that personally or get that upset about. I know that they definitely had some hidden feelings for each other, which are sure to cause over-reactions, but it still felt a bit overblown for what happened. I thought the power dynamics and #metoo aspects would likely have been strong enough “conflict” on their own. The other situations did allow for a way to pull Emma’s sister more into the story, and allow for a little relief from a focus only on Emma and Jo, so I see what the author was trying for, but it just wasn’t quite there. Another thing is that I got super annoyed at basically all the other friends, family, and characters for just how much joking there was about Emma and Jo dating – both made it clear so many times that they weren’t and were clearly uncomfortable with their friends making the paparazzi stories into something big even in their personal lives (not just the tabloids), but it just kept happening. I don’t know – I just feel like I’d want my friends to listen to me sooner, if I was clearly that uncomfortable with the way things were joked about. And last, I guess I just was looking for a little more…chemistry? I loved the way consent was a major focus, but I think perhaps some of the inter-personal steam was sacrificed on that alter. And it’s too bad, because I would love to see both healthy relationship communication and higher intensity sexy times (or at least a little more intensity in the tension-chemistry between the two).
All in all, I did enjoy this one. I thought it was a really solid debut and I super support LGBTQ+ romances being published by major publishers. It was thoughtfully and respectfully developed, I loved the film/tv industry setting, and some of my critiques (like wanting more steam) are definitely personal preferences and not a reflection on the author’s choices. I had a lot of fun reading this and will definitely be keeping my eye open for Wilsner’s next book(s). (For Goodreads purposes, I’m rounding a 3.5 star rating up to a 4, cause I support a LOT of this book in an overall sense!)