It seems that, with all the house projects we have going on (we just moved into a home in the historic district of our town, so it’s over 100 years old and we are so excited to be there, but goodness it’s a lot of time/effort right now), light and fast and escapist reads are where it’s at for me – so get ready for a lot more romance and fantasy coming your way to close out this year.
Olive is deep into her PhD when she ends up in a fake dating relationship with Dr. Adam Carlson, the most antagonistic and unapproachable professor in her lab. How, you ask? Well, in an effort to convince her best friend, Anh, that it’s totally ok to date her ex-boyfriend, she makes up a story about dating someone new now anyways. But on the night she’s supposed to be out on said date, and is actually hiding in her lab, Anh sees her and to keep her cover, Olive kisses the closest person to her in the hallway – Dr. Adam Carlson. And, when she explains the situation to him, he surprises her by agreeing to continue the farce, for “mutually beneficial” reasons. And thus ensue the many tropes of fake-dating and accidentally actually falling for each other. Well, accidentally for Olive. Perhaps not quite so accidental for the gruff and grumpy Adam…
There was just so much to love about this book! Tropes become that way for a reason, they’re continuously successful, and Hazelwood shows why here. And does it in style, because Olive’s self-awareness of the potential pitfalls (from years of watching rom-coms), adds a fantastic layer of hilarity to the story. For example, when forced to share a hotel room, which Adam insists has two double beds, Olive says something like “no, there’s always a single bed” and while he does not at all follow, this reader (me) could not stop giggling. Adorable and such a playful addition. Related, writing-wise, the sarcastic, teasing banter that becomes the basis of Olive and Adam’s interactions is one that I just love. The setting was wonderful as well. Definitely love seeing the women in STEM rep. And though my personal grad school experience was very different (humanities = much less technicality/lab time), there were definitely some universally recognizable parts. At least twice I also sent snippets to a good friend who has her PhD in a similar-ish field as Olive (similar as in they both had experiments and labs and science conferences to attend, not necessarily in direct topic of study) and it seems that Hazelwood has done quite a good job representing the general realities and feels of women in STEM PhD programs, from the bad to the terrible to the *intermittent* highlights. So with that, beware that if those experiences are ones that you may not want to revisit/relive, be cautious in picking this book up. And on that note, one other content warning for verbal sexual and emotional (re: self-worth) abuse (one particularly graphic primary instance).
I want to really recognize Olive’s relationship with sex, and her internal consideration of being ace that, as the book develops, leads to her potentially being more on a demisexual spectrum. I honestly couldn’t have loved it more, the way it was so casually added and considered within the plot, as well as the way that Olive chooses to communicate about it with Adam (and his reactions, or more accurately really, lack of reactions, was so comforting). Really everything about Adam was comforting. Large, gruff, silent-ish, and protective (and preferably darker haired) is definitely my romance-reader type. (A thought: does the cover version make anyone else think of Adam Driver??) His reaction in standing up for Olive once he realizes what happened (in the verbal abuse incident) had me in deep *feels.* Plus I do wish more people handled those types of situations that way he did. But ok, back to the sex/sexuality. I just really have never read a character like Olive before and it was amazing to feel that…seen. Just…yes. Similarly, the one full sex scene (which was great, and held its own as the only one), was possibly one of the most realistic ones I’ve ever read (again, making personal experiences feel “seen” in a way that I don’t think I ever realized I hadn’t had in reading romance before) – making it relatable/accessible, but not taking away any of the heat. Impressive.
Overall, this was just a super sweet love story. The grumpy/bubbly combo of Adam and Olive was exactly the right match. I appreciated the way their relationship grew, the feelings they both brought into it, and the amount of legitimate together time we got to see them have (the “break up” conflict trope was done a bit differently than it traditionally is and I loved it – that’s always my least favorite part of the classic romance formula). It was all deeply satisfying and soul-warming.