Friday, May 31, 2024

What I read this month: May 2024

Yikes, another one-book month. This time, it's not totally my fault. The Seattle Public Library got hacked, and ebooks went down. No, really.

I attended a silent book club this month and had to depend on what was on my Kindle. (Thank goodness for that airplane mode hack.) I really wanted to read the next Gaslight Mystery, but alas, I wasn't so lucky. Instead, contemporary romance it was!

Love, Hypothetically by Ali Hazelwood

I had gotten to a point where I was tired of Ali Hazelwood's formulaic romances, but this title felt like the easiest to dive into at a silent book club with a friend.

As in her other books, our female protagonist (Elsie) has that quick, too-witty rapport thing happening in all her interactions. (I think this is how Hazelwood writes banter and makes her characters seem witty and quirky, but it starts to feel like too much.) She also has the, "Oh me? I'm just so bland and boring, no one could like me!" thing going.

The male love interest (Jack) seems to have no motivations of his own beyond wanting to take care of Elsie/be with her. When developing the two leads in a romance, an author should have a clear idea of what they each want and what is keeping them from achieving it. They each need to be a whole, individual person. So while Jack did have an interesting background and internal struggle, making him a fairly well-developed character, I still wished his desires were clearer and went beyond "be with Elsie."

Back to Elsie: she is extremely unlikable early on. Her people-pleasing personality is one of my real-life pet peeves; I'll admit, I'm contemptuous of people who have no spine and can't stand up for themselves. However, I think this is by design; we're meant to want to shake her, and Jack's role in her life helps her achieve the growth we so want from her. As she grows throughout the novel, she becomes more likable and less pathetic. 

To build an understanding of why Elsie is who she is, Hazelwood gives her a dysfunctional family. My issue here was that I felt the scenes that show us why Elsie is so passive—focusing on an overbearing mother, feuding adult brothers, and absent father—felt contrived and...well, like fake drama. The situations her family needed support with were low stakes, so Elsie's inability to say "no" was infuriating. Again, maybe that's to further show us just how pathetic Elsie is, because the problems she puts before her own needs are just plain dumb, but I felt there was a missed opportunity here to explore the difficulty of putting yourself first even in the face of real conflict.

That's not to say I didn't enjoy any of this book. The chemistry between Elsie and Jack was good (if you can ignore how many times he has to say he likes her to her face before she believes it) and the sex scenes were enjoyable and not super cringey. Definitely a step up from The Love Hypothesis. I liked seeing characters from Hazelwood's other books pop in as supporting characters; it left me wondering if Elsie's roommate Cece will appear as the protagonist in Hazelwood's next book.

One major element I enjoyed was that Elsie has diabetes. Her chronic illness adds an interesting dimension to her character without being her entire personality, and it gives Jack a chance to show what a supportive and attentive boyfriend he can be. (Elsie's childhood diagnosis is the instigator for her people-pleasing; in my opinion, this should have been explored more in lieu of the ridiculous family drama we were treated to.)

Overall, while I didn't get totally swept up in this book until I was a third of the way in, when Elsie starts to show some agency, I did enjoy this one and will probably pick up whatever Hazelwood puts out next...but you won't see me on any pre-order lists.


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