Book Review: The Love Hypothesis by Ali Hazelwood

Title: The Love Hypothesis
Author: Ali Hazelwood
Publisher: Berkley
Publication date: September 14, 2021
Length: 352 pages
Genre: Contemporary romance
Source: Purchased
Rating:

Rating: 4 out of 5.

As a third-year Ph.D. candidate, Olive Smith doesn’t believe in lasting romantic relationships–but her best friend does, and that’s what got her into this situation. Convincing Anh that Olive is dating and well on her way to a happily ever after was always going to take more than hand-wavy Jedi mind tricks: Scientists require proof. So, like any self-respecting biologist, Olive panics and kisses the first man she sees.

That man is none other than Adam Carlsen, a young hotshot professor–and well-known ass. Which is why Olive is positively floored when Stanford’s reigning lab tyrant agrees to keep her charade a secret and be her fake boyfriend. But when a big science conference goes haywire, putting Olive’s career on the Bunsen burner, Adam surprises her again with his unyielding support and even more unyielding… six-pack abs.

Suddenly their little experiment feels dangerously close to combustion. And Olive discovers that the only thing more complicated than a hypothesis on love is putting her own heart under the microscope.

EVERYBODY seems to either have read or to be reading this contemporary romance — so I gave in to temptation and joined the crowd! And mostly, it’s a really enjoyable, sweet tale.

But — ugh — let me just say that I do not like the synopsis (above). It just doesn’t convey the charm of the characters or what’s special about the book’s set-up.

So… Olive is a Ph.D. student working her butt off, living off her meager grad stipend, and basically focused solely on her work. A complication arises when it becomes clear that the guy she’d started casually dating is actually much more interested in Olive’s best friend, who seems to return the interest. But Anh would never agree to date him and break the friend code, even if Olive insists she’s just not that into him.

When Olive lies to Anh and says she’ll be out on a date with a new love interest, leaving Anh free to start a romance with Jeremy, things get complicated. Anh sees Olive in the lab building — clearly not on a date. So, as the synopsis says: Olive panics and kisses the first man she sees — who just happens to be Dr. Adam Carlsen, a young powerhouse in the academic field, with a reputation of being an arrogant ass when it comes to his grad students.

Olive is embarrassed and super awkward… but as it turns out, a fake dating scenario would benefit both Olive and Adam. Olive needs Anh to believe that Olive is in a relationship so that she can pursue her own love life guilt-free, and Adam needs Stanford to believe he’s in a relationship so they don’t consider him a flight risk and cut off his grant money. So hey, what’s a little fake-dating between (kind of) colleagues? Olive assumes a weekly coffee date is enough to seal the deal and make it believable.

Of course, it’s more complicated than that, as Olive and Adam are constantly thrown together, and (of course) develop an easy rapport, ridiculously cute banter, physical attraction, and, eventually, real and actual feelings.

The Love Hypothesis follows many of the standard story beats of the fake dating trope, but it’s got a lot of unique elements going for it as well. First of all, the science and academia setting is terrific. I love seeing a woman in science, here presented as dedicated to the point of obsession when it comes to her profession and her research. Olive is smart, motivated, and committed, and her struggle to be taken seriously and get the opportunities she deserves is well portrayed and convincing.

Also, the academic setting provides a structure that I haven’t come across much in contemporary romances. The science and lab work and dissertation meetings are all part of the plot. I’ve seen too many romances where we’re informed that the lead character is a respected professional, but we never see her doing any actual work. Here, we follow Olive in and out of meetings and labs and conferences, and get a real feel for the texture of her life as a graduate student (as well as the truly minimal financial resources she has… so yes, it’s a big deal when Adam pays for her pumpkin spice lattes!).

An added unique element is Olive’s sexuality, which I’d describe (although not labeled as such in the book) as demisexuality. Olive is fairly inexperienced when it comes to sex, mostly having tried it a few times during her college years as something to check off a list, rather than experiencing desire. As she explains, she’s only able to feel sexual attraction when with someone she likes and trusts, and this hasn’t really happened for her previously in her life.

Olive and Adam do have great chemistry, and I enjoyed them together as a couple. Despite Adam’s fearsome reputation in the department, he warms up around Olive, and they’re able to joke and exchange quips together that would probably make his grads’ heads spin.

I’m not typically a big fan of awkward encounters, which seem to be a staple in contemporary romances, and this is an obstacle for me in The Love Hypothesis as well. There’s a lap-sitting scene and a sunscreen scene, to name but a couple, that are kind of clunky and weird — I think they’re meant to be funny, but really, just made me cringe and feel uncomfortable.

Also, some of the lying really bugged me after a while. Olive persists in lying about the fake-dating to Anh even well past the point where she should have just come clean. She also lies to Adam after he overhears a conversation that could reveal her feelings about him, and continues to allow him to misinterpret her feelings even after it’s clear that she should be honest. She’s way too smart for some of the dumb decisions she makes about her emotions and her personal life, and even though she’s portrayed as someone so focused on science that she’s neglected her inner life, I feel like this goes overboard and undersells Olive’s maturity and good sense.

If you’ve read any of my other romance reviews, you may know that I prefer my romances with steaminess on the implied rather than explicit side of things. In The Love Hypothesis, there’s really just one major sex scene, but it is very explicit. Because it was limited to one encounter, I didn’t feel that it took over the book or overwhelmed the reading experience — but still, if you prefer these kind of scenes to be off-screen or fuzzy, just be aware in advance that the sex in The Love Hypothesis is graphic.

Overall, I really enjoyed The Love Hypothesis and found the characters and the set-up charming and off-beat. I love seeing women in STEM professions, especially when the professional aspect is treated seriously and not just as a side note. I’ll definitely want to read more by this author!

Book Review: The Daughters of Temperance Hobbs by Katherine Howe

New York Times bestselling author Katherine Howe returns to the world of The Physick Book of Deliverance Dane with a bewitching story of a New England history professor who must race against time to free her family from a curse

Connie Goodwin is an expert on America’s fractured past with witchcraft. A young, tenure-track professor in Boston, she’s earned career success by studying the history of magic in colonial America—especially women’s home recipes and medicines—and by exposing society’s threats against women fluent in those skills. But beyond her studies, Connie harbors a secret: She is the direct descendant of a woman tried as a witch in Salem, an ancestor whose abilities were far more magical than the historical record shows.

When a hint from her mother and clues from her research lead Connie to the shocking realization that her partner’s life is in danger, she must race to solve the mystery behind a hundreds’-years-long deadly curse.

Flashing back through American history to the lives of certain supernaturally gifted women, The Daughters of Temperance Hobbs affectingly reveals not only the special bond that unites one particular matriarchal line, but also explores the many challenges to women’s survival across the decades—and the risks some women are forced to take to protect what they love most.

The Daughters of Temperance Hobbs is a sequel ten years in the making, following the author’s 2009 debut novel The Physick Book of Deliverance Dane, and the story itself picks up 10 years later too. Former graduate student Connie Goodwin is now a history professor at Northeastern University, under consideration for tenure and living happily with her boyfriend Sam Hartley, whom she met during the events of the first book.

Sam’s feelings are hurt by Connie’s continuing refusal to discuss marriage. What he doesn’t know is that Connie is descended from a line of witches going all the way back to 17th century Salem, and that the male partners of the women in the family all seem to die young, in tragic circumstances. As their relationship becomes complicated in new ways, Connie is determined to find out the truth about the curse, and discovers a startling secret: there is actually one woman in the family’s history who managed to break the curse for her own husband.

Armed with this knowledge, Connie races against time to crack the mystery of the “weather work”, the elusive and seemingly highly dangerous spell that once upon a time saved her ancestor’s mate. Connie applies her scholarly skills as she unearths manuscripts and deciphers centuries old clues, this time enlisting friends, colleagues, and her own mother in a desperate attempt to get it all right.

The Daughters of Temperance Hobbs is a great second chapter in Connie’s world. It’s quite fun to see her 10 years after the original book, now established and respected as a professor, mentoring up and coming grad students of her own. And it’s wonderful to see the enduring love between her and Sam, who is a lovely, kind, and sexy man. The interludes in which we see episodes from Connie’s family’s past are really engaging in their own way as well, although it’s definitely sad to see the persecution of these women who were considered different from the norm.

I enjoyed the characters, the plot, the research, and the historical elements, and the magical aspects are presented in a matter-of-fact way that still manages to have an eerie, otherworldly feel.

I suppose you could read The Daughters of Temperance Hobbs as a stand-alone, but you’d be missing out on big chunks of Connie’s personal history as well as all that family history. I’d strongly recommend starting with The Physick Book of Deliverance Dane, and continuing on from there. Well worth it!

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The details:

Title: The Daughters of Temperance Hobbs
Author: Katherine Howe
Publisher: Henry Holt and Co.
Publication date: June 25, 2019
Length: 352 pages
Genre: Historical fiction
Source: Review copy courtesy of the publisher via NetGalley

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Take A Peek Book Review: By the Book by Julia Sonneborn

“Take a Peek” book reviews are short and (possibly) sweet, keeping the commentary brief and providing a little peek at what the book’s about and what I thought.

Synopsis:

(via Goodreads)

An English professor struggling for tenure discovers that her ex-fiancé has just become the president of her college—and her new boss—in this whip-smart modern retelling of Jane Austen’s classic Persuasion.

Anne Corey is about to get schooled.

An English professor in California, she’s determined to score a position on the coveted tenure track at her college. All she’s got to do is get a book deal, snag a promotion, and boom! She’s in. But then Adam Martinez—her first love and ex-fiancé—shows up as the college’s new president.

Anne should be able to keep herself distracted. After all, she’s got a book to write, an aging father to take care of, and a new romance developing with the college’s insanely hot writer-in-residence. But no matter where she turns, there’s Adam, as smart and sexy as ever. As the school year advances and her long-buried feelings begin to resurface, Anne begins to wonder whether she just might get a second chance at love.

Funny, smart, and full of heart, this modern ode to Jane Austen’s classic explores what happens when we run into the demons of our past…and when they turn out not to be so bad, after all.

My Thoughts:

Hmm. I tore through By the Book, and definitely had a good time while I was reading it. At the same time, for a book being billed as a retelling of Persuasion, it’s pretty loose when it comes to making the plot stick.

Anne spends much of the book in a relationship with a smarmy writer who drops lines about being on the front lines in Fallujah and his battle-related PTSD, but it’s just so clear from the get-go that he’s a con artist and a fraud. When Adam makes a comment to Anne about Rick’s shady past, I couldn’t help but wonder how Darcy and Wickham sneaked into Persuasion! Anne is a decent protagonist, a smart woman who’s chose her professional career over love (although the history of her break-up with Adam on the eve of their college graduation didn’t make a whole lot of sense to me.) Of course, as a retelling, the ending is inevitable — but if I didn’t know Persuasion, I wouldn’t have been convinced that Anne had actually been mooning over Adam and regretting their break-up the whole time. When they do finally declare their love, it’s about as out of the blue as it gets.

Still, I wouldn’t want to imply that this isn’t a fun read. Anne’s best friend Larry is a hoot, even if his romantic indulgences are ill-advised. The big blockbuster movie that’s all the rage is called Jane Vampire (a supernatural version of Jane Eyre, of course), and it becomes a pretty silly recurring subject throughout the book. Anne’s family life is messy and has a realistic ring to it, and I enjoyed seeing campus life through a professor’s eyes, showing that behind the intellectual, scholarly facades are real people, looking for love and friendship and just a little bit of fun once in a while.

Don’t expect anything too deep, and don’t expect an Austen retelling that’s particularly attached to the original — but given those caveats, By the Book is an entertaining, funny, and even charming read.

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The details:

Title: By the Book
Author: Julia Sonneborn
Publisher: Gallery Books
Publication date: February 6, 2018
Length: 384 pages
Genre: Contemporary fiction
Source: Review copy courtesy of the publisher via NetGalley

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