I kind of outgrew my love for romance novels when I graduated high school (ahem, my pocketbook phase!) and somehow ventured on to epic fantasy territory after it. But lately, romance books has been having a resurgence in my heart. Stories like The Kiss Quotient, The Hating Game, and While You Were Reading are upping the level of contemporary adult romances in my books. I mean young adult romances are fine and the flutter of first love never gets old, but there’s something about reading and witnessing adults fall in love that just drives it home. Lately, I’ve listened to two random romances I’ve discovered through my audio book subscriptions and I was quite surprised that both of them delivered!
THE HAPPY EVERY AFTER PLAYLIST (The Friend Zone, #2) by Abby Jimenez – 4 ☕
Two years after losing her fiancé, Sloan Monroe still can’t seem to get her life back on track. But one trouble-making pup with a “take me home” look in his eyes is about to change everything. With her new pet by her side, Sloan finally starts to feel more like herself. Then, after weeks of unanswered texts, Tucker’s owner reaches out. He’s a musician on tour in Australia. And bottom line: He wants Tucker back.
Well, Sloan’s not about to give up her dog without a fight. But what if this Jason guy really loves Tucker? As their flirty texts turn into long calls, Sloan can’t deny a connection. Jason is hot and nice and funny. There’s no telling what could happen when they meet in person. The question is: With his music career on the rise, how long will Jason really stick around? And is it possible for Sloan to survive another heartbreak? (via Goodreads)
This charming little thing has been a welcome change from the depressing and über complicated plots of the books I’ve read recently. I honesty didn’t expect to enjoy it this much but I did. The Happy Ever After Playlist tells the story of Sloan, an artist who tragically lost her fiance in a traffic accident, and Jason, an up-and-coming musician, who accidentally met because of Jayson’s dog. The meet-cute element was super charming. It got a bit tiring in the middle but the lead up to the “happy ever after” changed the phase. It was nice to spend some time losing myself in the world of easy romance. There were a couple of hiccups along the way – particularly Sloan’s inability to move on from her past tragic romance which resonated emotionally to me the most. Her journey towards healing and moving on is a joy to watch. The Author’s Note made it more worth it as it was revealed that this book was inspired by an important person in the author’s life – shedding light to “complicated grief” or “persistent complex bereavement disorder” and finding healing after it – which is also a topic that is so close to my heart. I honestly read and finished it without realizing that it’s the the second book of a series, The Friend Zone series, so it’s safe to say that you can read this as a stand-alone as well (it worked for me). Looking forward to reading The Friend Zone though. I read this book through Audible, narrated by Zachary Webber and Erin Mallon. The audiobook production is pretty neat, and I gotta give props to Zachary specially for nailing this. The performances are top-notch and added another layer of awesome in reading this book.
IF I NEVER MET YOU by Mhairi McFarlene – 5 ☕
If faking love is this easy… how do you know when it’s real?
When her partner of over a decade suddenly ends things, Laurie is left reeling—not only because they work at the same law firm and she has to see him every day. Her once perfect life is in shambles and the thought of dating again in the age of Tinder is nothing short of horrifying. When news of her ex’s pregnant girlfriend hits the office grapevine, taking the humiliation lying down is not an option. Then a chance encounter in a broken-down elevator with the office playboy opens up a new possibility.
Jamie Carter doesn’t believe in love, but he needs a respectable, steady girlfriend to impress their bosses. Laurie wants a hot new man to give the rumor mill something else to talk about. It’s the perfect proposition: a fauxmance played out on social media, with strategically staged photographs and a specific end date in mind. With the plan hatched, Laurie and Jamie begin to flaunt their new couple status, to the astonishment—and jealousy—of their friends and colleagues. But there’s a fine line between pretending to be in love and actually falling for your charming, handsome fake boyfriend…
There is just so much to be said about this book. But bottom line is: it blew me away. Aside from the plot (read above), what really caught me initially is that the main characters in this book are in their 30s. I know my reading list is not that comprehensive but rarely have I read contemporary romances that has this age range – the usual that I’m reading are early to late 20s. So that’s an interesting thing. Plus, it offered some of my favorite tropes: fake dating in the office + slow burn romance. And damn is the slow burn exquisite. The chemistry of both the leads is palpable. I’ve even dreamt of Laurie and Jaime the morning after I finished it because I’ve been thinking about the book so much. There is also the “stuck in a malfunctioning elevator” scene and the single-bed trope – there are a lot of cliche elements crammed in the book, now that I think about it, but, overall, the execution doesn’t feel cheap and gimmicky, if you know what I mean. It felt natural and to the point. This book is pretty low-heat and generally PG compared to other romance books in the market. Trigger warnings are in order though as this book explored the effect of parental neglect and there is mention of remembrance of attempted child molestation.
The end of Laurie’s long-term relationship was brutal and heart-wrenching – it felt too real. The circumstances of that breakup, up until the twists revealed near the end, was just too much for my own heart. It was sad, honestly. But I was glad Laurie was able to start again. I also loved the emphasis on female friendship as explored in this book. I particularly loved the moment when Laurie said to Emily that she did meet the love of her life that day she met Dan – but it wasn’t Dan, it was Emily. That scene before it was heavy and gut-wrenching but this particular phone call and declaration made my heart soar.
Some reviews mentioned that they loved that it is a quintessential British rom-com. Obviously, I haven’t caught on on the little things that are cultural-centric but I loved it just the same. There’s obviously a very English way of humor and dialogue. I listened to it through Scribd and it took me several chapters to get used to the accent the narrator was using. It dealt with a lot of things: racism and the microaggressions that Laurie is experiencing because of it (her mother is black and her father is white), sexism in the office (which hit too close to home, God, it was so infuriating), and toxic masculinity. There is also discourse that this shouldn’t be marketed as a romance/rom-com book and should be classified under women’s fiction (what’s up with that, anyway? why have a separate genre for “women” fiction? shouldn’t be just “fiction”?) because the main themes are mainly about grief, betrayal and recovering from these things but just with strong romantic elements. But still – that doesn’t change the fact that this was such a good book with a great story. Of course, I would’ve liked more of the romance after they were officially together since this, in essence, was still marketed as a romance book. But other than that, I wouldn’t change it any other way. This is the first book from Mhairi McFarlene that I’ve read and you bet I’m gonna be reading more from her after this!
Hoping to read more interesting contemporary adult romances in the next couple of months. Comment up if you have some recommendations! 🙂