Goodreads Project, Part 4: Romance

Goodreads Project, Part 4: Romance

I’ve reached the Romance category–Part Four of my project to read a new book from each of the fifteen categories in Goodreads’ Best Book of the Year Award. I reviewed books from the previous three categories here (Fiction), here (Historical Fiction), and here (Mystery and Thriller). From the Romance category, I chose to read Love, Theoretically by Ali Hazelwood.

My Romance Confession

Before I review the book, I should confess that, even though Romance is the best seller of any category of fiction, I don’t usually read it. Maybe my age and long-married status make it less interesting. Maybe my personality is just too unromantic or inhibited. It’s not that I don’t like stories with romance. I love Jane Austen.

Also on principle, I don’t diss romance novels. I believe it’s as hard to write a good romance novel as it is to write a good book in any other genre. I think the disrespect commonly shown for romance is a sign of disrespect for its largely female readers. Actually, I’d say the same thing about disrespect for the YA category. Mocking the books is often a means to mock the readers.

All that being said, I seldom browse these shelves in B&N.

An Academic Novel

Because of my resistance, I looked for a hook to draw me to one of the books listed and wound up with Love, Theoretically. The book’s main character is an academic. So is the author. I earned my living as an English professor. I thought I’d see some amusing or insightful rendition of a setting I’m familiar with. And that did, indeed, happen.

Elsie, the central character, is an adjunct professor of physics at U Mass and other Boston universities. Let me just explain that adjuncts are hired year to year in non-tenure-track positions. English departments hire a ton, usually to teach first-year writing. They have no security and no benefits. The pay is so bad that, like Elsie, they teach at multiple places at the same time. Elsie supplements her income by working as a girlfriend-for-hire.

The book is absolutely accurate about how adjuncts are exploited, though Elsie doesn’t use that term. Instead, she sees her poverty as a sign of her failure. She calls herself “academia’s disposable fake girlfriend,” which I thought was a great analogy. But as the book opens, things are looking up for Elsie because she’s one of two finalists interviewing for a tenure-track job at MIT. Elsie’s job hunt is complicated by the presence of an existing faculty member with whom she has history.

The Good and the Less Good

The book has a breezy, well-done voice that makes it easy to read. A serious thread runs through it too: Elsie consistently shapes herself to be what others want. Through her experiences, she learns the courage to show herself more honestly.

My major reservation was with the male lead. In my opinion, Jack is a cliche. He’s desirable at first sight but slightly mysterious. To quote the book: He has “a dash of bad boy…a hint of mystery…a dollop of smoothness.” And in the next paragraph, he’s “distant. Uninterested. Effortlessly confident. Charismatic in an intriguingly opaque, inaccessible way.”

Additionally, the tension in this story dropped way off for me in its last third. By that point, the plot problems raised at the book’s start are all resolved, and we’re left with Elsie’s internal issues and the romance. Sadly, the man is the one who guides Elsie to self-knowledge, a move I thought undercut her and her growing strength.


The Wind Reader

When street kid Doniver accidentally tells a true fortune for the prince, he’s taken into the castle to be the royal fortune teller. Good news? Food and a warm bed. Bad news? He can’t tell fortunes.


Bookshop (alliance of independent booksellers)

Inspired Quill (small UK press that’s run as a social enterprise)

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