fiction · romance

Book Review: The Honey-Don’t List by Christina Lauren

One of the things 2020 has taught me is to balance my reading better, that it’s better on both my mental health and my stamina and ability as a reader to inject plenty of lighter books among the heavier subjects. Although I’m still drowning in the all-my-books-came-in-at-once deluge, it was actually a pretty good thing that my library notified me that my copy of The Honey-Don’t List by Christina Lauren (Gallery Books, 2020) had come in about eight weeks ahead of schedule. I needed something on the lighter side after finishing Someday We Will Fly by Rachel DeWoskin, and this fit the bill perfectly.

Carey has worked for home decor and redesign power couple Melissa and Russell Trip since she was 16; at 26, she’s given a huge amount of her time and talent to them and it’s a bit like trying to keep an angry hippo on a leash at this point. They’re *not* getting along, and with a new show and, of all things, a new book about how to have a great marriage, things are in serious trouble, especially since she and Russ’s new assistant, James, just discovered Russ balls-deep in their last show’s host. OOPS.

Now Carey and James have been thrown together in order to supervise Melly and Russ on their book tour. Carey’s not so sure about this; James isn’t exactly her cup of tea, but after being stuck with him in such a small space and with the common goal of keeping their bosses from destroying their own empire, they find themselves falling for each other. As Melly and Russ fall apart, Carey and James grow closer, but it’s a precarious kind of closeness when the stakes are *this* high…

Cute book. Carey has been with Melly and Russ since she was a teenager; they seem to have somewhat took over some parenting duties and given her opportunities she otherwise wouldn’t have. Between that and the fact that she suffers from dystonia, a neuro-muscular disease (for which she needs the insurance they provide), she feels a loyalty to them that won’t allow her to envision more for herself. She’s somewhat trapped in an uncomfortable, semi-abusive relationship with her employers from which she’s not safe enough to leave, and that sums up a lot about what it’s like to be young-ish and employed in the US today, unfortunately.

James is a bit stodgy and self-important at the beginning. He’s an engineer who got shafted by his last employer shutting down due to white-collar crime (I hate that term; it’s insulting. Rich upper-class crime, let’s call it), and he needs this job to improve his now-dismal resume. He was hired on to be an engineer for Russ and Melly, but he was almost immediately shoved into the role as Russ’s assistant and it’s obvious he feels he’s too good for the role. That might have been why I didn’t get immediate warm fuzzies over him like I do about the majority of Christina Lauren heroes. He does come around to value Carey for who she is and what she’s contributed to the brand, but the whole attitude of “I’m too good/educated/classy for this job” is an instant turn-off.

Melly and Russ are a hot, hot mess. They’re a Chip-and-Joanna Gaines-like couple and Russ is absolutely over Melly’s famewhoring, claw-her-way-to-the-top-and-drag-my-husband-behind drive. He just wants to build things and drink beer and watch sports, and this causes him to make some terrible decisions. There’s no excuse for infidelity like that, even if Melly is basically the Cruella de Villa of the design world. I felt bad for him for putting up with so much for so long, but he also let Melly steamroll Carey and let some bad stuff go down for years that he knew wasn’t right (trying not to spoil anything here!), so I had plenty of issues with him too. So while they were both kind of terrible people…they’re well-written. They’re both constantly screwing up and showing their worst selves, and then they let a bit of decency peek out so you can’t entirely loathe them, just mostly.

I didn’t love this the way I’ve loved some other Christina Lauren books- again, I think James’s initial snobbery ruined that for me a bit- but it was a nice read that helped break up some tougher books. I saw that Christina Lauren’s next book is a Christmas-themed one, and honestly, I’m kind of ehhhhhhhh about that. I’ll still end up reading it at some point, I’m sure, but Christmas books don’t really call to me that much. If you’ve read an ARC of it and loved it, though, I’d love to hear about it!

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fiction

The Unhoneymooners- Christina Lauren

Woohoo! I’ve been waiting to read The Unhoneymooners by Christina Lauren (Gallery Books, 2019) since I learned of its existence, and there was a copy waiting for me last week on the New Books shelf at the library. I’ve been a Christina Lauren fan for ages, so it’s always a banner day when I’m able to grab a copy of their latest.

Olive Torres’s twin sister Ami is getting married. Ami’s always had good luck, while Olive is more the trip-UP-the-stairs kind of gal. While she’s happy for her sister, Olive doesn’t care for Ami’s smarmy, bro-ey husband-to-be, Dane, and even more than that, she can’t stand Dane’s brother, Ethan, who judged her from the first time they met. Insults fly fast between the two of them anytime they’re within five hundred feet of each other, but Olive’s doing her best to keep things cool for her sister’s big day.

However, an incident with food poisoning at the seafood-based dinner throws the whole reception into chaos, leaving shellfish-allergic Olive and buffet-avoidant Ethan the only ones not revisiting their dinners. Upon Ami’s insistence, Olive and Ethan pose as Ami and Dane to take advantage of the honeymoon trip to Maui that Ami had won. But posing as a married couple has unforeseen consequences as Olive runs into her new boss (for whom honesty and integrity are key) and Ethan runs into his ex-girlfriend, whom he never completely got over. In all their pretending, the two actually fall for each other, but the real test of the strength of their blossoming connection comes when they return home to their real lives.

While I ended up actually really enjoying The Unhoneymooners, it started off just a little slow for me, and I think that was due to the fact that other than being cynical and sarcastic, I didn’t have a good sense of who Olive really was. The more I think about it, since this is something that comes up later in the book in terms of Olive’s career, this may have been intentional, especially since she does develop of stronger sense of self and begins to clarify what she wants (and doesn’t want) as the story goes on.

Ethan isn’t wholly likable at first, either, although, seen through Olive’s eyes, he’s not meant to be. He definitely has his flaws, ones that Olive rightfully walks away from at a certain moment, but overall, he’s just as well-developed as Olive turns out to be. Together, their banter is sharp, witty, and as laugh-out-loud fun as any other Christina Lauren couple, though I definitely preferred their later-on banter over their early pre-getting together banter.

Dane is an entire piece of work, and the team here really knocked it out of the park writing one of the sleaziest, yet still completely believable characters in contemporary first-person romance. I only wish they’d included more backstory on what made Ami fall for him in the first place, because his personality and particular brand of bro-ey-ness was so off-putting to me, let alone all the complications that arise with him later on in the story. He never seemed flat or unrealistic, and I daresay far too many women have met guys who fall into the category of being a Dane. UGH. Well written, CL!!!

The second half was much more engaging than the first for me, so while this wasn’t my #1 favorite Christina Lauren novel, I enjoyed it, and I’m looking forward to whatever they come up with next!

Visit Christina Lauren’s website here.

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fiction

Love and Other Words- Christina Lauren

The final task I had to complete the Modern Mrs. Darcy 2019 Reading Challenge was three books by the same author. While, as I mentioned in my last post, I don’t often binge-read books by the same author (I’m more of a slow, savoring, dole-it-out-bit-by-bit kind of gal), Christina Lauren is an exception for me. I fell in love with them when I read Dating You/Hating You a few years back, and they’ve been front-and-center on my radar ever since. This year, I read (and loved!) My Favorite Half-Night Stand and followed that up days later with Josh and Hazel’s Guide to Not Dating. To round out my list of three books, I chose Love and Other Words (Gallery Books, 2018), the duo’s first foray into women’s fiction.

When Macy’s mom dies when Macy is only 10, she leaves behind a list of advice that will help her husband raise their daughter. One of these pieces of advice prompts him to buy a mildewy vacation house in California wine country, and it’s there that Macy meets Elliot, the gangly, awkward, bookish boy next door who will become her everything. The two forge a friendship based on literature and honesty, and Macy finds Elliot is the one person she can just be with. He doesn’t act weird because her mom died, and while he doesn’t always know exactly what to say, he always knows exactly how to listen. As they grow and mature, what started out as friendship shifts into something stronger, something they both understand is timeless, but the reader is already privy to the truth: thanks to Macy’s narration and the alternating timelines, we know that as an adult, Macy, now a doctor and deeply hurt, hasn’t seen or spoken to Elliot in eleven years, and she’s engaged to someone else.

Love and Other Words examines how a friendship can blossom into love and then fall to pieces before either party has a chance to understand why or how, and the aftermath of such a painful destruction. For a story that’s abundant with grief in each of the two timelines, Christina Lauren still manages to imbue the story with a sense of hope, healing, discovering the means in oneself to let go of the past and fall in love with life- and with someone else- once again.

This was a deep, lovely read. Macy and Elliot as teenagers are beyond adorable- Elliot is the boy next door every book nerd wishes they had when they were younger. The two spend their days holed up in Macy’s library, reading quietly and sharing books, and nothing would have made me happier as a teenager to have a friend like that (sadly, I read alone on my front porch and in my room; none of the boys that lived near me were readers). Their awkward-but-brutally honest conversations are both funny and charming, and multiple times I laughed out loud at their blundering attempts at more mature discussion. Take, for example, the following dialogue:

“Why are you staring at me?” he asked.
“I was…not.”
He let out a short, dry sound of disbelief. “Okay.” Stretching his neck, he looked down. “You’re still staring.”
“I’m just wondering how it works,” I asked.
“How
what works?”
“When you…” I made a telling gesture with my hand. “With guys and the…you know?”
He raised his eyebrows, waiting. I could see the moment he knew what I was talking about. His pupils dilated so fast his eyes looked black.
“You’re asking me how
dicks work?”

Even if you weren’t that curious as a teenager, how amazing would it have been to have a friendship that comfortable, where you could be that open with each other? Christina Lauren has (have? I’m never sure what verb form one uses with a writing duo. Third person singular? Plural? Possibly English is just stupid for this task) a gift for writing strong female/male friendships that confront any sexual tension in engaging and believable ways. Macy and Elliot are fine examples of this, but this has rung true for all of the couples and platonic friends in all of their books that I’ve read.

Adult Macy is driven by her work and closed off to deep emotion, something that becomes more understandable and heartbreaking as the reader learns more of her backstory. The one issue I have with this story is the speed at which the ending comes. There’s a major revelation towards the end, one that makes everything Macy has been through and done make sense, and it’s something that I think would have required more time for Elliot to process than he actually took. There would have been some strong emotions to work through, particularly from a character who feels things so deeply as Elliot does, and so I was left feeling as though I were being shoved out the door after having attended a warm party with friends.

Despite that, Love and Other Words is a deeply heartfelt story of two people with a once-enviable friendship who fall in love, lose everything in an instant, and find each other years later. It’s grieving, it’s pain, it’s self-awareness and learning and coming back to a place of honesty after far too much time away. It fits in well with the other Christina Lauren novels I’ve read; while it lacks their usual dual narrative (something I always enjoy), the alternating timeline by a single narrator gives the book a similar feel. I so enjoyed reading this book, just like everything else I’ve read from this amazing duo. And with that, I’ve completed the 2019 Modern Mrs. Darcy Reading Challenge! Yay me!

Is there an author that you’ll read pretty much anything they write? Christina Lauren is one of those authors for me; who are yours?

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fiction · romantic comedy

Josh and Hazel’s Guide to Not Dating- Christina Lauren

Josh and Hazel’s Guide to Not Dating is my third Christina Lauren book and is adorable, sweet, and oh-so-swoony. I love dual (or multiple) narrative books, and they do it so very well.

Hazel is eccentric, full of energy, close to the very definition of ‘hot mess.’ Josh is calm, relaxed, the coolest cucumber you’ll ever meet. Hazel’s chaos and disorder; Josh is buttoned to the neck and organized to the hilt. Josh is just coming out of a long-term relationship that ended badly; Hazel has  never had great success when it comes to dating. But opposites attract, and they do it in a big way in this fabulous slow-burn rom-com.

They first meet in college, with a few awkward incidents involving vomit, sex, and post-wisdom tooth removal painkillers (not all at the same time, thankfully). Yet when their paths cross again years later, they’re able to immediately slip into a comfortable friendship, despite their differences. After an apartment flood that displaces Hazel for weeks, Josh’s sister gets him to agree to let Hazel stay at his place. He’s not going to be there anyway, as he’s off visiting his long-distance girlfriend…who’s cheating on him. And has been. For almost half the relationship. Ouch. Upon his immediate return, Hazel takes it upon herself to pull him out of his funk, and as their friendship grows, they set each other up on double blind dates…disastrous ones. Which leads them to have drunken sex, which totally changes nothing. They’re still friends, still double-dating…right?

When Josh sets Hazel up with a friend who turns out to be the guy who broke her heart, the stakes are raised, and Josh begins to realize his feelings for Hazel run far deeper than just friends, while Hazel still continues to think she’s not quite good enough for him. A spanner in the works makes time of the essence, though, and Hazel will have to get past her fear of ruining their friendship in order to define what she and Josh truly are to each other.

This was beyond adorable. I will admit, I had a hard time warming up to Hazel at first, though I did find her more relatable as the story went on. She’s loud and quirky and no-holds-barred; I’m more of the ‘text my husband from another room because yelling downstairs would be exhausting’ levels of energy, and I’m not sure I’d be able to handle someone like Hazel in real life. But in the book, she works, and she provides a lovely balance to Josh’s more relaxed nature. I found Josh to be a swoony delight; I was utterly charmed by everything about him. He’s so sweet with Hazel, so loving with his sister and parents, and I absolutely loved his connection with his Korean heritage and the occasional reference to his being bilingual (my marriage is similar; my husband is Belgian by birth and speaks both English and French). His growing feelings for Hazel were written so well; nothing was rushed or felt like it moved too quickly, and the ending- THE ENDING! That finally chapter practically had me on the floor. SO FULL OF ADORABLENESS.

Josh and Hazel’s Guide to Not Dating is the swoon-worthy slow burn rom-com you need in your life. Drop everything and read this book, because it’s like a soft, fuzzy blanket you can wrap around yourself on the coldest day of the year.

Visit Christina Lauren’s website here.

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fiction · romantic comedy

My Favorite Half-Night Stand- Christina Lauren

I fell in love with the writing duo of Christina Lauren last year after reading Dating You/Hating You. The writing and plot were so sharp and fast-paced, and the chemistry between Carter and Evie was magnetic (and it’s a book set in Hollywood, so you know I’m down for that!), so I was excited to find two of their books on the library’s New Fiction shelf this week. My Favorite Half-Night Stand didn’t disappoint one bit.

Millie’s life isn’t perfect- her mom died when she was young, leaving her family fractured and Millie unable to open up about her pain; her father has been newly diagnosed with Parkinson’s and she can’t deal- but it helps that she has the most amazing group of friends. Guy friends: Ed, Chris, Alex…and Reid. Reid’s the guy she considers her best friend; things have always been just a little different with him, a little extra. When the five of them realize they need dates for their university’s upcoming black tie gala, the perpetually single workaholic friends make a pact to join a dating app, but that night, Millie and Reid burn it down in bed together. No biggie, it’s just a one-time thing…right?

When Reid begins to talk to women on the app and Millie gets nothing but dick pics and lascivious come-ons, she creates a second, secret profile…and matches with Reid. She’s sure he’ll recognize their private jokes in the message she writes, but when he doesn’t, she finds herself opening up to him in a way she can’t in real time. Their repeated steamy encounters only complicate the situation, especially when Reid’s still chatting with Daisy, a gorgeous blond, and Cat, Millie’s fake profile. When things come to a head, Millie needs to decide what she truly wants…and Reid will have to decide if he can ever trust his best friend again.

I loved this. Lying about identity always makes me uncomfortable in romance novels, but Millie’s character was so genuine and the chemistry, not only between her and Reid but among the friend group, was enough to make up for my unease. Each character has such a distinct personality and way of interacting with the others that made the group scenes an absolute delight to read; they had me wishing I had my own bad pun-cracking, loud belching guy friend group to wipe the floor with in Friday night Monopoly games, and the group chat scenes add an extra bit of modern day fun. Nothing about Reid and Millie together seemed forced, and I really enjoyed how each morning after situation contained no awkwardness, just an easy back-to-normal continuation of the way things had always been between them. Their witty banter had me laughing out loud several times (to the point where my husband asked if I was okay from the other room).

Christina Lauren is (are? What verb form does what looks like a singular person who is actually a writing team take???) a master of contemporary romantic comedy, and My Favorite Half-Night Stand slammed it way out of the park for me. I’ve got Josh and Hazel’s Guide to Not Dating coming up next and I can’t wait to dive in.

Check out Christina Lauren’s website.

Follow Christina Lauren on Twitter. And for more Twitter fun, you can follow Christina and Lauren separately!