Even though I’ve been reading a lot recently, I have backed away from doing many reviews. However, this is one of those times when I’m really glad for having a NetGalley account. I got access to an ARC I’ve been drooling for since Dade first released a preview of the cover on Twitter… some time ago. I’ve read all of her Marysburg and Love Unscripted titles, (and am connected to her on Twitter, where she is nothing but supportive) so I was already sold on the author’s work. Getting the opportunity to be one of the early-adopter cheerleaders for this release is just a bonus for all the hours of reading enjoyment I’ve already gotten from Dade’s writing.
(I’m still side-eyeing whatever marketing “professional” decided to announce this book with “Olivia Dade bursts onto the scene”… As is obvious to anyone with a Goodreads account, Dade has been publishing successfully since at least 2015. She has earned her writing stripes and deserves recognition for how happy she’s made her reading audience over the years.)
This book is a very strong entry into her stable of work. Her protagonists, Marcus and April, have matured enough to begin the process of coming to terms with those characteristics for which they’ve been harassed and put down their entire lives–in his case, dyslexia and shyness, and in hers, being overweight. Both of them have been emotionally abused by their parents for these “shortcomings”, and over the course of the book grow so beautifully together by learning to set appropriate boundaries.
Mix in nerd love about ancient epics, modern TV fandom, and cosplay, and you have a smart story that celebrates intelligence and passion and ambition and individuality in a world that craves simply fitting in. The subtle commentary about how social media fit in our lives, and play an increasingly public role, was also on point:
The account boasted a bright blue bubble with a check inside. An official, verified account, then.
Marcus Caster-Rupp’s account.
The guy playing Aeneas–fucking Aeneas–had tweeted to her. Followed her.
And…he appeared to have–
No, that couldn’t be right. She was hallucinating.
She squinted. Blinked. Read it again. A third time.
For reasons yet unknown, he appeared to have–
Well, he appeared to have asked her out. On a date.
“I read a fic like this once,” she whispered.Spoiler Alert, by Olivia Dade
The interstitial chapters sharing their past online correspondence are especially fun. They form an emotional core to the current timeline story that ends up reading like a vicarious diary read-through.
A leitmotif across Dade’s work seems to be an appreciation of literature in general (in this case, the Iliad), and the people who fan-flap about a particular genre, specifically. (That detail has changed to be character-appropriate in the various books, but seems to be a reliable indicator of a Dade creation.) So for me, it feels like the books are targeted directly at my interests.
For anyone who enjoys a contemporary romance that has a light, humorous tone, but engages in meaningful work both on self and partnership, this book should be right up your alley. And if you develop a taste for the author’s voice from this book, don’t despair, you have a significant back catalog to look forward to. In fact, Dade has confirmed that one of the side characters from book 1 is getting their own stand-alone/follow-on story next year, so keep your eyes open for more in this series. I certainly will be.