Author: Ali Hazelwood
Genres: Fiction, Romance
Pub. Date: Aug. 2022 (read Sep. 2022)
Oh dear, I haven’t written a book review since June… I usually don’t read a lot in the summer, although I did read more than I anticipated this year, so it’s time to get caught up!
Love on the Brain was one of my most anticipated new releases for 2022. The Love Hypothesis was wildly popular last year and I really loved it – in retrospect I can recognize that it has some flaws, but it opened me up to the whole world of romance reading, so I have to give it some credit. Love on the Brain is the second of Ali Hazelwood’s STEM novels, though she did write 3 novellas in between that I haven’t read.
Love on the Brain features Bee and Levi, a brainy neuroscientist and engineer who end up working on an astronaut helmet together for NASA. They’re both leaders in their fields, but the catch is they used to be in grad school together, and Levi had a very clear dislike of Bee, so she’s not sure how they are going to work together.
From there it follows the trajectory you would expect of any romance novel. Bee has a very strong character voice and I won’t lie that I devoured this book in 3 days while on holiday. I love the setting of Hazelwood’s books and that they focus on women in STEM and the various injustices they face. Unfortunately, Love on the Brain just didn’t have the same charm as The Love Hypothesis and even though it’s very readable, I couldn’t overlook its shortcomings.
Let’s start with what I liked. I did mostly like Bee as the main character. She’s funny and she has a strong personality. She’s not afraid to go for it and she does call people out on their shit instead of just suffering in silence. She was a victim in her previous relationship, but she didn’t let that define her. She did have a tendency to go off on tangents though and I did feel she was a little manic pixie dream girl in that she’s “not like other girls”. Otherwise, I liked her relationships with her sister and her assistant – I can’t remember her name, but omg, the assistant was hilarious! She was pretty much the highlight of the book for me.
Unfortunately I didn’t like a whole lot else after that. My biggest gripe is that Hazelwood does absolutely nothing new with this book. I think that Olive and Bee are quite different characters, but Levi and Adam are carbon copies of one another and it’s still impossible to ignore that this is just Adam Driver fan fiction. I’m over the whole brooding, tall man trope and the romance genre’s obsession with large men and tiny women. It’s like Hazelwood tried to shake up the characters by having Adam be mean to everyone and only nice to Olive, whereas Levi was supposedly nice to everyone and only mean to Bee, but they still read like the same person to me and it just made me not like Levi. At least I understood Olive’s attraction to Adam (he was nice), but Levi was a jerk to Bee. Personally, I would never have forgiven his dress code comment. Levi read like a mess, like he can’t act like a normal human being around the woman he likes?
Speaking of understanding the attraction – I’d love to know what either of these characters saw in one another? Seriously though? Levi has been supposedly in love with Bee since he met her and has been harbouring the same pathetic crush for 6 years? That ain’t romantic! Get a life man! The whole “it was always you” trope drives me nuts because people have way more depth than that. Who wants a lover that’s obsessed with them? Isn’t it way more romantic to fall in love with someone with other interests and a nuanced personality? Hazelwood tells us these two characters love each other, but I didn’t understand why. There’s no context as to why Levi likes Bee or vice versa. Sure, I could get Bee’s sexual fantasies about Levi, but what does he ever do that makes her look deeper? We are never shown what makes these two love each other.
Which brings me to my next gripe – the miscommunication trope. I don’t like the miscommunication trope on a good day, but this book was the miscommunication trope on steroids. God, the level of misunderstanding between the two characters was unbearable. Can we please just all stop being idiots? Why do these super smart scientists have the emotional intelligence of a potato? They were so juvenille, I couldn’t handle it.
Finally, let’s talk about the ending, because that really went off the rails. Suddenly we go from a romance novel to an action mystery? Which gets resolved in the span of a chapter? Have you lost your place in the world Hazelwood? The drama at the end felt so out of place and crammed into the final pages that my jaw was on the floor. It didn’t belong. I feel like Hazelwood wanted some kind of physical confrontation because all of her characters are based on Star Wars, which is action, but like, girl you’re gonna have to write a dark romance or a fantasy if you want to go there. The ending didn’t work here when the rest of the novel was extremely bubbly. Also, the fact that both characters are obsessed with Star Wars when the reader knows this book is basically Kylo Ren fanfic is too meta for me.
Anyways, I should probably clue up this rant, but plotwise, I do want to say that what I found the most disappointing is that in addition to the characters having no depth, the plot had none either. I loved what TLH did with the sexual harassment and reporting storyline. I feel like Hazelwood had a lot of balls in the air about sexism in academia and the workplace, but I felt like they were all ideas and none of them were developed. The story didn’t have any real meaningful social commentary. Sure, she draws awareness to ideas like men stealing women’s ideas, not listening to them, or only acknowledging women’s legitimacy when it’s pointed out by another man, but as a woman in STEM, these are really basic concepts and she doesn’t do anything with them. The most focus was on admissions standards, which was great, but it still felt surface level. There was no real tension in the storyline and everything with Marie Curie being exposed was too easily resolved. I didn’t feel the anguish or despair. The situations just felt contrived.
So yeah, I didn’t like it. Initially I rated it 3 stars because I still flew through it, it is an easy read, but after reflecting on all its flaws, I think I’m going to have to bump it down to a 2. I haven’t read her novellas, but I’ve seen other reviews saying it’s more of the same, so I think I’m probably going to have to give them a pass. I will probably still read her next book, but I hope she branches out a bit and does something new, because this was such a disappointment.