The Spanish Love Deception

Rating: ⭐⭐⭐
Author: Elena Armas
Genres: Fiction, Romance
Pub. Date: Feb. 2021 (read Feb. 2022)

I don’t know how long this phase will last, but I’m officially on the romance train. We’re coming up on Valentine’s Day, so I guess my timing is appropriate. I wasn’t sure what to follow up The Love Hypothesis with, but landed on The Spanish Love Deception because it also has a fake-dating trope and is super popular on Booktok. I didn’t like this as much as The Love Hypothesis, but I have to give it a shout-out because I learned after the fact that it was originally self-published! I think this is amazing and probably means the author had limited resources (like an editor?), so keep this in mind through my somewhat critical review.

First off, I did like it. I think it suffered from some pacing issues at the start, but once we arrived in Spain, I could not put this book down. I think that is the main reason I’ve been drawn to romance recently, because it makes for a very quick and enjoyable read. It’s not great literature, but it requires a bit less effort to commit to. I really liked Catalina’s family and thought the portion of the novel set in Spain was really fun. It’s a slow burn (which I love) and the love interest is pretty damn sexy. If you’re here for the smut, I thought it was better than The Love Hypothesis, but was a bit overdone towards the end. I’m more about the smoldering lead up than excessive sex scenes, but you do you!

So what’s this book about? 28-year old Catalina is an engineer (I don’t recall it being stated which kind of engineer, which was pretty annoying to me, a civil engineer) in America and is returning home to Spain for her sister’s wedding. The problem is her ex, who is newly engaged, is going to be there and she doesn’t want to show up still single after so many years of heartbreak. When her work nemesis, Aaron Blackford, offers to be her date for the wedding, despite her trepidation, she feels she doesn’t have any other options and asks him to accompany her.

If the plot sounds predictable, it’s because it is, but I mean we all expect that from a contemporary romance anyways don’t we? Sorry to repeatedly compare it to The Love Hypothesis, but it’s my only other frame of reference, so I’ll say, the only other thing I thought was a bit more well done in this book was the “fake dating”. I thought that the simple explanation of not wanting to attend a wedding alone was a lot more straightforward and believable than the convoluted shenanigans Olive and Adam got up to.

So overall, it was fun. It’s not meant to be high brow literature, so take the rest of my criticisms with a grain of salt, because there are many, but they’re a bit tangential. I knew what I was getting myself into with this book.

So what didn’t I like about it? Mostly Catalina. It’s not that I didn’t like her as a person, I found her relatable and I empathized with what she had been through. But oh my goodness, I couldn’t deal with her inner monologue sometimes. Catalina is stuck in her head, ALL THE TIME. This book is almost 500 pages (another criticism, it could have been shorter), and it’s mostly because Catalina stresses and overanalyzes absolutely everything. We’re told repeatedly that she’s very smart, but the author did absolutely nothing to show us that she’s smart. She comes off as vapid and a bit of an idiot to be honest. It was somewhat endearing the way she would accidentally blurt out the most inappropriate things at times, but I just wanted to yell at her to get a grip.

I don’t think she was helped by the author’s writing style. Some parts were confusing because the author gets so inside Catalina’s head that I felt she was getting ahead of the storyline and missed describing what was actually happening. Like I would lose sense of where we were and what Catalina was doing because she was so lost in her inner monologue.

One of the other issues I had was with the pacing. We spent a lot of time in New York – more than I think we needed. I thought the majority of this book was going to be in Spain and we don’t even fly there until 50%. I liked the inclusion of the side plot with sexism at Catalina’s workplace, especially the meeting where she asked to plan a big event. I was honestly gutted by this scene and think it brought more depth to the story. But the whole thing with Aaron’s fundraiser seemed completely tangential and unnecessary to the story. I felt like Armas needed something to fulfill Catalina’s “half of the deal” and I didn’t find that it really added much to the overall book. I would have been happier with Aaron offering to be her date and not asking for anything in return.

Which brings me to my last point: Aaron Blackford. I know, everyone loves Aaron, I did too… in the second half of the book; but hear me out, he read like 2 completely different characters! First of all, I thought it was kind of creepy how insistent he was about coming to Spain with Catalina, I wanted to be like, “dude you offered and she said no, back off already!”. But mostly, I found that in the start of the book he is so stern and angry, not giving anything away about himself (even at the fundraiser), and then all of a sudden it’s like he flips a switch and is all suave, pulling moves on Catalina left, right, and center! When he came on to her in the coffee shop in New York I pretty much choked on my tea, it took me so much by surprise! I liked sexy, suave Aaron, he was a fun character, I just couldn’t reconcile the sudden personality change.

I also have to question what makes this book “fake dating”. It’s clearly only Catalina who views the exchange as fake. I’d kind of like to go back and see if Aaron ever even uses the word “fake”, because I could easily see him being like “I’ll be your date” and Catalina being an idiot and just assuming he meant “fake date” because she couldn’t conceive of a world where he would want to actually date her. I mean I get it, the dynamic of it and why readers love it, but at no point did it ever seem like it was a two-sided arrangement.

Anyways, I think I’ve gone into enough detail about this. It’s a flawed book, but whatever, go ahead and read it anyways, it’s a sexy good romp and I wouldn’t be deterred from reading it again. I can’t help but think critically about books, but it’s just meant to be a good time! Please give me your other romance recs because I don’t think I’m done yet! I’m thinking maybe People We Meet on Vacation next because I suspect “friends to lovers” is going to be more my style than “enemies to lovers”.

The Love Hypothesis

Rating: ⭐⭐⭐⭐.5
Author: Ali Hazelwood
Genres: Fiction, Romance
Pub. Date: Sep. 2021 (read Jan. 2022)

The Love Hypothesis is making me re-think everything I thought I knew about reading!

I like romance – I know this about myself. But I’ve always preferred it as a side plot, originally in lengthy fantasy series. Then I got fatigued with fantasy and started reading a lot of literary fiction and historical fiction and didn’t really think about romance at all. Every now and then I stumble upon a good love story (the most recent was probably The Simple Wild, which I first read in 2018) and remember how much I do enjoy them.

The market is saturated with romance books with beautiful covers these days and I see popular books shared regularly on bookstagram and booktube (and booktok), for some reason The Love Hypothesis caught my eye. It received a lot of praise and hype in a short time, and when I found out it had a STEM setting and was basically glorified Rylo fanfic (Kylo Ren and Rey, I know right?), I was definitely intrigued. I took a look at the cover (easily saw the character resemblance) and impulsively grabbed a copy at my local indie. 

I got home and joked with my husband about how I’d actually bought a romance book. I told him I’d heard it was good and then proceeded to read the synopsis out loud, laughing because I had to admit, actually reading it, it didn’t sound very good (to me at least). But friends, I could not put this book down! I’m now questioning everything and wondering if I should get more into the romance scene, but the selection is a bit paralysing and the book blurbs always sound bad, so please give me your recommendations because I’m a total newbie and I have no idea what I like!

But let’s get into the book. I gave it 5 stars. Objectively, it is 100% not a 5 star book – there are many other books that I have rated less than 5 stars that were much better than this. But I can’t deny that this was pure joy and escapism and I was so happy the entire time I was reading it, so I think it deserves the 5 stars. We can enjoy things that are not works of art and make us feel just a little bit shallow. I have criticisms, I’ll talk about them – but let’s talk about why this was so great first.

Setting. The Love Hypothesis is set at Stanford University and features a bunch of grad students and faculty advisers and all the drama of the academic world. I have only ever been an undergrad, so I don’t know what it’s like to be a grad student, but I am a woman in STEM and I am married to someone who had a very long and painful grad student experience, so I could definitely still relate. It seems like both a respected and thankless field. Why on earth are our scientists and researchers paid so little and forced to work and move around for so long before gaining any semblance of normality? When my husband finally left academia, we were both relieved and have never once looked back.

Characters. Olive is an excellent character. I loved the demi rep in this book and I felt her to be an extremely relatable every-woman. Likewise, Adam is flawed, but you can’t help but love his sensitive side. The plot of this book is centered around the fake-dating trope and as corny and unrealistic as it was at times, it was also strangely well done and believable. Olive and Adam are funny and more than once I found myself laughing out loud at their witty banter. They’re smart characters that are very much grounded in reality – I say that because it’s obvious that Ali Hazelwood knows this world. She hasn’t fabricated it for the sake of a story, she knows it and as a result, her characters feel very genuine and organic.

Title IX. It’s been a while since I watched the documentary, The Hunting Ground, which is all about Title IX, so I’m a little fuzzy, but it’s basically the law that prohibits sex-based discrimination and harrassment in educational environments, such as universities. At first the joking about Title IX made me a little uncomfortable, but I like that Hazelwood decides to tackle sexism in academia. This is something that exists at all levels of post-secondary education, but I’ve predominantly thought of it in terms of cases like Brock Turner, where young undergrads get taken advantage of at campus parties. This tackles the inherent sexism that is built into the old-boys club of academia. 

It is not easy to be a woman in STEM. There are amazing women like Anh out there that are working to make STEM more accessible to more diverse backgrounds of people, but they are always at a disadvantage and the system is still always working against them at every level. One of the stats that has always made me saddest in my own profession (engineering), is that while the number of female graduates is up in certain disciplines, it doesn’t carry through to the profession and many women leave within the first 5 years of their career. It also doesn’t speak to the diversity of women entering the profession. Hazelwood brings depth to the story with this plotline and it made it more meaningful than just another romance.

It’s a fun and sexy book. It’s predictable, but for me, it had the perfect amount of banter, slow burn, and spice. Not unlike Olive, I’m not really into hook-ups, but spending time with people I trust, and I loved how their friendship developed, it felt natural and authentic. We really get to know both of the characters. It definitely has some spice (I know that’s important for a lot of readers), but in moderation, which is how I personally prefer it. The story builds up to a natural climax, in more ways than one 😉 without being overly indulgent (Sarah J Maas, I’m looking at you). It was cute.

So what didn’t I like? Mostly minor things that I can overlook, but I still think it’s important to acknowledge some of the shortcomings. As I said, this story got it’s start as Reylo fanfic. I don’t really have a problem with that, I’m a bit of a Reylo fan myself and it’s what enticed me to pick up the book, so I don’t fault Hazelwood for that. After reading it, I don’t actually think this is Reylo fanfic, it’s not the vibe I got from the story. The vibe I did get is that Adam Carleson IS Adam Driver. His appearance is described on many occasions and he is Adam Driver right down to his dimples. I wish she had at least given him another name besides Adam to make it a little bit less obvious. 

Which brings me to my next point that Olive is not Rey. In fact, Olive’s appearance is barely described anywhere in the novel. We gather that she is 5’8″ and pale with freckles, but beyond being described as slim, I can’t recall ever getting a description of her hair, face, or eyes. I think she’s written more as a stand-in character, for both the author and any woman that finds Adam Driver dreamy (ahem, me included, lol). I’m not sure it’s a bad thing, but it just made her a bit forgettable to me. Which I didn’t want because she is a strong character and I don’t want her to be a Bella or Ana type stand-in. A minor criticism, but I just wanted the characters to be Olive and Adam unto themselves, not Adam Driver and any stand-in white girl. 

My last complaint involves getting into some spoilers, so don’t read ahead unless you’ve already read the book. 

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My last complaint is about how the real Title IX incident is dealt with. It’s upsetting when Tom comes on to Olive. I thought he was a little over-the-top villainous in that I thought Tom would probably be smart enough to be a bit more subtle with his intentions until a more opportune moment, but I can’t deny the truth in the interaction. I didn’t fault Olive for not wanting to pursue anything or report him. Women are rarely believed and get pulled through the mud for it. At the time, she had no other prospects for her work and potentially would tank her career if she reported him. But once she decided she was going to do something about it, I was disappointed that she let Adam speak for her.

Other people rarely intervene on behalf of sexual harassment victims. Sure it happens and how wonderful to have a powerful ally, but I would have loved to see smart and plucky Olive take Tom Benton down all on her own – be her own saviour. Adam could have supported her, but together her and Anh could easily have made it happen too and it would have given her a lot more agency as a kick-ass female scientist. But I can overlook this shortcoming as well because it is exhausting to always have the burden fall on minorities. It’s why we need more allies. So I can accept that Olive could have gotten Tom fired on her own, but that it’s also great that she didn’t have to.

To conclude, the fact that I’m able to write a review this long about a 300 page romance novel is telling. I did love it and I’m not really sure where I’ll go from here. I may try and seek out some more romance novels, or I may just move on and remember this one fondly, only time will tell!