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”.