I should probably confess this right off the bat: I’m not a big romance reader. I’m more of a sucker for deep character studies in literary novels or unique unreliable narrators in psychological thrillers.
That’s not to say I don’t read romance novels at all, or that I’m not a romantic. But if you (like me) often look to social media for recommendations (where people think suggesting Colleen Hoover’s books is a good idea), you start to think that maybe romance is dead.
I have nobody to blame but TikTok (well, and myself, I guess). But despite swearing I’ll finally stop taking recommendations from random people on social media, I’m still guilty of being easily persuaded to read something based on a stranger’s high praise.
That’s how I found myself picking up two particular novels, which I review below. And…wow, do I have a lot to say (don’t worry—it’s all spoiler-free).
Read This: The Seven Husbands of Evelyn Hugo by Taylor Jenkins Reid
“People think that intimacy is about sex. But intimacy is about truth. When you realize you can tell someone your truth, when you can show yourself to them, when you stand in front of them bare and their response is “You’re safe with me”—that’s intimacy.”
Set in Old Hollywood, The Seven Husbands of Evelyn Hugo is a historical mock autobiography studded with glamour, friendship, love, deceit, and heartbreak. It plays the reel of a lived life, and in the spotlight is an intricately written character that steals your every breath: Evelyn Hugo.
The novel starts off puzzlingly: Monique Grant, a junior journalist, is specifically chosen by Hollywood icon Evelyn Hugo to ghost-write her memoir in secret, under the pretense of an exclusive interview. Details about Evelyn’s life—particularly about her seven marriages—had never been revealed before, until now. The more Monique learns about Evelyn, the closer she is to discovering how their lives have long been intertwined.
At its core, The Seven Husbands of Evelyn Hugo may be just a historical romance novel, but the complexity of Evelyn’s character is what makes the book so memorable: she isn’t perfect, and she’s not entirely likable, either—yet her flaws and faults give depth to her character, and that’s ultimately what makes her and her story come to life.
Did I cry reading this book? Maybe. You’ll never know.
Not This: Love and Other Words by Christina Lauren
“It never occurred to me that love could be anything other than all-consuming. Even as a child, I knew I never wanted anything less.”
Eleven years is a long time to yearn for a person you may never cross paths with again. Yet that’s exactly the premise that sets up the two main characters in Love and Other Words.
Elliot Petropoulos and Macy Sorensen share a long history. As childhood friends who spent many summers huddled together, bonding over their shared appreciation for words and books, it’s no surprise that they eventually become each other’s first loves. The gradual development of their relationship is told in alternating timelines of then and now, unravelling up to the night when everything fell apart.
The idea of using contrasting timelines to build Elliot’s and Macy’s individual characters as well as their relationship is clever, but it ultimately falls short in its delivery: it exhausts almost all its focus on the 11-year fall out rather than dedicating more chapters to flesh out other key aspects. Many details revealed towards the end of the novel are quite problematic, making it even more difficult to root for Elliot or Macy or their relationship.
When I got to the last page, I cheered—not because I liked the ending, but because I was glad I finally finished reading.