One of the perils of loving an author is that terrible feeling you get when you just don’t connect with a new book. You love everything else the author has written, you preorder and auto-buy new releases, and you anxiously watch the calendar waiting for new titles to appear on your Kindle. And you start reading. And you just can’t seem to get into it. You try. You keep making up excuses and hoping the second half is better than the first. And then – because “you” is me – you put off writing a review because you’re convinced time – and a second read – will improve your impressions. Le sigh. Obviously, I’m referring to Dating You/Hating You by Christina Lauren. I love this co-author pair and devoured the Beautiful and Wild Seasons books; I’ve read each of them multiple times. Unfortunately, although this book includes all the Christina Lauren trademarks – hot sex, snarky humor, and interesting principals with terrific chemistry, the setting – a high powered Hollywood agency – was a major turnoff. Everything about these people and their careers felt so soulless and vapid, I just couldn’t connect with the story. I’m also usually a sucker for a great enemies-to-lovers romance, but because the only reason the central couple are enemies is because of a Big Misunderstanding (my least favorite trope), that persists for WAY too long, Dating You/Hating You felt more like Reading You/Suffering You.
Evie and Carter meet at a Halloween Party. Their Harry Potter costumes initially draw them together, but it soon becomes obvious that the costumes aren’t the only thing they have in common. They’re also the only single people in attendance. Sparks fly from the moment they meet.
I can’t stifle the laugh this time, and it tears from me, surprising him as it does everyone who has ever heard it. I am small but my laugh is mighty.
He stares at me with a slow-growing amused grin. “Wow.”
“Hi.” I hold out my hand. “I’m Evie.”
“Is that short for Evil?”
“It’s short for Evelyn. The cackle is my gift. It keeps the delicate ones away.”
“I’m Carter.” He points two thumbs at his chest. “Not delicate. I promise.”
The rest of the evening and their conversation proceeds much the same way, and both of them are pleasantly surprised by their attraction to one another. Over drinks they discover they work at rival Hollywood agencies – Evie’s been in the business longer and has a stellar reputation and track record, Carter is an up-and-comer who’s snagged a few high profile celebrity clients – and that they’re both workaholics. It doesn’t stop them from lusting after one another and soon enough they’re making plans to go out on a date – much to the glee of their friends/hosts who plotted to bring them together. After juggling their schedules they finally go out. The evening ramps up their mutual interest and sizzling attraction – and our hopes for these two. Playful texts, funny conversations, simmering sexual tension follow… and it’s TERRIFIC. Oh reader, you know something bad is coming don’t you?
Evie and Carter 4ever is a tantalizing tease until life throws them a major (predictable) curveball. Arriving at their workplaces – shortly after a hot date that promised hot sex in the near future, they learn their rival agencies have merged, friends and colleagues have been let-go, and Evie and Carter must compete to keep their coveted positions in the new company.
It all still sounds promising doesn’t it? Well, it was. Cartie is dreamy – hot, funny, sexy and charming; Evie is fierce – smart, intense, witty and wonderful. The sexual chemistry and attraction between the pair is sublime, and their increasingly libidinous thoughts are so deliciously wicked and naughty I couldn’t wait for them to finally consummate the relationship… until Christina Lauren pivots the focus from their fledgling romance to a cautionary tale about Hollywood sexism, office misogyny, and workplace conflict. Dating You/Hating You abruptly goes dark, deep and and ugly. Evie’s (old) and Carter’s (new) boss is a sexist pig (and a major asshole), and it’s clear to Evie from the moment they’re pitted against each other that Carter – barring any major missteps – is in and she’s out. Life in the industry has taught Evie hard lessons about ageism, sexism and cutthroat business practices and Evie immediately erects defensive walls between her and Carter. An awkward few days ensue until Carter, bafflingly oblivious to Evie’s concerns about her job or the validity of her fears, inadvertently (innocently?) plays into them and fires a first salvo that signals the demise of their relationship. Their burgeoning love affair quickly unravels – exploited by their evil boss – devolving into a war of second-guessing, paranoia, Big Misunderstandings, and hilarious sabotage.
The novel travels along fairly predictable paths from here. I don’t want to diminish the significance of the subjects Christina Lauren addresses or the very real hostile workplace Evie faces in Dating You/Hating You. They suck/it sucks. These ARE big issues and they deserve our time and attention – unfortunately, they overwhelm this romantic novel. Evie has thrived in spite of her situation, and she’s a terrific female character – powerful, intelligent, wise and also tender, affectionate and loyal; I admired the hell out of her. But Hollywood and the business of celebrity are supremely unappealing and everything about that world is a total turn-off. Nothing in this story inspired me to feel differently: Carter and Evie work in a soulless business filled with vapid, shallow, backstabbing co-workers and acquaintances, but we’re supposed to believe they’re the exception? So, as much as I enjoyed them and their sparkling chemistry, I just didn’t LIKE them or this novel.
Dating You/Hating You showcases Christina Lauren’s strengths – the principals are well-rounded and interesting, the relationship is marked by heavy attraction and deep lust, the dialogue is funny, sharp and entertaining, and the sex scenes are smoking. But unlike their previous works, this book is HEAVY and the misunderstandings between Evie and Carter – their prolonged separation from one another – drags on much too long, and the sex… well, there isn’t enough of it and we have to wait and wait and wait and wait and wait (see where I’m going with this?). I struggled to grade the book. which is partly why this review appears so long after its release. The things that work REALLY work, but the things that don’t… REALLY don’t, and my final grade of B- is an attempt to acknowledge both those things.
Folks, if you’re a Christina Lauren fan – and I am – this book is frustrating. You’ll like it, but I just don’t think you’ll love it. If you’re interested in all the hype about this author pair and you haven’t read them before, I think they’re great and you should give them a try. Maybe save Dating You/Hating You until you know (and like them) a bit better.
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