Desert Isle Keeper
The Ex Talk
The Ex Talk is a contemporary romance about a woman on the brink of thirty, trying to figure out how to fulfil her career aspirations without killing one of her unfairly hot coworkers or being way too dishonest. It’s an amazing rivals-to-lovers romance, with some serious depth and intense emotional range. I initially picked it up because I love fake-dating tropes and podcasts, and I was not disappointed.
Shay Goldstein lives and breathes public radio – she loves connecting with people and telling their stories. It’s also a big part of the bond she had with her father, who died when she was in her late teens. An internship at her local public radio station, PPR, helped pull Shay out of her grief, and find a purpose – and ten years later, Shay is producing her own show, content with her work… until Dominic Yun gets hired. He’s fresh out of graduate school, flush with success and full of the kind of hot air only a first-class education can provide. Dominic is the new station darling, particularly favored by their boss, Kent, and it makes Shay absolutely nuts. After ten years of hard work and earning her way, she’s frustrated as she feels Dominic undermining her at every turn. Of course, it’s twice as irritating that he’s incredibly tall and unfairly handsome. It only makes matters worse when Dominic gets to talk on air almost immediately, something Shay has been dreaming about since playacting with her father. This irritation is spurred by the antagonism between them, which has an undercurrent of frustrated attraction.
Shay manages to avoid Dominic for the most part, until a station-wide brainstorming meeting produces the premise of a new show: the Ex Talk, two exes talking about their relationship, why it went wrong, and how they stayed friends. Kent taps Shay and Dominic to host the show together, given their mutual animosity, and a rapport he’s noticed. There are only three problems: 1) Shay and Dominic never dated, 2) they detest each other, and 3) journalistic integrity frowns upon lying. Shay’s heart leaps at the idea of hosting her own show, but Dominic puts his foot down about deceiving the public. But then Kent drops a bombshell – PPR is in a tailspin, and there are layoffs coming. If they don’t do the Ex Talk, they’ll both be cleaning out their desks.
Shay and Dominic set aside their rivalry to come up with a decent relationship timeline and to plan how to lie to everyone they know. Only four people are in on the truth: Kent, Dominic, Shay and Shay’s best friend Ammena, to whom she cannot lie. All Dominic and Shay have to do to keep their jobs, and hopefully become a hit, is lie to the world about having dated – and try to keep their hands off of each other. Unfortunately, the more time they spend together, the more they realize they might actually be a pretty good match. Coupled with this, Shay is struggling with her mother moving on romantically, and Ameena possibly relocating for her dream job. Despite having a house and a job, Shay feels like a kid play-acting at adulthood, and as though the only important people in her life are moving on while she remains stationary.
I loved this book. I’m not cavalier with A grades, but this one really got me. Shay is an amazing protagonist; she’s really relatable. She is at a time in her life when things are really changing but she feels incapable of moving forward. Shay deals with the things we all deal with – grief, work angst, indecision, and the fear that she’s completely failing as an adult. I also love some good Jewish representation; it’s great to see Jewish women being portrayed as smart, kind, and desirable. Shay has a lot of depth to her, and she’s not clueless, either. I usually find it really frustrating when a heroine keeps missing signs that someone is into her, but Shay is very observant – it’s just that everyone around her is bad at communicating!
Dominic is also amazing; he’s multi-faceted and a breath of fresh air as a leading man. He’s younger than Shay, which is a nice change, and while he’s accomplished, she’s more established. Shay feels threatened by Dominic, and feels as though he’s intentionally getting in her way at PPR. The two of them unraveling their feelings takes time, but is well worth the wait. Watching Dominic slowly open up and getting to know him as the story unfolds is a true pleasure. He’s also seriously hot, and they have amazing chemistry, which is always a plus. Their dialogue in particular is very strong, and really makes the story work.
Some other things I loved about the book were the workplace conflicts, which will feel very real for anyone who has co-workers they don’t get along with! It really makes you feel for Shay. Her boss also isn’t a total cartoon villain, just kind of a standard crappy guy. The conflict Shay feels in her personal life, with her mother and best friend, really adds to the narrative and helps the reader understand and sympathize with her. The Ex Talk is a really great, nuanced book that doesn’t feel cluttered or overstuffed – it’s exactly right. If you’re a fan of radio or podcasts, it will be an extra fun read to pick out all of the inside jokes.