Review: The First Date by Zara Stoneley (2020)

Heat Factor: super slow burn and closed door

Character Chemistry: Their witty banter worked

Plot: Woman is waaaaaaaay too fixated on the possibility of dating her dad (type man)

Overall: It’s fun but not full-blown “out of the park”

If you’re looking for a light romantic comedy, this fake relationship with a cinnamon roll hero will scratch that itch. The First Date is fun, and by the time I got to the real meat of the relationship, all of the indicators that Noah was jealous and interested in Rosie (it’s written from Rosie’s 1st person POV) were pushing all my slow burn buttons. Rosie’s voice is light and fun in a not-quite-but-almost-manic-pixie-dream-girl way. She’s quirky.

Rosie has recently gotten out of a long-term relationship–actually her only relationship–and it was a mutual decision that they’d grown in different directions, but it’s also been months and she’s only just starting to think about dating. The problem is, she’s never really had to date, and she freezes up when she thinks about it. She’s actually being stood up by her first date prospect when Noah approaches and chats her up. He’s charming and smooth and everything she is trying to avoid. Because she has, like, the absolute worst daddy issues in the whole world. Seriously, her obsession with thinking about men in the context of her terrible father is waaaaaaay too much of a focus of her thoughts. So it takes up probably a little too much space in the book as well. And of course Noah is a charming, nice guy, so he gets painted all over with the daddy “do not cross” brush.

Anyway, one thing leads to another and Noah offers Rosie first dating lessons because he’s a serial first dater. At first I wondered how he was going to teach her how to do first dates when they would effectively be having multiple dates, but it does work because he focuses mostly on helping her focus on herself and her own wants and also on how to chat up men to get the prospect of a first date. There were times when this felt trite, but it worked in the context of the trope we’re dealing with. This is why I felt this book was fun but not gush-worthy. It scratches an itch but doesn’t always feel altogether fresh. 

Of course, as in all fake relationship stories, things get real and HOW DOES ONE EVEN DEAL WITH THAT?! Even though things happened rather suddenly in the meet cute for Noah and Rosie, their chemistry was good. Believable. Maybe because it’s easy to believe that Noah’s a genuinely nice guy, so why does he need a reason to be nice to a quirky woman he thinks is fun? Stoneley really shines in the repartee where this relationship is concerned. 

A note to the prospective reader: I had an advance copy of this book, and it was formatted in the way that many ARCs are formatted, which is to say it has weird paragraph alignments. 

If you’ve never seen this formatting, it looks like this.

I mention this because I felt at numerous points that I had missed something or that the text was hard to follow, and I’m not totally sure it was wholly down to the formatting (which I typically ignore in review because it’s for ARCs only). When characters are conversing and the book is formatted this way, it can be difficult to follow. But there was one point that I thought I’d skipped pages because it seemed like there had been a big jump in the conversation. At another point, Rosie says she’s pulling out her phone to read a text she’d received, but the first text that’s printed immediately below that sentence is a text from Rosie. 

I feel that reading this type of book should not be difficult. There are books that I’d say part of the reading experience is having your mind bent by the prose. Romance is not that. Romance is about having your emotions bent. So I wasn’t totally clear about why, using the example above, the choice was to frame it as it was instead of adding a brief recap (“As she pulled out her phone to read her new text, her eyes skimmed the last one she’d sent.”) if having that text from Rosie was so necessary in the context of her conversation with Noah

There are many things this book does well (banter, relationship development, slow burn), so I would say it’s a good choice if you’re looking for a light, fun, fake-relationship romance. Is it the best ever in this category? I wouldn’t go that far. 

I voluntarily read and reviewed a complimentary copy of this book. All thoughts and opinions are my own. We disclose this in accordance with 16 CFR §255.

Buy Now: Amazon

More books like this, you say?

Contemporary Romances

Fake Relationship Romances

Light-Hearted Romances

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