Review: Strictly Come Dating by Kathryn Freeman (2020)

Heat Factor: More of a Viennese Waltz than a Tango

Character Chemistry: I liked that they didn’t try to fight it

Plot: He’s a 27-yo free spirit, she’s a 37/38-yo obsessed with structure, so of course forced proximity leads to a “fling”

Overall: I was mostly able to let go of people being messy and enjoy a charming romance, but there were some latent value judgements I didn’t like

A Best Friend’s Sibling + Age Gap Older Woman/Younger Man trope! Saweeeeet! 

This book starts off super strong. These characters aren’t perfect, and there are assumptions and misunderstandings and uncertainties, and that’s what makes it interesting. Overall, the story is charming. In this Best Friend’s Sibling, the best friends are the heroine’s besties and the hero’s older twin sisters. In the way of sensible, well-adjusted people, the sisters are generally supportive of and not weirded out by their best friend and their brother being in a relationship, even with the 10 year age gap (which we probably wouldn’t blink at if it were the hero being older, so, unlike Maggie, I’m not going to dwell on it). 

That said, things I would like to see more of: friends/siblings who aren’t seagulls at the picnic and instead say things like, “You’re both adults, it’s your decision to make and I’m here for you either way.” Because “I just don’t want either of you to get hurt” is a perfectly understandable sentiment, but is also worthless in terms of real support because it doesn’t really get to the heart of what the person wants, and it doesn’t support the person in making that choice. Ugh. 

Things I would also like to see more of: fictional parents who don’t try to manage their children so much. They can do it by themselves and make mistakes. It’ll be fine. Especially a 9 and 7 year old. Sheesh. 

But the siblings and the children don’t factor too much, so let’s move on…

Seb, the hero, is a 27-year-old who’s been a divemaster or whatever on the Great Barrier Reef for two years, which was preceded by other years of globetrotting and finding work as it came. He returned home because his father had a heart attack, and he’s helping his mother/family so they can all focus on their father healing. (Although, full disclosure for CW: death of a parent. It’s not drawn out, though.)

Maggie, the heroine, is a 37-year-old divorced mother of two. Doctor, homeowner, listmaker extraordinaire. Basically she’s the antithesis of Seb. She’s also super angsty because she’s fixated on all the reasons her husband dumped her for a younger woman (because he told her that’s why he dumped her for a younger woman), she’s fixated on the age gap for a looooooooong time, and she’s fixated on Seb being untameable while she’s determinedly tame. 

The best thing about this book is that Seb totally sees Maggie and appreciates her just the way she is, which her ex totally did not. Heroes who do that are so wonderful. Would he have started taking dance lessons if not for her? NO. But he ends up loving it, in no small part because it’s something they can enjoy together. Is he going to start planning every part of his day? NO. But he thinks it’s pretty cute that she does. Please hand me that big spoon so I can gobble it up.

Probably the number one thing that frustrated me about this book is that Seb is a totally open book and is willing to have any conversation at any time, but Maggie refuses to see that. She constantly internally monologues that he’s going to go back to Australia or wherever the wind takes him – as in, don’t get your hopes up or your feelings engaged – but Seb never actually says that he’s going to leave. He says he doesn’t know what he’s going to do and that leaving is a possibility but not a definite, and the fact that Maggie doesn’t listen to that, that she in fact clings to the idea that he’s some young, free spirit who can’t be tied down, tells me that she doesn’t see him

Short story: Maggie can think Seb’s sexy and wonderful ‘til the cows come home, but every time she doesn’t believe that he knows what he wants – every time she says, “he’s only 27, and he blows where the wind takes him, so he might have good intentions but…” – is a time that she doesn’t see him, doesn’t trust him, doesn’t view him as an equal. And it might be couched in terms of she’s still recovering from a divorce and recoils from the possibility of rejection or in terms of she’s so boring why would a sexy young thing want to stay, but it’s still there and it’s still infantilizing and fantastically uncool. In reality, Seb generally behaves with more maturity than Maggie. Don’t @ me – owning a house and having a certain kind of job does not equal maturity, especially where relationships are concerned.

Speaking of which, with all the different relationships in the story, there was a real opportunity to discuss how people’s personalities and choices don’t increase or decrease their value. Or mean they are more or less feeling. Seb might have been a non-career-oriented globe trotter, but he was happy and taking care of himself, not expecting his family to pay for him or his lifestyle. By contrast, Maggie’s choice to have a more socially normal lifestyle of becoming a doctor, marrying, having children, owning a house is also a totally legit life choice if that’s what makes her happy. Bottom line, there is a difference between “Seb’s basically a big kid who’s not driven to succeed” and “Seb is spontaneous, and he doesn’t feel compelled to join the rat race.” This book does not escape from the former sentiment, even when it’s trying to do so. 

That said, the writing in this book is solid and engaging. The pacing chugs along, and the flow of the plot works. It’s a fun book that’s meant to be a fun read. So if you don’t get hung up on social expectations (or wanting to fling them out the window), this will probably be a fun, light read that you can easily enjoy. 

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

Looking for something similar?

Age Gap Romances (I think this is our first older woman, though, so we’re taking recs for more of those)

40ish protagnists

Lady Doctors

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