The Cider Bar Sisters, Book 2
Heat Factor: Fake dates, real sexytimes
Character Chemistry: Mike is so so in love with Charlotte
Plot: Charlotte decides she wants dating lessons, randomly runs into her childhood best friend at a bar, asks him to teach her how to date. He agrees, despite his lack of experience.
Overall: More angst than I was expecting, but still an utterly charming read.
Charlotte’s last relationship ended badly when her now-ex-boyfriend proposed to her at a baseball game. Please note that Charlotte is extremely introverted, and has had recurring nightmares about being proposed to at a baseball game since childhood. So she hasn’t dated in a while, but she decides that it’s time to get back in the saddle and is a little nervous about it. Her friends, joking around, suggest that she get dating lessons to ease her back into things, and for some reason, she’s like “Yes! That is an excellent idea that definitely won’t backfire!” (Her friends: “What.”) When she spots Mike, who she hasn’t seen in literally 20 years, at the bar, she decides it’s fate based on a metric ton of assumptions about his life. Mike already knows her, and understands that she is a complete and utter grumplepants, so he’ll be able to coax her gently back into the dating world. And obviously, he must be good at dating, because he is friendly and handsome.
The set up, therefore, seems to be a classic grumpy-sunshine combo, except with a grumpy heroine and a sunshiney hero. I admit that I was a little disappointed to learn that Mike’s sunshine is a very very thin facade covering over years of surviving emotional abuse. Not because Lau handles Mike’s self-doubt badly, because she doesn’t, but because I wanted a friggin’ hero who was sparkles and rainbows to counterbalance Charlotte’s misanthropy. Let’s let the dude do all the emotional labor of bringing joy into the relationship for once! (Mike still does bring a lot of joy into Charlotte’s life; it’s just tempered by his own baggage.)
What I did really like about His Grumpy Childhood Friend is that it starts off with an extremely tropetastic set up, but the characters don’t let their fake dating go too far. They go on a few dates, Charlotte suggests practice sex, and Mike declines – because sex is important to him, and if they have sex, he wants it to be real. So the angst of “does he/she really like me, or is this all just in my head” doesn’t get dragged on, but rather the drama, such as it is, switches to Mike and Charlotte processing their feelings of self-worth and working to build a solid relationship with each other.
Because this is Jackie Lau, there are the obligatory visits to amazing sounding restaurants, and also obligatory hilarious interfering relatives. The sex writing is solid, with just enough detail (including explicit use of lube) without going all in on throbbing penis veins. And despite some of the heavy stuff that Mike is still working through (and yes, he has been to therapy), this is a nice, low-drama romance with bits of laugh-out-loud humor.
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.
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