Review: Chick Magnet by Emma Barry (2023)

Heat Factor: They go to bed around two-thirds through, but it feels like an extremely slow burn

Character Chemistry: They recognize each other’s sadness

Plot: Vet falls for new neighbor (who happens to be a chicken influencer)

Overall: I’ll be honest, I was feeling kinda down when I finished this one

When I grabbed this ARC, I was expecting a full-on rom-com. If you only read the blurb and the first chapter (wherein Nic and Will run around in the rain chasing an errant chicken), you may also be expecting a rom-com. But I did go back and check after I read it, and nowhere in the marketing materials is this book described as a “comedy.” Which is good, because it is definitely not a comedy. 

I have also seen people touting this as a grumpy-sunshine book. But given that the main attraction that Will and Nic feel for each other is that they each understand that the other is deeply sad (they call themselves the “Sad Friends Supper Club”), the grumpy-sunshine dynamic feels reductive and not entirely earned. Yes, Will is taciturn, but he’s also depressed (technical term) about the impending closure of his veterinary practice. Yes, Nic smiles for the camera, but she’s also deeply lonely and struggling to trust anyone after her recent breakup. Is depressed grumpy? Is smiling enough to make someone a sunshine?

I guess what I’m saying here is that these are complex characters who are working through some stuff. The greatest strength of the book: the depth of the characters, and the independent growth journeys they undergo. 

This book is also an interesting contemporary romance in how it deals with COVID, in that it’s set in 2022, and the impact of COVID is a reality, particularly in how it changed the work lives of both Nic and Will. We’re in a post-COVID world here, rather than the perpetual 2019 that I see in the majority of contemporary romances.

Now, before I get into the romantic relationship and how it develops, I want to talk about the ending, so here’s your warning about spoilers.

Will is a small-town vet whose practice is struggling. During most of the book, he is actively worrying about the imminent closure of this practice. He’s cutting the hours of his tech. The receptionist takes early retirement to give him a few more weeks to hold on and pray for a miracle. They have a cute small-town carwash to buy a new x-ray machine. Will pleads with the bank for leniency in paying for office space. And at the end of the book, faced with having to close his practice despite all of these efforts, Will sells out to a corporate conglomerate, so at least the office stays open and he can continue to care for people’s pets.

Now, on the one hand, this is both subversive (in terms of genre conventions, where all small business owners succeed) and realistic (in terms of real life). But on the other hand, I kind of wanted the fantasy of things working out? My reaction was really interesting to me because I was so inordinately disappointed in how Will’s story turned out, but hyperrich megacapitalist heroes really grind my gears (and not in a good way). Maybe because the hyperrich megacapitalist corporate is the entity that really won here—though in some ways, Will also won, because he no longer has to deal with the parts of the business he doesn’t like. He gets to be a cog and clock in and clock out. Maybe I’ve internalized too much of the individualist American dream of constant growth to take joy out of Will becoming a little bit smaller.

Anyway, I had a lot of feelings about the business side of Wil’s story, and they utterly overshadowed the romance. I think that if I had bought the spark between him and Nic, the downness I felt about Will’s business would have been mitigated by hope in the HEA. I could logically see all the pieces, but I didn’t feel much emotional connection to their journey together.

This is a really well-constructed book that does some interesting things, but I wouldn’t recommend it if you’re looking for escapist fantasy. But if you want romance that reflects real life, it might just fit the bill. 

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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