Recommended Read, Review

Review: Not Your Valentine by Jackie Lau (2023)

Heat Factor: “We’ll just bang it out, and then I’ll have it out of my system.” Always a solid plan.

Character Chemistry: They do things to make the other one happy.

Plot: Helen asks her long-time friend to be her fake boyfriend so everyone will stop feeling sorry for her after her last break-up goes viral

Overall: So cute. And now I want an anatomically correct heart cake. And a charcuterie chalet.

For me, Jackie Lau’s style works really well in her novellas and short novels. Her writing is tight and the stories are focused on the central budding relationship, without a bunch of extraneous subplots. Not Your Valentine, which clocks in at 40,000 words (or 135 pages), is no exception. The plot centers on the interactions between Helen and Taylor—dates, flower deliveries, a hot weekend away—and Helen’s reactions to them. There’s just enough space around the edges to give secondary characters some personality as they interact with Helen (but not enough for them to develop problems of their own). Helen’s mom steals every scene that she’s in.

Like Lau’s other Kobo Original (The Unmatchmakers), but unlike most of her other books, this book is told from a single point of view, and that choice absolutely works for this story. It is patently obvious to the reader what Taylor’s feelings are, and, since this is a romance, we also suspect that he and Helen are having similar angst about whether or not to make their real feelings about this fake relationship known. The single perspective allows Lau to get deeper into Helen’s angst, and avoids the repetition of both characters processing similar feelings.

My favorite part of this book, hands down, is Helen. I loved that she was a grumpy misanthrope who hates sprinkles and cinnamon hearts and probably also rainbows and unicorns. I loved that Taylor was a true sunshine hero, who just unabashedly likes these same things, along with talking to people and trying new things. There is a bit of the dynamic where the sunshine coaxes joy into the grump’s life with their unabashed enthusiasm—but it never veers into manic pixie territory. The grumpy-sunshine dynamic was great, but I especially loved being in Helen’s head as she recoils in horror at the thought of cakes covered in sprinkles (while also thinking that Taylor sending her pictures of them is kind of adorable).

I also really liked that Helen and Taylor’s relationship centers on doing things to make the other person happy. It starts one-sided, with Taylor always planning activities for them to do together that Helen would really enjoy. But the important thing here is that Helen recognizes that this is their dynamic—and appreciates that Taylor is so kind and careful with her. (Of course, this brings up feelings of “How would he treat me if I were *really* his girlfriend?” and all the associated longing that goes with it.) Even more importantly, Helen reciprocates. The scene where they go to the light art installation, which is sooooo not Helen’s jam, and she watches the joy on Taylor’s face and therefore enjoys herself, is a really lovely encapsulation of what mutual care can look like. Plus it’s hella romantic and ends with a hot make out session.

A final note: this book is hot. Turns out Taylor wanting to please Helen also spills over into the bedroom. But the hotness also veers into weird territory, since Helen has a bunch of sex dreams about Taylor that involve bowling shoes. 


This is a fun, fast read. If you’re looking for something light and cute, Not Your Valentine is a great way to while away an afternoon—especially if you’re feeling like a misanthrope about all those pink hearts that are everywhere.

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: Kobo Original

Looking for something similar?

They’re faking it ’til they make it…

Let’s all go to Canada!

We love us some grumps (and their sunshines)

4 thoughts on “Review: Not Your Valentine by Jackie Lau (2023)”

    1. The heroine is as baffled as you are! I thought it was one of the funniest bits of the book, when the heroine wakes up, describes her weird sex dreams, and then is freaked out by how weird they are.

      They go bowling together early in the book, at which time he shows off his forearms, so it doesn’t come from nowhere.


    1. Thank you! And if you haven’t read Jackie Lau, I find her novellas consistently solid. (Her self-pubbed books tend to be on the shorter side as well.)


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s