One to Watch by Kate Stayman-London

COOL COVER!

Title: One to Watch
Author: Kate Stayman-London
Release Date: 2020
Genre: Rom-com and reality TV revisionist history
Describe it in a sentence: 
A plus-size blogger is chosen to be the equivalent of the Bachelorette, and the ugliest parts of America and dating are exposed
TV/movie character who would like it: Honestly? Clare Crawley, because her age is stigmatized on this season of The Bachelorette

It happened in January of 2016, my induction into Bachelor Nation. I didn’t even think it would happen. I went into Ben Hiiggins’ season haughty and skeptical. Now, I am a believer—not only in the Bachelor and Bachelorette as a form of entertainment, but as a method of meeting a romantic partner.

I also believe the show reflects back the ugliest and most entrenched principles of our dating practices. Dating and love stories are often relegated to the women’s sphere (re: the frivolous and unimportant), but they are literally the engine with which society propagates itself. How we date, and interrogatiing guiding compasses people use while dating, are essential acts.

Which is why I appreciated One to Watch, Kate Stayman-London’s debut novel, so much. In addition to being a well-written book that I cut through like it was, say, melted honey (GO WITH IT), One to Watch made me think hard about love stories—and who, normally, gets to have them center stage.

Bachelor cast aka army of competing Instagram accounts

Look, let’s get this out of the way: The contestants on the Bachelor and Bachelorette uniformly adhere to the Instagram standard of beauty, Barbies and Kens of the internet age, all polar white veneers and hungry eyes calculating the viability of a career selling products with spon-con.

The truth is, and an alien who landed on earth and learned about dating via the Bachelor never would get this, you do not have to be conventionally attractive to find love. Yep, extreme conventional beauty is not a prerequisite for love. I know! Shocking.

One to Watch does what I wish the Bachelor would: Opens up the casting of this love show to make the cast representative of real people, and show that real people are worth of love.

Not that Bea isn’t beautiful! She is. She’s a passionate fashion blogger, and the first-ever plus size contestant on The Main Squeeze (essentially The Bachelorette). But she’s not stick-thin. And when men exit the limo and see her, some can’t hide their shock, since the show has made displaying leads with a certain physique a constant as, say, palm trees in Miami.

The reason One to Watch‘s love story feels so earned is because it does go to dark places, like the men exiting the limo—Stayman-London doesn’t shy away from imagining the ugliness that might emerge from this situation. But she also shows the joy! Bea has multiple love “journeys,” to co-opt a Bachelorette term, and multiple (attractive) men who desire her, just like any other Bachelorette.

The book’s structure also provided a welcome break from the normal rom-com set-up, in that there were multiple suitors. I was honestly guessing which suitor she’d end up with (and reader, I guessed wrong). ALSO THERE IS A PERSON IN THIS BOOK WHOM I HATE VEHEMENTLY. And that is all I’ll say. But when I think of this character, I turn into a blazing flame-head. An Aries, and I’m a Cancer! OK, I can’t think about this guy, it’s bad for my health. But let me know when you get to him.

I could say this is the story of a woman learning to love herself. But Bea does love herself. It’s a story of a woman letting herself be loved, too, because society truly has done a number on many of us, in dictating who is worthy of love. Bea should not be surprised to learn that she is worthy of a partner who smiles when she walks in the room, and accepts her as she is. But she is—and so are you!

Read One to Watch for a charming and thought-provoking book. And if you’re a Bachelor Nation producer, read One to Watch for a re-imagining of where the show can go, and what it could be. Love isn’t limited to dress size in the real world. So why is it on TV?

Buy One to Watch here.

The Hating Game by Sally Thorne & The Curse of the “Nice Guy”

514sa3HcecL.jpgTitle: The Hating Game
Author: Sally Thorne
Genre: 
hot hot HOT romance, plus some jokes
Describe it in a sentence: 
Two co-workers at an Australian publishing house think that they hate each other, but it turns out that hate is just masking lakes and lakes of luuust (and eventually maybe love?)
TV/movie character who would like it: This book was pulled straight out of the central romance in Much Ado About Nothing. Beatrice and Benedick would see Josh and Lucy and nod knowingly.

I first heard about The Hating Game when I was researching a story about rom-com books for Refinery29. Thorne’s debut novel pre-dates the current rom-com resurgence by a few years. This book came out all the way back in 2016; it’s only now that rom-coms are flooding the market with their cute illustrated covers. These covers mask a whole lot of sexiness, you guys. Because This. Book. Is. SEXY!

Lucy and Joshua are co-workers at Bexley and Gamin, a publishing house that had merged a few years prior. Just as Bexley and Gamin had two different governing philosophies, so do Lucy and Joshua. They’re polar opposites (for more reasons than their height difference). Josh is a neat freak, uptight, seething, grouch. Everyone in the office is afraid of him. Lucy makes it her job to be professionally agreeable — to everyone except Josh. When the book kicks off, Lucy and Josh are regularly throwing insults and each other and racking up HR violations (TBH they do not work in the healthiest work environment – their bosses pit them against each other in a race for a promotion and it’s very corporate Hunger Games).

Don’t be fooled by their friction. Friction fuels fire! The more these two good-looking leads combat each other, the more other feelings grow. Lucy finds herself drowning in her all-consuming hatred for Josh, and then the weird feelings of affection that sprout the more she looks into his eyes.

Sally Thorne is great at writing rom-coms. I would read her rom-coms for days. Quippy dialogue, singular characters, plot that traipses along in between “the good parts” (and you know what the good parts are. I believe in Lucy and Josh’s chemistry.

BUT. I totally worry for them! I worry for their emotional intelligence! First of all, it’s not healthy to fill up your days with a deep and wild hatred for your coworker. Second of all, Josh makes being a “nice guy” out to be like, the worst trait in the world. In the book, “nice” is code for boring, dull, safe, etc. Josh is not expressly “nice” but he will love Lucy with scary intensity. And somehow that is a fair exchange? A loyal pitbull man instead of a friendly golden retriever.

Admittedly, I have historically been drawn to guys like Josh. Guys who make you bend over backwards to crumple their intensity. Cold guys, who make you so hungry for affection that you’ll blush at a smile. Stubborn guys who don’t deviate from their own code of ethics. Hard-working guys who promise they’ll take you where they’re going — so long as you play by their rules. My relationships ended when I had to ask for the simple request: Please be kind to me.

Guys like Josh can be sexy! But the whole book I kept saying to myself – Lucy, be careful! Yes, he makes you feel special now — but only because he’s been a total ass for so many years. Maybe I’m reading too far into this? But the “gruff asshole is secretly a kind softie” is a trope that I see work out in a lot of books, but not necessarily in real life. What do you think?

Overall, I definitely recommend The Hating Game, if you take the relationship with a grain of salt, and not as a model. Here’s hoping that Josh is kind to her as his relationship with Lucy continues (and that he doesn’t turn into his father!)