When 2 engineers get together, sparks fly

Book Reviews

This review first appeared in the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette June 7, 2024

Not many romance novels feature introverted women who don’t like being around people and have no need to kowtow to societal niceties. The problem is inherent for the writer: How do you make someone likable if they are hard to get to know? That’s one of many challenges Ali Hazelwood tackles in her newest book, “Not In Love.”

Hazelwood has always written STEM-related glass-beaker-busting, ceiling-shattering characters, such as “Love, Theoretically” and “The Love Hypothesis,” and this book is no different, though it may be polarizing to longtime fans of her work.

Rue Siebert is tall, shy, socially anxious, aloof, distant and uses sex transactionally. She is stellar at her job as a biotech engineer at Kline. After a one-night, almost-hookup (let’s just say things happened) she realizes that the same man she was with, Eli Kilgore, is part of a team trying to take over her business, which includes a patent for a project she has worked toward for years.

But wow, do these enemies-turned-lovers have chemistry. (*Pause for scientists reading this to groan.)

This third-person, dual-point-of-view book flips all of the scripts seen in romance novels for years. Rue is not your typical heroine and Eli is a stereotypical man who gets what he wants in business yet he also clings to and pines for Rue throughout the course of the book, while Rue uses sex as functional and impersonal gratification.

Rue and Eli’s affair is secret, with no-strings-attached, until Eli becomes obsessed (that word is bandied about many times in the book and is a bit uncomfortable at times). Both of them are flawed and complex. Neither is perfect, and their motivations and actions can be messy.

It’s classic forbidden love, with a business and scientific twist.

Readers might get emotional and mental whiplash as this book tackles some substantial issues, from the struggles of women in STEM to food insecurity and academic politics — all interwoven with an abundance of sex and sex-positive vibes.

The characters are written to portray their vulnerabilities and dual point of view helps us get into the heads of each one, which a reader will really need in order to sustain belief in characters’ motivations.

It can be difficult to write an introverted character who seems one-dimensional and flat and has trouble connecting with people, but being able to see Rue’s thoughts helped. Readers might be divided over whether they feel connected to Rue.

Yet Hazelwood remains a spicy, steamy sex-scene-writing machine. Fans of closed-door romances will want to skip this one.

In case it hasn’t been clear from the mention of sex multiple times already, reading this review is a bit like the book: Switching back and forth from plot to sex at regular intervals. This sometimes makes it difficult to get — and stay — in the emotional depth of characters in the story, as well as their ties to one another. It’s not always cohesive, especially in the beginning of the book, but once the book settles into a rhythm, it mostly works.

Fans of Hazelwood’s book will appreciate her fidelity to all things STEM. One might feel that perhaps Hazelwood gives readers just enough science to make them feel clued in, but not so much that they need a B.S. in a science field. It steers clear of goofy science jokes (Did you hear the one about the atom that lost its electrons? It was completely positive!) and it’s a deft approach that serves readers — and the story — well.

As an aside, the quirky cover art indicates the STEM aspect of the book by featuring a couple in a sultry embrace with some test tubes off to the side, obviously the universal indication that science will be involved.

Hazelwood’s latest, though similar to her other romance books, has a more aggressive tone from the very beginning that might seem jarring to some readers at first, but after a few chapters, readers will understand why.

An enormously satisfying aspect of the book is further exploration of female friendships, a facet that carries over from other books by Hazelwood. This one seems especially on point, exploring fraught relationships between women without being reductive and resorting to stereotypical cat fight snarking and bickering.

Overall, this book is a romance boundary-pushing delight and readers will once again be grateful that Hazelwood is on the scene to portray women in STEM in romances.

Meredith Cummings is a freelance journalist and teaching assistant professor of journalism at Lehigh University.

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