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The Sizzle Paradox by Lily Menon


I picked this up on a whim after seeing it reviewed by Ali Hazelwood in the Washington Post. I had just listened to two out of the three Hazelwood novellas (now part of Loathe To Love You) and enjoyed them; this sounded like it was roughly within the same vein. In this book, there are two grad students who have been friends forever: it's a classic friends-to-lovers kind of romance. However what I really liked about this one is that instead of the two friends fighting the transition to changing their relationship, they were both just completely unaware. This felt very much like grad students to be honest - it felt very real, like they really didn't know what they were doing.

She is young, he is a little bit older, but they both have relationships under their belt, and they even had a couple of hook-ups while the story was going on. In other words, it wasn't just about them nor did it feel like jealousy really. There is a moment later in the book where there is a kind of awareness, but the storyline is not about jealousy. It is about them being extremely close friends and exploring their relationship further. I really enjoyed the way that it played out - I felt like it built on itself nicely, and the conclusion was really satisfying. I liked their families as well; their family situations both felt very real. It felt realistic that they were shaped by their family circumstances which were very specific: he comes from this very rich family in which there's not a lot of love and coziness, and she comes from this big hectic family that's ever-expanding.

I did feel that (particularly at the end) there were a couple of points where the story just felt unrealistic in ways that could have been relatively easily remedied. Spoiler alert on this: after giving up her lease, she gets it back at the end without it being an issue. That just does not feel real, and it could have been easily remedied by saying something like, she still had two months on her lease left but she didn't care and she was going to leave it empty, or someone was going to crash there and pay her partial rent. Also, the graduate program switching that she does at the end was completely unreal, and again, this could have been fixed by throwing in sentences such as, "these programs are adjacent," or having her switch to a dual degree program, or something along those lines. It felt odd that she could pick back up again so easily, and it was swept under the rug. The book isn't long, so more time could have been spent on explaining these pieces. Another piece that was glossed over was them getting in and out of the city, getting in and out of cars - again, I feel like a sentence here or there would have made it make much more sense (e.g., they grabbed a rental car from here, or they had an easy time getting a rental car because of his family connections, or he has a car parked somewhere because he's rich). Not explaining this made it feel a little glib. Look, it's not that easy to get out of New York City repeatedly. It's not that easy to get a rental car there. I realy think it would have been pretty easy to fill in those blanks without sacrificing the story or getting too in the weeds on those kinds of details. Because this is a city, in a particular area, and even a particular school, that I know extremely well, I definitely felt those holes.

The ending is really nicely done, and it felt realistic for those characters, to how they acted and reacted. I typically do not like miscommunication in a story, but in this one it felt like they were not trying to be mean to each other, they truly were a bit socially inept and clueless. I also liked the diversity within the characters: there were mixed-race characters, there were LGBTQ characters, and I appreciated that commitment to diversity because it felt realistic in an academic setting. I ended up really liking this book, and some of the scenes really stuck with me. I was pleasantly surprised - it was not what I was expecting from this short, light rom-com kind of read.

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