I received this book for free in exchange for an honest review. This does not affect my opinion of the book or the content of my review.Love, Theoretically by Ali Hazelwood
Also by this author: The Love Hypothesis, Love on the Brain, Under One Roof (The STEMinist Novellas, #1), Stuck with You (The STEMinist Novellas, #2), Below Zero (The STEMinist Novellas, #3)
Published by Berkley on June 13, 2023
Pages: 368 •Format: E-ARC •Source: NetGalley
The many lives of theoretical physicist Elsie Hannaway have finally caught up with her. By day, she’s an adjunct professor, toiling away at grading labs and teaching thermodynamics in the hopes of landing tenure. By other day, Elsie makes up for her non-existent paycheck by offering her services as a fake girlfriend, tapping into her expertly honed people pleasing skills to embody whichever version of herself the client needs.
Honestly, it’s a pretty sweet gig—until her carefully constructed Elsie-verse comes crashing down. Because Jack Smith, the annoyingly attractive and broody older brother of her favorite client, turns out to be the cold-hearted experimental physicist who ruined her mentor’s career and undermined the reputation of theorists everywhere. And that same Jack who now sits on the hiring committee at MIT, right between Elsie and her dream job.
Elsie is prepared for an all-out war of scholarly sabotage but…those long, penetrating looks? Not having to be anything other than her true self when she’s with him? Will falling into an experimentalist’s orbit finally tempt her to put her most guarded theories on love into practice?
I am quickly becoming an Ali Hazelwood stan, as her BOOKS.DON’T.MISS. Thought I have my favorites over others, every time I pick up one of her romance novels, I am completely transported into a story with steam and science- an amazing combination! I consider myself #blessed that I continue to be approved for ARCs of her novels via NetGalley, and Love, Theoretically is one of the best romances I’ve read in 2023 (and I’ve read mostly romances this year).
First off, I am sooooo happy that all of her novels are set in one universe, and I am absolutely delighted when Easter Eggs to her past works appear. In this particular novel, we get to see the couple from The Love Hypothesis (which I loved) and I adore how she doesn’t take the obvious route of just plucking a secondary character from one of her novels to write about, it’s more subtle than that. For even more fun, there’s even a nod a very famous Twitter account from Love on the Brain (iykyk). Also, I love how her novels all focus on women in different STEM fields, with Love, Theoretically focusing on physics (a subject I avoided like the plague in high school and took Anatomy instead, but I still found it captivating to read about- we stan an author who educates and entertains us at the same time!)
Hazelwood is the queen of the hate-to-love romance trope, and this novel is no exception. The story follows Elsie, a year out of grad school who is a struggling adjunct trying to find a stable, health-insurance providing job in the harrowing field of academia, who also moonlights as a girlfriend-for-hire to supplement her meager adjunct pay. She has a fave client (who is a loveable cinnamon role and a great secondary character), but the only downside of working with him is the weird animosity she gets from his older brother. Surprise, surprise, it turns out said older brother is a well-respected physicist who just so happens to be part of the interview process for a very coveted job Elsie is pursuing. It’s the perfect premise for the hate-to-love trope!
While Else isn’t my favorite of Hazelwood’s protagonists (that honor is still held by Olive), she was just so incredibly funny. I laughed out loud so much while reading this book, and not just from the banter between the protagonists, but from all of the other small, world building elements- from Elsie’s eccentric yet loving roommate CeCe who’s unknowingly fake-dating a massive tech CEO to her ongoing secret rivalry with Cece’s pet hedgehog, who she’s convinced is out to get her. I feel like we as readers don’t often talk about world building in contemporary novels, but I loved that Hazelwood takes the time to really craft an intimate view of the environment her protagonists live in. I truly felt engrossed in this story in a way I usually only am when reading fantasy novels, and I’m sure it’s due to the fact that I had so many niche details to fall into when reading Elsie’s story.
Also, can I take a second to talk about how Hazelwood manages to write hate-to-love so well without creating a toxic love interest? Jack can be arrogant, standoffish and hard to read but as the relationship between him and Elsie unfolds, it’s evident that he’s a good dude at his core (some of his previous professional antics aside). I loved how understated of a love interest he was in some ways (quiet, super chill but still well respected in his field, not showy, etc) and it was still super hot.
Elsie as a protagonist won’t be for everyone. It’s almost comical how severely she lets others take advantage of her (she takes the term “people pleaser” to a whole new level) and sometimes it almost felt unrealistic (like with her family, good God). However I like how Jack continually calls her out on this and pushes her to be better, and she really has a very defined character arc that’s motivated by her romance but still very much hers- Jack helps give her the confidence to ask for what she needs and that’s just as important as their romance, in my opinion.
Also there was just so much awesome representation of girl power and women supporting other women (and the acknowledgement of how that can be hard, especially in the STEM field where things are so cutthroat). CeCe, George, the professor who advocates on behalf of Elsie’s candidacy, several of Jack’s female friends…it was really wonderful to see.
Overall: Love, Theoretically was the Ali Hazelwood book with the most chemistry for me (haha…but they’re physicists…I’ll see myself out…). It was wonderfully slow burn, full of great, atmospheric settings and fun and fleshed out characters. I would read another 3 books just about Elsie and Jack (though I suppose the most I can hope for is a cameo of them in a future novel!) I cannot WAIT to read whatever Hazelwood puts out next, and I’ll happily read 50 more enemies to lovers, hate to love, trope filled romances by her!