Friday, December 8, 2017

Jen's Review: Hookin' Up

Hookin Up by MJ Williamz
Publisher: Bold Strokes Books (December 12, 2017)
Genre: F/F Romance, Contemporary

Leah Davis has just been dumped by her partner of five years. The reason? Leah is no good in bed. She decides to learn to be a better lover by meeting women on a lesbian hookup site. Dillon Franklin is Leah’s best friend and co-owner of their bar. She is also secretly in love with Leah. She is adamantly against Leah’s idea to hook up with numerous women in an attempt to learn to be a better lover. She knows she could teach her but is afraid of ruining their friendship. Eventually, Dillon gives up on Leah and starts dating Stephanie. This causes Leah to grow insanely jealous, but she can’t understand why. Will Leah stop her string of meaningless encounters to pursue Dillon? Or will they grow apart and never find true love?

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Jen's Review:

They say you can’t judge a book by its cover, but I picked Hookin’ Up by MJ Williamz off of NetGalley because I thought the cover was sexy. And I’m glad I did. This book is fucking FASCINATING, and I’m honestly not sure what to make of it. As far as I’m concerned, that’s the best possible reason to write a review. Let’s see where we land at the end of it.

The main character is Leah, who has recently been dumped by her girlfriend and only sexual partner after five years together. The reason: Leah isn’t good in bed and her girlfriend is sick of it. Leah signs up for a Tinder-like app, determined to learn how to be a better lover and win back her girlfriend. As a premise, I had a lot of questions about that timeline. Sticking with someone for five years and then booting them because they suck in bed didn’t make any sense at all to me, and I think this book would hang together better if those five years were five months instead. But whatever, I’m not the author and maybe that won’t bother other readers. Leah and her best friend Dillon own the only gay/lesbian bar in town. Dillon has been keeping her feelings about Leah a secret for years, and Leah doesn’t realize that her best friend has a crush on her. Dillon sees that Leah is not ready to hear about her feelings and decides to take a wait-and-see approach.

Here’s where it gets interesting. A solid 80% of the book is Leah and Dillon both sleeping with other people. In Dillon’s case, it’s with one of their bartenders, Stephanie. But the main focus in Hookin’ Up is Leah’s sexual awakening, and it actually reads more like a quest. Leah’s dating profile lists a specific goal: she’s looking for a series of women who will teach her to be a better lover. Each date ends with Leah and her date in bed, and the results are different each time. One woman tells her too much tongue, another says it’s not enough; One woman wants her to be gentle, another to be harder. As the months pass, Leah needs less and less advice, because her wide variety of sexual partners has made her a better lover. It’s rather remarkable watching her start out as confused and uncertain and end up confident and self-assured. It’s not until the end of the book that she and Dillon finally come together as a couple.

At first, I didn’t know what to make of this. It’s sexy as hell, but it defies just about everything I expect in a romance. I’ve never read a book where one character (especially if that character is a woman!) has, idk, maybe 10 other on-page sexual partners while their true love is waiting in the wings. But the more I think about it, the more I like it. It’s 2017, and most people have multiple sexual partners before entering into a monogamous relationship. Romance almost always closes the door on those previous relationships. There’s something delightful about a romance that truly explores sex as a skill rather than it just being magically perfect with that one soulmate. Leah is sexually attracted and turned on by all of her dates. Hookin’ Up is about the entire arc of Leah’s growth as a sexual being. Leah was a good friend and a good businesswoman, but she needed to feel confident in herself as a romantic, sexual partner. She decided how to do it, and Dillon saw that’s what she needed and tried to support her. Isn’t that what love is all about?

I’m an allocishet reader, and I’m more than a little afraid that I’m not doing this book justice by reading the book so strictly through that lens. Regardless, Hookin’ Up does so many things well. I loved seeing Leah’s sexual development, but I would have liked to see more emotional development, especially between her and Dillon. Their friendship is solid, but there’s not too much about how their romance changes them. This book was satisfying and thought-provoking, and I hope people read it. To me, it felt like a completely fresh take on sex and romance.


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Jen received an e-ARC of this book from the publisher, via NetGalley.

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Thanks for the review, Jen! This book sounds so good, and while I can already hear the snubs from readers who are turned off by the idea of a woman having -- GASP! -- previous lovers, and worse, of those previous lovers showing up before the HEA is settled, I think this is a story that needs to be told. And perhaps something we need to explore more in the genre. Because while none of us want the genre to ever move away from what it is -- a romance about a couple (or a triad, etc.) finding one another and falling in love, I do think we sometimes also limit the definition of what it means to be in a relationship or to fall in love.

Have you read MJ Williamz? Or how about a non-traditional romance similar to this? [Ugh, I hate that term though -- what else could we call this?]


Until Next Time,

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