Review: His Grumpy Childhood Friend – Jackie Lau
by Jackie Lau
Series: Cider Bar Sisters #2
Also in this series: Her Big City Neighbor, Her Pretend Christmas Date, The Professor Next Door
Publisher: Jackie Lau Books
Publication Date: October 27, 2020
I received an advance review copy of this book from Publisher. This does not affect my opinion of the book or the content of my review.
It's been five years since Charlotte Tam had to endure a public proposal at a baseball game—literally the stuff of her nightmares—and realized her ex never really knew her. She hasn’t dated since, afraid that no man will understand her cranky, introverted, coffee-obsessed self, but she wants to try again. Her friend suggests she ask a guy to ease her into the dating game and give her some lessons.
That night at the cider bar, Charlotte runs into Mike Guo, her childhood best friend who lived in the house next door twenty years ago. Surely easygoing Mike, who is now surprisingly handsome, must do well in the world of love. He’s the perfect candidate for this.
But as they go on practice dates around Toronto and even have kissing lessons, Charlotte starts to fall for Mike, and that was never part of the plan. He’s too different from her, just like her ex—how could it work? And she suspects Mike has secrets of his own…
Can their childhood friendship really become love?
Content warnings: View Spoiler »emotional and verbal child abuse (before book starts, but discussed), toxic parents, negative self-talk (detailed and on page) « Hide Spoiler
I could go on forever about how much I like Jackie Lau’s books. And this one is fake dating with a childhood friend! Delightful tropes, plenty of humor and wacky situations, and some delicious food, this is another great book.
Charlotte hasn’t been on a date in five years, ever since she broke up with her ex-boyfriend after a baseball stadium proposal – literally her worst nightmare. She’s contemplating how to get back into the dating game when she spots her childhood best friend, Mike, at a bar, and is struck by inspiration. Someone as handsome and outgoing as Mike must obviously know what he’s doing, so she asks for him to act as her “practice date.” Though Mike doesn’t have as much practice as Charlotte thinks, he agrees because he figures the practice will be good for him, too – and he gets to spend more time with Charlotte, who he had a crush on as a teen. But practice lip-biting leads to practice kissing, and soon they’re both wondering if they should have practice sex…
“Sometimes the longer you stared at something, the less sense it made.
But with Mike, things just became clearer.
Namely, the fact that he was really freaking handsome, and she had this weird urge to grab his arm muscles.”
Charlotte’s just the best. She’s a caffeine-addicted grumpy introvert. Because she works from home, she’s able to avoid interacting with people as much as possible, except for when she meets her friends at the cider bar. Mike shows an easygoing and amiable facade to the world, but in actuality he’s a guy with low self-esteem who’s dealing with the after effects of some serious childhood trauma. Their relationship goes from old friends catching up to fake dating to realizing they both don’t have interest in dating anyone else, and it’s great fun. They both push the other just a little bit outside of their comfort zones. For example, Mike can’t take compliments – they hit a little too close to his childhood scars – so instead Charlotte creatively insults him. While Mike knows that Charlotte’s not really into crowds, he knows that she’d enjoy riding on the swan boats with him at the park. While there’s quite a bit of making out while they’re still practice dating, they both agree to try out dating for real before they hop into bed.
“Those unwanted thoughts popped into his head much less often than they used to, but it still happened on occasion, and he’d never been able to entirely shake his amazement that he was a semi-functional, independent adult.
Yet, he was standing beside the girl—the woman—who’d always made him feel like he was okay as he was.”
It’s relatively low conflict – the only factors really are them both wondering if they should go from practice dating to real dating, and then Mike’s worries that he’ll sabotage a relationship with Charlotte. Mike had a pretty awful childhood, and I’m sure some of the incidents he describes will be triggering for some readers. I definitely found a lot of his negative self-talk hard to read. With that being said, he mentions – several times – that he spent a lot of time in therapy, and he recognizes and attempts to refute the negative self-talk every time it appears. He also acknowledges that he’ll probably need more therapy in order to have a successful relationship with Charlotte. So while this particular plot point hit me a lot harder than, say, the previous book in the series, it’s still pretty fluffy overall, and quite a humorous read. There’s steampunk bars (complete with kraken!), geology pun shirts, and eggplant jokes.
I’m not sure how she does it, but somehow Jackie Lau manages to include thoughtfully done serious subjects in overall delightfully fluffy books. This is yet another great book by her, and I can’t wait for the next one in the series!