Book Reviews

Review: The Unbalanced Equation by HL Macfarlane

This witty, steamy rom-com is perfect for those who like their romance with a side of whip-smart banter!

Book: The Unbalanced Equation by HL Macfarlane

Publication date: 15th September 2022

Ownership: E-ARC sent free of charge by author, who is a friend. All opinions are my own.

Content warnings: parental death prior to book, discussed on page.

What do a bad landlord, a family wedding and a rogue Bunsen burner all have in common?

After suffering four years of scrutiny from her PhD assessor, Elizabeth Maclean believes she’s finally free of Dr Thomas Henderson’s tyranny when she begins her postdoc. But when a fire goes off in Tom’s lab (stupid undergrads) he ends up working in the same lab as Liz.

On the same bench, no less.

For three whole months.

To make matters worse – and much to their mutual surprise – Tom’s mum and Liz’s dad announce their impending marriage after a whirlwind romance. So when Liz’s landlord tells her to move out, pronto, it tips her over the edge. Desperate for a place to stay and in need of a saviour, the last person Liz expects to offer her a temporary home is Tom himself.

Now stuck working together, living together and planning their parents’ Christmas wedding together, will Liz discover that Tom’s attitude over the last four years was all a ruse to hide his true feelings? Or are the two doomed to fail in their co-existence experiment?

I don’t read a lot of contemporary romance, probably fewer than a dozen a year, but I’ll always make an exception for a friend whose writing I enjoy, and The Unbalanced Equation tempted me even further with its STEM setting and smart heroine. This is so much fun – it’s got serious 90s rom-com vibes, with a grumpy hero, a fun drama-causing set-up, and plenty of will-they-won’t-they moments, so the story really romps along. I loved that both characters were academic and nerdy – so often having geeky hobbies is treated as a flaw in romance, but here it’s a real celebration of finding someone who likes the things you do!

Both characters are flawed people – just not in their taste! – and don’t hide it. While this does make them both act in ways that are pretty toxic, and there are lots of mind games here, I feel like rom-coms take place in a magical alternative universe where bizarre pranks and acts of revenge are just part of daily life (has anyone else seen Love in the Villa on Netflix??). So although I’d run a mile from possessive, grumpy Tom in real life, in the context of the book he’s a very fun hero. There’s chemistry aplenty between Liz and Tom, both physical and mental, and it’s really fun watching them slowly slide from being at each others’ throats to becoming close. Plus, there’s so much sexual tension building up the whole time – the dialogue crackles with it. (I also fell in love with the descriptions of Tom’s amazing house – now that’s the way to win me over!)

I feel like STEM-related heroines are bang on trend right now, and I really enjoyed the academic side of the plot – I’m not a scientist, but it was all very familiar from friends who are! Also, if you’re looking for a romance read that doesn’t focus on marriage and children as an end goal, this will be right up your street – it’s obviously something that both characters, and the author, feel strongly about. At times, as a married person with a kid, I found their insistence that marriage with kids was pointless a little much, but I do think it’s a good thing to see a romance where there are other markers and milestones instead. The happily ever after that Liz and Tom get is just perfect for them, which is what matters most.

This was great fun, and I’m looking forward to the next book in the series! Four out of five cats!

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