Susannah reviews Mistakes Were Made by Meryl Wilsner

the cover of Mistakes Were Made

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Mistakes Were Made, Meryl Wilsner’s second f/f romance following 2020’s acclaimed Something to Talk About, is billed as “a sexy rom-com about a college senior who accidentally hooks up with her best friend’s mom.” While I anxiously awaited this book as much as the next reader of queer romances, I admittedly postponed picking it up, afraid that a relationship between a college student and a woman one generation her senior would be too problematic, or too cringe, for me to root for. But Wilsner proved me wrong–this book is funny, nuanced, deeply empathetic, and piping hot.

It’s Family Weekend at Keckley College, but not for senior Cassie Klein, who is effectively estranged from hers. Cassie goes to an off-campus bar to escape the festivities, not to cruise for hookups, but when a statuesque older woman catches her eye from across the room, she can’t resist sending a drink her way. Erin Bennett is not there to cruise for hookups either. A recent divorcee splitting Family Weekend visiting hours with her ex-husband, she is simply killing time in a college town. But when a bold younger woman sends a drink across the bar, she has trouble turning down the opportunity to enjoy her relatively new singlehood. A steamy backseat romp ensues, and the two women part ways–no numbers exchanged and no plans to meet up again.

When Cassie’s best friend Parker invites her to tag along to breakfast with her mom the following morning, Cassie comes face-to-face with Erin–the Erin from the bar last night, the Erin she never intended to see again, the Erin who is also her best friend’s mom.What was meant to be a one-night fling becomes impossible to ignore as Cassie and Parker become closer friends and Cassie’s and Erin’s paths repeatedly cross. 

When Parker surprises Cassie by inviting her home for the holiday break, Cassie can’t say no despite the, um, complication of cohabitating with Erin. Unsurprisingly, she can’t say no to Erin either, who is still as alluring as she was the night they met. Erin and Cassie start to sneak around behind Parker’s back as their fling morphs into something more serious. (A side effect of their sneaking around is a liberal number of very hot sex scenes in a variety of covert locations.) This begs the question: will Cassie and Erin come clean about their secret relationship at the risk of losing the most important people in their lives, or will they end it and live with the heartbreak?

While I scoffed at the likelihood of Cassie so cavalierly hitting on Erin in the opening chapter, Wilsner expertly develops both Cassie’s and Erin’s characters and shines light on their motivations. Cassie is a whip smart, ambitious aeronautic engineering major whose hardscrabble youth has translated to a resilient, confident demeanor. Erin is a highly successful attending physician whose professional badassness is not evinced by her interpersonal skills. A bisexual reentering the dating scene following a suffocating marriage, Erin lacks the self-assuredness to confidently go after what she wants. This sometimes comes across as iciness toward Cassie. Aside from these few moments of emotional withholding, however, the dynamic between the two women feels authentic and relatively balanced. That said, it can’t be ignored that given her age and independent wealth, Erin inherently holds some amount of power over Cassie, a young woman only on the cusp of post-college adulthood.

Surprisingly, the one factor about this book that didn’t sit well with me was not the age-gap trope, but the tokenizing of Cassie’s and Parker’s friend Acacia. Through the course of the book, Acacia, who is the only Black main character we meet, is the sole person who carries the secret of Cassie’s and Erin’s affair. That Acacia has to do the emotional labor of navigating this extremely sensitive situation for an entire academic year feels like an unfair burden to throw on her, and I would be remiss not to mention it.

Ultimately, this is a thought-provoking contemporary romance that challenged some prejudices I carried about age differences in relationships. And that, to me, is the mark of a well-crafted book: to make readers open their minds and hearts to situations and people that make them feel uncomfortable.

Content warnings: alcohol consumption, alcoholic parent (mention), cheating partner (past), divorced parents, misogyny, parental neglect, recreational marijuana use.

Susannah (she/her) is a public librarian and writer based in Cambridge, Massachusetts. She consumes mostly queer literary fiction, with contemporary romance novels as palate cleansers. You can find her on Goodreads at https://www.goodreads.com/ohhsusannah and at https://www.susannahbt.com/

Meagan Kimberly reviews Something to Talk About by Meryl Wilsner

the audiobook cover of Something to Talk About

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Something to Talk About by Meryl Wilsner follows Jo, a famous actress, writer and showrunner in Hollywood, and her assistant Emma. When they appear at an award show together and seem incredibly intimate, rumors of their romance begin to swirl. This ignites questions of the dynamic of their relationship and pushing from their family and loved ones. Miscommunication and shenanigans ensue.

I listened to this on audiobook, narrated by Jorjeana Marie and Xe Sands. If it hadn’t been for listening to the audio, I probably would have DNFed this book, to be honest. I didn’t hate it, but I know if I’d been reading it in e-book or physical copy, I wouldn’t have plowed through it. But that’s just my personal taste.

From the way the book starts, I had high hopes for what it could accomplish, but it fell short in my opinion. It’s established early on that Emma is bisexual, out to her family and comfortable in her identity but not shouting from the rooftops, and that Jo is a lesbian only out to her best friend and parents (not even Emma knows until about halfway through the book).

In the beginning, Jo’s issues with Hollywood’s racism are addressed as she deals with comments from entertainment reporters who believe she’ll have “too soft a touch” to properly write a screenplay for the action franchise, Agent Silver, the James Bond of this world. Emma pegs it right away as racist, coded language because Jo is Asian, and Asian women are often stereotyped as soft and submissive.

Emma’s dedication to Jo and Jo knowing Emma so well is established right away. It’s clear they have a close relationship that goes beyond employer and employee; it’s a solid friendship. Truthfully, that’s what their relationship feels like throughout the entire book. The romance that eventually blooms doesn’t feel organic. It feels like it’s stemming from the pressure of the rumors and the insistence of their friends and family that they are, in fact, in love.

The relationship dynamic between Jo and Emma always feels like an intimate friendship. Even the most romantic moments feel platonic. Their friends’ and family’s teasing about their rumored dating relationship is cringe-worthy. It’s never mean-spirited, but good intentions don’t necessarily mean the behavior is appropriate.

Part of what makes the dating relationship feel forced and inorganic is the power dynamic difference. Wilsner actually addressed this pretty well throughout, showing the characters’ recognition of how Jo had influence over Emma’s career, as well as the age difference.

However, when the rumors first started spreading, Jo insisted on not making a comment because she’d never commented about her love life, and she wasn’t going to start now that the rumor was her dating a woman; it would seem homophobic. Jo’s points in not commenting about her dating life are valid and solid reasons. But the way she believes she’s right comes off as dismissive and invalidates Emma’s feelings about the situation.

It was hard to become invested in the characters’ inner lives because these characters are people who don’t let anyone see too deep into them, including the reader. Their development both as individuals and together as an eventual couple feels surface level. Even the supporting characters are often described as knowing them so well, but it’s always a statement made through exposition and rarely shown within behavior and relationship dynamics.

Overall, the story itself was entertaining, but the characters and their interactions felt like they needed something more.

Content warnings: Homophobia, biphobia, racism

Shannon reviews Something To Talk About by Meryl Wilsner

Something to Talk About by Meryl Wilsner

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I picked up Meryl Wilsner’s Something To talk About as a palate cleanser of sorts. It looked like a quick, light read, something to make me smile in between some of the heavier books I’ve been reading lately. Unfortunately, though parts of the story were engaging, I struggled to connect with the characters, making this a less than stellar reading experience.

I love books that center around TV shows, so the synopsis of Something To Talk About looked right up my alley. It’s the story of Jo, a successful show-runner who holds the world at arm’s length, and Emma, her free-spirited assistant who is desperate to make her mark on Hollywood. Their relationship has been nothing but professional up until Emma accompanies Jo to an awards ceremony. A reporter snaps a photograph of the two of them on the red carpet, and from there, the town is buzzing with rumors about the romance that seems to have sprung up between them. Of course, these rumors are blatantly false, but no one seems to be interested in the truth. Instead, they’re looking for the next big scandal, and a scintillating romance between Jo and Emma promises to keep the rumor mill going strong.

Jo was a difficult character for me to warm up to. She’s really aloof, and while the author has given her a compelling backstory to explain her behavior, I had trouble getting past the facade she shows the world. Some readers may find her prickly nature endearing, but it didn’t work for me. I was turned off by the brusque way she treats Emma, even when they’re spending time together outside of work hours. It’s like she’s always in professional mode. The author tells us there’s another side to her, but the story doesn’t bear this out, and I ended up feeling more frustrated than intrigued.

Emma is Jo’s opposite in every imaginable way. She loves her work, but it doesn’t rule her life. Just around the time she and Jo are seen together at the ceremony, she learns she’s in line for a promotion, something she’s been working toward for years. Now though, she’s the subject of all kinds of gossip. She’s understandably concerned that all the talk could negatively impact her career, but Jo dismisses her concerns out of hand.

And this, my friends, is the basis for so much of what I disliked about Something To Talk About. There’s an obvious lack of equality between Jo and Emma, and Jo, the one with the most power in the relationship does nothing to address this fact. Instead, it felt like she was constantly dismissing Emma’s very real concerns. It didn’t come off as protective or nurturing, even though that seemed to be the author’s intent. It was off-putting and cringy, and I found myself wanting Emma to run for the hills as fast as she could. Unfortunately, she stuck around for more of Jo’s bad treatment.

In order for a romance to be believable, the characters must have some kind of chemistry on the page. Unfortunately, the relationship between Emma and Jo fell flat. I couldn’t buy into their feelings for one another, and a lot of what threatened to keep them apart felt contrived. I think it was a case of the author doing too much telling and not enough showing.

Some books just aren’t good matches for certain readers, and that’s okay. I’m sure there are people out there who will love everything about this particular romance, even though I struggled to make it through to the end. Luckily, there are tons of great books in the world and I’m sure I’ll find the perfect one for me in the not-too-distant future.

JB reviews Something To Talk About by Meryl Wilsner

Something to Talk About by Meryl Wilsner

Hello everybody! My name is JB and I’m so excited to be here.

Who doesn’t love a good slow burn romance? The slow burn romance trope is literally my favorite trope in existence. All my favorite ships go through some sort of slow burn/mutual pining stage. Something to Talk About has a slow burn romance AND a fake dating. It feels like it was made for me, and I can tell Meryl Wilsner knows what the lesbians want. And yet this novel did not fully satisfy my itch for slow burn romance.

Something to Talk About features Jo, a mega-successful showrunner, and her assistant, Emma, and their journey from coworkers to friends to lovers. Jo is photographed making Emma laugh on a red carpet and rumors start a-going. Though the gossip threatens to interfere with both their personal and professional lives, Jo decides to not comment; she’s never before, so why start now? The novel is told from both of their perspectives, which I enjoyed because we got to see that sweet, sweet mutual pining. I enjoyed seeing both of them get flustered about each other or giving meaning to small interactions. I love how much unspoken care was already in their relationship, even before they realized they could be more than coworkers and friends. Emma and Jo know each other’s favorite foods, how they way sleep on the plane during business trips, and more.

While I enjoyed reading from their perspectives, there was not a lot of difference in their voices. I had to turn back to the beginning of a chapter more than once to remember who I was supposed to be. A major conflict happens in the middle of the novel that didn’t really make a lot of sense to me, and I almost put the book down because of it. I also thought that there were one too many real world issues trying to be addressed between the romance. Racism and sexism against Jo, sexual harassment in Hollywood, and nepotism (somehow) were either mentioned or part of the plot. It’s completely possible to experience all of these at once, but, to me, it felt out of place in a novel that markets itself as a fluffy romance.

Overall, I really did enjoy this book. I realized I enjoyed and related to these characters more than those in YA WLW romances. I recommend it to anyone who’s looking for a WLW romance featuring adult women, mutual pining, and yeah, of course, slow burn romance.

Trigger warnings: racism, sexual harassment

JB (she/her) teaches junior high history by day and reads lesbian fiction by night. Her favorite genres are fantasy, speculative fiction, historical non-fiction, and memoirs. She loves all things history, RPG podcasts, and watching longform video essays with her gf. You can find her on Instagram at @readingrhythms.