Fangirling About Books: How Not to Fall
From the publisher:
In her witty and breathtakingly sexy novel, Emily Foster introduces a story of lust, friendship, and other unpredictable experiments. . .
Data, research, scientific formulae--Annabelle Coffey is completely at ease with all of them. Men, not so much. But that's all going to change after she asks Dr. Charles Douglas, the postdoctoral fellow in her lab, to have sex with her. Charles is not only beautiful, he is also adorably awkward, British, brilliant, and nice. What are the odds he'd turn her down?
Very high, as it happens. Something to do with that whole student/teacher/ethics thing. But in a few weeks, Annie will graduate. As soon as she does, the unlikely friendship that's developing between them can turn physical--just until Annie leaves for graduate school. Yet nothing could have prepared either Annie or Charles for chemistry like this, or for what happens when a simple exercise in mutual pleasure turns into something as exhilarating and infernally complicated as love.
I first heard about Emily Foster's How Not to Fall because I was listening to Foster's alter ego Emily Nagoski on Smart Podcast, Trashy Books. She was mostly there to talk about her non-fiction work Come As You Are. (Which is great and totally worth reading if you are the owner of female parts or just plain interested in nerding out about how sex works physically and mentally. Seriously. She talks about what happens when you play Iggy Pop for rats. Hint: It's not good. Rats have no appreciation for punk classics.) Needless to say, I hopped right on that and have been proselytizing about the book ever since.
But when she started talking about how she had written a romance novel, I perked right the hell up. Nerds having the sexy sex times? Yes, please. And then she described the hero as a Service Top and it was basically this:
So did it live up to my heavy breathing expectations? Yes. Oh, yes.
BUT. There are a few things that may make some people want to avoid it.
Firstly, it is first person, present tense. I know this can be a bit of a deal-breaker for some people but I can also see why she did it. Foster hasn't been shy that her inspiration for writing this book was as a bit of a middle finger to a certain book we all know and many of us hate and she follows that book's narrative convention and some of its overall story arc and elements. First person, present tense is also a very common convention for any novel that could be lumped in with "New Adult." It didn't bother me, but I know some people hate it.
Secondly, it is a duology. The second book, How Not to Let Go, is coming in December. There is no HEA. I repeat: THERE IS NO HEA. If you simply cannot abide that, I suggest waiting for December and reading them both at the same time. If the second book is nearly as good as this one, it will be money well spent. I, on the other hand, will be wondering why December is so effing far away because I want more nooooooow.
Lastly, trigger (and spoiler, a bit) warning for domestic abuse. Nothing takes place in the present tense, but it does make up a significant part of the hero's back story. Every time he tells the heroine more about his “abusive asshole” father, the stories get worse.
On to the nitty gritty!
I was fully prepared to love the ever-living hell out of this book and for the most part, it did not disappoint.
The first chapter did make a little nervous, because Annie starts out coming off more as the twenty-two year old we want to see, rather than a twenty-two year old who exists in the world. She's wildly intelligent, confident, body-positive, has amazing and supportive parents—and she's self-aware enough to see that she is enormously privileged. She starts out feeling like an idealized version of a college senior. And again, it makes sense when you know that Annie is a direct response to the sopping wet doormat heroine of the book that shall not be named.
But she gets a lot more fun, and a lot funnier, when she starts being more honest as a narrator. And she does this mostly without throwing her intelligence, ambition, and accomplishments under the bus. Everyone calls themselves an idiot sometimes, and everyone wonders from time to time how the person they're with could possibly find them attractive. Her insecurities, when she admits to them, make her feel more real. If I tried to list all of the times Annie's internal monologue (and the things she says out loud) made me snort-giggle to myself, I would be transcribing half the book. I want to be friends with her.
We don't get Charles's narrative voice, but he certainly gets a lot more interesting as the story goes on. He could have been a paper doll—oblivious to his hotness, awkward, brilliant, British, feminist-allied—but we get the sense, confirmed as their relationship progresses, that there is a lot more going on there. He hits all the romance tropes, but Foster still makes him feel like an actual human being.
And the sex is super hot. I don't even think that needs a qualifier, but I'll try.
Annie's approach to sex is full of an almost innocent, wide-eyed enthusiasm and openness that I'm not sure exists in nature, what with all of our cultural hang-ups about sex and bodies, but I don't really care because it's just so nice to read. The girl finds something to enjoy about every step of the way from the top of her head to the tips of her toes. And his. It does not hurt that Charles is basically hell-bent on making her come in as many ways as humanly possible, hence, the author's description of him as a Service Top. (About that: Charles reads as dominant, and there is a tiny bit of bondage and sensory deprivation involved in one scene, but he doesn't use BDSM terminology to describe himself or what they're doing. He is dominant in bed, but he's not a Dominant. Though he does get this line that turned my knees to jelly:
“maybe the most insidious way to control someone else is to give them everything they want, anything they want, until they can't stop you from taking what you want?”
And though he is a skilled and attentive lover, Charles does not have a magical all-pleasuring, all-healing penis that makes her have orgasm after orgasm from penetration alone. He even makes fun of the magical dick trope. Hell, the first time they have penetrative sex is slightly awkward and over very quickly. Foster gets bonus points for reflecting the experiences of many, many people who did not have magical, life-altering first times, and the many, many vagina-having people who can't have an orgasm without clitoral stimulation.
I also appreciated the use of anatomical terminology in the context of sex scenes in a way that managed to not feel awkward because it absolutely makes sense for Annie's voice that she would refer to her vulva, and not her folds or slit or mound or whatever other euphemism, during sex. They're nerds. They use nerdy words. He quizzes her on anatomy and physiology during sex. He sends her research articles that help explain his baggage. It's who they are and a fundamental part of the characterization.
And it's refreshing to read a romance, especially one with a young heroine, in which communication itself is not the issue. They're hyper-communicative. Talking about what they want is not a problem when it comes to sex or their relationship to one another. Which serves to make it all the more heartbreaking that what is standing in their way is a whole lot of emotional baggage and that acknowledging the baggage doesn't make it go away. Which...yeah. Oh boy, do I know those feels.
ALL of that is to say, I really fucking liked this book. And I cannot wait for the rest of the story. Is it December 27 yet?