REVIEW: “Dating-ish” by Penny Reid

When you read a Penny Reid book you don’t just get romance, expect to get some knowledge dropped on you.  Especially in the Knitting in the City series.  You’ll come out the other side with a lighter heart and a heavier brain.  “Dating-ish” dives into the debate of Artificial Intelligence (AI) robots taking the place of humans as caregivers and human companions.  Dr. Matt Simmons’s computer scientist with a focus on AI.  He and Dr. Derek Merek are working on an Artificial Intelligence Companion as a replacement for human relationships.  Matt and his colleague create a profile based on collective preferences of a target sample group.  They do this with the dating site’s permission.  This allows them to conduct a one-time interviews ascertaining true preferences from the subjects.  These results’ll be used to refine his AIC.  This leads to the “Meet Cute”; when Marie meets her “Perfect Match” for coffee.

Marie Harris is independent, smart, and confident in her own skin; she likes food but not “gym exercising so much.  Marie wants to find her “person”.  Most of her friends have found someone who loves them and lavishes them with affection.  Marie envies that and craves it for herself.  Marie has a big heart and is loved by her large circle of friends and their significant others as well.  Matt Simmons is a socially awkward, extremely intelligent workaholic.  For Matt normal everyday conversation between average people is like trying to understand a foreign language.  Matt’s parents ignored him allowing him to be raised by nannies, the cook, driver, gardener, etc.   When he was a child he wasn’t athletic and therefore not chosen when teams were picked.  Hence he didn’t have much social interaction or affection growing up.  Matt’s the “perfect storm” of socially awkward child-like geek.

Marie’s waiting at a coffee to meet her “Perfect Match”, Derek Simmons.  Once her “date” arrives she’s immediately suspect.  “Derek” looks nothing like his photo, he looks … better.  Right away his behavior and demeanor are odd and he bombards her with questions.  When “Derek” makes an inappropriate comment, Marie calls him a weirdo and marches out of the coffee shop.  Once she’s outside she realizes what his comment was referring to.  Marie goes to Knit Night and tells the story to hysterical laughter.  There’s a knock on the Knit Night hostess’ door only to reveal “Derek”.  The “Derek” Marie met is her friend Fiona’s next-door neighbor Dr. Matt Simmons.  Matt defends his behavior and explains his, and his colleague’s, experiment.  He tells Marie not to take offense.  Marie’s preferences put her into a demographic of similar women.  “Basically the same person.”  To which all of her friends take offense.

The knitting group informs Matt that not only is Marie like no one, else she’s essential.  Hearing she’s basically the same as every other woman hits Marie’s self-esteem pretty hard.  As a journalist Marie has weekly conference calls to plan out the issues.  This week she and another writer team up to co-write an article about ways people find substitutions for relationships.  Later that evening she meets Dr. Matt again and learns about his Artificial Intelligence Companion project.  She uses a little blackmail and deal-making to get Matt’s information to add an additional tech segment to the article.  Marie wheedles her way into Matt’s lab and meets his colleague Dr. Derek Merek, whose photo was the profile picture.  Matt admits Derek’s much better at interviewing the female “subjects”.  Marie finds both men delightful to talk to.  Especially after Matt is fed coconut cookies.  Matt suddenly starts exhibiting “don’t-play-with-my-new-toy” behavior.

Marie suddenly finds herself being accompanied to her appointment to a professional cuddler by Matt.  On their way to the appointment Marie and Matt talk and she discovers that Matt was previously married.  He has no desire to repeat that performance again.  Ever.  Conversely, he and his ex-wife and her new husband have a great relationship.  That information is very puzzling to Marie.  Due to some “office” drama Marie finds herself paired for cuddling with Matt rather than a professional.  The professional is guiding them rather than doing the cuddling.  That’s when Matt and Marie begin to get more comfortable with each other.  In Marie’s case she gets panicked that she’s feeling more than comfortable with the man she’s just recently stopped hating.  Marie decides she needs to control her feelings of attraction for a man who has no desire for commitment.

Matt asks Marie to meet for coffee in order to go over his findings.  Since she’s busy she offers to cook him dinner, the following night, to which he enthusiastically agrees.  Matt loves food and he can put it away like no other.  And Marie is know for her cooking and baking prowess.  When Matt arrives for dinner Marie feels an attraction to him and an awareness whenever he touches her.  Marie tells Matt that she would like them to remain friends even after their work together is done.  Matt asks, rather states, “You’re friend-zoning me.”  Marie knows that Matt isn’t looking for a long-term relationship, which is what she wants.  However she doesn’t want to rule out something more if Matt wants something more than just “benefits”.  But Matt takes being friend-zoned very seriously.  In fact it causes him to put the brakes on their communications.

Marie and Matt run into each other again and she attempts to clear up the friend-zone conversation.  Things are still murky but clear enough that they do develop a close friendship.  They hang out a lot, have dinner and go to movies, and shopping together.  The shopping is fun!  There’s also lots of touching:  hugging, kisses on the cheek, neck, and lots of handholding.  Their relationship’s very close to boyfriend-girlfriend without sex.  It feels as though they’re on the verge of more.  But things become clear while Marie’s watching Fiona’s children.  She sees Matt making out with a woman in the hallway as they make their way to his apartment.  Matt acts as though he’s happy to see her but Marie’s, obviously, beyond hurt.  Marie must figure out how to protect her heart while preserving her friendship with a person she cares for deeply.

“Dating-ish” enjoys some appearances, reappearances and mentions from the stable of Penny Reid’s stable of novels.  Sandra’s friend Thomas, an adult psychotherapist, makes a cameo and Cletus Winston gets a “shout out.  Most notably is Marie’s brother Abram, who was a featured secondary character in Reid’s “Elements of Chemistry” Trilogy.  Abram will get his turn as a hero in the upcoming “Elements of Physics”.  Happily all of the Knitting in the City men appear; and they have a “Phone Tree”!  If you’re a series regular Fiona and Janie’s pregnancies figure prominently.  Therefore Greg (of course )is prominent.  Quinn’s also important due to his an Marie’s bonding in the fifth installment of the Knitting in the City series.  Oddly enough the quiet and secretive Alex in is in the fore.  The final novel of the series, Dan and Kat book, gets set-up with a big surprise and cryptic clues.

Per usual Penny Reid’s “Dating-ish” is a fabulous mash-up of wit, intelligence, and love story.  The storyline’s fascinating with the characters frequently falling into intellectual conversations.  Debates regarding when political correctness is too much and if advances in robotics will lead to people losing their humanity.  Sometimes these discourses slow the book’s pace however the humor and charm of the characters speed it back up.  Marie and Matt’s romance is a dance, which moves forward and back and side to side.  Signals definitely get mixed.  But their interest and attraction in each other is delightful.  In Matt’s case it’s deliciously sweet and awkward.  As the reader you can see, though the book’s from Marie’s perspective, their behaviors show the two are clearly smitten.  They’re adorable!  Matt and Marie grow and develop as characters.  “Dating-ish” is an intellectual and delectably romantic MUST READ!

I’m giving “Dating-ish” 5 Lightning Bolts and a Gale Warning.

 

This novel was provided, voluntarily read, and honestly reviewed

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