ARC Review: Fake Dates and Mooncakes by Sher Lee

Special thanks to the author and Underlined for providing a digital ARC via NetGalley in exchange for an honest review!

Fake Dates and Mooncakes
Publisher: Underlined
Publication Date: 16 May 2023
Genre: YA Contemporary Romance

Panda Rating:

(2 pandas)

📖 SYNOPSIS

Heartstopper meets Crazy Rich Asians in this heartfelt, joyful paperback original rom-com that follows an aspiring chef who discovers the recipe for love is more complicated than it seems when he starts fake-dating a handsome new customer.

Dylan Tang wants to win a Mid-Autumn Festival mooncake-making competition for teen chefs—in memory of his mom, and to bring much-needed publicity to his aunt’s struggling Chinese takeout in Brooklyn.

Enter Theo Somers: charming, wealthy, with a smile that makes Dylan’s stomach do backflips. AKA a distraction. Their worlds are sun-and-moon apart, but Theo keeps showing up. He even convinces Dylan to be his fake date at a family wedding in the Hamptons.

In Theo’s glittering world of pomp, privilege, and crazy rich drama, their romance is supposed to be just pretend… but Dylan finds himself falling for Theo. For real. Then Theo’s relatives reveal their true colors—but with the mooncake contest looming, Dylan can’t risk being sidetracked by rich-people problems.

Can Dylan save his family’s business and follow his heart—or will he fail to do both?

⚠️ CONTENT/TRIGGER WARNINGS

Classism, death of parent (recounted), cancer, alcoholism

TL;DR: Fake Dates and Mooncakes was high up on my list of anticipated YA contemporary romances this year and I was beyond thrilled to get a digital ARC! Sadly though, for various reasons, this book really didn’t work out for me. I loved the cultural and food aspects of the story and Dylan’s family was great as well. That said, the romance was instantaneous and I didn’t really feel their romantic connection. The writing also read on the younger end of YA, which isn’t necessarily a bad thing, but I’m not sure that’s what the author intended and it also clashed with the more sexually suggestive overtones between Dylan and Theo. I wanted to see more of the mooncake competition but that played a woefully small part in the story. Overall, I’m sad that this didn’t end up being what I expected because I was genuinely looking forward to loving it!

There’s no getting around it: the beginning of this book was especially rough. The writing was not what I expected as it read on the young end of YA but it also read very stilted and awkward with a lot of “telling” and no “showing”. It felt like the story only skimmed the surface of these characters and their stories, which certainly made for ‘easy reading’ but left me wanting more in terms of depth and emotional connection. It was easy to see which parts the author felt the most comfortable and confident writing about because those were the parts that had the most detail. I really appreciated the food and cultural aspects of this story—it honestly made me so hungry while reading!—and they were one of the best things about it, but this could’ve been a historical/cultural/culinary book because of how detailed the author gets about the recipes and their cultural significance. While I liked it, it only left me wishing that the other parts of the story could’ve received just as much attention (as it probably should’ve)!

The premise of this book was really interesting but the follow-through was lacking. The reasons why Dylan and Theo got together were ultimately flimsy and felt disingenuous because there was so little interaction between them, to begin with, that the jump to more felt unrealistic. Dylan was an okay character but what I enjoyed most was his relationship with his aunt and cousins. They had such an open and supportive relationship and his cousins were hilarious—I just wanted to keep reading about them, honestly! I appreciated how much respect Dylan had for his culture and how he carried the memories, language, and love for food with him, but I also wished that he had been less of a pushover when it came to Theo. Perhaps I’m biased though because I didn’t like Theo. He lacked personality and every interaction with him felt bland and emotionless. There were things he said and did that were uncomfortable and made it harder for me to care about his character, although I pitied that he was surrounded by miserable excuses for adults. If you’re not a fan of instalove then you probably will feel the same way as I did about their romance. I didn’t feel their connection because they go from strangers to “falling in love” very quickly and what made it harder for me to believe their chemistry is that I didn’t really believe that Dylan actually liked Theo as a person either, he simply found him overwhelmingly attractive…? The comparison to Heartstopper was one of the selling points for me but there was none of that wholesome cuteness and depth here! 🤷🏻‍♀️

An element that I was also particularly disappointed didn’t play a bigger role in the story was the mooncake competition. That was meant to be a big part of it but most of the time, the mentions of the competition and process felt shoehorned in with the other drama stirred up by the awful people in Theo’s life.

Overall, this was just a big miss for me. While I know that I’m not necessarily the intended young audience for this book, I do still read a lot of YA but if I’m being honest, I don’t think I would recommend this to the young readers in my life if I were asked either. This had a promising premise and the potential for more was there, but the execution simply fell flat.

Have you read Fake Dates and Mooncakes or is it on your TBR?

27 thoughts on “ARC Review: Fake Dates and Mooncakes by Sher Lee

  1. Great review. It’s hard to be negative, especially with one you want to love, but you’ve laid out your thoughts and opinions (and reasoning) really well. I was planning to buy this on release, but I think perhaps I’ll wait a little longer and see if it comes to my library or Scribd.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thanks, Louise—I really appreciate that! I think negative reviews are important as long as they’re still respectful and I tried my best to do that while being clear on what didn’t work for me, so I’m glad that came through 🙂 I personally think your idea of waiting til it comes to the library or on Scribd is a good one! If you do give it a try, I hope you have a different experience than I did!

      Liked by 1 person

  2. I know I’ve already commented about this on another post, but this is so disappointing. 😭😭😭 I was really looking forward to this one, but I’ll probably skip it. The things that bugged you would likely annoy me too. If only the book had been as stunning as that cover.

    Liked by 1 person

    • I KNOW, Chris! I know! 😭 All three of us were so sad about it cos we were all looking forward to it as well! It’s such a bummer when the cover is still one of my faves and the story just didn’t live up to it. I guess we can’t love them all, eh? 😮‍💨

      Liked by 1 person

    • Oof, well, I mean, if you’re curious you should definitely still give it a try? I’ve seen others that have really enjoyed it! But yeah, sadly it just didn’t work for me and I was also super bummed that I ended up feeling this way about the book cos I was so looking forward to it! Keen to see your thoughts on it if you give it a read 🙂

      Liked by 1 person

  3. I’m always a bit on the fence about romances with baking as a center — which there are a ton of for some reason?? — so thanks for your review for helping me decide a little more on this one. Great review!

    Liked by 1 person

    • Haha, I wanted to tone down on the details but then I got too lazy to edit and then just kinda stopped cos I was getting too into the review. I’m glad we finished this one but also sad we didn’t love it. Still a great cover though!

      Liked by 1 person

      • Yeah, I get that. It’s always so easy to go on and on about books we dislike, for some reason. Then books I love, I’m like.. “READ THIS!” haha! We were bound to have a book we didn’t like much, at some point. Too bad it was this one tho!

        Like

  4. Aww, I’m sorry to hear this was such a disappointment, Dini! It was one of my most anticipated releases, but from your review I think I’ll probably have the same frustrations… Thanks for the great and honest review!

    Liked by 1 person

    • I’m sorry it was such a bummer as well. All three of us were ridiculously excited about reading it, especially since we’ve seen others have loved it, but sadly it just wasn’t for us! The cover is still one of my faves though, lol

      Like

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