Thank you to NetGalley and St. Martin’s Press for providing me with an eARC in exchange for my honest review!
What’s new, everyone? In Mistakes Were Made, the 2022 sapphic contemporary romance by Meryl Wilsner (Something to Talk About), 21-year-old Cassie Klein, in a bid to escape her college’s Family Weekend, heads across town to a bar, where she runs into gorgeous late-30s divorcée Erin Bennett. The chemistry between them is off the charts immediately, but after their one-night stand together, they have no plans to see each other again. The next day, however, Cassie’s close friend Parker takes her out for breakfast, which has Erin in attendance, since she’s Parker’s mom. Obviously, Cassie and Erin have their initial “oh crap” moments before making an attempt at maintaining a platonic relationship. Judging from the lust and then the love that keeps drawing them back to each other over time, though, this proves to be an incredibly tough goal for them to achieve.
I may not typically be a huge fan of age-gap romances, but that didn’t stop me from having plenty of fun while breezing through the sneaky hijinks and age-related anxieties of Wilsner’s sophomore novel. Their snappy writing encourages you to follow these two women as they navigate the sparks that persist in exploding between them and do their best to hide their forbidden romance from others, especially Parker. This could have headed into an icky space (again, there’s a reason that age gaps aren’t my thing), so I’m glad Wilsner is able to respectfully depict the relationship and get me to understand why the partners have bonded so quickly.
But this isn’t to say that Erin and Cassie are wholly lovable leads. No, they’re fully capable of making immature decisions that left me sighing and/or chuckling at them with a mixture of disapproval and sympathy. I can buy into MCs with varying sorts of unlikable personalities as long as they’re fleshed-out and feel appropriate for the story, which is the case for Cassie and Erin most of the time. Admittedly, there were a few character choices that made me arch my eyebrow a little too dubiously, including one particular moment in the first half that sees Erin behaving towards Cassie in a way that I found to be flat-out cruel. Then there’s Parker, whom I didn’t think was too charming, what with the puerile behavior she engages in throughout the novel. I get why the irresponsible tendencies of this cast have been a major criticism for other readers, and you know what, sometimes they can irritate me as well. But in the end, I think there can be something valuable to be unearthed in the messy humanity of these characters—specifically Erin and Cassie—as they figure out what they want out of their dynamic and separate the expectations that other people put on them from the things that they truly yearning for themselves.
It’s fantastic to see the queer representation here, with numerous women like Cassie, Erin, and Parker identifying as bisexual and Erin’s friend Rachel identifying as pansexual. This counters the bi-erasure that’s often present in queer media. While we’ve been getting more and more contemporary romances starring bi leads, including the Written in the Stars series by Alexandria Bellefleur; Red, White & Royal Blue by Casey McQuiston; and Take a Hint, Dani Brown by Talia Hibbert, it can still feel at times like we’re living in a world that normalizes monosexuality and completely dismisses anyone on the bi spectrum. That’s why it’s satisfying to be able to consume a book like Mistakes Were Made, in which bisexuality is front and center and nobody has to worry about coming out.
As for the spice, I feel conflicted. I know this has been promoted as a raunch-com, and I’m all for the leads being unable to get enough of each other in bed. However, I prefer my steam to be the kind where, if it’s happening constantly, it explores some creative paths and becomes an integral part of the relationship’s evolution, e.g. The Kiss Quotient by Helen Hoang and Love & Other Disasters by Anita Kelly. In Mistakes Were Made, it can be fun sometimes, but it can also feel repetitive and extraneous on other occasions. I’ll acknowledge that I might be holding this opinion because I’m a cishet man and that I might feel differently if I were a bi woman. That being said, if I want books that boast virtually enough smut to become erotica, I’ll go for something like the Dark Olympus series by Katee Roberts. Otherwise, it doesn’t jive well in contemporary romances for me.
I feel it’s necessary to point out that there are numerous lines in the ARC that made me uncomfortable because of their racist undertones. If you look up reviews for this book, you’ll find other readers who’ve criticized them as well. Thankfully, Wilsner has already stated that they’ll be edited out of the final version of their book. I merely wanted to comment on this issue so that anyone who’s read the ARC knows I’m not ignoring the lines and I’m glad changes are being made to trim offensive material from the book.
A certain third-act reveal subverted my expectations and therefore amped up the quality of this novel in my eyes. Sure, the rest of the story turned out to be far from unpredictable, but it’s a heartwarming conclusion nonetheless.
Overall, while I wish the sex scenes had been written more thoughtfully and tweaks had been made to some of the characters’ sophomoric actions, Mistakes Were Made is quite an admirable raunch-com whose endearingly flawed MCs deftly traverse taboo-romance territory.
Until next time, stay healthy and stay strong!
Windup score: 80/100