The X Ingredient is my first read by this author and prior to picking up this book, i had no idea that the story had its origins in fanfic. As such i suspect i’m reviewing this from a very different stand point to other readers.
Based on the blurb, i so wanted to like this story more than i actually did. It features two of my favourite tropes in romance – age-gap and ice queen, and so i had high expectations; particularly given the sheer number of reviews and ratings for this book across all platforms.
And whilst i didn’t super dislike it, it didn’t win me over either. Don’t get me wrong, The X Ingredient is a fun read if you want to indulge in some seriously steamy sex scenes. But the rest of the story falls a bit flat, with little in-depth character development and a plot that had the potential to give a lot more than it did. And without a solid foundation, the sex can be as hot as hell, but it won’t negate a readers lack of connection with the characters and plot.
Frustratingly, the elements of a great ice-queen, age-gap romance are there on the page, but the story just doesn’t quite hit its mark. The X Ingredient focuses on 46 year old Diana Parker, a high powered attorney with her own law firm and 25 year old Laurie Holcombe, her newly hired assistant. Right from the get-go Diana and Laurie’s desire for each other is palpable, but with Laurie smarting from a previous relationship and in desperate need of this job, she works to ignore the growing attraction, until that is Diana makes the first move. Meanwhile, married to a straight man, Diana’s anguish in finding herself attracted to Laurie is keenly felt by way of her internal dialogue.
To push this story to the next level, i really wanted to see the author explore Diana’s soul searching on a deeper level; for a reader to be able to not only see her inner turmoil played out during sex scenes, but actually feel it as well. It’s so unusual to have a character realise who they are and come out later in life, that i felt this could have been exploited much more on an emotional level – particularly given that Diana’s parents are portrayed as being potentially homophobic. Similarly for Laurie we get a glimpse at her having felt loss in her life, and having come out of a hard relationship, but this vulnerability is never explored in any depth and yet it is these sort of plot points that in my opinion had the potential to be much more than they were. The possibility for deeper emotional connection (rather than for the most part, what comes across as lust) between Diana and Laurie, is there – it just never quite gets off the ground and into a readers psyche.
Ultimately, i think The X Ingredient is one of those books where a reader needs to read it for themselves to decide what makes or breaks the story for them. For me, as much as there’s no denying the hot sex throughout this story, to be truly great and something that i’d re-read, the author needed to pair the hot sex with character development, and a level of emotional connection and vulnerability that matched the lust, angst and power play elements of this story.
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