The Dating Plan by Sara Desai

This title may be purchased from Amazon

Daisy Patel is a software engineer who understands lists and logic better than bosses and boyfriends. With her life all planned out, and no interest in love, the one thing she can’t give her family is the marriage they expect. Left with few options, she asks her childhood crush to be her decoy fiancé.

Liam Murphy is a venture capitalist with something to prove. When he learns that his inheritance is contingent on being married, he realizes his best friend’s little sister has the perfect solution to his problem. A marriage of convenience will get Daisy’s matchmaking relatives off her back and fulfill the terms of his late grandfather’s will. If only he hadn’t broken her tender teenage heart nine years ago…

Sparks fly when Daisy and Liam go on a series of dates to legitimize their fake relationship. Too late, they realize that very little is convenient about their arrangement. History and chemistry aren’t about to follow the rules of this engagement.

Rating: C+

The Dating Plan is Sara Desai’s follow-up to last year’s The Marriage Game, and like its predecessor, it’s an enjoyable – if predictable – rom-com, this time a second-chance romance/fake-relationship story.  But – also like its predecessor – it falls into some storytelling traps and incorporates some seriously overused tropes; and although I had fun (mostly) reading it, it’s not what I’d call a memorable read, and I could only assign it a middling grade.

When we meet Daisy Patel in the opening chapter, she’s in the ladies bathroom at a hotel where she’s attending a conference, trying to obtain some sanitary towels from the dispenser while simultaneously trying to ignore the fact that her most recent ex- and her most recent ex-boss are nosily sucking face in one of the stalls.  We know immediately that Daisy Is Not Like Other Girls; she describes herself as a neurotic software engineer who lives by plans and quantifiable results, a woman who wields fashion like a shield, and whose tendency to blurt out whatever was on her mind had gotten her into trouble too many times.  And just in case we didn’t get the message, she carries a tote bag with Marvel characters on it and wears Avengers underwear.

Anyway.

She’s a mega-intelligent software designer, and her current employer is Organicare, a small company that is developing sustainable, organic menstrual products, and Daisy has accompanied her boss to this conference, where they’re due to make a pitch to a group of venture capitalists in order to secure more funding.  She’s on her way back to the meeting room when she hears her name being called by a familiar voice; Salena Auntie (one of her four busybody, matchmaking but well-meaning aunts) has, through sheer (not) coincidence tracked Daisy down at the conference hotel and has a young man in tow, a friend’s son who is looking for a wife.  As Daisy makes her escape – carrying many more sanitary towels than she actually needs – she (literally) bumps into the-one-that-got-away  – Liam Murphy (aka Liam Freaking Bastard Murphy), her teenage crush and the boy who broke her heart ten years before when he stood her up for the Prom.  Needless to say, she’s hated him with a passion ever since. (When she’s not hearing his voice every day or fantasising about him every night, that is.)  I’ll say that again. She’s hated him for TEN YEARS because he didn’t turn up on Prom night.  Seriously?  It’s not as if he killed her cat or made rabbit stew from her favourite pet! Okay, so younger Daisy was devastated.  But to hold on to that for ten years seems wildly immature.  (And in case you’re wondering, yes we do find out why and yes, he had a good reason.)

To avoid Salena Auntie’s matchmaking scheme, Salena impulsively introduces Liam as her fiancé – and he’s only too delighted to play along.

Liam is in San Francisco to attend his grandfather’s funeral and to oversee the setting up of a new office for the venture capital company he works for, and once that’s done, he’s set to return to New York to take up a partnership.  He doesn’t see his family often and his relationship with his older brother Brendan is strained, to say the least.  Things go from bad to worse when his grandfather’s will is read; traditionally, the family business – a distillery that’s seen better days – has been handed down from father to eldest son, and Brendan is just waiting for that to happen so he can knock the place down and sell the land to provide a cash injection for his own business.  But under the terms of the old man’s will, Liam will inherit the distillery – provided he’s married by his next birthday and remains married for a minimum of one year.  Of course, Brendan is furious and Liam is shocked… and surprised to find that he actually wants to continue his grandfather’s legacy.  But how?  Liam’s birthday is six weeks away, he doesn’t do relationships, and for something like this, he’d have to marry someone who won’t fall in love with him or want to continue with the marriage. In fact, the ideal candidate would be someone who actively hates him.

You guessed it.

Liam and Daisy make a deal.  In return for help finding an investor for Organicare (and because it will get her marriage-minded relatives off her back) Daisy agrees to marry Liam, and in order to sell it to her family, she says they should go on some dates – and even draws up a spreadsheet with dates and times and objectives.  It’s the titular Dating Plan.

I admit that the ‘I’ve-hated-you-for-ten-years’ thing bugged me a lot, but once Liam and Daisy start spending time together and interacting more naturally, I began to enjoy myself a bit more.  There’s considerable warmth and humour in the book, and while Liam comes off as a bit of a dickhead to start with, once Daisy – and we – get to spend some time with him, we see beyond that to the funny, charming and decent, vulnerable guy underneath.  I did, however, have to wonder how someone who spent a few years living on the fringes of a biker gang suddenly became a millionaire venture capitalist.  I liked Daisy’s smarts and snark, but there are contradictions to her character, too; she’s super-intelligent at some times and clueless at others, and she’s an introvert, yet she’s randomly flirty and has had lots of hook-ups.  (I’m not condemning her for them – just suggesting it doesn’t fit with her being introverted.)

There are a lot of secondary characters in the story who are really just window-dressing;  we’ve got the stereotypical marriage-obsessed aunties (four of them!) who come across as almost stalker-ish at times, and the stereotypical Irish family of drinkers, bruisers and brawlers. In places, so much information is randomly thrown out that it seems the author is so desperate to get it out there that it doesn’t matter if it interferes with the flow of the storytelling, and some of the plot-points just don’t make sense.  (Such as – how did Liam’s grandfather know he was going to die and leave enough time for Liam to get married?  Suppose he’d died the day before Liam’s next birthday? ) Fortunately, the romance itself is cute and banter-y and the sex scenes are well-written, but there’s little tension or relationship development as it’s very clear Daisy and Liam are into each other right from the start (despite Daisy’s professed hatred of Liam – which we hear about constantly!).

But despite that, I was enjoying a bit of sexy fluff until the last quarter of the book happened and ruined it.  One of the issues Liam has carried with him since childhood is a sense of unworthiness; he never went to college and doesn’t have a degree (although it’s a point of pride that he’ll be the only partner at his firm without an MBA), so of course, the author has to trot out the I-am-not-worthy-and-I-am-leaving-you-for-your-own-good trope – and I wanted to spit.  In the old days (pre-Kindle) it might even have been a wallbanger moment.

The Dating Plan is light and frothy, but ultimately lacks substance and consistency.  While we can all say of a romance, ‘it’s nothing I haven’t read before’, the best authors take those old, well-used tropes and refashion them into something new. Sadly, that doesn’t happen here.