All Dylan Tang wants is to win a Mid-Autumn Festival mooncake baking competition in order to honor his late mother and get some publicity for the family takeout. But then the charming and wealthy Theo Somers asks that Dylan accompany him as his plus one to his cousin’s wedding out in the Hamptons and pretend to be his boyfriend. In Fake Dates and Mooncakes, the dates are fake but the feelings are real.
We all know the story. No matter how convoluted the context, two people must pretend to date because of reasons, but one (or both) have very real feelings that they must suppress. Fake dating is one of my favorite tropes, which is why I was so excited for Fake Dates and Mooncakes. Sadly, while the premise sounded fantastic, I was a little disappointed in the execution.
There is a lot going on in this book. Every time something new cropped up, I couldn’t help but think, “Seriously?!? What now?!?!” It took me a while to realize that this is basically a C-drama. Do you have any idea how much happens in a C-drama? It seems like new plot twists are neverending. The fake dating that I was so excited about was finished only halfway through the book, and then Dylan and Theo had to contend with meddlesome family members and freak natural disasters. It honestly felt like too much.
And unfortunately, this book suffers from the dreaded “insta-love” trope, which in a romance is particularly disappointing. The thrill of a romance is the characters meeting, getting to know each other, developing feelings, realizing those feelings, communicating those feelings… Romances are all about the relationship, and building that relationship is a vital component.
This book zips through so many plot points that the romance feels secondary. There’s no tension; there’s no development. Fake dating in particular is about the yearning. But when Theo asks Dylan to pretend to be his boyfriend, they’ve only met twice and have known each other for maybe a week. There may be feelings happening, but it’s not necessarily love at that point.
All the other conflicts in Fake Dates and Mooncakes are likewise resolved very quickly, sometimes within pages. There is a lot of unnecessary backstory that doesn’t really add to the plot. One of the bridesmaids almost drowns the night before the wedding (Dylan saves her), and she is at the wedding the next day with no problems. Dylan and Theo get together, fake break up, make up, and then break up again over the course of maybe 20 pages. I’m not a fan of miscommunication as a plot device (except when it’s funny), but it wouldn’t have been such a bad thing for some of these problems to stick around, or for some of the backstory to be relevant.
Also, as a side note, I actually live in the area this is set in, and some of the things that happen are just not really possible, which kind of took me out of the narrative a bit.
Now, I will say that this book is not not enjoyable. It’s cheesy and ridiculous and that’s normally my jam. There are a lot of moments that I really liked. There was only one bed? Yep, it’s there. (Bonus there’s a rain shower in the middle of the room and the glass isn’t even frosted, which honestly seems pointless in a YA book but I’m gonna save that detail for later.) Character A plays some sort of instrument and Character B is stunned speechless at their musical ability? Big fan. Huge, over-the-top love declaration involving something completely unrealistic? Oh, yeah.
I also really enjoyed the in-depth look at mooncakes. I had no idea there was so much you could do with them, and it’s really fascinating to learn all about the different ingredients and even the different ways to make the dough. It was very sweet how Dylan helped Theo, who is half-Asian on his late mother’s side, reconnect with that part of his heritage. I love learning about other cultures.
Basically, Fake Dates and Mooncakes ended up sadly not really being my cup of tea. But I do think overall it’s a cute, fluffy story with a happy ending, and it’s completely devoid of homophobia, which is always a plus in LGBTQ+ media. I can’t say it’s one of my favorites but I think a lot of people will enjoy the story. It has the potential to be a really good comfort read.
Fake Dates and Mooncakes by Sher Lee is published by Underlined and is currently available wherever books are sold.
Author: Jamie Sugah
Jamie has a BA in English with a focus in creative writing from The Ohio State University. She self-published her first novel, The Perils of Long Hair on a Windy Day, which is available through Amazon. She is currently an archivist and lives in New York City with her demon ninja vampire cat. She covers television, books, movies, anime, and conventions in the NYC area.
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