Overall Grade: ⭐️ ⭐️ ⭐️ ⭐️ ⭐️
Going into Not My Match by the incomparable Ilsa Madden-Mills, there were two preconceived notions about her hero and heroine. After Not My Romeo, this reader may or may not have had unkind thoughts about Elena’s sister, Giselle. As the boyfriend-stealing sister of Elena, for much of that book, it was difficult to like her. Add to that Jack’s best friend, Devon Walsh, wide receiver extraordinarie, female-loving playboy. What Ilsa Madden-Mills has done so well with Not My Match is take two seemingly complicated characters, a hero and heroine who make you feel equal parts curiousity and concern, and she crafts a love affair between the two that leaves you wishing for more of their story. I was anticipatory for Madden-Mills’s Not My Match because, by my estimation, she has never written a book I didn’t love and adore. And once again, she’s shown why you should never miss a Madden-Mills book.
In Not My Match, Giselle and Devon run into each other at Devon’s club. Devon rescues Giselle from an online date gone wrong, but their evening ends with Giselle storming away from Devon. Later that night, Devon goes to Giselle’s apartment to find it on fire. Without a place to go, Devon invites Giselle to live in his penthouse. With him. From the beginning of this book, it’s clear that Giselle and Devon have chemistry but Giselle, being the sister of his best friend’s new wife, along with a precarious past that taints his present, Devon refuses to act on his attraction to Giselle. Until he doesn’t. Is Giselle just one of Devon’s hook-ups, or is he relationship material?
If you’ve read Ilsa Madden-Mills previously, you know that one of her superpowers is writing heroes who have these larger than life outward personalities while hiding a soft underbelly. Devon is more of the same here. What Madden-Mills does well is keeping that fresh. Writers have signatures with their storytelling, and that is clearly one of hers. It’s what draws me to every one of her romances, but she constantly reinvents her heroic characterizations in ways that invest you in her hero. I adore Devon Walsh because Madden-Mills crafts him as complicated. He simply cannot give his heart to Giselle when it’s really the only thing he wants to do. As such, the tension of this story lies in his constant want of her while spurning her as well.
In Giselle, Madden-Mills takes a character who seemed spurious in Not My Romeo. For much of that book, you struggle with liking her because her actions seem unkind. However, much like we see in this book, nothing is really as it seems. Through Giselle, Madden-Mills treats us to so many layers: a science girl existing in a male-dominated world and all of those complications, a woman still struggling to forgive herself, a woman waiting to break out of the binds of virginity and other people’s ideas about her, and a woman whom her advisor says has a multi-faceted life, given her love of writing sci-fi romance. Giselle’s characterization is meant to challenge the idea of womanhood. Is it possible to have it all? Even more, are goals set in your youth still pertinent in your future? With both Devon and Giselle, Madden-Mills treats her readers to splendidly complicated offerings in her characters.
There is witty banter in Not My Match. There is a chemistry that foreshadows a deeper well of love. There are other characters such as Giselle’s best friend, Myrtle, or Jack’s nemesis, Aidan, who add color and humor to Giselle and Devon’s journey. Mama and Aunt Clara are here too, as well as Elena and Jack (in small bits). There are truths about how our past informs our future, and the need to live more deliberately in the present, living in your current dreams. There is the symbol of a butterfly, a symbol strewn all over Madden-Mills’s social media right now, because the butterfly reminds us of a new life, of a new sense of self. And that truth is what makes Not My Match an emotional juggernaut, a romance that captivates and steals your heart.
If you don’t do anything else this week/weekend, read Not My Romeo and Not My Match. These two books remind you that Ilsa Madden-Mills is a force in romancelandia. These two books are a perfect combination of quirky, sentimental, steamy and romantic. You will end these books feeling down deep in your soul that a life lived in abundance is the only life you need.
In love and romance,