Friends Without Benefits is the second Knitting in the City book, following Neanderthal Seeks Human. This series follows the women of a knitting club in their romantic exploits, though all of the books can be read as stand-alone books. The first book was a cute romance, but it wasn't really the slow burn that I was hoping it would be. Still, I liked it enough to move on to the second book (and honestly, I might have liked it even more if I hadn't been craving something specific) and man, am I glad I did!
Friends Without Benefits follows Elizabeth, the roommate of the heroine of the first book. Janie, said roommate, has been largely absent from Elizabeth's life since she got engaged, and while Liz misses her some, she's mostly too busy to notice. She's finishing up her medical residency, and is just about to end a research rotation when she finds herself in the room with Nico--the guy she lost her virginity to in the wake of her boyfriend, and his best friend's, death, and then never spoke to again. So, yeah, it's kind of awkward, especially because Nico is smokin' hot and a comedy star with his own TV show. Unfortunately, his niece is sick, and when Nico and his grandmother realize that Liz is now a doctor, they decide they want Liz to treat the girl. Which, of course, means that Liz can't get away from Nico--not in Chicago, and definitely not at her high school reunion, where an attempt to get him out of a bad situation ends up with rumors flying that she had his child, and brings up some old feelings that Liz was never really aware of.
I really liked the dynamic between Liz and Nico here. Nico has been in love with Liz for, like forever, but had a really crappy way of showing it--so crappy that Liz had no idea of how he felt, and was convinced that he absolutely hated her. And given her actions before their last meeting, she's got a lot of guilt and other complicated feelings swirling around. Yes, she finds Nico incredibly attractive, but she still remembers how he treated her, and she treated him, and how the boyfriend/best friend played into it all. That last bit has another complication: that Liz doesn't have relationships. She finds guys she wants to hook up with, hooks up with them for a few months, and then dumps them. (One of her friends says this is pursuing relationships, but I'm not so sure about that.) She doesn't even want friendship from them, just the benefits. But with Nico, she first proposes to put the past behind them and be friends. Just friends. No benefits. Which, of course, is not what Nico wants at all. It's very dramatic, of course. (Romance novels usually are.)
Because of Elizabeth's reservations, this ends up being a slower burn despite Nico's readiness to jump whole-heartedly into the relationship. I love this. Elizabeth was pretty stubborn about her feelings, but I think she had reasons for that, while Nico had his own reasons to push her--and to be disappointed when she put up so much resistance even once all the details were out on the table. It's a complex set of emotions, and I think that Reid did a good job of playing them. In fact, I think that the romantic plot overall was a lot stronger in general because of the slow build. In the first book, Reid used a hokey subplot to prop up the romance, because the romantic plot was basically all over and done with so early. In this, the plot was much more complex in regards to the characters' motives and feelings, so there wasn't a need for something hokey to pull it along.
One thing I do want to comment on: the sex scenes. They're good. Steamy. But Reid does this weird thing where she includes two versions, a steamy one and a non-steamy one, and there's a note at the beginning of the chapters about why she did this and what exactly she did. This really, really broke up the flow of the book. I feel like you either have to commit to the scene or glaze over it; both are perfectly acceptable routes, and even if you decide to glaze over the sex, you can have some really hot kissing scenes that will basically propel the physical aspect of the story and give it that "mmm" factor. Trying to do both is kind of a cop-out, and also broke the flow. I wish she hadn't done this and had just decided to take one route or the other. It doesn't even have to be the same route in every book in the series. For example, Janie was a much sweeter heroine than Elizabeth, and therefore I think the glazing-over worked better for Janie whereas the explicit scenes worked better for Elizabeth.
Still, this was a great book. I liked it much more than NSH, though I'm not normally a fan of the whole "unrequited love" thing. I thought the romance was strong, without the need for anything crazy to prop it up, and it was a solid story overall.
4 stars out of 5.