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Your Laughing Muscles Will Get A Workout In This Sporty Romance


Farrah Rochon's The Dating Playbook is an absolute romp, packed with humor, brilliant banter, and — of course — sex appeal.

Taylor Powell is the owner of Taylor'd Conditioning, a fitness and nutrition business. And while she might be the queen of saucy comebacks, she's sadly on a downward spiral when it comes to her career. Following some sketchy business decisions, a new opportunity that went sour, and a not-quite-ready-for-prime-time failed romance (you might recognize her as one of the three besties from Rochon's critically acclaimed The Boyfriend Project), Taylor has some rough days coming — and she doesn't want to accept any help from her friends.

Jamar Dixon, aka 'Diesel' Dixon, is the former star running back for the Texas Longhorns, a fictional NFL team. His on-the-field performance made him a superstar, but a devastating knee injury put him on the sidelines permanently — at least according to team physicians. However, Jamar isn't on board with the diagnosis. He is determined to return to the NFL and the game he loves, while keeping a promise to a childhood friend. All he needs is the best personal trainer he can find — and one who's willing to keep their trainer/client relationship top-secret. Failing to reach his goal is one thing — but failing under the spotlight of social media and the scrutiny of NFL agents, players, and fans is something he won't risk.

When Taylor's rent is due, she promotes a free fitness class on her YouTube and Instagram channels to drum up business. Jamar shows up searching for an aggressive, no-holds-barred fitness regimen, and Taylor's fits the bill. But when he offers her the trainer job, she shuts him down — she's dealt with too many good-looking males who start off interested in hiring a trainer but end up mainly on the prowl. Besides, Jamar's physique doesn't look like it needs her help.

Taylor eventually gives in; her shrinking bank account needs attention. But there is a catch: They must play by her rules, but Jamar has a rule or two of his own (no spoilers). The compromise works until a TMZ-style sports reporter trips them up. So, of course, the only thing to do is pretend to be dating so no one figures out what's really going on.

Rochon has created two engaging, perfectly imperfect main characters that you'll want to wrap up in hugs within the first ten pages of the book. There's a lot to love here, but the dialogue shines through, a home run from start to finish. Taylor and Jamar's verbal back-and-forth is just irresistible.

Some of the funniest scenes happen while the couple is tackling Taylor's workouts, especially during this mountain hike:

"Is that a compass?" Jamar asked.

She laughed at the incredulity in his tone. "Why do you sound so surprised?"

He slipped his phone from his pocket, swiped his thumb across the screen, then held it up to her. "Not sure if you know this, but these cool little computers that fit in your pocket? They come equipped with a compass."

"Ha ha, smart-ass..."

There's more that will grab your tickle-bone, but I personally can't forget the time Taylor compares Jamar to Lenny Kravitz or when Dave Chappelle's name drops with hilarious results. The grocery store scene with the vegetables is a classic, too, and Taylor's preference for the Chinese eggplant over all others is, well, ... oh, my, so funny! You may have to put the book down so you can stop laughing and wipe happy tears from your eyes.

Rochon has created two engaging, perfectly imperfect main characters that you'll want to wrap up in hugs within the first ten pages of the book.

The humor is first-rate, but the emotional journey is also well-crafted.

Sisterhood, deep friendships, and family connections are just as important as romance in The Dating Playbook. Samiah and London, two of the three women (Taylor being the third) who formed a crowd-pleasing bond in The Boyfriend Project return in the new novel; Taylor needs some extra love, support, wisdom, and humor, because she has a secret fear she's hidden since she first set foot in a classroom. But the ladies have her back.

Rochon doesn't forget about Taylor's family, either — their rough but loving dynamic is present throughout the book and features in the big finish. High achievers all, Taylor's self-esteem can sometimes take a beating around them — her father, the Colonel, is a well-respected, life-long military man, and her mother a powerhouse attorney. But it's her brother who enjoys flaunting his career successes in her face, she believes, and he's the one who takes her confidence for a ride.

Although the ending may have had one thread too many to wrap up, Rochon's central love story comes through beautifully with inspiration, heart, and soul. Taylor and Jamar are magic — they'll keep you enthralled from the start of the book to the very last word.

Denny S. Bryce is the author of the historical novel Wild Women and the Blues.

Copyright 2021 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.