The True Love Experiment

The True Love Experiment

by Christina Lauren

Narrated by Jonathan Cole, Cindy Kay

Unabridged — 10 hours, 59 minutes

The True Love Experiment

The True Love Experiment

by Christina Lauren

Narrated by Jonathan Cole, Cindy Kay

Unabridged — 10 hours, 59 minutes

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Overview

Notes From Your Bookseller

The Cristina Lauren writing duo is back with a swoony romance bringing together a novelist and a filmmaker. It’s a heart-thumping Hollywood love connection perfect for readers looking for fun and feeling with a sprinkling of steam.

Winner of the 2024 Audie Award for Romance

Sparks fly when a romance writer and a documentary filmmaker join forces to craft the ultimate Hollywood love story-but only if they can keep the chemistry between them from taking the whole thing off script-from the “divine” (Jodi Picoult) New York Times bestselling authors of The Soulmate Equation and The Unhoneymooners.

Felicity “Fizzy” Chen is lost. Sure, she's got an incredible career as a beloved romance novelist with a slew of bestsellers under her belt, but when she's asked to give a commencement address, it hits her: she hasn't been practicing what she's preached.

Fizzy hasn't ever really been in love. Lust? Definitely. But that swoon-worthy, can't-stop-thinking-about-him, all-encompassing feeling? Nope. Nothing. What happens when the optimism she's spent her career encouraging in readers starts to feel like a lie?

Connor Prince, documentary filmmaker and single father, loves his work but when his profit-minded boss orders him to create a reality TV show, putting his job on the line, Connor is out of his element. Desperate to find his romantic lead, a chance run-in with an exasperated Fizzy offers Connor the perfect solution. What if he could show the queen of romance herself falling head-over-heels for all the world to see? Fizzy gives him a hard pass-unless he agrees to her list of demands. When he says yes, and production on The True Love Experiment begins, Connor wonders if that perfect match will ever be in the cue cards for him, too.

“Full of big laughs, a few tears, and some seriously steamy scenes” (Kirkus Reviews, starred review), The True Love Experiment is the book fans have been waiting for ever since Fizzy's debut in the New York Times bestselling The Soulmate Equation.

Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly

01/09/2023

Bestsellers Christina Hobbs and Lauren Billings (The Soulmate Equation) return with a smart and hilarious rom-com, writing as Lauren. Romance novelist Fizzy Chen has lost her mojo: she hasn’t felt either a creative or a sexual spark for over a year. So when she’s approached about starring in a Bachelorette-style dating show, she agrees—but puts a twist on things. The men cast to win her heart must embody different romance novel archetypes from a list Fizzy sends producers, among them “hot nerd,” “rock star,” “Navy SEAL,” and “Scottish rogue.” Connor Prince is an amicably divorced father of one and a documentary filmmaker with a television network, a job he loves. So when his boss shunts him over to produce Fizzy’s show, he’s far from happy. Then he meets his vivacious and outspoken star. The pair have explosive chemistry, but Connor isn’t among the eight “heroes” vying for Fizzy’s hand, putting some bumps in their road to a happily ever after. The authors gleefully play with romance tropes, blending the delight of the meet-cute with smart critiques of more toxic dating habits and wrapping the whole in clever dialogue and refreshing sex-positivity. Readers will have no trouble rooting for Fizzy. Agent: Holly Root, Root Literary. (May)

Jodi Picoult

The True Love Experiment is my favorite kind of book to devour: something that manages to be hot and intense, yet still the very best comfort food. The divine Christina Lauren has created the ultimate reality dating show, and like all its fictional viewers, you’ll fall for Fizzy.

#1 New York Times bestselling author Jodi Picoult

The True Love Experiment is my favorite kind of book to devour: something that manages to be hot and intense, yet still the very best comfort food.”

Library Journal

★ 03/01/2023

Romance novelist Felicity "Fizzy" Chen is going through a dry spell in both her professional and personal lives. She hasn't been on a date in over a year and has been unable to write for nearly as long. Fizzy agrees to be the leading lady in producer Connor Prince's new dating show, The True Love Experiment, in hopes of both getting some inspiration for her next novel and maybe finding her own perfect match, but sparks unexpectedly fly between Fizzy and Connor instead of Fizzy and the show's "hero" suitors. Can Fizzy and Connor (who would much rather be filming nature documentaries) overcome the roadblocks in their way and find true love in their own accidental experiment? Readers will appreciate the witty dialogue, chemistry that practically leaps off the page, and believable conflicts, as well as the opportunity to check in with The Soulmate Equation's Jess and River in Lauren's latest (after Something Wilder). VERDICT Both Lauren's loyal fans and all contemporary romance readers will appreciate this sexy, swoony, heartfelt novel.—Whitney Kramer

Kirkus Reviews

★ 2023-03-11
A reality show brings together a romance author and a documentary producer.

As a bestselling, prolific romance author, Felicity “Fizzy” Chen knows love. Or at least she thought she did…until, in the middle of a commencement speech, she realizes she doesn’t even “remember the last time [she] was genuinely happy.” As she puts it, “the meat of my story—the romance plot, including love and happiness—is one gaping hole.” She stops writing and dating, worried that her lust for life is gone for good. But then she’s contacted by Connor Prince III, a producer for a reality show. He normally works on socially conscious documentaries, but he needs this job so he can stay in San Diego close to his beloved daughter. He wants Fizzy to be the lead in a dating show, one in which the world can watch a woman who usually writes happily-ever-afters fall in love herself. Fizzy has her own list of demands for the show—namely, that each contestant fit a romance-novel archetype (Hot Nerd, Cinnamon Roll, Vampire, etc.). The result is a refreshingly real show that audiences love—but Fizzy’s most intense connection isn’t with any of the contestants. It’s with Connor, and their powerful chemistry threatens to disrupt the show—and both of their lives. The two women who write as Lauren return with yet another pitch-perfect rom-com that manages to be funny, angst-y, and extremely sexy. Fizzy is an exciting and hilarious main character, and Connor is her perfect complement as a love interest. Most importantly, though, the story is a love letter to the romance genre and its many devoted fans. As Fizzy puts it in her commencement speech, romance is “about elevating stories of joy above stories of pain. It is about seeing yourself as the main character in a very interesting—or maybe even quiet—life that is entirely yours to control.” Fizzy’s journey to see herself as the main character of her own life is moving and satisfying.

Another winning romance from Lauren, full of big laughs, a few tears, and some seriously steamy scenes.

Product Details

BN ID: 2940176859928
Publisher: Simon & Schuster
Publication date: 05/16/2023
Edition description: Unabridged
Sales rank: 200,255

Read an Excerpt

Chapter One: Fizzy

one FIZZY
Approximately one year later

If you aren’t deep in a daydream about the hot bartender, then you have no good excuse for not reacting to what I just said.”

I blink up across the table at my best friend, Jess, and realize I’ve been essentially hypnotizing myself by stirring the olive in my martini around and around and around.

“Shit, I’m sorry. I spaced out. Tell me again.”

“No.” She lifts her wineglass primly. “Now you must guess.”

“Guess what you have planned for your trip to Costa Rica?”

She nods, taking a sip.

I stare flatly at her. She and her husband, the aforementioned River Peña, seem to be connected constantly by a vibrating, sexy laser beam. The answer here is very obvious. “Sex on every flat surface of the hotel room.”

“A given.”

“Running with wildcats?”

Jess stills with her glass partway to her lips. “It’s interesting that you would go there as your second guess. No.”

“A tree house picnic?”

She is immediately repulsed. “Eating with spiders? Hard pass.”

“Surfing on the backs of turtles?”

“Deeply unethical.”

Guiltily, I wince over at her. Even my Jess-Fizzy banter well has run dry. “Okay. I got nothing.”

She studies me for a beat before saying, “Sloths. We’re going to a sloth sanctuary.”

I let out a gasp of jealousy and drum up some real energy to effuse over how amazing this trip will be, but Jess just reaches across the bar table and rests her hand over mine, quieting me. “Fizzy.”

I look down at my half-finished martini to avoid her concerned maternal gaze. Jess’s Mom Face has a way of immediately making me feel the need to handwrite an apology, no matter what I’ve just been caught doing.

“Jessica,” I mumble in response.

“What’s happening right now?”

“What do you mean?” I ask, knowing exactly what she means.

“The whole vibe.” She holds up her wineglass with her free hand. “I ordered wine from Choda Vineyards and you didn’t make a joke about short, chubby grapes.”

I grimace. I didn’t even catch it. “I admit that was a wasted opportunity.”

“The bartender has been staring at you since we got here and you haven’t AirDropped him your contact info.”

I shrug. “He has lines shaved into his eyebrow.”

As these words leave my lips, our eyes meet in shock. Jess’s voice is a dramatic whisper: “Are you actually being...?”

Picky?” I finish in a gasp.

Her smile softens the worry lingering in her eyes. “There she is.” With one final squeeze to my fingers, she releases my hand, leaning back. “Rough day?”

“Just a lot of thinking,” I admit. “Or overthinking.”

“You saw Kim today, I take it?”

Kim, my therapist for the past ten months and the woman who I hope will help me crack the code to writing, dating, feeling like myself again. Kim, who hears all my angst about love and relationships and inspiration because I really, truly do not want to drop the depth of my stress in Jess’s lap (she and River are still relative newlyweds), or my sister Alice’s lap (she is pregnant and already fed up with her overprotective obstetrician husband), or my mother’s lap (she is already overly invested in my relationship status; I don’t want to send her to therapy, too).

In the past, when I’ve felt discontentment like this, I knew it would ebb with time. Life has ups and downs; happiness isn’t a constant or a given. But this feeling has lasted nearly a year. It’s a cynicism that now seems permanently carved into my outlook. I used to spend my life writing love stories and carrying the boundless optimism that my own love story would begin on the next page, but what if that optimism has left me for good? What if I’ve run out of pages?

“I did see Kim,” I say. “And she gave me homework.” I pull a little Moleskine notebook from my purse and wave it limply. For years, these colorful journals were my constant companions. I took one everywhere I went, writing book plots, snippets of funny conversations, images that would pop into my head at random times. I called them my idea notebooks and used to scribble things down twenty, thirty, forty times a day. These scribbles were my deep well of ideas. For a few months after my romance brain came to a screeching halt in front of a thousand fresh college grads, I continued carrying one around in hopes inspiration would strike. But eventually, seeing it there in my purse stressed me out, so I left them in my home office, collecting dust with my laptop and desktop. “Kim told me I need to start carrying notebooks again,” I tell Jess. “That I’m ready for the gentle pressure of having one with me, and even writing a single sentence or drawing a doodle in it will help.”

She takes a second to absorb this. The phrase even writing a single sentence hangs between us. “I knew you’d been in a slump,” she says, “but I don’t think I realized how bad it was.”

“Well, it doesn’t happen all at once. For a while, I wrote, but it wasn’t very good. And then I started to worry it was actually pretty terrible, and that made me think I’d lost my spark. And then thinking I’d lost my spark made me think maybe it was because I’d stopped believing in love.”

Her frown deepens, and I press on. “It isn’t like I woke up one day and thought, Wow, love is a lie.” I stab the olive in my drink, then use the toothpick to point in her direction. “Obviously you’re proof that it’s not. But at what point do I acknowledge that maybe my love life isn’t going to be what I think it is?”

“Fizz—”

“I think I might have aged out of the majors.”

What? That is—” She blinks, her argument dying on her tongue. “Well, that is actually a very good metaphor.”

“It’s the classic chicken-and-egg dilemma: Has the writer’s block killed my romance boner, or has losing my romance boner killed my actual boner?”

“There are a lot of boners in this situation.”

“If only! And once you’re single for so long, you aren’t even sure whether you’re suitable for a relationship anymore.”

“It’s not like you’ve wanted to be in one,” she reminds me. “I don’t know who Felicity Chen is if she’s not treating dating like it’s an extreme sport.”

I point at her again, energized. “Exactly! That’s another fear I have! What if I’ve depleted the local resources?”

“Local... resources?”

“I joke that I’ve dated every single man in San Diego County—and inadvertently some of the married ones—but I don’t really think it’s that far off from the truth.”

Jess scoffs into her wine. “Come on.”

“Remember Leon? The guy I met when he spilled a huge tray of Greek salad on my foot in the Whole Foods parking lot?”

She nods, swallowing a sip. “The guy from Santa Fe?”

“And remember Nathan, who I met on a blind date?”

She squints. “I think I remember hearing that name.”

“They’re brothers. Twins. Moved out here together to be closer to family. I went out with them two weeks apart.” Jess claps a hand to her mouth, stifling a laugh. “When Nathan walked into the restaurant and approached the table, I said, ‘Oh my God, what are you doing here?’”

Her laugh breaks free. “I’m sure he and Leon get that all the time, though.”

“Sure, but then I went out with a guy last month named Hector.” I pause to underscore the weight of what I’m going to say next. “He’s the cousin the twins moved here to be closer to.”

To her credit, this laugh is more of a groan. This shit used to be funny. It used to crack us both up—and dating like this was a blast. The Adventures of Fizzy used to give me unending inspiration—even if a date went terribly, I could still play it for comedy or even just a tiny spark of an idea for dialogue. But at this point, I have six books partially written that get just past the meet-cute and then... nothing. There’s a roadblock on the way to the “I love you” now, a NO ACCESS sign in my brain. I’m starting to understand why. Because when I see Jess light up every time River walks into the room, I must admit that I’ve never shared that kind of reverberating joy with anyone. It’s made it increasingly difficult to write about love authentically.

I’m not sure I even know what real love feels like.

Jess’s phone vibrates on the table. “It’s Juno,” she says, meaning her ten-year-old daughter, my second-in-line bestie and one of the most charming small humans I’ve ever met. Kids are mostly a mystery to me, but Juno somehow translates in my brain like an adult would—probably because she’s smarter than I am.

I motion for Jess to take the call just as my gaze locks with that of a man across the bar. He’s gorgeous in such an easy and immediate way: messy dark hair falling into a pair of light, penetrating eyes, jaw so sharp he could slice my clothes off as he kisses down my body. Suit coat tossed over a chair, dress shirt stretched across broad shoulders and unbuttoned at the neck—he’s got the disheveled appearance of a man who’s had a shitty day, and the famished look in his gaze that says he’d use me to forget all about it. Men who deliver that kind of eye contact used to be my catnip. Past Fizzy would already be halfway across the room.

But Present Fizzy is decidedly meh. Is my internal horny barometer really broken? I tap it with a mental reflex hammer, imagining pulling that Hot CEO from his barstool and dragging him by that open collar into the hallway.

Nothing.

Look at his mouth! So full! So cocky!

Still nothing.

I tear my attention away and turn back to Jess as she ends her call. “Everything okay?”

“Coordinating dance and soccer,” she says with a shrug. “I’d elaborate, but we’d both be asleep by sentence two. But back to Hector, the cousin of—”

“I didn’t sleep with any of them,” I blurt. “I haven’t slept with anyone in a year.” I did the math a couple of days ago. It feels weird to say it out loud.

It must be weird to hear it, too, because Jess gapes at me. “Wow.”

“Lots of people don’t have sex for a year!” I protest. “Is it really that shocking?”

“For you, yes, Fizzy. Are you kidding?”

“I watched porn the other night and there was barely a clench.” I look down at my lap. “I think my pants feelings are broken.”

Her concern intensifies. “Fizz, honey, I—”

“Last week I considered going jogging in flip-flops just to remind myself how sex sounds.” Jess’s forehead creases in worry and I deflect immediately. “The answer here is obvious. It’s time for bangs.”

There’s a tiny beat where I can see her considering battling this redirect, but thankfully she hops on this new train. “We have a strict agreement that no crisis bangs will be approved. I’m sorry, it’s a no from the best friend committee.”

“But imagine how youthful I’ll look. Quirky and up for anything.”

“No.”

I growl and turn my attention to the side, to the bar television, where the previous sportsball contest has ended and the local news is reeling through the headlines. I point to the screen. “Your husband’s face is on TV.”

She sips her wine, staring up at two-dimensional River. “That will never stop being weird.”

“The husband part, or the TV part?”

She laughs. “TV.”

And I see it all over her face: the husband part feels as natural as breathing. That’s because science, specifically River’s own invention—a DNA test that categorizes couples into Base, Silver, Gold, Platinum, Titanium, and Diamond love matches according to all kinds of complicated genetic patterns and personality tests—essentially told them they’re as compatible as is humanly possible.

And I’m more than happy to take credit. Jess wasn’t even going to try the test that matched them—the DNADuo—until I shoved an early version of it into her hands. Where are my rightfully earned karma points for that? River turned his decade-long research on genetic patterns and romantic compatibility into the app and billion-dollar company GeneticAlly. Now GeneticAlly is biotech’s and the online dating industry’s gold-star darling. River’s company has been all over the news since it launched.

It’s a lot of blah-blah-yapping-hand when he gets really sciencey about it, but it really has changed the way people find love. Since the DNADuo launched about three years ago, it’s even overtaken Tinder in number of users. Some analysts expect its stock to surpass Facebook’s now that the associated social media feed app, Paired, has launched. Everyone knows someone who’s been matched through GeneticAlly.

All this is amazing, but for someone like River, who prefers to spend his days facing a fume hood rather than leading investor meetings or fielding questions from reporters, I think the frenzy has been a drag.

But, as the nightly news is reminding us, GeneticAlly isn’t River’s problem for much longer. The company is being acquired.

“When does the deal close?” I ask.

Jess swallows a sip of wine, eyes still on the television. “Expected Monday morning.”

I really can’t fathom this. The GeneticAlly board has accepted an offer, and there are all kinds of subrights deals happening that I don’t even understand. What I do comprehend is that they’re going to be so rich, Jess is absolutely paying for drinks tonight.

“How are you feeling about it?”

She laughs. “I feel completely unprepared for what life looks like from now on.”

I stare at her, deciphering the simplicity of this sentence. And then I reach across the table and take her hand, fog clearing. Her right wrist has the other half of my drunken, misspelled Fleetwood Mac tattoo: Thunner only happens and wen it’s raining forever binding us together. “I love you,” I say, serious now. “And I’m here to help you spend your giraffe money.”

“I’d rather have an alpaca.”

“Dream bigger, Peña. Get two alpacas.”

Jess grins at me, and her smile fades. She squeezes my hand. “You know the old Fizzy will come back, right?” she asks. “I think you’re just facing a transition, and figuring that out will take time.”

I glance across the bar at the disheveled hot guy again. I search my blood for some vibration, or even the mildest flutter. Nothing. Tearing my eyes away, I exhale slowly. “I hope you’re right.”

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