Book review: Miles Tan’s “Finding X”

geologyTaken from XKCD

With more than a dozen students finishing contemporary romance novelist Mina Esguerra’s #romanceclass in the middle of last year, it’s not surprising to see the variety of stories that these fledgling authors have now made available on different platforms online.

Readers looking for an international romance between a plucky Filipino and a Brit pop star can get their fix with Kesh Tanglao’s “The Real Score,” which tells the ups and downs of the friendship that develops between exec Caitlin Tan and boybander Marcus Wayans.

For a story with a dash of social media and a tour of the lesser known attractions of the city of Macau, readers can look to Chrissie Peria’s “All’s Fair in Blog and War,” which chronicles the attraction that blossoms between bloggers Five Cuevas and Jesse Ruiz.

Another #romanceclass product that offers something different from the norm is Miles Tan’s novella, “Finding X.” Set in Tagaytay and Manila, “Finding X” brings together IT frontend developer Carlisle Santiago and Matteo Villegas in a story replete with humor, adorable interactions, and bad geology puns.

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Love isn’t exactly top of mind for Carlisle Santiago when she spends a weekend at a swanky hotel in Tagaytay. Fresh from the end of a seven-year relationship and the year of non-stop work she had thrown herself into in order to forget, all she is looking to accomplish is to recover from her wounds.

But fate has other things planned for her when she meets Matteo Villegas, a blue-haired geologist who’s trying to find out if he can actually make a girl — Carlisle — fall in love with him, despite the fact that he is socially-awkward. Over the course of several days and weeks, Matteo manages to find a place in Carlisle’s life and in her heart.

However, it’s not all smooth sailing for the couple as Matteo’s attempts at winning Carlisle’s heart accidentally reopens the old wounds that she is only starting to get over. Will Matteo manage to rebound from his misstep and take his friendship with Carlisle to another level? And wil Carlisle manage to look beyond her past and see a future with Matteo?

t’s not difficult to get into the world and the relationship that Tan creates in “Finding X,” mainly because she has created such a likeable character in her love interest. 

Matteo Villegas is a refreshing take on the romantic lead, which in recent years has taken the form of the hyper-masculine alpha male, often rough and domineering with a soft emotional core underneath. Matteo is the farthest thing from being an alpha male: he bumbles his way into starting a conversation with Carlisle in the first few pages of the book, and he never really takes on an authoritative voice in the story.

Tan’s triumph is that despite the fact that Matteo rarely displays any of the markers of conventional masculinity, it in no way diminishes his appeal to Carlisle or the reader. In fact, when put beside the more conventionally masculine Erickson Gutierrez — Carlisle’s ex-boyfriend and immediate boss — it’s clear who the better man is.

It’s also a great help that Matteo has such an adorable voice, which Tan reveals to readers in Matteo’s academic-style journals placed before some of the book’s chapters. It’s an inventive way of getting readers to see the inner workings of a character’s mind, and works really well in building up the romance and the tension. Seeing Matteo grow through these journals is pretty satisfying to read.

While “Finding X” has a strong draw in the form of it’s hero, Matteo, that’s not to say that there aren’t things that can be improved. It’s Tan’s first book, and some parts of the work make this abundantly clear.

Some readers, for instance, may not be as enamoured of the book’s plotting as they are of Matteo.  While Carlisle does encounter some challenges on the way to her happy ending, Tan isn’t as successful in building up the tension as she is in creating the character of Matteo Villegas.

The Amazon Kindle version of the book — the one used for this review — also had a few typographical errors scattered throughout the text, perhaps caused by the process used to turn the text into an e-book.

Nevertheless, all of these are little problems in a book that is quote enjoyable, with a standout love interest to boot. Romance readers looks for a light and fun read would do well to give “Finding X” a try.

(Disclosure: The author was also part of the same romance novel writing class.)

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