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I Read a Romance Book Set at The Columbus Zoo (Lucy on the Wild Side review)

GENRE: Adult Romance
LENGTH: 334 pages

PLOT
Lucy is a gorilla keeper when her zoo takes in an orphaned gorilla in need of a surrogate mother. Wildlife Reality TV host Kai arrives with his crew at the zoo to film the process and romance blooms between the two animal lovers.

CHARACTERS Lucy is a dedicated zookeeper whose great love is Zuri the gorilla in her care. She is career focused and has a distrusting and prickly personality. I can’t honestly say I liked her character a ton. Yet I can’t deny her character is well written. Her issues stem from her childhood and when taken into account her behavior makes sense. Being well written and likable aren’t always synonymous, after all.
One thing I do applaud is how Lucy’s lack of desire for children was portrayed. As a childless woman myself I know all the stereotypes of us being cold and less of a woman and how we’re constantly told we’ll change our minds (and some do and that’s completely fine but many won’t). It’s super hurtful rhetoric and while Lucy isn’t the sweetest character she is very nurturing and gentle when it comes to the animals (and especially the baby gorilla) in her care. Showing a woman who is firm in her stance on being childless but still has that gentle, loving side was very important because just because a woman doesn’t want children it doesn’t mean she’s heartless.
Lucy’s love interest, Kai, is also passionate about wildlife. He and Lucy get off onto the wrong foot (I’d describe it as an enemies to lovers romance) but he proves himself to be kind, thoughtful, and humble. He’s book boyfriend material for sure. If he was real I’d 100% be crushing on him.
This is a romance book, but Lucy and Kai’s chemistry wasn’t exploding off the page for me. They have things in common like a shared love of animals (and in particular gorillas) and their flirting style (which comes in the form of sharing weird and sometimes gross animal facts) was hilarious. Lucy was simply too hot and cold, though, for me to really view them as a solid couple.
I cheer when characters in romances have friends in addition to their love interests (because in reality it’s super unhealthy to have only a singular companion be your entire support system). The best part about Lucy’s friends were that, unlike most romance book friends, they weren’t pressuring her to date when she expressed she didn’t want a partner. They encouraged her to be happy and open to love but in a way that read as a lot more loving than pushy. I do think having Lucy resent her fellow junior keepers was a lost opportunity, meanwhile, because they were so thoughtful and caring. I would have loved more scenes of a blossoming workplace friendship rather than unnecessary animosity.

NARRATIVE STYLE/PACING
The novel is told from the first person perspective of Lucy. It is set at the Columbus Zoo and Aquarium and also features other local central Ohio establishments (and even a shout out to the Wilds). Outside of the gorillas (who are not based on any real Columbus Zoo animals to my knowledge) the other animals named in the book (including the iconic Stubby the manatee and Brutus the grizzly) share the same names as their real life counterparts. Honestly, as someone who was raised in Ohio one of my favorite places to go to was our zoo (and also the Wilds). So, getting to read a story set there made me giddy with every name drop. The writing was such that it was like I was really at the zoo and it even made me want to visit again (my mom suggested they should sell this book at the zoo and I really think that was a lost marketing opportunity). If you grew up in or currently live in Ohio then I think you’ll enjoy reading this for the sense of hometown pride alone.
As I mentioned in the above section, Lucy’s feelings for Kai were a little too all over the place for me It led to an unevenly paced romance. It’s unrealistic based on Lucy’s history for her to immediately open herself up to Kai, but having her waffle so much was frustrating. Mutual pining can make an eventual union all the better but that’s not really what we have here. We have them coming together several times just for Lucy to continually change her mind. This would have worked better as a regular slow burn.
My favorite part of the story were the gorillas. I mean, who can resist a baby gorilla and an underdog story line? The thing that I love most about zoos is that I can see these amazing, awe inspiring animals up close. The characters’ admiration and love for the gorillas really comes through on the page. The scenes with the human characters and the gorillas were the most emotional for me. If you like the concept of this book (in terms of a TV show being filmed about the Columbus Zoo) then I really suggest watching Secrets of the Zoo (which is a TV show all about the behind the scenes things that go on at the Columbus Zoo and the Wilds). I do have to wonder if that was the inspiration for this book?

FINAL THOUGHTS
I was so hyped for this book when my friend first told me about it. I was more than happy to purchase it to support an author local to my home state. I know Ohio can sometimes be a punching bag on the internet but it’s where I was raised and so it’s special to me. There was so much I loved about this story. The setting, obviously, the gorilla surrogacy story line, and the swoon worthy Kai. I can’t rate the novel higher, however, because the most essential part of any romance book is, well, the romance and it fell flat for me.

FINAL RATING: 3.5⭐️
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