Category: Romance


Given Away

Full disclosure, by the time I had this review written the book that it goes with had been removed from the Kindle store. I almost feel like I’m cheating a little by posting it, but I read the book and I have opinions about it. Not necessarily constructive opinions, but it was something I wanted to talk about. So, without further ado, here is Briar Lane’s Given Away.

Given Away cover

Anya and Catie have been friends since they were kids and have hit every major milestone of their lives together, from rooming together in college to moving to the same city after graduation. Now they plan on sharing one of the biggest milestones of their lives, their bridal shower in Las Vegas. But as they get closer to marrying their respective fiancés worries begin to surface for both. Anya wonders if she should be relying so heavily on Catie for emotional support, isn’t that what her loving fiancé is for? Catie feels years of friendship slipping into a terrifying distance between then, worried that they won’t see each other as much anymore after their vows are said and done. Can their friendship survive the bridal shower weekend? Can love bloom where friendship has grown for so long?

Briar Lane’s Given Away is a book that I found disappointing pretty well from the word go, and my problems with it just sort of piled up like a forty car wreck of poor writing choices and bad editing. Spoilers ahead for a handful of things, I feel like I need to talk about them to get across some of the issues I had with the book.

                Given Away alternates its narrator, so some chapters are from Anya’s perspective and some are from Catie’s perspective. Unfortunately, if it was not for Anya talking nigh constantly about what great friends she and Catie are but she should totally be spending more time with her fiancé, since after they get married he will be her rock and all, and Catie worrying that she’ll never get to see Anya again after they get married and wondering if she really even wants to marry her fiancé, I would have had a serious issue telling the two apart. I actually did have issues telling the two apart for some chapters, something that was not helped by the author seeming to forget the names of her protagonists’ fiancés a few times. The lack of character voice extended to both of the fiancés and the Greek chorus of bridesmaids, who at least had the excuse of being largely kept out of dialogue despite one of the big scenes being a big catching up dinner for them all.

Alongside the issues with character voice are Lane’s habit of telling the reader about characters and situations rather than showing them. Both of the protagonists’ fiancés are treated like stand up guys for the first half or so of the book, the reader is told repeatedly about how great they both are. This lasts right up until the story needs them not to be as good as they were set up to be so that Catie can walk in on hers about to cheat on her and there can be a dramatic breakup leading to her tearful confession of love to Anya. Even Anya, one of the protagonists, is hit by this when she feels that her fiancé isn’t listening to her or respecting her feelings about Derek cheating on Catie, so suddenly her fiancé is also terrible and she’s off to find her best friend the love of her life. None of these characterization changes feel earned by the narrative, which leaves both protagonists feeling at best so in their own heads that they shut out everything else or simply so oblivious to their partners’ feelings and behaviors that they really shouldn’t be in a relationship. It is frustrating to say the least.

All that lead to my not enjoying the book. I did not like the cheating plot on either side, or the telling characterization, or the weirdly sudden sex scene after Anya leaves her fiancé and goes to find Catie. The sex scene seriously felt much more detailed than the rest of the book and went from zero to sixty-nine in seemingly no time and was just jarring and out of place. All of that would have left the book with a two out of five and a note that I would likely not read more of Briar Lane’s writing in the future. That would have just left me feeling like I had been waiting for the book to get better.

But there were two things that bothered me enough to drop the book to a one out of five, two things that were absolutely avoidable and that have little to do with the story itself. The first issue was the sample of Lane’s next work at the end of this one. This is not something that generally bothers me, it can be a great way to find other books that you might like. But in this case the out of place sex scene hit and then a flash forward to a year later at what was, according to my app, around the seventy percent mark for the book’s page count. The author dedicated nearly a third of her page space to advertising her next book in one that desperately needed an editor or a beta reader and at least one more going over. But then she also promised one last chapter of Given Away, an exclusive chapter that the reader could download if they just followed the included link. The link lead to a website that wanted me to sign up to it to get the opportunity to download the chapter that the author just couldn’t include in the book proper, so I guess I will not be reading that chapter.

Those two issues left me feeling more than a little cheated. Which of course leads to this, it is not hard to give Given Away a one out of five. It is worryingly easy to keep finding things that I did not like in Given Away. I can only hope that it is some other reader’s cup of tea and that Briar Lane keeps working on her writing and has the opportunity to improve. After her hiding a chapter of her book away on a website that requires sign up to access, I will not be there for the rest of her career.

 

Never Just Friends

So, this got delayed a little. Got some stuff going on that made it a little harder to write than I’d like to admit. But this was a book I had a really good time reading. So here is Lily Craig’s Never Just Friends. Enjoy!

Never Just Friends cover

Having feelings for your best friend, as Georgie knows well, is terrible. Having feelings for a best friend who has not only just come out to you, but also assured you that she would never date you, is worse. So Georgie does the only thing she can to deal. She leaves town, finds a new job and tries to start a new life. Through a year of distance and worry Madelyn has come to realize that the love she holds for her best friend is romantic. She hopes that she can take time during their yearly cabin trip to mend the rift that has opened up between her and Georgie. Mend the rift and make her feelings known. But Canadian winters can be brutal and a sudden snow storm traps the two together in their cabin. Trapped by the weather the two will have to deal with their feelings and the distance created by miscommunications.

I feel like, before digging into the review here, I have to admit that friends to lovers is one of my favorite fictional romance tropes. I like the history that it can give characters and the familiarity that it tends to bring which, at its best written, can make the evolution to romance feel more natural or can bring really good drama. In most ways Lilly Craig’s Never Just Friends delivers on that.

Something that really worked for me in Never Just Friends was the way the chapters alternated between the present, with the events in the cabin as Georgie and Madelyn try to work around their feelings, and the past, showing bits of their friendship from when they first met right up to the year before. It does a good job of keeping the characters’ history and the reasons why two people who are as totally different as Georgie and Madelyn would still be sticking together after years and years. It also gives a really nifty look into who the characters were and who they became as they grew up. These looks into the past are really something that it feels like the book needs to work, the characters’ attraction could feel a little one sided and shallow without it. Georgie is shown to be more than a little emotionally shut off, not really willing to put herself out there, especially after having her heart broken by Madelyn at the start of the novel. The sections of their shared history help keep Madelyn going after Georgie so doggedly from feeling forced.

There’s actually a lot baked into Never Just Friends that really works for me, though a lot of it also verges on spoilers to talk about so I won’t go into it here. Similarly, there is not a lot that I find myself wanting to complain about. There are some places where either protagonist could have been toned down a little. Georgie’s temper flares up more than feels entirely reasonable a couple times and Madelyn can feel almost a little manic pixie dream girl desperate in her attempts to get Georgie to hear her out. Neither issue is a major one and both fit pretty reasonably with their respective characters, but there were spots where it felt more like an awkward necessity to move the plot along or maintain drama than something that was natural to the moment.

So, where does that leave me? I really liked this book. The characters were a little more complicated than I’m entirely used to in romance novels and the chapters that covered their history together was a really nice touch. While there were bits that felt like they were pushed a little further than necessary for the sake of the plot, they didn’t distract terribly from the narrative flow. For me, Never Just Friends earns a four out of five. I also admit that I did not realize that I was reading another Lily Craig novel until I was most of the way through and needed to redownload the book after clearing space on my phone, so points to her for range. I’m likely to seek out more of her work at this point.

Yule Love Her

I’m both more that a bit late getting this one reviewed and a bit early for the actual start of Yule this year. But this seemed like a good spot for something short and sweet. This one’s courtesy of NetGalley, here’s Jodi Hutchins’ Yule Love Her. Enjoy!

Yule Love Her cover

Artist and semi-recent transplant to Seattle, Joy hasn’t been in a relationship in the year since she found her previous significant other cheating. With a string of one night stands, she hasn’t really considered it. At least not until a chance meeting on the bus introduces her to harried personal assistant Bec. They quickly form a rapport and Bec soon works up the courage to ask her to lunch. When casual dates nearly turn into something more, Joy suggests taking things slow and seeing where things go.  As Christmas nears, neither can expect that an unexpected meeting and a misunderstanding might ruin their chances at happiness together. Can they make this work, or will Joy and Bec be spending the holidays alone?

In a lot of ways Jodi Hutchins’ Yule Love Her just feels like it doesn’t have enough space to develop the characters or to build any sort of conflict. It’s just one of those stories that really isn’t served by being as short as a novella is, especially with how much of the story’s content is covered by the blurb. It quickly becomes pretty obvious where most of the story beats are going to hit, if not exactly how, while leaving the characters oddly naked of development.

Put bluntly, there’s more built up to the sex scene than there is to the story’s climax. And that bothers me more than a bit since this is billed as romance rather than erotica. There are a lot of places where it feels like there should have been more. More build between Bec and Joy. More build up for the antagonist as the antagonist. That one especially seems like it had a skeleton in place that just never really got fleshed out. The lack of extra space to buff that out made the climax feel badly placed, like the antagonist wasn’t built up to that level of reaction.

More of the legitimately cute moments between the protagonists would have been fantastic. Or more character moments, show the two of them opening up to each other more. Joy could have talked to Bec about her art more or the kinds of people who order commission work from her. Bec could have talked more about the job she’s hoping to get or more about her boss beyond the aggressive need for control and being mad at her for being late. Because I wound up kind of feeling like these two got together because the story needed them to. Which is a shame, because with a little more time on page out and about doing things together Joy and Bec could have been a really fantastic couple. But it felt like it kept getting sidelined by physical attraction, which fair, but I still found myself wanting more meat to the relationship itself with the physical bits as a sort of dessert to that.

The pacing is what makes most of the problems I have with Yule Love Her. Like a lot of novella’s I’ve read, it feels like there was meant to be more but it needed to fit a word limit. So important things might have gotten cut. Which is a shame because I think this could have been a really nifty romance if it had been given twice as much page space so things could be built up better. And it isn’t bad, I would read a different book by Jodi Hutchins, just preferably a novel length one. I want to see what happens when she has space to dig in and do more with the surrounding plot rather than needing to dance around a reveal.

So yeah, there were definitely parts to Yule Love Her that I enjoyed. There were parts I would have liked to see more of, mostly character stuff. Joy and Bec dating and Bec and her job or her boss kinds of stuff mostly. There was some stuff that made the end feel not entirely genuine that could have been worked around a bit more. But, overall, it has a lot of promise and I want to see more of Hutchins’ writing to see her live up to the promise that Yule Love Her shows. So it gets a three out of five from me. Worth checking out if you want a quick read between celebrations.

Way late on this. I took a nap earlier and slept through my alarm, so best laid plans there. This was the kind of read that I didn’t know I needed until I was midway through it and kept pausing to bother my poor mother about bits that I was really enjoying. So, with no further ado, this is Lily Craig’s Pretend Girlfriend. Enjoy!Pretend Girlfriend cover

The best revenge, they say, is living well. When Celeste Lamontagne receives an invitation to her cheating ex-girlfriend’s wedding she knows that isn’t true. The best revenge is being seen living well, and to do that Celeste will need a happy relationship to show off during the wedding cruise through the Mediterranean. A happy relationship with a girl outside the social strata she and her ex share so no one can discover the truth, that she hasn’t let anyone close since they broke up. That’s where free spirited stylist Lane comes in, all she has to do is play the part of Celeste’s loving girlfriend for the duration of the cruise and she’ll be set up with a second chance in New York’s fashion scene. They just have to convince a yacht full of people that they’re a couple for two weeks without getting caught. Two weeks without stumbling over each other, spilling the secret, or butting heads too hard might be manageable if they can handle the sparks stirring up between them.

A solid three quarters of the appeal Lily Craig’s Pretend Girlfriend held for me starting out was that it is built on the fake dating trope. That sort of deal where two characters fake a relationship for one reason or another but it’s obvious from the start that one or both of them are totally into the other, and of course they wind up together because it’s a romance trope. It’s meant to have a happy ending. I have no idea why I’m as about this trope as I am, but here we are.

Pretend Girlfriend has more than a fair amount of repetition and not a ton of plot. There’s some places where it feels kind of soap opera-esque, with really big reactions to things the reader hadn’t been in on either. Despite all that, it is a lot of fun. Celeste and Lane are two very different characters from two very different sets of circumstances. They play off each other well for a lot of the book and the places where they don’t do a good job of setting up a situation where their personalities would absolutely clash.

There is a lot of mutual pining and deciding that the other is just in it for the job. That, I admit, got a little old especially since it was intercut with the characters making huge strides in caring for and getting to know each other. It was never so bad that it became unreadable, but it did get to a point where it felt like it was being used to keep Celeste and Lane in a holding pattern longer than necessary. It also made the cruise feel like it had gone on for far more than two weeks by the time the climax hit.

Contrasting that though, I really enjoyed the bits with the two out and about at the cruise’s various stops. Celeste trying to show she cared and finding that she was enjoying herself while with Lane was pretty great. The banter between them was fun. And it actually felt like Celeste was loosening up and having more fun as the book continued.

So, yeah, Pretend Girlfriend was a lot of fun. It doesn’t need much of a plot because the focus is squarely on the protagonists getting closer and falling for each other. It’s fun and light and a little ridiculous, so Pretend Girlfriend gets a four out of five from me. It has a base trope that I really like and fun characters that I wouldn’t mind seeing more of.

I’m later than I wanted to be on this. No excuses there, I just didn’t get it done on time. That aside, this one is thanks to Entangled Teen. Here is A. M. Rose’s Breakout. Enjoy!

Breakout cover

Lezah doesn’t know what landed her in prison, or really much of anything else about herself. With six days left before her execution the only chance she has to find out is to escape. And her only chance of escaping requires relying on strangers, possibly dangerous ones, and her former school rival. Can she trust anyone long enough to get out or will they all fall prey to the prison’s formidable defenses?

A. M. Rose’s Breakout is a book that I bounced around on how I felt about it, especially early on in reading it. But once it hit its stride, it worked really well.

The start was a little rough, with what’s nearly a new world entirely in the form of a California that’s been separated from the rest of the US by earthquakes. Special standouts on that were the WALTERS or Walking Computers, essentially robots that are meant to have free will, and the SOULS that everyone is supposed to have that are ID and phone and personal entertainment all rolled into one. SOULS do everything from let their users keep in contact to changing their appearances pretty drastically to being the main way the government kept tabs on citizens. It was all fed to the reader pretty bluntly at the start, which was necessary to a degree but also felt incredibly clunky.

I had a bit of a similar issue when the male characters, Trip and Seph, were introduced.  It quickly became clear that Seph was our designated love interest, with his history with Lezah and his sad sad eyes and super competence. The build up to that felt like it took away from the immediacy of escaping the prison for a good bit. It felt like there were big neon signs telling me that this was going to be a huge part of the experience.

Here’s the thing though, both the rough bits from the start and Seph and Lezah’s whole thing, both worked out. The blunt early explanations felt weird because it was stuff that Lezah knew and wouldn’t have had much reason to explain to, essentially, herself but that smoothed out later once the characters were more in the action and things felt more focused. As to Lezah’s crushing on Seph? It wound up feeding character stuff for both of them as well as feeding in some bits of Lezah’s missing memories. The book hit a point in the action where the mystery and the full cast were more important than just those two characters, so it made the moments between Lezah and Seph feel more impactful. It wasn’t just the two of them and a world of card board cutouts.

This all said, the thing that made the book for me more than anything else was one of the antagonists. They were written in so well that I was genuinely caught off guard at the reveal. It was built in really well and makes me want to see how Rose handles other antagonists.

That’s about it. While I’m left wanting to see where things go for Lezah and company from the book’s ending on, it was still a satisfying ending that worked for the story. The things that didn’t work did well by the things I enjoyed. And, at the end of the day, I even wound up appreciating the romancey bits. So, Breakout earns a four out of five from me. I’m interested in seeing what A. M. Rose does in the future.

Not much to say here this time. It was really hard to write this without including spoilers and I have enough left that I want to talk about that I might do an “And Another Thing” post about it some time. That said, this one is thanks to the nice folks at Entagled Teen. Here is Rachel Rust’s 8 Souls. Enjoy!

8 Souls cover

Villisca, Iowa is known for murder. For the deaths of eight people in 1912. For the Ax Muder house.  The house that seventeen year old Chessie has been dreaming about her entire life, sometimes new and lived in, sometimes as it is now slowly falling in on itself across the street from her grandparents’ house. Across the street from where she’ll be spending the entire summer while her parents work out the details of their divorce. Amid nightmares and ghostly voices, Chessie finds herself stuck trying to figure out her connection to the Ax Murder house and David, the mysterious boy who knows more than he lets on and so, so many secrets.

So, I make no secret of the fact that I love haunted house stories and horror in general. The promise of a small town with dark secrets and a house that can’t forget pulled me to Rachel Rust’s 8 Souls. It’s a book that was pretty good for what it is and than just misses the mark for what I wanted it to be. Notable differences there.

This being a book published by Entangled Teen, I knew to expect a fairly large romance side plot. That’s just what they do as a publisher. The mysterious boy is mentioned in the blurb. It’s something that I was going to have to roll with. My issue, of course, comes not from the existence of this romance plot but from how much feels underdone in the face of and about it.

There were a lot of ideas that could have been fantastic if they’d been given more room or if they’d been introduced earlier. Most of the stuff about the haunting and David’s whole deal could have worked fantastically if they’d been worked in earlier and given more page space. Make that a thing alongside Chessie thinking that David and Mateo were pranking her with the whole ghost hunting deal. Spend more time with Chessie trying to figure out what’s going on instead of avoiding David and watching Netflix instead of looking into the thing haunting her. Even the romance itself felt rushed along once Chessie decided that she could trust what David was saying.

The antagonist gets hit with this harder than most other details. There’s a thread throughout the book about these little girls having gone missing and that there’s more disappearances and strange deaths in Villisca than most cities its size. But there isn’t much done with that until right at the end. It was almost to the point that I’d forgotten about it in a couple of places. There were a couple of characters who might have been antagonists or, in a more horror focused book, solid red herrings. But nothing came of them and the antagonist was left feeling like they’d been brought in out of left field. A last minute, one more thing, secret that David hadn’t bothered to mention yet. It was an idea that got introduced and used within pages so the story could rush on to the climax. That was frustrating for me, because the antagonist and the climax both could have been so, so good with a little tweaking and a little more page space.

That’s pretty well where I land on 8 Souls. Rust did a good job with the setting, a small town that’s losing people as time goes on. The real world Villisca, Iowa was actually the scene of an ax murder of eight people, so that’s something that could be interesting to look more into after reading this. But it is very much a book that wants for a little more. A little more to the horror, and the characters, and the buildup. As a YA romance with supernatural elements, it’s functional. With more time to percolate it could have been fantastic, and for that I give it a three out of five. I would be willing to read Rachel Rust again, but I also want to see what she would do in another genre.

This feels like way more of an accomplishment than it really should. But, for this week at least, I’m back to book reviewing! This one’s courtesy of the nice folks at Entangled Teen. Here is T.H. Hernandez and Jennifer DiGiovanni’s Prom-Wrecked. Enjoy!

Prom Wrecked cover

Prom wasn’t supposed to end in a jail cell. Riley Hart is the co-chair, the vice president, the planner for more clubs and student organizations than anyone cares to count. But when senior prom is cancelled due to lack of interest and funding, she has to step up for the first time in her high school career. With the help of her gaming buddy, the utterly off limits Owen Locklear, she’s going to make prom memorable for everyone involved. Missing deposits, elderly musicians, uncertain community donors, missing deposits, or even venue destroying acts of nature or not there will be prom.

T.H, Hernandez and Jennifer DiGiovanni did a number of nifty things with Prom-Wrecked. The split point of view between advertised protagonist Riley and her former best friend Catherine showing the reader different aspects of prom planning and the various characters is used fantastically. Add on to that, both points of view feel like very different coming of age stories that complement each other well. It was a really fun read.

One thing that I think worked to the book’s favor was the bit at the beginning where the reader is shown how prom ended. All the major characters are in jail, a number of them are roughed up, and the reader knows nothing about how a high school prom went so wrong that it ended up like this. Roll back to the day that prom’s cancelation is announced and read every bit of everything going wrong and the kids in the jail cell trying to make it work anyway. It simultaneously takes away the worry about Riley and company failing while also promising ridiculous events on the way there.

The two separate coming of age stories thing that I mentioned earlier is also worth noting. Both Riley and Catherine are sort of stuck in their respective social niches. Riley is in everything but avoids leading anything until the prom committee, while Catherine is one of the popular girls but stuck with friends she isn’t really friends with and trapped by her mother’s expectations. One has to learn to lead and deal with other people’s expectations, the other has to learn to embrace what she enjoys despite expectations. It works. More so, it works while still feeling like a single cohesive  story rather than two partial stories stitched together.

Extra special bonus points to the Catherine chapters. As the former best friend who dumped the protagonist to hang out with the popular girls, she could have easily been a one note mean girl character. Having her be the deuteragonist neatly avoids that, gives the story a character who’s invested in prom happening and has the connections to attempt things that Riley couldn’t, and makes the love story bits more interesting and satisfying. She might actually be my favorite character.

The romance aspect that generally is something that elicits an eye roll and a fair amount of disinterest in both YA and contemporary novels is present here. And it did initially get an eye roll. But then something happened. Riley kept a lid on her crush on Owen and was as good a friend as she could be, supporting his relationship with Catherine and joking around with him, listening to his ideas for Morp and spinning them into something workable. It’s a lot of fun and leaves him the one pining for what can’t be. More even than that, on Catherine’s side of things we have her realizing that her relationship with Owen isn’t what either of them really wants. The lack of an antagonist within the romance narrative works for me really well, as does the way Riley and Owen and Owen and Catherine feel like friends who care about each other instead of points on a triangle.

If I have one quibble, it’s with a bit towards the end where better communication could have avoided a lot of stress for a number of characters. But that feels both in character and like it paid off pretty well, so it’s kind of a nothing issue. If I have a second one, it’s that some of the music references felt kind of forced. That might have just been because I’d only heard of a third or so of the artists referenced though.

So, Hernandez and DiGiovanni’s Prom-Wrecked is very much not my usual cup of tea, being a YA contemporary romantic tragicomedy about the rise and fall of a canceled senior prom. It’s not the kind of book I would usually pick up or, really, give much thought. But it was absolutely the book I needed to break myself out of my reading slump. Prom-Wrecked was just fun and I’m ready to look for other things either author has written. Five out of five.

The Housing Crisis

Coming in under the wire, I’m later than late, but it’s up today! This was one of a handful of book’s I’ve bought from Book Bub. It’s a pretty cool site that sends you e-book deals each day based on what genre’s you tell it you’re into. This is The Housing Crisis. Enjoy!

The Housing Crisis cover

Alyssa’s roommate ditched on her with no warning, leaving her desperate for a replacement before rent comes due. It has to be another girl, or her super Catholic mom would flip. Hannah just caught her girlfriend cheating on her, so that living arrangement doesn’t work anymore. Good thing a former co-worker told her about the roommate she just ditched on. New roommate is super cute. But Alyssa is straight, totally, maybe, and Hannah doesn’t want to go there again. Will they wind up together anyway or will both wind up looking for someone new?

The Housing Crisis by Kate McLay is very much a book that I wish was longer. The story is super cute. The characters are enjoyable. It makes me want more.

Which is actually a really good place to start. One of my only issues with the book is a side effect of it being as short as it is. The relationship is really sweet, but I would have loved to see it developed more. We’re more told that Hannah and Alyssa are increasingly attracted to each other, than allowed to see it develop. As always, I want the build, I want to see the relationship grow from friends to girlfriends. In the same vein, I would like to have seen more of Alyssa realizing that she’s totally into her roommate and not as straight as she thought. More of them dealing with Alyssa playing it straight in public and how that affects Hannah. More of Hannah wanting to fall for Alyssa but being held back by last time. I want to see the character struggles that lead to the triumphant ending.

This is my single big complaint about the book, it’s so short that the ideas behind the story don’t get expanded much if at all. We go from Alyssa being so straight arrows are jealous to being told that she’s been struggling with dealing with her attraction to Hannah for weeks and, never mind struggling, going for it. It goes similarly for Hannah, we’re told that she doesn’t want to fall for another straight girl because the last one broke her heart, but we don’t see her worrying much about it past them hooking up. We see a fair amount of Alyssa’s boss, Martha, but I feel like there should have been more with her. Like she could have been much more developed and contributed a lot more to the story.

So that’s my issue with the book. What else was there to it that I wanted it more developed because of? Friends, this book was adorable and sweet and just a bite of cuteness. I have been trained by pop culture and other novels not to accept when a book aimed at adults is being sweet and fluffy and this was a really nice break from that. I didn’t find a character in the book proper that I disliked. The few scenes that were uncomfortable were meant to be. Most of the bits that we iffy were things that expanding on character and situations could have handled easily.

It was a book that just made me happy, which isn’t a thing I’ve had a lot of lately. It was fun for the sake of itself, a happy little romance story that chooses to be positive. For all that I spent two paragraphs talking about it needing to be expanded on, I keep bringing this up because I want more stories like this. I want more of this story, like a follow up of Alyssa and Hannah and what happens after the end of this one.

So, yeah, this gets a five out of five. I would read Kate McLay again and very much hope that she has a successful career writing.

Hey all. Got a review for you, this one’s from my library and is kind of a throwback to last year. Enjoy!

Places No One Knows cover

Waverly Camdenmar’s life is perfect academically, socially, even her extracurriculars. Her life is utterly perfect, except that she hasn’t slept in days and instead spends all night running to escape herself. Marshall Holt’s life has been falling apart for years. His family can’t stand each other. His friends are bellow the bottom of the social latter. He’s close to not graduating. But he doesn’t care, he drinks and smokes and utterly wrecks himself with how much he doesn’t care. He’d never be good enough for Waverly anyway. But then one night she dreams herself into his room, his life, and nothing can stay the same. She can change in her dreams, but is Marshall worth risking everything she’s built?

Places No One Knows, by Brenna Yovanoff, isn’t my standard fare by any means. I started it back when I worked at the book store and finished it because I’d started it. It is very much a teen romance, but one that’s got some other stuff going on. The other stuff is what kept me going and held my interest.

See, both of our leads have pretty serious issues that they either can’t talk about or just don’t want to acknowledge. Marshall’s home life is terrible and he feels like a failure because he can’t not be bothered by it, so he self medicates. That leads to him being an academic failure and everything cycles back around. He has feelings and wants to help people, but doesn’t know where to start or how to help himself.  The flipside to Marshall is Waverly, the popular girl with the fantastic grades and the best times on the track team. Waverly who isn’t good at social cues or actually dealing with people despite being able to read them like it’s nothing. Who feels robotic and memorizes all manner of trivia to distract herself from her own faults. Waverly who runs until her feet bleed and she can’t think anymore to escape her own mind and the concerns that her life isn’t what it should be. These two I find interesting because they don’t feel standard, but I wish Waverly’s issues had been gone into a little more deeply. She feels like she didn’t get a full character arc and, while this would usually be a positive, the book leaves a lot of room for her to back slide massively and let everything fall to pieces.

In light of both the sheer amount of character stuff going on, and my own lack of interest in romance plots, I would have liked to seen less of the romance and more of Marshall and Waverly figuring their stuff out. Marshall gets a fair amount of this and we see him making efforts to pull himself out of his issues. Not so much with Waverly, she stays pretty entrenched in her belief that she’s somehow broken until the book’s climax. But that doesn’t feel right for her as a character, she moves by inches throughout the book unwilling to admit that she needs anything and unable to meet most people at an emotional level, but then all the sudden there’s this big character moment and things are fixed? It doesn’t fit for me.

I also find myself wishing that there was more with the minor characters. Waverly and her social group have this whole Mean Girls thing going on with a strict hierarchy and unspoken rules. But then along comes Autumn, the social outsider, to shake things up because she’s bored. I would have liked to have seen more of the fallout from that, instead of it being fast forwarded through for magic candle romance stuff.

Ultimately Places No One Knows isn’t a book for me. It has some really interesting character stuff, but then also a romance that feels unnecessary and forced. There’s fantastic ideas, but subpar follow trough. It’s the kind of book that I finished and shrugged, because it ended the way it had too but without resolving a lot of character issues. I didn’t dislike it, but I also wouldn’t read it again, so it winds up with a three out of five.

Don’t Bang the Barista

I’m still trucking along. We had a cold snap, one thing lead to another, and now the cat beast has eaten the leaves off of every bean plant I’d gotten started. So that kind of sucks. I can always start again though, and it looks like this should be the last time it gets below freezing this spring. Anyway, I have a review for you all. Not going to lie, I bought this book mostly for the title. Enjoy!

Don't Bang the Barista cover

It is a known thing that baristas are the best thing since scones for the coffee drinking public. Even better when they’re as hot as the coffee they serve. It is also known that, when one spends a lot of time at a coffee shop, there is a single massive rule to remember in order to avoid exile or at least spit in your drinks: don’t bang the barista. In the face of Hanna, gorgeous drink slinger and drummer that she is, Kate’s having a bit of trouble remembering that rule. It doesn’t help that Hanna is a glorious flirt or that her friend Cass might have ulterior motives for reminding her of it.

Leigh Matthews’ Don’t Bang the Barista is a book I have definite mixed feelings on. Where it’s good, it’s really good and I had a ton of fun. Where it’s bad, it’s nearly unreadable.

Don’t Bang the Barista has an expansive cast, which works well here, the author does a lot of solid character work. I was probably more invested in the side characters than in Kate herself. They were fun and interesting and, because the reader isn’t following them, they got to stay that way even when serious moments hit. The barista from the title is a complete sweetheart. The pre-established couple has their issues but are shown to be working on them together. Even Kate’s ex, while she’s more of a plot device than a character, is well used in the story. I found myself invested in the side characters and having a good time reading about them.

This probably doesn’t count as a spoiler, given that it’s a romance novel, but still. My big issue with the book is actually Kate’s love interest, Cass. Cass reminds me of why I stopped reading romance novels awhile back and just makes me very uncomfortable as the love interest here. I was actually waiting for the moment where it became clear that she was the antagonist and we found out who the actual love interest was going to be. She’s deeply childish with her feelings, doesn’t talk to the protagonist about said feelings, and is just super petty in how she deals with the woman she’s supposedly in love with. She won’t tell Kate that she’s into her, but then the minute Kate meets a cute girl and they start flirting Cass swoops in to break it up or she disappears and refuses to talk to Kate. This doesn’t get better as the story progresses, she’s static.

That kind of dovetails into my other issue with the book, Kate herself is sort of a wishy washy protagonist. That’s by no means a book killer for me and, given a more solid grounding on who she’s meant to be romancing and a better love interest, it might have worked out well. As is, when she’s holding a scene on her own it gets really tiring because of all the hand wringing and uncertainty. It combines with the lack of clarity on who the love interest is like a fresh summer peach and a handful of rusty tacks.

So, where does that leave us? I’m not going to lie, I really wanted to like this book, and for long stretches of it I did enjoy it. Heck, if Matthews either had excluded Cass from it or had developed her at all, I would be giving this a three or even a four. As it is, that one character takes any little problems the book has and magnifies them, leaving Don’t Bang the Barista with a two out of five.