Offsetting Penalties by Ally Mathews

Blurb:
36430566Isabelle Oster has dreamed of being a prima ballerina her entire life, so when the only male dancer backs out of the fall production, she’s devastated. Without a partner, she has no hope of earning a spot with the prestigious Ballet Americana company. Until hot jock Garret practicing stretches in one of the studios gives Izzy an idea, and she whips out her phone. But does she really want this badly enough to resort to blackmail?

All-state tight end Garret Mitchell will do anything to get a college football scholarship. Even taking ballet, which surprisingly isn’t so bad, because it means he gets to be up close and personal with the gorgeous Goth girl Izzy while learning moves to increase his flexibility. But Izzy needs him to perform with her for the Ballet Americana spot, and he draws the line at getting on stage. Especially wearing tights.

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My Review:
3.5 stars — I received a free copy through NetGalley in exchange for an honest and unbiased review/opinion.

OK, you know exactly why I requested this book if you know anything about me.  The premise was tailor made for me!  I love dance books, and love them even more when the hero dances!!  And the dance stuff was fantastic!  And there was a lot of it!!  You can’t even imagine how happy that made me.  I’m not a dancer, whatsoever, but I appreciate it and envy those with that much dedication, athleticism and grace.  And honestly, the dancing was my favourite part of this book.  Seeing Garret learn about stretching, positions, pirouettes, and then seeing Garret and Izzy tackle lifts just filled my heart with happiness!

As for the rest of the story, and particularly the characters, I thought this book started off really strong!  I was drawn into the challenges of both characters, and I thought they both seemed like good kids struggling to work through what life had handed them.  I felt Izzy’s loneliness and isolation, and her struggle to do things on her own and prove her worth without her father’s influence.  And Garret had a lot to work through with an unsupportive (and possibly alcoholic) dad, and the struggles that come from a low-income family.

And I really enjoyed their initial interplay with each other…like they had their own impressions of the other, but they could see that there was more to the other.  I liked the way they started becoming friends, but you could see them wanting more.  And I liked the way they became more!

But somewhere along the way, the characters seemed to stop growing.  I know they’re teenagers, but I honestly expected them to start showing some empathy towards the other’s situation.  But the selfishness, in general, persisted.  Moreso in Garret than Izzy.  I actually grew annoyed when Izzy would immediately apologize for her assumptions about what Garret would struggle with and downplay her own struggles, and there would be crickets from Garret’s side.  Apparently money really is more valuable than close family, at least according to this book.  As a reader, I thought they both struggled equally, but I don’t think Garret ever really understood the negatives about Izzy’s life.  All he saw was the wealth and material things.  And thus, I became less enamoured with our characters, particularly the hero.

And then we get to the ending…which felt kind of rushed, and left me a bit unsatisfied.

So yeah.  Full marks for the dance component, and a fantastic first half!!  But alas, I need a good closer to make me round up instead of down, which is a bummer.  This one had so much potential.  Perhaps the ending won’t bug others as much as it did me.

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Finding Your Feet by Cass Lennox

Blurb:
31567740A Toronto Connections Novel

While on holiday in Toronto, Evie Whitmore planned to sightsee and meet other asexuals, not audition for a dance competition. Now she’s representing Toronto’s newest queer dance studio, despite never having danced before. Not only does she have to spend hours learning her routine, she has to do it with one of the grumpiest men she’s ever met. Tyler turns out to be more than a dedicated dancer, though — he might be the kind of man who can sweep her off her feet, literally and figuratively.

Tyler Davis has spent the last year recovering from an emotionally abusive relationship. So he doesn’t need to be pushed into a rushed routine for a dumb competition. Ticking major representation boxes for being trans and biracial isn’t why he went into dance. But Evie turns out to be a dream student. In fact, she helps him remember just how good partnering can be, in all senses of the word. Teaching her the routine, however, raises ghosts for him, ones he’s not sure he can handle.

Plans change, and people change with them. Learning a few steps is one thing; learning to trust again is another entirely.

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My Review:
3.5 stars — I received a free copy through NetGalley in exchange for an honest and unbiased review/opinion.

As is hinted at in the blurb, trigger warnings for descriptions of emotional/transphobic abuse and the aftermath.  Not being trans, nor having experienced emotional abuse, I cannot speak to how that is handled.  From an outsider perspective, I thought it was fine, but I’ve seen reviews from abuse survivors that suggest otherwise, so perhaps read those and decide for yourself.

I was attracted to this book for several reasons.  First, it’s a cornucopia of diversity…and not only that, but it has LGBT+ characters of the lesser explored variety, so I was intrigued.  Especially with Evie, as I identify on the gray spectrum.  I even chose to read it this month because one of my diversity challenge themes is intersectionality, and since Tyler is trans and biracial it totally fits.  Second, and this cannot be understated enough, I LOVE dance books.  I’m not a dancer myself, I’m just constantly in awe of the dance community, which I feel is the perfect marriage between athletics and art…both of which I do not excel in.  😛  And third, it’s set in Canada!!  I love reading books set in my country, so that definitely played a factor.  And honestly, on the whole I was fulfilled!  I wasn’t blown away or anything, but it satisfied my desire for diversity, dance, and Canadianism!

Like I said, I cannot speak to the realistic representation of Tyler as a trans character, but I felt like the author explored some of the challenges of being a transgendered man, and the horrible experience of transphobic/emotional abuse.  I will admit that while I appreciated some of the observations Tyler had in his journey, this was not a great example of someone healing from an abusive relationship.  It was kind of glossed over and shallow, so if that’s what you’re looking for, you’re in the wrong place.  This book was more about the relationship between Tyler and Evie, with Tyler’s fears used mostly as a roadblock to that relationship.  So more heavy on the romance, less on depth of an emotional journey.  That was fine for me, but may not work for everyone.  In general I liked Tyler, but I felt like his character could be a bit inconsistent.  And since we didn’t really get to see in depth healing, the constant roadblock from the aftermath of his ex became a bit overused without satisfying growth and change.

I really loved Evie’s character, and her representation for the gray spectrum.  I realize not everyone will appreciate it if they’re looking for the quintessential asexual character, which she is not.  But as someone elsewhere on the spectrum, I was super excited to see a character very much like me represented, as the gray spectrum really is vast.  We got to see her fall in love with different things about Tyler that had nothing to do with sexual attraction.  Ace stuff aside, I thought she was really funny, forthright, and a good mix of sweet and sass.

I loved that we got a good amount of dancing as well…it satisfied my wannabe dancer’s heart.  And watching Tyler and Evie crush and flirt with each other while dancing was the highlight of this book for me.

On the not so good side of things, there were a lot of little threads left hanging and not dealt with…I don’t understand why an author would introduce something and leave it unresolved.  The biggest was Evie’s relationship with her mother.  It was constantly in the background through emails, and quite frankly it was kind of toxic.  But we never see the resolution in that relationship.  Perhaps if we were told she had a bad relationship, that she couldn’t come out to her family, but left it at that, I would have been OK having it glossed over at the end.  But to see the quietly toxic relationship consistently in the background, complete with fat-shaming remarks, and to then see no resolution was unsatisfying.

I was also really unimpressed with Gigi in this story…he made fat-shaming remarks of his own that made me uncomfortable, and he was really allowed to be fairly mean throughout the story without consequences.  And I wasn’t impressed with his side story, especially if he’s going to get a book of his own.  I would have liked more Tyler/Evie time.

And quite frankly, none of the friendships were super awesome.  They could have good qualities, but there was a level of care missing at times…just a lot of meddling without thinking of consequences.

There were a lot of terms used in this book that went unexplained…from the tumblr things Evie and Sarah connected with, to dance terms, to whatever fujoshi is (still need to Google that).  And it took me a bit to figure out that Bailey is nonbinary, and that when the author used they/them they were just talking about Bailey, and not Bailey and Sarah or something.  I liked having another lesser explored LGBT+ character represented, but it was too bad that it took me so long to understand that.

So yeah.  Like I said, not blown away, but still enjoyed myself (rounding up for the dance aspect alone).  It wasn’t a book I gobbled up, but it did have some great aspects that I personally really enjoyed!  As an aside, am I the only Canadian that doesn’t actually consume a lot of maple syrup?

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Take the Lead by Alexis Daria

Blurb:
35832861The first book in a sizzling duology about dancers who find love from #OwnVoice’s Alexis Daria.

Gina Morales wants to win. It’s her fifth season on The Dance Off, a top-rated network TV celebrity dance competition, and she’s never even made it to the finals. When she meets her latest partner, she sees her chance. He’s handsome, rippling with muscles, and he stars on the popular Alaskan wilderness reality show Living Wild. With his sexy physique and name recognition, she thinks he’s her ticket to the finals—until she realizes they’re being set up.

Stone Nielson hates Los Angeles, he hates reality TV, and he hates that fact that he had to join the cast of the The Dance Off because of family obligations. He can’t wait to get back to Alaska, but he also can’t deny his growing attraction to his bubbly Puerto Rican dance partner. Neither of them are looking for romantic entanglements, and Stone can’t risk revealing his secrets, but as they heat up the dance floor, it’s only a matter of time until he feels an overwhelming urge to take the lead.

When the tabloids catch on to their developing romance, the spotlight threatens to ruin not just their relationship, but their careers and their shot at the trophy. Gina and Stone will have to decide if their priorities lie with fame, fortune, or the chance at a future together.

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My Review:
3.5 stars — I received a free copy through NetGalley in exchange for an honest and unbiased review/opinion.

There were a few things that stood out and made this a must request book for me, and it was those things that I enjoyed the most in this story.

First, I’m a sucker for a book about dancing.  I’m really not a very good dancer myself (though I still try, I have, like, ZERO grace), so I ALWAYS admire dancers of all types, from ballet to ballroom and beyond.  And it boggles my mind how anyone can not understand the athleticism involved.  So I loved seeing the bits of dancing thrown into this story.  Strangely, having just read another book based on a dancing with the stars type show, I will say that while the dancing bits were good, they didn’t live up to that other books inclusions somehow…  Maybe because Stone was so large and strong, you didn’t get to see his struggle enough.  The author made it look easier than I think it is…and I just didn’t *feel* the dancing quite as much…  BUT if I didn’t have the other book to compare to, I probably would have loved it more.  And there was the practice with the Argentine Tango…that was pretty awesome.  Maybe it’s that the dancing was more glossed over in the second half, and I just wanted to bring back more of my own memories learning ballroom dance.  Huh.  This was a part I thought I loved, and I *did*…just maybe not as much as I thought.

OK, SECOND: Ms. Daria NAILED the diversity component.  I think this is what you get from #ownvoices…because the author is latina, you get a very realistic latina heroine.  I loved that aspect of Gina’s character, and seeing her fight to not be viewed as a stereotypical oversexualized latina was just so well done.  And you know what else I loved?  It wasn’t just one heroine that was hispanic!  There was actually a lot of diversity in the whole cast of characters (and not just hispanic)!  From other dancers to production staff to judges to hosts…it was just so real, you know?  I don’t understand why more authors don’t diversify the whole cast more.

And the great thing about this book is that the author doesn’t just tackle the issues surrounding Gina being latina…she also tackles how women in the entertainment industry are treated differently than men, particularly in regards to romantic relationships with other people in the industry.  AND we also get to see some of the effects of sexualizing men through Stone, and how he’s portrayed and what producers want from him (just take his shirt off).  I really loved that those things were all silently woven into the plot, but weren’t too preachy.

This review is already getting long, and I haven’t even gotten to characters, which is what I tend to focus on.  I enjoyed Gina for the most part, and while I understood her reasons for how she approached her relationship with Stone (wanting to keep it secret), I did start to lose my patience with her…  It started feeling really selfish the longer it went on, and like she didn’t even try to understand it from Stone’s perspective.  So in the end, I had a hard time believing her love for him.

Stone, on the other hand, was pretty adorable.  Don’t get me wrong, he had his own selfish moments…but he was kind of a beta boy, and you know how I love my beta boys.  He may have the appearance of an alpha, but his personality was anything but.  He was sweet, considerate, respectful…he made me swoon with how much he cared for Gina, and how, once he changed his tune, he was willing to do so much to make her dreams come true.

In the end, the reason I’m knocking it half a star (but still rounding up) is that I just felt like I was missing some magic…  There was just something missing in the writing…something I can’t put into words…that just kept me from getting sucked in and getting my emotions fully involved.

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If Ever by Angie Stanton

Blurb:
35901365Fiercely independent Chelsea Barnes has caught a rare break and been cast as the first non-celebrity on the hit show Celebrity Dance Off. Chelsea is coined ‘America’s Chance to Dance,’ but her partner planned on an A-lister, not a nobody.

Clashing with her partner, she’s ready to go home; but during an emotional dance, her heart-breaking past as an abandoned, homeless teen is revealed. Not only do the viewers fall in love with her, so does the flirty British guest singer, Broadway star Thomas Evan Oliver.

Tom is struck by this feisty girl who complicates his over-structured life, and pursues her in a romantic cross-country courtship until she’s voted off and joins him. Their sexy whirlwind love affair blossoms in New York as she navigates the big city and his exhausting eight shows a week, but most important, her scarred heart begins to heal. Perhaps happily ever after might be a possibility after all.

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My Review:
4.5 stars — I received a free copy in exchange for an honest and unbiased review/opinion.  Though I was delayed in getting to my ARC, so I actually read the copy I purchased instead.

OMG you guys, it didn’t take me long into the book before I knew I was going to love this one.  I’ve loved so many of Ms. Stanton’s YA books, and this one felt like Dream Chaser for adults.  I honest to goodness laughed out loud, silently cried, squealed in delight, and last night before bed I got so hyped up that I was singing “Don’t Stop Believin” to my husband, and he was cursing my caffeine intake, but it was really just excitement over this book.  And honestly, if it wasn’t for the ending, this would have been at least a round up if not a full 5 stars.  The ending is the reason for rounding down.  I’ll get to that later, I want to gush first.

I will admit to being a Broadway fan (we always go to at least one show each time we visit NYC), and while I don’t watch any of those reality dance shows (b/c I’d always rather be reading), I do love the world of dancing as well…probably b/c I have like no grace or coordination myself (although I did attempt ballroom dance lessons when I was in University).  So this book really was almost tailor-made for me.  But what makes it stand out is not just that these settings were present, but that the author does an amazing job of really making you believe it, and really giving you all the little bits to immerse you into both worlds.

The book is really split into two halves, and the first half is where we’re immersed into the world of dancing, and it just made my heart so happy.  It was grueling and exhilarating all at the same time.  I felt how hard Chelsea worked, what a toll it took on her body, and how it really showed a true appreciation for dancing as almost a sport.  I was so concerned with how her relationship started with her dance partner, Dominic, and so was ridiculously pleasantly surprised with how that relationship developed.  It could have gone in a cliche direction, and it didn’t.  I LOVED that.  And I adored Chelsea’s interactions with Hank.  He was definitely another favourite secondary character.  I really appreciated that her progression through the weeks was believable too.  And I loved how we got to see Chelsea’s character really develop and become stronger in this first half.  I was so proud of her when we got to the finale and all the work she put into it.

The second half was about her time in NYC with Tom, and really the development of her romantic relationship with him.  This is where we got to dive into the world of Broadway, and what it’s like to be an actor trying to make it work on Broadway.  It honestly opened my eyes to the challenges and rewards of such a career.  And I felt the magic of his performance…I wanted it to be real!  I wanted to see him perform and hear his beautiful voice!  Damn you Ms. Stanton!  Make it real!!  I couldn’t hear him sing, but it didn’t matter…it felt like I could.  I felt Chelsea’s emotions when he finally got Stay right.  It helped me to imagine her dance as well…I felt like I could see it.  It was very emotionally impactful.

Tom was RIDICULOUSLY swoon.  Like, added to my top book boyfriends list swoon.  Like, I had tummy tingles almost from their first interactions.  And he was more of a beta boy, and you know how I love me a beautiful beta boy!!  I loved that he was technically the celebrity, but he was really very down to earth, humble, and at times insecure.  If you couldn’t tell, I ADORED him.

I LOVED their romance.  The chemistry was off the charts, and they just made me giddy and happy.  My highlight was definitely Tom’s teasing, and the way they would banter with each other.  I can’t even describe to you how many times that boy made me laugh.  I loved that we got to watch their romance go through all the stages, from crush to early relationship honeymoon phase to honest struggles and missteps.  My heart hurt for the challenges that they faced, and I thought it was very realistic.

I had a bit more of a rollercoaster ride with Chelsea.  I loved her, and my heart ached for everything she went through in her past, and how it shaped her into the woman she is today.  I really believed it too.  She was hard to read, b/c she was so insecure and damaged and afraid, and self-sabotaging at times.  I think what made her character really hard to read is that in the first half we got to see her really develop and become stronger, and I was rooting for her all the way.  But in the second half we saw her fall and fall hard.  That’s hard to take.

And this is where my rounding down comes into play: I wasn’t satisfied with how the book ended with her character.  She fell, and we really didn’t get to see her climb back up and become strong on her own again.  I needed to believe that she was going to be OK, that she was getting stronger, and without Tom.  I didn’t want her strength to be completely dependent on Tom.  It wasn’t enough to ruin the book, it just bummed me out a bit.

And honestly?  The ending was extremely abrupt.  Like turn the page and do a double take when it’s the note from the author and not an epilogue.  I’m always a sucker for an epilogue, but I really felt that this book needed one.

So, as seems to be the case with me lately, there is my short novella of a review.  While the ending wasn’t as satisfying as I wanted, it was really a small blip on what was an otherwise perfect book for me.  I’m so happy right now, and don’t even want to read another book, I just want to bask.

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Bulletproof by Melissa Pearl

Blurb:
23846788Morgan Pritchett doesn’t need anyone. Strong-willed and confident, she’s the master of organizing and looking after everyone around her. In her mind, she’s bulletproof.

But she has one weakness – men. She can’t seem to live without them, yet is unable to find her perfect match. After yet another break up, Morgan promises her sister and best friend that she’ll write off men for the rest of the year…but then she meets Sean Jaxon.

Sean Jaxon has worked hard to become a Hollywood actor, scoring minor roles and slowly making a name for himself as an action sidekick. After a chance encounter with the stunning Morgan Pritchett, he decides to take a risk and put his dancing skills to the test by signing on for the lead role in Superstar, a TV musical. He never thought he’d reconnect with the girl who urged him to ignore his manager and be honest with himself, but when Morgan shows up on the set as a production assistant, he realizes he’s found his ultimate weakness – her.

Their passion for dance and music will bring them together, but will their relationship be able to withstand the forces determined to pull them apart? As Morgan comes face-to-face with her long-buried demons and Sean decides just how much he’s willing to risk for love, these two songbirds discover something…they’re not as bulletproof as they thought.

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My Review:
4.5 stars — OMG, I was sucked into this one right from the start.  I had just finished trying to read a different book and was super frustrated and cranky, so even though it was after midnight I knew I needed a different taste in my mouth in order to fall asleep, so I started Bulletproof.  MISTAKE!  Then began an endless stream of “just one more chapter, just one more chapter.”  GAH!  And while my tired eyes failed me and I only got a few hours in, I gobbled the rest of the book up the next day.

Morgan intrigued the heck out of me in Fever.  She was this strong, forthright girl who seemed very confident in everything she did.  And she honestly was everything I thought she was, but she was also more.  She is honestly one of the most unique heroines I’ve read.  She was vulnerable in a way I don’t think I read about a lot.  We really get a great glimpse into what has made her into the girl she is today, someone who honestly feels as though they have to be “bulletproof”, has to contain their emotions, and who went from having responsibility thrust upon them too young to not being able to function without taking charge.  She was so conflicted within herself, so damaged, but so determined that that was her lot in life.  I also enjoyed that she was a very sexual girl who truly enjoyed sex, but also used it as a means of feeling self-worth.  Because I honestly think that a girl can be both of those things; so often we see the damage, and it makes it seem as though a girl can’t enjoy sex.  I wish she’d had a smoother road on that one, but then it wouldn’t be Morgan you know?  She really had a crazy journey to go on, and my heart ached for her.  She made some very poor choices in this book at times, but that just made her more real I guess.  I think her one choice near the end would have turned me off in any other book, but for some reason I was ok with how Morgan got to that point.  It fit her character, as much as it pains me to say that.  She was flawed.  And maybe she needed to hit that point in order to wake up and confront her demons.

Wow, sorry, that got long.  All that to say, while I really am nothing like Morgan, I really loved her in the end, despite all her flaws.  And as a fellow tall girl, I LOVED having a tall girl as a heroine.  We have our own unique challenges, and I loved that she wasn’t self-conscious about it.  I also loved that she was a dancer, and a great one, because so often dancers are always petite.  Nicely done Ms. Pearl.

And then we get to Sean.  Damn, but he had his own flaws too.  I feel like again, as in Fever, I felt more for the heroine’s journey than the hero’s.  He did have his own journey to go on, but I felt like we didn’t get to dive quite as deep with him.  I loved that we got to see him struggle with his poor upbringing, and that he was easily swayed and influenced about his own worth in the industry.  It shows that while he may look confident to the outside world, he is struggling to believe in himself as well.  He disappointed me as well, but like with Morgan, I kind of understood why he made certain poor choices.  He had his own journey to go on, to grow and come into his own.

And I ADORED their courtship.  I loved that circumstances meant they actually were forced to go slow and get to know each other.  I LOVED how nervous Sean was, but how instantly drawn to Morgan he was.  And holy cow, their chemistry!!  Seriously, reading about them dancing was just hot (even if I couldn’t always picture the moves that were described)!  But yeah, you could really feel what drew them together, and while there was a strong physical attraction component, I felt their connection in other ways too.

I can’t decide how I feel about Rhonda and Travis.  It’s not that I don’t honestly believe there are people out there like that, but occasionally they felt a little over the top.  I believed Rhonda a bit more, but with Travis, I couldn’t help but wonder why no one else wanted to intervene.

I LOVED seeing Ella and Cole happy together.  I’m very intrigued about Jody’s story, and I appreciated how Morgan had to deal with stepping back from her usual Mother role as well.  And I LOVED Isabella, for both Sean and Morgan!!  I also loved the advice that Morgan got from Grandma Deb, and Sean got from his Mom.

So yeah.  Definitely a hit.  This book may have had its moments that broke my heart, made me cringe for the characters, but I think that made the end of the journey that much more satisfying!

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Dream Chaser by Angie Stanton

dream-chaserBlurb: Willow Thomas has a bad habit of running away from things that scare her. And most recently, she quit her high school cheerleading squad after a terrifying fall.

With time on her hands, she auditions for a musical production directed by a Broadway choreographer. Just as things are looking up, Willow discovers she will be performing opposite Eli McAvoy, the best friend she abandoned three years before. To make matters worse, the kids in the musical hate her, her singing sucks, and her dog is sick.

Eli has grown up during their years apart and now possesses confidence and good looks, as well as a giant chip on his shoulder. He is in no hurry to play nice with Willow, but their entwined roles in the musical lead to entwined bodies in the backseat of his car.

Just when Willow finally has her life under control, another surprise is delivered in the form of her greatest challenge yet. Will she run or finally stand and face her fears? And will Eli be there to help or turn his back on her for good?

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5 stars

I must say the MC’s name didn’t fit for me for some reason. I kept forgetting it.  I just didn’t see her character with that name.

This book is about overcoming fear.  And it was pretty transparent throughout.  The romance aspect was slow going but the main plot kept my interest enough that I was fine with that.  I kinda felt she was a bit immature about her fears in the beginning, but then I realized they are in HS and her supposed BFF was acting worse so I let that slide.

Her parents seemed way too lackadaisical for me. Maybe its because my mom was way more strict with me but I would not have been able to quit something then start something new within a few days. No ma’am, that would not have gone over well in my house at all.

I really liked how Willow was able to identify her fear and find a way to cope with it without letting down all the people that were counting on her.  That was a shining moment for me int this book.  I also liked how her love interest, Eli, calls her on her BS without seeming too much like a total dick.

Eli was a bit of an enigma to me.  They had this past that kept coming up but I didn’t feel I saw enough of it to really know him.  He was just….there.  His character could have used more depth for me.  And Willow’s BFF was too extreme in her emotions it seemed.  First she was very supportive, but only if her interest aligned with Willows. Then she completely ignored her for most of the book.  Then they are buddy buddy again at the end. It was a bit choppy for me.  The transitions were wanting in those parts.

Those things were minor compared to the great story that unfolded.  And the couch scene was THE BEST!  Totally worth the money on this.

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