Series: Off the Map, #1
Author: Lia Riley
Category: Contemporary Romance
Genre: New Adult
Rating: 3.5 stars out of 5
*I received a copy of this book in exchange for a fair and honest review.*
If You Never Get Lost, You’ll Never Be Found.
Twenty-one-year-old Natalia Stolfi is saying good-bye to the past-and turning her life upside down with a trip to the land down under. For the next six months, she'll act like a carefree exchange student, not a girl sinking under the weight of painful memories. Everything is going according to plan until she meets a brooding surfer with hypnotic green eyes and the troubling ability to see straight through her act.
Bran Lockhart is having the worst year on record. After the girl of his dreams turned into a nightmare, he moved back home to Melbourne to piece his life together. Yet no amount of disappointment could blind him to the pretty California girl who gets past all his defenses. He's never wanted anyone the way he wants Talia. But when Bran gets a stark reminder of why he stopped believing in love, he and Talia must decide if what they have is once in a lifetime . . . or if they were meant to live a world apart.
Upside Down was a whirlwind of emotion and a very fun read. I was instantly pulled into the world that Riley created. The setting and the characters held quite a lot of depth, and I fully enjoyed that.
This was a great start to a series that presents characters that felt real and held true depth. I was really able to connect with them emotionally. And I enjoyed that strong emotional display. I was able to feel Talia’s fear and Bran’s sadness. Riley did an amazing job at allowing me to connect with her characters on many levels.
What I enjoyed the most about Talia is because she isn’t perfect. Her tendencies, her compulsions, and the way she thought made her feel very much real. And I think that is why I connected quite a bit with her. Talia definitely hasn’t had an easy year and escaping to Austria became a way to find herself. And, in the end, I feel like she did. Talia showed amazing growth and though she still has growing left to do, I was happy to see where she was at the end of the book. I enjoyed her because of her strength, even when she didn’t realize she possessed any. It really did come through.
Bran, like Talia, has a tortured prospect on life. He, too, has suffered and is dealing with it in his own way. And though he is quite the sullen asshat, when he first meets Talia, I did enjoy his character. He has quite a few dark secrets and they each broke my heart. I could really feel how Talia ended up healing him in many ways. Though it was hard to fully love him at first, when he was being a jerk, by the end of the book I saw that he was a genuinely amazing guy. He just has a lot of hurt buried in him. That, of course, made me enjoy his character.
Another thing I loved most about this book was the crazy and intense attraction and chemistry that was between Bran and Talia. Their banter was sexily fueled and I ate that up! I felt that they really complemented each other. They fit. Bran really saw Talia and Talia really saw him. And though they didn’t have an easy start and their road is still quite bumpy, I really enjoyed these two characters and their chemistry.
Their attraction was fast, but their relationship built nice and steady. The pacing throughout the book kept me engaged and it was just to my liking. The only personal problem I had was that I felt the ending was a bit too rush for me. And I felt Talia forgave Bran a bit too quickly. The transitions between some scenes felt rough to me as well and I found myself, sometimes, lost as to what was going on. I was also able to figure out a few of the twists. But despite that, I enjoyed this book!
I felt Upside Down was a delightful read. The story was sweet and really pulled at my heartstrings.
“A few meters more, you’re almost there.”
It’s like we’re at the end of some old-school adventure tale, one where the heroes are stoic even as the blizzard rages, avalanches fall, and death hovers like a benevolent ghost.
Well, Bran is the hero.
I’m like one of the minor sidekicks who goes down during some important turning point. My death might even inspire the hero on his journey or teach him a valuable lesson. But at this point in the flick, the minor sidekick should be well and truly dead. Not white-knuckling a column of dolerite rock, thighs gripping the stone like it’s the world’s best lover.
“That’s it, Talia,” Bran’s voice is encouraging. “You’re holding tight, that’s great. Now, I’m going to need you to release your left hand and reach up a few inches to grab the next hold.”
I grit my teeth. The way he talks, you’d think I’m scaling Everest. Or at least Kilimanjaro. Instead—
“’Scuse, us, we’ll be by in a tic. That’s the way, Andy, right around the lady.”
I’m the lady. Andy is a kid who doesn’t look a day over seven who scrambles past me in a flurry of Spider-Man shoes and gap-toothed smiles. His parents bring up the rear, smiling up at their wild monkey child with obvious pride.
And they aren’t the first group to pass me.
Five Swedish women, a couple, and a guy who looked to be in his mid-seventies have also shot past me during the course of the last quarter hour.
The top is so close I can taste it. Bran is being nothing but encouraging, but below me is a twenty-foot drop. Not enough to kill me, unless I fall with some sort of suicidal intent, but enough to make me feel incredibly uneasy about the boulder field.
Bran eases toward me. “Talia, take my hand.”
“Can’t let go.”
“No.” This is it; this is the reason. Bran isn’t going to admit it here, while I’m bordering on a panic attack on a trail being conquered by elementary school children and senior citizens, but there’s no doubt this is A REASON to lose interest in me. I’m giving him a big capital-lettered reason, but I can’t stop. I physically can’t let go.
“Talia. Take a deep breath.”
“Give me your hand, no bullshit. I want your fingers in mine. You’ll be safe. I’m going to keep you safe. I need you to trust me.”
Somehow I do it. I give him my fingers. He assists me up. We’re doing this together. My head clears the boulder and I can see the steel marker that identifies the summit ahead. Holy shit, he’s right. I’m going to reach the top.
A few more steps, easy now, and we’re there. The kid in the Spider-Man shoes munches a Vegemite sandwich. I want to scoop him up in a smooshy squeeze. Except his parents would likely object, so I switch gears to give Bran a long and passionate kiss.
“I knew you’d get here,” he says.
He turns me to see the view, his hands tight around my waist. “Your place is here, Captain, in the sun,” he whispers in my ear. “Don’t ever forget that.”
About the Author:
After studying at the University of Montana-Missoula, LIA RILEY scoured the world armed only with a backpack, overconfidence and a terrible sense of direction. When not torturing heroes (because c'mon, who doesn't love a good tortured hero?), Lia herds unruly chickens, camps, beach combs, daydreams about as-of-yet unwritten books, wades through a mile-high TBR pile and schemes yet another trip. She and her family live mostly in Northern California.