Review: Upside Down by Lia Riley

upside downReviewed by Carrie

I started out chatting with this author via Twitter because I was talking about the challenges of dating a skateboarder back in the day. This dovetailed into a conversation about surfers and how I wished for more romances with a surfer hero. Lo and behold, she had this novel coming out.  At first, I was a bit leery because I don’t do well with stories set in Australia.  The lingo and colloquialisms trip me up enough to pull me out of the book.  Fortunately, there wasn’t much of it to distract me and the setting ended up providing a unique backdrop to the story.

Natalia (Talia) Stolfi is at a crossroads in her life.  The death of her older sister, Pippa, has caused shockwaves that have ripped her family apart.  Her mother has taken off to Hawaii with a younger lover on a New Age-y spiritual quest while her father sits stoically at home trying to keep pieces together.  All of the stress has caused her, normally mild OCD tendencies to kick into overdrive.  Talia decides that a study abroad program in Melbourne, Australia will give her the change of scenery that will hopefully get her back on her path.

As Talia begins to settle into her new life, she (literally) crashes into Brandon (Bran) Lockhart. Bran’s got a HUGE chip on his shoulder. From hating on his father whose muti-billion dollar company is a big time environmental polluter to an ex-girlfriend who destroyed all his notions of love, Bran is a broody, angry young man.  He is also working on getting his studies back on track.  Bran and Talia share an instant connection in the manner of two people who can see through artifice to the real person underneath.  On a trip to Tasmania, the couple tries to figure out if they have what it takes to overcome their own personal issues to make a relationship work.

Talia is an intriguing character.  The descriptions of her OCD rituals were written with care and provided the reader with enough insight into the disorder without overwhelming. It made up a big chunk of who she is, but it is not everything.  Talia is learning to be a woman with a bunch of roadblocks in the way but manages them logically yet, thankfully, not histrionically.  The one thing that really bugged me was Talia’s snarkiness got out of hand at times.  Call me an old lady, but it just screams “immature” and ends up devaluing the character for me.

Bran was a really well developed contradictory character.   He was alternately bitter and silently hopeful.  He was brash and tender.  I loved that he actually acknowledged and apologized when he was a jerk.  Bran has that hidden vulnerability that peeks out that makes a reader understand why girls fall for a “rough” guy.

I think the author was really stealthy how she quietly peeled back emotional layers of both the characters.  At first, everything seems cut and dry.  As the story progress, little clues are unexpectedly unveiled that provide depth while adding a bit of a mystery.  I ended up really enjoying the setting of Australia and Tasmania as I know next to nothing about that corner of the world.

Unfortunately, there are a few things that cause Bran and Talia’s relationship credibility to suffer.  The imbalance in maturity make Talia comes off as an immature girl with rose colored glasses and Bran as a callous, beguiling jerk.  It was disappointing that the conflict was predictable and, further, that the resolution was all tied up in a bow within a few pages.  Despite the fits and starts of the book, I did enjoy it and look forward to reading Bran and Talia’s continuing story in next book in the series.

Rating: C+

*ARC provided by Grand Central/Forever 

Click to purchase: Amazon

Upside Down
by Lia Riley
Release Date: August 5, 2014
Publisher: Forever

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