Review: Level Up by Cathy Yardley

Reviewed by Joanna

This novella tells the tale of Tessa, an audio programmer working for a games company in Southern California, and Adam, a colleague who also happens to be her housemate. Tessa wants two things in life – promotion to a fully-fledged game engineer – a job she is well qualified to do, and to get laid to help her reduce her stress levels. Problem is she ain’t exactly the most social person in the world. A dedicated introvert, Tessa needs to put herself out there to achieve both objectives.

Adam (think Ben from Parks and Rec) has been single a year and is still hung up over his ex. He’s comfortable in his job, in his home, and hasn’t really looked twice at his housemate. He’s got Casey’s (the ex) stuff still scattered around his house, but wants to get laid just as much as Tessa does. His work buddies bet him he can’t get a girlfriend before they fill the engineering spot in the team. And dating his housemate is cheating.

In the meantime, Tessa plans to build a computer game in an ultra-short space of time, to help a group of women who run a book store. These new friends, made while trying to be more social, want to get a celebrity to visit the store in order to promote it. If they can’t drum up more business, they’ll have to sell up. As one of them is agoraphobic and hasn’t left the place in forever, the consequences of failure for them are high.

Clearly this won’t really affect Tessa’s life, but she likes her new friends and agrees to build the game as a form of fan art, to win the celebrity visit competition. She gets Adam plus other colleagues to help her out, with code-offs, and late night working, alongside which her and Adam grow closer.

Up until the point they started sharing sneaky kisses, I wasn’t hugely invested in them as a couple. Neither were that bothered about the other, and it took external factors to drive them together, plus they lived together which could’ve made it awkward.

Then Adam said this:

“You knew you could let down your guard, and that I’ll keep you safe?” “Yeah…” “That includes now. I’ll even keep you safe from me.” He pulled up the blanket and tucked her in. “When you’re sober and you want to try that again, I’ll do things that will make you forget your own name. But until then—-get some sleep, Tess.”

And suddenly I felt a spark.

His ex is lurking around, and Tessa has other priorities than love, so it isn’t all hunker-down-and-lock-the-front-door, plus at times she doesn’t seem to like Adam all that much. She works in a horribly sexist environment (unbelievable how prevalent this still is in the business and tech industries), and I get that she needs to defend herself too often, but Adam isn’t a bad guy. When he does something she considers sexist in order to aid her cause, she comes across as an asshole. She did the same thing herself. Being a feminist doesn’t mean men can’t find women attractive and women can’t use that to their advantage, or vice versa. This bugged me as I felt it diluted the message or how hard it was for her to get on in her job (where mostly no one seemed to care or even recognize that she was a woman).

I’d have enjoyed her bringing down some corporate asshole with a lap dancing club policy, rather than using her wrath up on her love interest. It felt wasted as a plot point.

There were a couple of editing issues with repetitive dialogue and missing scene markers, but overall the story flowed and the pace was good. I could’ve done without a few of the side characters, whose actions could’ve been condensed into a single, more effective person, but I’m assuming this is to allow a series, and indeed, two more books are out/coming up.

I’d recommend for a geeky and cute romance, with a sparky heroine and sweet hero.

Rating: B-

Click to purchase: Amazon

Level Up
by Cathy Yardley
Release Date: January January 3, 2016

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