Review: Fall by Kristen Callihan

Reviewed by Sara

Fall is book three in Kristen Callihan’s VIP series. In it, Jill-of-all-trades and professional friend, Stella Grey and John “Jax” Blackwood have one of the best meet-cutes I’ve read in a long time and then, through fate become neighbors. Both Stella and John are guarded and mistrustful of others. Stella, because she was abandoned by her grifter father shortly after the death of her mother and John, because of past family issues and because he is the lead guitarist for international recording sensation, Kill John.

While Stella doesn’t immediately recognize John as the infamous Jax Blackwood, once she does she realizes why he lives like a hermit. Just over a year or so before Fall takes place, John attempted suicide by overdosing on heroin. Since then, his reputation has been dragged through the mud and the family he had in his band and management has been fractured.

Recognizing another lonely soul in each other, Stella and John become fast friends. They could be more, and both of them want that, but it will take an enormous amount of trust. Due to John’s depression and anxiety and both John and Stella’s inability to trust and fear of abandonment, the road to romance for our two protagonists is full of missteps and misunderstandings. However, when they do finally (!) come together Stella and John’s love for each other is an incandescent force that heals long held hurts and offers future hope for both lead characters.

Fall is fantastic for a number of different reasons, but the main reason is the story itself. There are so many elements about it that I loved. I’ve already mentioned the adorable meet cute in the book’s beginning, but there’s also this really wonderful slow burn romance that occurs between John and Stella. Part of this is because of their reluctance to trust, but also because John, for several reasons, is trying to keep from taking part in casual sex and wants a real connection with a person before he commits to them. I love that it’s the male protagonist that feels this way. This felt like a lovely change of pace from the usual romance plots.

Another part of the story that I thought Kristen Callihan did really well was to incorporate really heavy subject matter and still keep the story light. Often, and with good reason, stories with elements like depression, anxiety and loneliness become stories about depression, anxiety and loneliness; The characters become lost in the things they are experiencing and any other element that makes them interesting takes a back burner. While John struggles with depression and anxiety, it doesn’t define him, and while both he and Stella struggle with immense loneliness even though they are often surrounded by people, they are more than just this. They are happy, they are kind and talented, they are charismatic and witty and also struggling.

Another heavy issue that Callihan addressed here, and one that I can’t, off the top of my head, recall reading about in any other Contemporary Romance, is the issue of Sexually Transmitted Infections (STIs). In the beginning of the book, John discovers that he’s contracted chlamydia in his throat. I’ve read tons of Romances in which the male protagonist is a raging man-whore prior to meeting the female protagonist and never once has there been any repercussions for his behavior other than the occasional love child or accusation of a love child. Callihan isn’t preachy about safe sex or lifestyle choices, although this is also the first time I’ve seen dental dams mentioned in a Contemporary Romance, but rather uses John’s diagnosis to add another layer to his complex character and another element to Stella and John’s complicated romance.

With all these issues one might assume that Fall is a dark and heavy read, but it’s not. Kristen Callihan does a great job keeping the overall feel light using witty dialogue and an obvious love of both music and New York City, where the story takes place. Characters from the previous two books are brought in seamlessly to help further the plot and with just enough backstory to make readers curious about their stories. In fact, I so enjoyed revisiting characters from the previous books, I reread books one and two in the series immediately after completing Fall.

This could have been a Romance burdened by the many issues present in its storyline, but instead the author masterfully uses these things to create complex, multifaceted characters in John and Stella and a romance that readers will easily find themselves fully invested in. I thoroughly enjoyed Fall.

Rating: A

If you’re interested in the previous two books in Kristen Callihan’s VIP series, you can find Joanna’s reviews of Idol and Managed for Red Hot Books here and here.

Click to purchase: Amazon

by Kristen Callihan
Release Date: October 23, 2018
Publisher: Plane Jane Books

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