Upside Down by N. R. Walker

Published: 21st March 2019Goodreads badge
Publisher:
Blueheart Press
Pages: 258
Format: ebook
Genre: Contemporary romance
★   ★   ★  – 3 Stars

Jordan O’Neill isn’t a fan of labels, considering he has a few. Gay, geek, a librarian, socially awkward, a nervous rambler, an introvert, an outsider. The last thing he needs is one more. But when he realises adding the label ‘asexual’ might explain a lot, it turns his world upside down.

Hennessy Lang moved to Surry Hills after splitting with his boyfriend. His being asexual had seen the end of a lot of his romances, but he’s determined to stay true to himself. Leaving his North Shore support group behind, he starts his own in Surry Hills, where he meets first-time-attendee Jordan.

A little bewildered and scared, but completely adorable, Hennessy is struck by this guy who’s trying to find where he belongs. Maybe Hennessy can convince Jordan that his world hasn’t been turned upside down at all, but maybe it’s now—for the first time in his life—the right way up.

There is a certain delightful charm about this book. It is slightly rough around the edges in terms of style and story but it has heart. There are unique and diverse characters and Walker has managed to show the joy of friendship groups and the adventures of people in their mid-twenties: able to enjoy the freedom of being an adult while allowed to still be young and not have any major responsibilities.

Walker has captured the two differences voices perfectly. Jordon is very excitable but this has its charm at times. You can see Jordan’s mind working a mile a minute and his talkative nature is juxtaposed against Hennessy’s subdued, calmer nature. This may not be the full asexual story that people are looking for, but it does show the actions and mindset of a man trying to work out where he fits in the world. It is also a great introduction to this type of relationship and life that people may be unfamiliar with.

Jordon is definitely someone I think is an acquired taste. He swears a lot, he rambles and is very talkative but this is the character choice Walker has made and it brings some uniqueness to the character. One that also helps understand why he is so reluctant for this added development. Hennessy is the opposite and seeing the two of them together can be quite sweet because Hennessy doesn’t see Jordon’s personality as a flaw.

There are a few dialogue bumps and it isn’t always the most perfect writing but the story comes from a strong start and seeing the boys get to know one another and grow is actually quite endearing. Seeing them get flustered around each other in their own way is joyful and there are many adorable moments of the boys being adorable together. If you know the Surry Hills area there are great Australian references and locations as well.

Sometimes in an effort to cover the fact there is no offer of sex or sexual attraction there are a few misunderstandings that aren’t actual misunderstandings which I think Walker is trying to add some drama where communication would have solved all of the problems. There is admittedly a cheesiness to the story but it is sweet and if you don’t mind slightly sappy, daggy boys and their enthusiastic friends.

The things I loved though was the complexity of the relationship and identity. Seeing Jordon trying to work out who he is and where he fits is wonderful once you get further into the story. There are light hearted moments, cringy moments, but there are also complicated moments that show that trying to find out who you are can be tough and something that takes time and a lot of support.

You can purchase Upside Down via the following

Booktopia | Book Depository

Dymocks | WorderyAngus and Robinson

 Fishpond | Amazon | Amazon Aust

Wild Heart (#4) by Belinda Williams

Published: 15th April 2019Goodreads badge
Publisher:
BWrite
Pages: 296
Format: ebook
Genre: Romance
★   ★   ★   ★ – 4 Stars

IS HOLLYWOOD’S MOST FORMIDABLE ACTRESS A MATCH FOR ONE OF THE WORLD’S TOUGHEST STUNTMEN?

Faith Martin is not having a mid-life crisis. Never mind she’s just turned forty and found a wrinkle. In need of a change from LA, Faith heads to Sonoma Valley in Northern California only to discover the one man she never wanted to see again is living there.

Cole Cooper is more than just a handsome rancher and winemaker. He’s a respected stuntman and Faith knows he’s as dangerous in real life as when he’s diving from cars or throwing punches on-screen.

Then Faith receives the opportunity to star in, as well as direct, a lethal action film that could take her career to new heights. The only problem? The production team want Cole for the job of stunt coordinator, and they’re not prepared to negotiate.

When suspicious accidents start occurring on-set, is Faith prepared to take extreme risks for the most exciting role of her career? And will those risks include endangering her heart?

The final Hollywood Hearts book has arrived and it might just be my favourite one. I’ve enjoyed the other books in the series but there was something about this one and made me realise Faith is my favourite of all four women. Her character has been explored a little in other stories but finally we got a chance to see her flourish and find out what lurks beneath the no filter snark and opinionated woman of Hollywood. As Faith’s story unfolds and we learn more about the events she’s hinted at in previous stories and I felt her fire and passion about her career. I loved that she spoke her mind but still had some vulnerabilities hidden away and Williams draws these out really well.

The narrative had that same mystery and intrigue to it that the rest of the Heart series has had but instead of choosing another stalker route, Williams has gone in a different direction. I enjoyed this move, I was genuinely worried we’d have another stalker but instead we have a great mystery and captivating conclusion that suits not only the final book, but also Faith’s story.

The familiar faces of previous novels pop up and you see more of their own stories progress as well. I liked that Williams has kept them as friends but there is definitely a different type of friendship between the four of them. Faith and Lena have a different friendship than Lena and Ally have, and Faith and Chloe have another kind again.

I enjoyed that Faith was allowed to be experienced in not only film but in relationships and Williams doesn’t make it an issue in anyway. Having characters with life experience is what makes this story work because they know what they want, can be adults about their working relationship, and each of them are secure and settled in their lives. That’s not to say they both don’t make mistakes and refuse to acknowledge their feelings; seeing Faith and Cole dance around one another is wonderful.

I initially thought that her reaction to Cole was an overreaction but when you learn more of their story it made some more sense. Their past is evident but Williams doesn’t throw it in our faces, it becomes a connection between the pair that is a bit adorable and with the drama that happens in the book I was engaged from start to finish. There is a lot of wonderful pockets of information sprinkled throughout and Williams balances the quiet, intimate moments with the dramatic beautifully.

Like all the books this can be a standalone, but there are a lot of references to previous events and characters. One of the reasons why I think this is my favourite out of the four is because the suspense and events in this book felt real, felt plausible. Not that the other stories were fanciful, but there was something real about Faith’s story that I believed in. I was excited to delve further into her character and I am delighted that we have finally been given the chance.

You can purchase Wild Heart via the following

Amazon Aust

Heartbeat (#3) by Belinda Williams

Published: 4th December 2017Goodreads badge
Publisher:
BWrite
Pages: 335
Format: ebook
Genre: Romance
★   ★   ★ – 3 Stars

GOOD GIRLS DON’T KISS AND TELL. UNLESS THEY’RE CAUGHT IN THE ACT…

Twenty-one-year-old Chloe Kemp knows it’s not easy growing up in the celebrity spotlight. Unlike other child actors, Chloe’s determined to hold onto her squeaky clean reputation. So far that’s been easy because she really is as sweet and innocent as the media portrays. 

Until a video of her in bed with the lead singer of a famous rock band is released online. Only nothing happened. Not that anyone will believe her…

Nor will anyone believe she was in bed with the wrong rock star. Chloe’s fallen for drummer, Gabriel da Silva, and she’s heartbroken she’s ruined her chances with him. Or is it possible he’s fallen for Chloe’s sweetness?

When Chloe is sent incriminating images, it becomes apparent someone is following her with the intention of ruining her reputation as well as any relationship with Gabe. If Chloe wants her career to survive, and a shot with Gabe, is it time she grows up and trusts her heart?

Note: I was provided with a copy of this book by the author for review via NetGalley

One of my favourite things about William’s series is how she connects her characters and books together. The character we have gotten to know and love in one book are revisited with new perspectives and insights. This is the third book in the Hollywood Hearts series and we get to see Chloe’s point of view. Chloe’s life is one I think is interesting because of her upbringing and Williams has chosen an interesting approach.

Chloe’s character hasn’t changed too much between the books, only now do we see it in more detail. Her youth in comparison to the other women is highlighted a few times in the past and this is evident in her depiction, not to mention her sheltered life certainly comes across in the things she does and says. Instead of having the completely media savvy girl, Chloe’s secluded and controlled life is obvious and it makes her attempt at breaking free that much more engaging even though you can feel a bit sorry for her as she is snagged in drama and her own ignorance. Williams balances this a bit by having her knowledgeable of a lot of Hollywood practices, some which we see in previous books, but this is the first time we see her personal experiences in the industry.

Williams did a great job in capturing Chloe’s voice and also her struggle to get some independence out of the spotlight and her mother’s influence. I also enjoyed the youthful romance that Chloe and Gabe experienced. It didn’t need to be mature or deep, it is a young love and that is clear. I enjoyed how we explore Chloe’s development through her relationship with Gabe and the realisation that she does want more from her life than she has had up until this point.

There is a great underlying suspense about stalking and manipulation which highlights the lengths people go to in order to keep the status quo or seek their own advantages. I liked that Chloe does stay the same character regardless, she doesn’t change to help her situation in any way. I will admit though that sometimes she annoyed me but it was also an aspect of her character I was going to have to accept.

I am really interested in seeing how this story ends because unlike William’s previous connected series City Love, there is distance between these characters that means a whole different type of story can be told. Not to mention one that is playing out under the lights of Hollywood!

You can purchase Heartthrob via the following

Amazon | Amazon Aust

Heartbreaker (#2) by Belinda Williams

Published: 10th November 2016Goodreads badge
Publisher:
 BWrite
Pages: 346
Format: ebook
Genre: Contemporary Romance
★   ★   ★ – 3 Stars

WHEN LOVE IS AN ACT, WILL HER HEART BE FOOLED?

Lena Lyons, one of Hollywood’s hottest female stars, has a celebrity problem: she’s too famous.

Lena’s had stalkers before and figures the crazies come with the territory, but when things start going dangerously wrong on the set of her latest movie, her production company aren’t taking any risks. They hire Marc Romero, Hollywood security expert. And Lena thought stalkers were bad—Marc appears to hate his job and anything celebrity, including Lena.

Still reeling from her divorce, the last thing Lena needs is a brooding investigator who won’t let her out of his sight. Worse still, his plan to protect her involves him going undercover as an up-and-coming actor and pretending they’re a couple.

Lena has no choice but to get close to the mysterious man who won’t share anything about himself. With her life depending on her acting skills, she must convince everyone Marc’s the man for her. But will she be able to convince her heart it’s all an act?

I found it so hard to articulate my feelings about this book. I enjoyed some parts and while I didn’t dislike others but I couldn’t find the words to explain why I didn’t love it. A lot I think had to do with the expression of Lena as a character and perhaps the story requiring a more refined plot and romantic entanglement.

This is part of a series and I think while you can read it on its own, the characters are across multiple books and you have a better understanding of them as background characters as well as on their own. I think you need to have seen Lena in a different situation to see she isn’t completely what she comes across here.

Ally is the voice that makes you realise why Lena is being so obstinate and a bit unreasonable, something which can frustrate the reader until you try and read it from that angle, especially when she tends to contradict herself. I didn’t warm to her and while I felt bad for her, she never tries to help herself and fighting those trying to help her so much made her appear foolish. That isn’t entirely bad but something didn’t click for me and while I enjoyed the story, I wasn’t totally drawn into it.

William’s writing feels natural when she write about friendships and romance, a few times around the movie production felt clunky where it felt we needed a full explanation process or history. I know it needed to be in there, but I could see the writing style change when different scenes were happening.

I enjoyed the characters and how they were different, only revealing to us what we needed to know. One thing I disliked was that Marc kept calling Lena Princess, and I hated that Lena seemed ok with it. It seemed unprofessional and while she was often rude to him, he tries to stay on task and do his job but that term felt disrespectful and due to their relationship never became a term of endearment in my eyes.

Lena plays up the “not like other Hollywood types” and that’s a character choice from Williams, it makes Lena look like sweet and good natured but she is also unreasonable, disrespectful and a bit up herself. Which is fine once you realise that is who she is, something that is beneficial from seeing her through Ally’s eyes as well as her own and Marc’s. It also helps show how she develops as a character and her own desire to find herself.

Between Lena and Marc, their love/hate relationship worked well and you could see it coming but I never reached that adorableness between them. I think this is because Williams gave Marc such a strong emotional backstory that it worked for character development and added more intensity to the relationship. I may not have felt the real chemistry between Lena and Marc but I did like the direction William’s took their story. There are complications and a business relationship to work around but it gave it intrigue that there might not have been if it were simpler.

I enjoyed the slow reveal about who Marc was. It was the connection to the in-depth and emotional backstory I was missing from Jacob in the first book. The secrecy about his past and his work gives him an air of mystery and you see how separately he keeps his personal life and work. One thing I loved was when Williams let down the barriers and I loved her explanations why. It was a great shift in the character and allowed a bit of light and humour into the story.

Overall I enjoyed the story. I think a few plot points could have been woven into the story better but it tells Lena’s story and no doubt we’ll see more of her story and character develop through future books and through other character’s points of view.

You can purchase Heartbreaker via the following

Amazon | Amazon Aust

Heartthrob (#1) by Belinda Williams

Published: 10th November 2016Goodreads badge
Publisher:
 BWrite
Pages: 346
Format: ebook
Genre: Contemporary Romance
★   ★   ★ – 3 Stars

Can an average girl survive Hollywood? 

Ally Valenti doesn’t belong in Hollywood. Not like her friend and actress, Lena Lyons. Lena’s convinced Ally to pursue her dreams of fashion design, starting with some gowns for the awards season. 

Which Ally will get around to creating as soon as she can stop looking at Jacob Swan, Lena’s latest co-star. Not that she’s staring. Ally’s skeptical of anything celebrity and it’s not like she’d be pathetic enough to fall for a Hollywood heartthrob. 

Then Ally learns there’s more to Jacob than his good guy, all-American persona. She finds herself torn between the desire to get to know him better and her determination to stay out of the limelight. 

Of course the media has other ideas—and someone doesn’t like all the attention Ally’s getting. When threats aimed at destroying her fashion career go too far, Ally’s convinced she’s living in crazy town. 

The sensible thing would be to retreat home before it all ends in spectacular fashion. But will Ally be leaving more than her dreams behind if she says goodbye to Hollywood? 

Note: I was provided with a copy of this book by the author for review via Netgalley

When I saw Belinda Williams had a new series I was so excited. I loved her City Love series and the chance to fall in love with four more wonderful ladies was too good too pass up.

Not that I went in to compare, but one thing that I noticed immediately was that the writing seemed slightly more stilted than I was used to. I wasn’t caught up in the flow of Ally and her Hollywood life. It was something I don’t remember noticing in Williams’ other work. Thankfully it settles into a natural rhythm about a third of the way through and a more natural flow of writing style comes through.

I love William’s series which follow the same group of friends through their lives. The story is filled with regular drama, Hollywood drama and of course, romance. It is a tight story but manages to achieve conflict, mystery and a decent exploration of who the characters are. Being the first we are only seeing things from Ally’s point of view but William’s does a good job in establishing the players without having to wait for their own narratives. You get to see who they are as people through the eyes of the main character. Knowing more books will come though, your interest is piqued about the secondary characters and what secrets of their own they may be hiding.

Characters with insecurities, doubt, fabulous friendships, and big dreams shine through as we get to know who Ally is and what she is trying to gain from her life and her career. Ally’s innocent “Bambi” trait rings true early on as she struggles with being start struck and being teased by celebrities. Her big brown eyes widen at the media coverage, the attitude of those around her, and the general environment of Hollywood. Williams does well to show Ally out of her depth but also with the ability to achieve.

Once you get passed Ally’s knee-jerk reactions anytime someone mentions a woman’s name in relation to Jacob and constant worry and doubt over hearsay you realise it’s a reflection of her own insecurities. She is a down to earth person, feisty, honest but insecure. I would have loved more about Jacob, you get a lot of his backstory but I still felt like he was a closed book, I knew the facts of his life but felt like he needed more depth. But he remains a warm, cheeky character who had a lot of charm in other areas.

In true Williams’ style she had me gushing and gasping and grinning by the end with her romance and genuine moments that while fit a certain mould, are wonderfully sweet.

From a clunky first third the writing settled into a good rhythm and Williams’ takes us on a journey of emotional growth, doubt, romance, and family. A great read.

You can purchase Heartthrob via the following

Amazon | Amazon Aust

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