Sideswiped - Lia Riley (2014)

After Bran follows Talia to America to win her back, the couple take the next step in their relationship when Talia moves out on a short-term visa to be with Bran. This is what they've both wanted, but time is not on their side. So Bran comes up with a failsafe plan to keep them together for good. But Talia worries that they're both in danger of sacrificing their dreams for one another and she's determined to see her own dreams through and not to get in the way of Bran's. Bran, however, doesn't see it like that at all. Whilst I enjoyed the first novel in the series, this one came up a bit short for me. There wasn't as much depth to the narratives or characters and it was somewhat flat. Indeed, not very much happens and when there is action the whole scenario felt rather contrived. Talia was also more difficult to relate to in this one and her decision to leave Bran behind, whilst not a problem in itself, felt somewhat abrupt in its execution. Hopefully the final book, Inside Out, will pick the series back up. (JC)

Upside Down - Lia Riley (2014)

Talia Stolfi needs to get away from Santa Cruz, from the fact she's flunked her degree, that she slept with her sister's ex, and most importantly the pain of her sister's death. A six-month student program in Australia offers the perfect escape and so she heads to Melbourne with fresh hope. She doesn't count on meeting the enigmatic Bran Lockhart, a guy running from his own problems, but the two of them seem to be exactly what the other needs. But there's just the small matters of Bran's past, his selfish best friend wanting to mess things up and the fact that Talia will soon be heading back home. One of the main things I'd been really looking forward to when I heard about this book was Talia' struggle with OCD, which I thought would be a really unique and interesting twist to the NA story. Unfortunately, it features very little and the few asides in which it is mentioned seem like an afterthought. Indeed, although Talia's obsessiveness and hypchrondria are referenced, they're never really shown, at least not in a sustained manner that makes them feel genuine or convincing. However, that aside, there's loads to like in this book and it's a really accomplished and well-written NA that doesn't struggle for originality or quality regardless. Indeed, transplanting the heroine from America to Australia offers a great storyline in itself and Australia as a setting offered a refreshing backdrop. I liked the whole foreign student/study abroad premise (although there's not much studying going on) and the two characters offer everything you'd expect of a NA couple. I had a few issues with the penultimate chapter and thought a couple of scenes of reconciliation and backtracking could have been cut to develop the tension and make the ending even more satisfying, but the finale is great. With two more titles planned in this Off the Map series, it looks like we can expect to see more of Talia and Bran, but in a way this book in itself is perfectly complete. (JC)

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