ARC Review: Violet Grenade by Victoria Scott

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DOMINO: A girl with blue hair and a demon in her mind.

CAIN: A stone giant on the brink of exploding.

MADAM KARINA: A woman who demands obedience.

WILSON: The one who will destroy them all.

When Madam Karina discovers Domino in an alleyway, she offers her a position inside her home for entertainers in secluded West Texas. Left with few alternatives and an agenda of her own, Domino accepts. It isn’t long before she is fighting her way up the ranks to gain the madam’s approval. But after suffering weeks of bullying and unearthing the madam’s secrets, Domino decides to leave. It’ll be harder than she thinks, though, because the madam doesn’t like to lose inventory. But then, Madam Karina doesn’t know about the person living inside Domino’s mind. Madam Karina doesn’t know about Wilson.

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3.5/5 Stars

***I received this eARC as a gift in exchange for an honest review via NetGalley & Entangled.

+++Some scenes might be triggers for assault and/or violence

Violet Grenade is unexpected. It’s dark and twisted, sinister and honest and raw. There’s so much going on in here, so much pain and torment, so much that is unfair. 

THINGS I LIKED:

  • Domino believes she’s a monster. She has a past that will make your skin crawl and you’ll feel more than a little sick to your stomach when the truth comes out. There’s just enough to keep you on edge. Throughout the book, there are hints, little flashes of information that are gripping, blunt, and brutal. The need to know becomes a compulsion. I HAD TO KNOW. The scars on her arms, why Wilson manifested, the foreboding and constant allusions to an ugly and unforgivable past. Victoria Scott is an expert at building anticipation. It gets under your skin. 
  • A different portrayal of trafficking and extortion. Many times we think of trafficking as young girls or boys being abducted and forced into servitude/usually sexual in nature. What doesn’t get talked about enough is how people of specific walks of life are targeted and manipulated, they’re sold on an idea of a better life and before they know it, they can’t escape. Domino, like many of the other flowers, was homeless. She was vulnerable and a target. It’s not hard to persuade someone who rarely has a roof over their head or food to eat to go with someone at the prospect of safety, making money, a home, or even love. Madam Karina is the worst kind of villain because she’s real. She’s walking the streets right now. Her, and others like her, are predators. While Madam Karina has her own demons that make her the psychologically messed up person she is, she’s smart, she’s vindictive, and calculated. She makes these decisions, she knows what she’s doing, and that is inexcusable. 
  • The romance. Domino and Cain are beautifully broken but complete each other. They both had monstrous demons like guilt and fear that eat away at their souls, but inside, they’re good people who want nothing more than to be loved. Their romance is a slow-building realization. It’s imperfect and complicated. It’s right for them. 

THINGS I DISLIKED:

  • The pacing. This book felt a good hundred pages longer than it actually was because of how slow it read. It took time to really get into. The introduction to Domino and her life on the streets was intriguing, but kind of dull. The only things that save this section are the potential love interest with Dizzy and the hints at her past, that this horrible life is so much better than the one she escaped from. Then the shift happens. After Domino enters Madam Karina’s household, despite all of Domino’s plans, ambitions, and woes, it drags. Not much is going on. Each shift to the next flower level felt pretty much the same despite different dynamics and different girls. 
  • The lack of back story. Here’s the thing: the back story is there, sure. You get bare bones glimpses of what Domino’s life was like as a child and sure, it’s understandable because Wilson has blocked those memories from her so that she can live her life without constantly being haunted by the guilt and gore. That’s fine. When things are revealed about the seriously twisted and disgusting actions that Domino was coerced into doing, I mean, wow. MESSED UP. However, why her mother went off the handle, what her relationship was like with her mother that made the manipulation work so well, any moments with her father…it’s missing. There’s like this gaping black hole of stuff that the reader can fill in or guess about but it’s not enough to 100% embrace the emotions Domino felt towards her mother or even the anger. She blames herself, but what about her mother? What happened? There are so many unanswered questions. 

THINGS I’M TORN OVER:

  • How dissociative identity disorder was presented. Domino’s other identity-Wilson-is the result of PTSD and a coping mechanism for all of the horrific (truly, messed up scary stuff) she was forced to participate in as a child. Wilson is a protector, he’s loving and defensive, and flips out, goes off the handle and is way prone to violence. Domino is scared of him. She tries to keep him under lock and key because when he comes out, bad things happen and sometimes he takes total control. At the same time, Wilson is a friend. He’s been there for her, he never leaves like everyone else has in her life, and at the end, there’s a bittersweet moment that really makes you feel torn about Wilson. Ultimately for me, despite the insane and sadistic choices he makes, he’s a sort of savior for Domino that helps her realize that she is enough, that she can get through anything on her own. I wasn’t necessarily happy with this relationship between the two, but I didn’t hate it either. Wilson grows on you. And when he takes over, well, it’s definitely memorable and a little sickening. 

If you like any of the following, you’ll enjoy this:

Keep reading, 

Jordan

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Review: After the Fall by Kate Hart

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synA YA debut about a teen girl who wrestles with rumors, reputation, and her relationships with two brothers.

Seventeen-year-old Raychel is sleeping with two boys: her overachieving best friend Matt…and his slacker brother, Andrew. Raychel sneaks into Matt’s bed after nightmares, but nothing ever happens. He doesn’t even seem to realize she’s a girl, except when he decides she needs rescuing.

But Raychel doesn’t want to be his girl anyway. She just needs his support as she deals with the classmate who assaulted her, the constant threat of her family’s eviction, and the dream of college slipping quickly out of reach. Matt tries to help, but he doesn’t really get it… and he’d never understand why she’s fallen into a secret relationship with his brother.

The friendships are a precarious balance, and when tragedy strikes, everything falls apart. Raychel has to decide which pieces she can pick up – and which ones are worth putting back together.

review2.5/5 Stars 

+++Potential triggers for sexual assault, tragic loss

***Contains mature content

After the Fall feels like a draft. It takes several directions and doesn’t seem to know what it wants to be. The story is split into two parts, the before and the after-though the before is such a short duration that it’s like an underdeveloped Polaroid, a glimpse with huge, life-altering emotional development that there is no time to explore. And while that may be the point of the plot, a little more would have made the loss more potent. 

There are so many important discussions in this story-discussions that so many teens and adults could benefit from in regard to sexual assault and how it’s defined. Like the fact that if at any point during a sexual encounter you change your mind and the yes is now a no, you can take away your consent and the other individual should respect that. That’s not leading someone on, you have control of your body, you have agency, and you are the ONLY one who can give and take away permission to access what is yours. This includes ALL forms of sex. These discussions are between teenagers in the book and wise adults who approach the subject with respect, compassion, and righteous anger. Having these talks between adults and teens and with variety through the story was both thought-provoking and comforting. Sometimes knowing whether an encounter is assault or not can be hazy because of popular perceptions and how we view sex as a society. This book does a fantastic job both bringing up the subject and the commentary that follows. There is also commentary on prejudice and racial jokes, derogatory remarks, and gender roles. 

All of the characters were flawed and complex. While I normally enjoy the broken, confused, and wayward because generally these are coming of age stories and characters are going through a ton of stuff, these characters weren’t exactly likeable. They were self-righteous, blinded by their ideas, bull-headed, self-absorbed, and for the most part, didn’t have much of any redeeming qualities. Matt was a “poor me” character and some of the stuff he said was chauvinistic and demeaning and so near-sighted. How he could be a potential love interest was perplexing. Raychel is a mess. While it’s cool that she makes mistakes and embraces her sexuality, she’s not exactly a role model and doesn’t really learn anything. There’s no big resolution, it’s a cut off, hopefully things will be better in college situation. Does there necessarily have to be a moral to every story? No. But should the characters grow? Yes. 

The romance itself was short, fast, and development could have been stronger to build up to the tragedy. I would have liked to have seen more of them together, rather than the reference back to a time they had that the reader never saw. It felt like a summary and I wanted imagery. The emotions, the romantic ones at least, were muted because there weren’t enough scenes to reinforce the feelings. 

Secondary characters were in and out and there were so many of them that they didn’t make much of an impression, even if they were diverse and interesting, they didn’t have enough space. The book could have been longer, definitely, just to build on these smaller relationships. So much of the focus is one Matt and Raychel, that when anything happens to any of the other characters, it feels miniscule by comparison. 

The book was enjoyable to read because in some weird way, you wanted to see who Raychel ended up with. 

Side note: I also went on a tangent recently about this misleading synopsis.The way it’s initially worded makes you think this will be a romance or even a comedy. There’s a serious suggestion of dating two brothers, but this is not a romance, not really. This is a full-fledged drama and exploration of loss. I was thrown. After reading the synopsis, you go into the book with expectations and what the book really was felt like a stretch. 

If you like any of the following, you might enjoy this:

Introspective reading, 

Jordan

ARC Review: If I Was Your Girl by Meredith Russo

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Release Date: May 3, 2016

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A big-hearted novel about being seen for who you really are.

Amanda Hardy is the new girl in school. Like anyone else, all she wants is to make friends and fit in. But Amanda is keeping a secret. She’s determined not to get too close to anyone.

But when she meets sweet, easygoing Grant, Amanda can’t help but start to let him in. As they spend more time together, she realizes just how much she is losing by guarding her heart. She finds herself yearning to share with Grant everything about herself–including her past. But Amanda’s terrified that once she tells him the truth, he won’t be able to see past it.

Because the secret that Amanda’s been keeping? It’s that she used to be Andrew.

Will the truth cost Amanda her new life–and her new love?

If I Was Your Girl is a universal story about feeling different–and a love story that everyone will root for.

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3/5 Stars

***I received this ARC as a gift via Goodreads First.

+++Contains triggers for: assault, suicide, hate crimes, violence

If I Was Your Girl is important and necessary in educating others about difference and all the many wonderful variations that color our world. 

PROS:

  • There are some truly beautiful and profound moments that will make your heart feel so full and bursting with happiness and sadness. Mourning. It’s not something that many people think of from an outsider’s perspective. The loss of a former identity that someone never wanted, but was a forced reality because of gender assumptions. There’s a scene where, after surgery, Amanda’s mother is looking through photographs and crying about the loss of her son, as if he died. In a way, he did. This hit me really hard because you don’t really think about how this feels to a mother. Not off-hand at least. Russo pairs this with a celebration, a rebirth of sorts, because Amanda is FINALLY becoming the person she was always meant to be, even if her sex said otherwise. This scene was bittersweet and so refreshing-hopeful. That all parents could be so accepting and loving. There are also offhand statements that are so blunt, and said so casually they’re jarring, but reveal the bleak reality of just how much trans individuals suffer through. There’s a line near the end about cutting off hair and being buried in a suit, and my heart literally stopped, it was just so horribly tragic and upsetting. 
  • Being accepted as a woman is like a revelation for Amanda, and validates her decision. She’s who she was always meant to be, and though she fears letting anyone know about her past, embracing her agency as a woman is an awakening and continuous experience for Amanda. Coupled with first love, it is written so honestly, so fresh. Amanda is confused and conflicted. Her feelings are so hopeful and uplifting, you’ll want to bask in the purity of this new love. Letting herself love fully, Amanda is insanely courageous, not just as a trans individual or a woman, but as a human. 
  • The author gets the narrative from multiple sides without switching POVs. From the main character, to her classmates, to how her parents, and the community feel, it all comes together to create a vibrant picture of the adversity and assumptions that are made about people who are different. The fear that parents feel for their children, it’s gripping and brutal and heartbreaking that parents should have to feel so scared beyond the normal fear for their children, but that there are people filled with so much hate that are searching for people to make an example out of. 
  • The diary scene. My heart shattered. 
  • Read the author’s note and the dedications. Trust me.

CONS:

  • Scenes ended abruptly and events were summarized briefly in the next chapter. I felt let down by this sharp transition, I wanted more. I would have liked to have been shown, not told about what happened. 
  • Connections between characters were loose. While you can see the blossoming of friendships, romance, and other variations, the moments together are so brief and fleeting that it doesn’t solidify into anything more than surface. It’s like you’re watching from the outside and the emotions are not as potent as they could have been. On one hand, it’s understandable because Amanda is scared. She’s never had friends, she doesn’t know who to trust, and she has been wronged so many times in the past that letting people see the real her is terrifying and withholding the truth is a defense mechanism. 
  • While I loved Amanda’s build up of affection for Grant, the moments were short, stunted, and full of drama. I felt a little disconnected from the situation (this also has to do with scenes getting cut off). It also felt like it was moving crazy fast. One minute just hanging out, the next clothing removal. It was hard to grasp the amount of time passing in sections that weren’t specifically labeled with year and date, so it felt like only a week or two before full-blown love.

If you like any of the following, you’ll enjoy this:

Read on, 

Jordan

ARC Review: The Art of Not Breathing by Sarah Alexander

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synSince her twin brother, Eddie, drowned five years ago, sixteen-year-old Elsie Main has tried to remember what really happened that fateful day on the beach. One minute Eddie was there, and the next he was gone. Seventeen-year-old Tay McKenzie is a cute and mysterious boy that Elsie meets in her favorite boathouse hangout. When Tay introduces Elsie to the world of freediving, she vows to find the answers she seeks at the bottom of the sea.review3.5/5 Stars

***I received this eARC as a gift in exchange for an honest review via NetGalley & HMH Books for Young Readers

+++Deals with themes that may be triggers: loss of a child, sexual assault/battery, eating disorders, suicidal thoughts. Mature content. 

PROS:

  • The Art of Not Breathing is about overcoming grief, coping, dealing with the world when it feels like half of your soul is missing. The story is an ode to siblings, to that special connection between twins, and the ways we struggle to live with the memories that haunt us after loss. The flashbacks to Eddie and Elsie when they’re younger are full of that playful, childish innocence and love, their bond is beautiful and poignant. 
  • Mystery drives the plot forward, that, and the promise of romance. The pieces are there like a sweet little puzzle you can’t wait to solve. They’re spread throughout the story and take a bit to put together, but the conclusion is unexpected, be ready to be surprised. 
  • Elsie is an intriguing character. In many ways she’s socially awkward, a bit strange, but not nerdy, lost in her head, and a daydreamer. She’s self-conscious, bullied, and yet, in some ways, super forward. She’s a hard read. When Elsie starts to free dive, she opens up, develops, and becomes more introspective, she learns to start to love herself and forget about what others think. When she finally stands up for herself, you’ll want to cheer, she’s come so far. 
  • There’s a cool awkwardness that floats through the story. It’s very coming of age in a sort of The Perks of Being a Wallflower meets Paper Towns meets the Georgia Nicholson series. 

CONS:

  • The plot was scattered. There are so many things going on that the story gets a little lost at times. Between the drama of eating disorders, parents fighting, bullying, etc., the story unravels and I wasn’t entirely sure where it was going or why.
  • Some parts were weird, voyeuristic, and oddly sexualized, they went overboard and for what felt like no reason at all. Not necessary. 
  • Parts were predictable. The “bad” characters were stereotypical and boring. 

If you like any of the following, you’ll enjoy this:

Keep reading, 

Jordan

ARC Review: After the Woods-Kim Savage

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Would you risk your life to save your best friend?

Julia did. When a paroled predator attacked Liv in the woods, Julia fought back and got caught. Liv ran, leaving Julia in the woods for a terrifying 48 hours that she remembers only in flashbacks. One year later, Liv seems bent on self-destruction, starving herself, doing drugs, and hooking up with a violent new boyfriend. A dead girl turns up in those same woods, and Julia’s memories resurface alongside clues unearthed by an ambitious reporter that link the girl to Julia’s abductor. As the devastating truth becomes clear, Julia realizes that after the woods was just the beginning.

review3.5/5 Stars

+++I received this eARC as a gift in exchange for an honest review via NetGalley & Farrar, Straus and Giroux

***Contains triggers: abuse, violence, abduction, assault

READ THIS BOOK IF:

  • You’re interested in recovery after trauma
  • You enjoy mysteries that are complex and thought-provoking
  • You like puzzles

PROS:

  • After the Woods examines trauma at the roots and asks questions. Looking at the girl that got away and the one who sacrificed herself for her best friend, Kim Savage peers into the recovery process post-abduction. Everyone deals with trauma differently. 
  • After the Woods also looks at the damaging effects of emotional abuse. The scenes between Liv and her mother are disquieting and heartbreaking, that someone could treat their daughter as if they were imperfect and never one deign to compliment her. Every time Liv’s face fell or she replied with a sarcastic comment, it struck a chord. 
  • The flashbacks to the abduction are terrifying and sickening. The foreboding will set you on edge. Even though you know she makes it out of that situation, what actually happened during the time is a bit of a mystery. As the clues come out, the anxiety increases to a dangerous level. 
  • Julia is a selfless person. She puts her friendship with Liv up on a pedestal, refusing to believe anything but the strength of their bond. All others are second to Liv. Best friends for life and then some. Julia needs to learn how to cope. She’s sarcastic, brash, and haunted by the events in the woods. She clings to statistics and facts as a way to understand her abduction. The odds are low but they comfort her. Julia is fascinating. Seeing the way her mind works, how she analyzes and keeps meticulous lists helped me better understand the many ways people deal with trauma. 
  • The cover is gorgeous. 

CONS:

  • The big reveal was kind of a letdown. There are so many signs pointing to the ending that I figured it out before the halfway point. 
  • Julia is constantly making decisions that make you want to shake some sense into her. Her delusions about the media, the deals she makes, how she dismisses Liv’s wacked out behavior for most of the book, it all is so frustrating. 
  • If you’re looking for a romance, After the Woods is more about friendship than swoon. While there are a few moments, it’s secondary to everything else. The romance itself felt a bit like instalove. Suddenly, it was there. Not much build up. 

If you like any of the following, you’ll enjoy this:

Keep reading, 

Jordan

Review: Good-bye, with Love-Niquel

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Have you ever wished you could have something so bad, even though you knew it was forbidden?

Jonathan Gates was just that—forbidden. He was everything I could ever want in a man: charming, a great listener, open-minded, and funny. It also didn’t hurt that he was easy on the eyes.

We’d been through a lot together: breakups, makeups, firsts, lasts, and anything else you can imagine. I was once told he was my soul mate, but I refused to believe that.

I didn’t want to love him. I didn’t want to fall for him because…he was my best friend!
But I did, and I fell for him hard. I was in love with my best friend, and it was time he knew how I really felt.

review3/5 Stars

***I received this ebook as a gift in exchange for an honest review via the author

+++Contains triggers: Assault, abuse, violence

Good-bye, with Love is an emotionally charged contemporary coming of age story. A crossover from YA to New Adult, the book grows with the characters and as their love goes through a spiral of drama and ups and downs, thoughts of first love and the one that got away overwhelm. 

READ THIS BOOK IF:

  • You’re looking for a complicated friends to lovers story
  • Love that blossoms from middle school to college
  • You adore alternating POVs and diary entries

PROS:

  • Johnny Gates. A total, devoted, wonderful male specimen. He’s the perfect boyfriend until life complicates things. He’s attentive, compassionate, full of love and friendship. When they’re younger, he’s a sweetheart. Some scenes are hard to read because they’re heartbreaking yet beautiful. It’s a bittersweet and terrifying beauty. When Mickey is sick from chemo and scared, Johnny’s is the hand she holds and the shoulder she leans on. Older Johnny is something else entirely. Gorgeous, determined, brooding, aggressive but still only has eyes for one girl.
  • Mickey is complicated. She adores Johnny but is scared to move beyond friendship. She’s quirky, caring, and a genuine person. Mickey sometimes gets lost in moments and doesn’t consider what’s going on around her. She’s dreamy. As she gets older, she’s more jaded. Her heart has been trampled on and it’s painful to see how she’s changed. BUT there’s hope, always. 
  • The diary entries are insightful, confessions of Mickey’s true feelings, where she gushes about everything. They’re a nice change of pace. 
  • The change from best friends to more is heart-warming and lovely. It starts as an instant connection and evolves into love.

CONS:

  • Some of the phrases and word choice when they were in middle school were a little off. While a few of the contemporary culture references were spot on, the colloquialisms not as much. It was bizarre to me that these kids were going on full-fledged dates at 12. 
  • A handful of scenes were cliché and awkward, especially those that were so sexually aggressive. The shift from romance to hit it and quit it was rocky. There’s a sexual assault scene that was graphic and repulsive (as expected, which is an accurate portrayal with all the emotions and fear) but the “after” is what irked me. How do you dust that off and move on so quickly? How do you get over that trauma like it was nothing? Emotions like love and betrayal are poignant and mulled over extensively but the others are skipped. Processing, yeah not so much. There’s a particularly gory scene after years of build up and then SHRUG. SHRUG??? I guess I was just expecting more.
  • The pacing was sporadic and slow. More than half of the book is when they were in middle school or freshmen year and then it abruptly jumps years. The transition left the story feeling unbalanced and random at times. 

If you like any of the following, you’ll enjoy this:

Happy reading, 

Jordan

Review: Saint Anything-Sarah Dessen

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cooltext1790897456 copyPeyton, Sydney’s charismatic older brother, has always been the star of the family, receiving the lion’s share of their parents’ attention and—lately—concern. When Peyton’s increasingly reckless behavior culminates in an accident, a drunk driving conviction, and a jail sentence, Sydney is cast adrift, searching for her place in the family and the world. When everyone else is so worried about Peyton, is she the only one concerned about the victim of the accident?

Enter the Chathams, a warm, chaotic family who run a pizza parlor, play bluegrass on weekends, and pitch in to care for their mother, who has multiple sclerosis. Here Sydney experiences unquestioning acceptance. And here she meets Mac, gentle, watchful, and protective, who makes Sydney feel seen, really seen, for the first time.

The uber-popular Sarah Dessen explores her signature themes of family, self-discovery, and change in her twelfth novel, sure to delight her legions of fans.

cooltext1790896132 copy3/5 Stars

Saint Anything is an eclectic coming of age story that tests the bonds of family and friendship.

PROS:

  • Living in the shadow of an older sibling is explored with startling clarity and honesty. The complex relationship between Sydney, Peyton, and her parents is plagued with guilt, misunderstanding, and invisibility. Sydney is crying out to be seen and all anyone sees her as is a shade of her brother, secondary, a cast off. Her needs are subject to her brothers temper tantrums and her mother’s efforts to please him. It’s no wonder Sydney yearns for a change of scenery. Sydney does everything in her power to be on the straight and narrow, to make her parents proud and when she does make a tiny mistake it’s magnified because of her brother’s history. It’s unfair and hurtful but it’s her reality and something that many younger siblings can identify with.
  • Dialogue flowed with light and laughter one moment and seriousness the next. One of Sarah Dessen’s writer super powers is capturing the everyday with authenticity and a new eye. The scenes with band members and at lunch were real, something you could easily walk into at a high school. 
  • Layla is like a magical rainbow of joy. She’s weird and quirky but mostly she’s awesome. She has a flair and personality that draws you in, she feels bigger than the story, bigger than her tiny body. Mac is sweet, honest, and thoughtful. He looks at the world like an engineer, he thinks long and hard before he speaks, constantly observing. Each character has a past and something that haunts them but they don’t let it rule them. 
  • Saint Anything is about self-discovery, finding out who you are beneath all the expectations and assumptions. Sydney must sift through her brothers mistakes to find the girl she is and who she wants to be. The pressure to be perfect, to lead an exemplary life, to put her own needs aside to keep the peace and no stress her parents is all like a veil over her personality. Through reclaiming herself, Sydney is able to forgive, accept, and love. 

CONS:

  • Sydney’s interactions with her brother are painful and brief. The sibling dynamic is largely one-sided and we don’t get Peyton’s perspective on anything. Sometimes Sydney’s view of her brother feels harsh and exaggerated.  Peyton reads like a spoiled, entitled brat who has no redeeming qualities. For someone who admired her brother so much her disillusionment is bleak and at times, too strong. 
  • Parts dragged where not much was happening and relationships developed in summaries. I would have liked more physical interactions between characters, especially when it came to romance. While the attraction was there, chemistry was lacking. They seemed more like friends than anything else and when romantic scenes happened, the heat was absent.
  • It was hard to connect Sydney’s old life with her new one and to feel the sincerity of her friendships. Scenes with her old friends felt random and forced, because there wasn’t much interaction between them or memories, whether or not they were active in Sydney’s life wasn’t important. 

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