Grand Central / August 5, 2014 / $3.99 digital
Twenty-one-year-old Natalia Stolfi is saying goodbye to painful memories—and turning her life upside down with a trip to the land down under. For the next six months, she’ll pretend to be a carefree exchange student. Everything is going to plan until she meets a surly surfer with hypnotic green eyes, and the troubling ability to see straight through her act.
Bran Lockhart is having the worst year on record. After the girl of his dreams turned into a nightmare, he slunk back to Melbourne to piece his life together. Yet no amount of disappointment could blind him to the pretty California girl who gets past all his defenses. He’s never wanted anyone the way he wants Talia. A single semester abroad won’t cover something this serious. But when Bran gets a stark reminder of why he stopped believing in love, he and Talia must decide if what they have is once in a lifetime . . . or if they were meant to live a world apart.
Talia’s trip down under is an escape, pure and simple. What makes her a likeable heroine is that she knows just what she's doing. Her entire life is a mess; her family, her love life, her studies, all of it has spiraled out of her control. She might be lying to everyone in her life about just how bad things have gotten, but she doesn’t lie to herself.
She’s still reeling from her beloved older sister’s sudden death. That car accident also ripped her parents’ marriage apart. Talia had to cope on her own as her father withdrew and her mother ran off to find herself. But Talia didn’t cope so well; her grief and her OCD soon became unmanageable. It’d be easy for her to come across as a sullen, immature rich kid. Some of her problems are of her own making. But it’s hard not to be sympathetic to a character who is so brutally and unflinchingly honest with herself, even as she lies to everyone she loves.
And she has been telling so many lies. No one knows how her OCD has taken over her life.
She sees her trip as a chance to escape the disaster her life has become.
What I love about this book is that Talia’s redemption isn’t a simple case of great sex curing her. She and Bran don’t even hit it off at first. She might be attracted to him, but she doesn’t like him. No, Talia fights her way to a better version of herself. In fact, her battle begins before she even boards the plane. She’s been to therapy and she started taking medication. It helps a little bit and that makes her even more determined to become a new, better and improved version of herself in Australia, where no one knows her history.
Every day, in even little ways, Talia tries to be bolder and braver. She’s such a relatable, all too human and imperfect heroine. It’s not all easy for her and she fails as much as she succeeds, but she always gets up and tries again.
Even before we get a glimpse of Bran’s POV (there aren’t many but Lia Riley makes them count), it’s easy to see why Bran would fall for her. Talia is so scared and wants nothing more than to hide at home where she can keep control of everything. She forces herself to go to parties, socialize and even date. Meanwhile, Bran is there waiting, and Bran sees her, really sees her. He pays attention to her in a way no one back home did. He sees past all the lies. He notices her finger tapping, her little compulsions, and the grief that she can’t shake. That’s not something Talia wants, not at first anyway.
Bran has his own issues, which I won’t spoil here, but he is drawn to Talia and the sadness he sees in her eyes. Enough that he puts in the effort into working through some of his own baggage. There is plenty of it to wade through when the two of them get together. The whole book is a one-step-forward-two-steps-back kind of dance as they get to know each other. There are plenty of missteps that you’d expect from such a young hero and heroine. Even through the hurt feelings, they both struggle with opening up to new love.
Both Bran and Talia have been hurt so much that they’re scared to get involved with anyone, with each other especially. This story shows just how frightening it is to let yourself fall in love and be that vulnerable.
Although this is the first book in a trilogy, the ending is satisfying enough to read as a stand-alone book. Which is a good thing since the second book isn’t released until fall and I’ll have a hard enough time waiting as it is!
Learn more or order a copy of Upside Down by Lia Riley, out August 5, 2014:
Julia Broadbooks writes contemporary romance. She lives in the wilds of suburban Florida with her ever patient husband and bakes ridiculous amounts of sugary treats for her teens' friends. Find her on Twitter @juliabroadbooks.