Author: Lia Riley
Series: Off the Map
Published by: Hachette
Genres: Contemp. NA Romance
Steam Rating: Steamy
Main Characters: Talia & Bran
I LOVED Upside Down and found myself on an emotional roller coaster from page one…I laughed and cried along with Talia and Bran–two perfectly flawed characters who manage to find their ‘perfect for me’ partners.
If You Never Get Lost, You’ll Never Be Found
Natalia Stolfi is saying good-bye to the past-and turning her life upside down with a trip to Australia. Everything is going to plan until she meets a brooding surfer with hypnotic green eyes.
Bran Lockhart is having the worst year on record. 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. 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.
I absolutely LOVED Lia Riley’s debut novel, Upside Down and found myself on an emotional roller coaster ride from page one. I laughed and cried along with Talia and Bran–two perfectly flawed characters who manage to find their ‘perfect for me’ partners despite having every reason to shy away from love.
After a tough year, California senior Talia Stolfi decides to use a study-abroad opportunity in Australia as the perfect excuse to escape. After losing her sister Pippa in a tragic car accident, Talia’s life falls apart. Her OCD has become a full-fledged enemy, causing grades and her personal life to spiral down hill. The timing of this trip couldn’t be more perfect as Talia struggles to figure out what her next move will be. While she hopes this trip will be the beginning of a journey to forget her shattered life and move forward, she soon finds healing to be more daunting than expected considering the weight she carries. And the blame.
I loved Talia. She is a realistic, funny, and perfectly flawed girl who uses this trip as an excuse to run away from the mistakes of her past still hanging heavily over her head. In addition to dealing with the loss of her sister, her family falling apart, and a mistake with her sister’s ex, Talia’s OCD holds her back. On the surface, one would not think this to be a big deal but for Talia, it’s a daily reminder of her past. And her sister. Riley did an amazing job bringing Talia’s idiosyncrasies to life, which is what I loved most about her character.
Bran Lockhart came across brash and intolerable at first but quickly transformed into a man we all want to know better. As the story progresses, we learn so much about him, and I quickly fell in love with all that was Bran. He is smart, sexy, and cares about things bigger than himself, making him an amazing human being. And once we become privy to his own tragic love story, we get an entirely new understanding of Bran, and why he is definitely perfect for Talia.
There were so many scenes in this story that I loved. I laughed out loud—literally as I met Bran. I had to read this part twice as I was in disbelief of what I was reading. While waiting for a date, Talia meets a brawling man in a Koala Bear Suit—What? And the supporting characters were just as likable and real. I loved Talia’s roommate, Marti as she took Talia shopping for her very first ‘big girl toy.’ And the scene where Talia made herself a happy girl–well, I’ve read a lot of steamy novels, but few encourage a girl to take care of herself… Bravo, Riley!
The steam in this novel was nowhere near over the top, but the anticipation kept me waiting for more Bran and Talia. Both character’s had tragic past relationships that held them back from each other both emotionally and sexually, which is what I really loved about this book. So many books use not-so real excuses for their characters to shy away but not Riley. Bran and Talia both had reasons to stay single but once they met each other, their defenses broke down and their relationship flowed at a decent rate which to me, was both realistic and sweet.
Generally speaking, contemporary novels tend to drag for me. I prefer the escapism of the fantasy/paranormal genre but Riley’s unique, fun writing style had me hooked early and propelled me through Talia and Bran’s journey. The characters could have been your best friend or even yourself as they made the same mistakes we all do at some point. Riley made every tragic event in Talia and Bran’s past come to life. The imperfectly human choices each had made were spot-on for typical youthful mistakes, which made me fall in love with everything about Upside Down.
Riley has a lovely way with storytelling and knows how to make stark reality beautifully flawed. Her fun writing style will serve her career well, and I eagerly await what’s next for Bran and Talia, as well as future stories from this up and coming author.
A half hour later we are suited up, dorked out in snorkels and fins.
I take her hand. “You ready?”
“How cold is the water again?”
“Warmer than the Arctic.”
“That’s not a glowing recommendation.” She squeezes my hand. “Okay, let’s do this, before I change my mind.”
“One, two, three.” She leaps with me and we plunge off the pier. The water is frigid, creating the perfect habitat for the hundreds of marine species surrounding us. The pier’s not deep, only five or six meters, ideal conditions to get up close and personal with the trevally, blue devils, zebra fish, rays, and there—I tap Talia on the shoulder and point.
A weedy sea dragon swims toward us, flitting through the kelp to keep camouflaged. The long orange-red body resembles a seahorse except for the leaflike appendages and short spikes lining its back.
We tread together, paddling only when necessary to maintain our position against the current. Here, in this strange world, time slows, life is diluted to the rhythm of tide and waves. I reach out and take Talia’s hand, wishing for an irrational second to sprout gills and swim with her down to the ocean’s deep, indigo places. Find a mermaid kingdom and hide from the world forever. The sea dragon studies us for a long moment before darting into the shadows.
Talia flicks the snorkel from her mouth. “Oh my God.” Her eyes are almost as wide as her smile. “That was incredible. Mystical almost.”
“Magic.” I stroke closer to her, closing our distance, unable to resist her happy glow. Talia’s hair plasters to her cheeks; she’s enchanting, a sea witch who’s cast a spell on me. Her back hits one of the pilings, and we’re beneath the pier, shielded from the tourists promenading overhead, with dragons lurking beneath our fins. I kiss her hard, openmouthed, and don’t hold back the groan when her tongue flicks over mine, still a little shy.
I drop my hands below her arms to brace her, keep her well above the low sets gently rolling by to crash onshore. She wiggles closer and I silently curse our wet suits keeping us from true skin-to-skin contact. Talia’s bikini is skimpy and black, exactly how I like a girl’s suit. I’d love to pull the string in the back, watch as the top slowly slides off. Since the three-inch neoprene renders that fantasy impossible, I use my mouth to cover every inch of her exposed neck, her high cheekbones, her brow, each of the six freckles dappling the tip of her nose.
“Am I your girlfriend?” Talia sounds offhand, but her eyes tell me she’s dead serious.
“Girlfriend?” The word sends a jolt down my spine. “Well…you’re a girl and a friend.”
“So, no, then?” Her smile vanishes. “I mean, are we seeing each other, seeing other people?”
“Do you want to see other people?”
And if so, who? Tell me so I can beat the shit out of them if they look at you sideways.
“Do you?” Her downturned lips twitch in the corner. She struggles to smile, and to watch that effort makes me feel helpless. I don’t want to expose myself, but fuck if I’ll hurt her.
“Since I’ve seen you, Talia”—I pause, clearing my throat—“it’s been pretty fucking impossible to see anyone else.”
After studying at the University of Montana-Missoula, LIA RILEY scoured the world armed only with a backpack, overconfidence and a terrible sense of direction. When not torturing heroes (because c’mon, who doesn’t love a good tortured hero?), Lia herds unruly chickens, camps, beach combs, daydreams about as-of-yet unwritten books, wades through a mile-high TBR pile and schemes yet another trip. She and her family live mostly in Northern California.
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