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Actual rating: about 2.5 ★

Laney and Evan, best friends since childhood, finally admit their blossoming feelings for each other just before they leave for different colleges.  They have a wonderful few weeks of exploring their new relationship, but their impending separation is always looming in the background.  Not wanting to put Evan in a position to break her heart, or vice versa, Laney suggests that they start college as just friends, leaving them both free to do whatever they want with their new lives.

As a hot new football player on campus, Evan faces temptations that he never expected, and exactly the ones Laney had warned him about.  Girls are throwing themselves at him, and between class and football practice, he has little time left to check in with his best friend.

In an effort to help her new roomie, Laney attends a “hall crawl” in which new freshmen hop from one dorm room to the next to meet their neighbors.  She’s appalled by everyone she speaks to… until she meets Dane.  Dane is mysterious, charming, kind, and the polar opposite of everyone else she’s just met.

Laney finds herself falling for Dane and all of his grand gestures, but can’t help the niggling sense of guilt over leaving Evan behind.  They’re not really together, but because he’s her best friend and her first love, she doesn’t want to hurt him by starting a relationship with someone new.  So rather than tell him what’s going on, she pretends that nothing is happening.

And thus we have one of the most annoying love triangles I’ve ever read.

I think the first thing to keep in mind when reviewing this book is that it came out more than three years ago.  And while it seems incredibly cliched to me now, it most likely wouldn’t have been back then.  While I could probably list off fifteen books with this exact same plot, I have to keep in mind that those books actually came out after this one, and I should probably go easy in my review.

So instead of ranting about its predictability and stereotypical characters, I’m going to tell you a story.  I’m going to try to tell you what was going through my head as I read this book.

(MILD SPOILERS AHEAD)

I met my version of Evan (we’ll call him S) when I was fourteen years old.  We were seated next to each other in World History, and rolling our eyes over our fellow classmates’ shenanigans quickly led to joking between classes, hanging out before and after school, meeting up on the weekends, and then, a couple years later, a few dates.  

We really started getting close right before high school ended, and we spent the majority of that summer together in coffee shops and parks, both in groups and on our own.  When he declared his love for me in the yearbook, for the whole school to see, I thought it was the most romantic thing I’d ever seen.  Our other friends joked that we’d get married someday. But unlike Laney and Evan, we never defined things.  When we left for college, we just left.  No tears.  No drama.  We just went our separate ways.

When I first started at school, I felt a lot like Laney.  Lonely.  Out of place. I missed my family, I missed the friends I’d left behind, and I missed that sense of security that comes from being in a familiar place with familiar people.  Sure, I lived with one of my best friends, but she was one of about five people I knew on a campus of 40,000 students who all seemed to be doing just fine.  Luckily, I met a group of four great guys in my dorm, and it wasn’t long before we spent all of our free time together.  Much like Laney, I’d just knock on their door whenever I got bored or lonely, and I’d instantly feel better.

S’s college was five hours away from mine, and neither school allowed freshmen to have cars on campus anyway.  His breaks were different.  But we texted and Skyped.  I’d come back from class to find that he’d dedicated a cute song to me on Facebook.  (Remember when that was a thing?)  On the rare occasion that we both had a weekend free and a way to get home, we’d meet up.  But it was different. College, being away from home, and living on your own for the first time can really change a person.

One of the guys I’d befriended (we’ll call him J) started flirting with me a lot.  I wasn’t sure how I felt about that.  S was still there in the back of my mind, and I didn’t want to hurt him.  So I did nothing.  I still talked to S daily.  I still hung out with J all the time.  I was torn.

And then it was Thanksgiving.  I went home for the long weekend and spent most of it with S.  It was painfully awkward.  Something had changed.  Our easy friendship had been tested by distance, by secrets, by other people.  I remember very vividly sitting in a drugstore parking lot while S had run in to grab something and realizing that we were done.  J and I started dating shortly after.  Eight years later, we’re still together.  S got his happy ending, too, having recently gotten married to someone else.

The point of my very long story is this: I was in a similar situation as Laney.  Of course, my story wasn’t nearly as dramatic.  There was no sabotage.  No whirlwind vacations.  Only one hot tub that I can remember. But I was honest with both guys, and everybody survived.  So while I can understand and forgive a lot of what Laney did in this book, I can’t condone her stringing both guys along for so long.

It was clear to me from the beginning who she was going to choose, and the long, drawn out love triangle was painful to read.  I’ve been there.  I know it’s hard.  But this book irked me on a personal level.  In my mind, Evan never had a chance, and Laney should have just been honest with him from the start.

I have no desire to read Evan’s book, Embrace.  He was the weaker of the two choices for me, and I disliked him immensely.  He was clingy, he was creepy, and he was a hypocrite.  I wouldn’t mind more of Laney and Dane, but not if I have to get inside Evan’s head to do it.

Final rating: ★★☆☆☆

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Music major Maddie has long admired her friend Kyle’s rock band, Villain Complex.  She loves their sound, their stage presence, and most of all, their lead singer, Jared, who just so happens to be Kyle’s brother.  But Maddie keeps her crush secret, she keeps her feelings under wraps, and she never once asks Kyle to introduce her to his brother.

One night, she attends a party at Kyle’s house and finds her way into the band’s studio, where she can’t resist picking up a guitar and getting lost in one of their songs.  She’s mortified to find Jared watching her, but it turns out that the band is down a member and desperately in need of a new guitarist before their audition for The Sound, a reality show not unlike The Voice.  Maddie doesn’t know if she has the guts to join the band but is ultimately unable to say no to (1) her good friend Kyle, (2) her long-time secret dream of being a rock star, and (3) the object of her affection, Jared.

While I’ve never really seen the appeal of reality shows that focus on music (The Voice, The X Factor, American Idol, etc), I did really enjoy this book that focuses on one band’s journey through the fictional competition called The Sound.  While I’m not familiar with these competitions in any way, I wouldn’t be at all surprised to find that this is really how they work behind the scenes.

The competition may be one of the main plot points here, but the book also focuses on the attraction building between Maddie and Jared.  There are a number of reasons they can’t be together, including, but not limited to:

  1. The fact that Jared’s relationship with their former bassist almost ended the band.
  2. The idea that Jared’s smoldering good looks and single status get the band more votes.
  3. The idea that Maddie’s cute, nerdy look also helps their vote count.
  4. The powers that be basically telling them that they can’t be together.

But that doesn’t stop them!  Their attraction is too strong.  Hours spent together working on songs only push them closer together.  But the votes and the rules and the possible scorn of their fellow bandmates lead them to keep this budding relationship under wraps… and we all know how that turns out.

More Than Music had all the makings of something that I would really enjoy.  I mean, when I was in high school, I literally fantasized about my crush asking me to join his band.  (Forget about the fact that I played the flute and could only sort of muddle my way through a song on the piano.)  This book was like experiencing my dream come true!  It was well-written, with more or less likable characters, and I had very few (admittedly petty) complaints.

At least until Maddie threw the temper tantrum to end all temper tantrums. I went into this book having read various reviews talking about the low level of angst, how rationally the characters behaved, how nice it was to read a book where the characters aren’t constantly fighting… and I’m sorry, but did we read the same book?  Maddie suffers from the same problem as many other new adult heroines.  She says she’s okay with a secret relationship until she’s actually experiencing it.  Then she passive-aggressively complains about the thing that she agreed to, expecting some grand gesture from her partner, and throws an absolute fit when she doesn’t get it.  I don’t feel like this is a spoiler, because I’ve read it in at least a dozen other books.

I wanted to throw my Kindle across the room toward the end, but I made it through without any damage.  (And let’s be honest – I would never risk breaking my Kindle, I love it far too much.)  For that reason alone, this book hovers somewhere between 3.5 and 4 stars for me.  Just because I loved the rest of it, I’m rounding my final rating up to 4.

Despite my complaints, I would not hesitate to read more books from this author.

Final rating: ★★★★☆