THIS POST IS FULL OF GIFTS – A GIVEAWAYS AND TWO EXCLUSIVE EXCERPTS!
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UPSIDE DOWN by Lia Riley (5-12-2015; Forever Trade Paperback; Off the Map #1)
If you never get lost, you’ll never be found…
Twenty-one-year-old Natalia Stolfi is saying good-bye to the past-and turning her life upside down with a trip to the land down under. For the next six months, she’ll act like a carefree exchange student, not a girl sinking under the weight of painful memories. Everything is going according to plan until she meets a brooding 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 moved back home 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. 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.
First EXCLUSIVE Upside Down Excerpt
“Is it true you have no regrets, not even one?” Hopefully he has no idea how dead serious I am in his response.
“There’s no point.” His fingers tighten infinitesimally on the wheel. “The past is the past. That’s it.”
“Like whatever doesn’t kill you makes you stronger?”
“No, that’s a dumb-ass cliché. I mean there’s no meaning to life, despite what people pretend. Once I figured that out, everything got easier.”
“Has anyone ever said you are intense?”
“Since the day I was born.” He checks the rearview mirror. “So I got to ask you something. Maybe I’m presuming but—”
“If that’s your lead-in, then you’re probably correct.”
“You don’t fool me.”
He’s right. No matter how hard I try to hide and pretend away my crazy, Bran sees too much.
“But you try to fool everyone, don’t you?” He turns and catches me staring. “With the act. You, all breezy, cute as hell, always smiling like we’re at some big-deal party. You know what I think—”
“No, actually.” Wait, I’m cute? He thinks I’m cute?
“Not sure what your issue is, but—”
“I’m fine,” I mutter tightly. Reality wanders back, as unwelcome as a drunk uncle at a family picnic. Let’s face it, no one wants to be around a girl with issues. “Really, I’m all good.” Right, I sound like a five-year-old watching worms die in puddles.
“Whatever you say, Miss OCD.” He glances from the open atlas on my lap to my pursed mouth with a thoughtful look.
“I…I…” Anxiety locks me in an invisible chokehold while my abdomen spasms. But Bran’s gaze isn’t mocking. There’s an unexpected sweetness there that’s coaxing me from my familiar fortification. “I guess maybe it’s something like that.” My whispered words rise above my head like a toxic balloon.
“Must kinda suck.”
People don’t kid if they think you’re crazy, right?
“Sucks donkey balls.”
He grins. “An unpleasant flavor.”
Suddenly I can breathe again. “And you’d know how?”
A second crawls past. He keeps his veiled eyes trained on the road.
“Bran?” Finally, I can’t take it. I need to say something. “You acting nice is unfamiliar, and, frankly, uncomfortable, territory.”
“Is being interested a crime?” He kneads the back of his neck. The deep, massaging rhythm is mesmerizing. His thumb is a little wide. He keeps his nails neatly cut.
“You’re interested?” I’m off-kilter, like I’ve taken back-to-back rides on the Tilt-A-Whirl at the boardwalk.
“In your quirks. Let’s hear another one.”
“One more. That’s it. Then we’re done for the day.” I kick off my flip-flops and cross my ankles. “I can’t fall asleep without reciting this long poem, Paul Revere’s Ride.”
How is this even possible? We’re talking about my most shameful secrets like it’s just another thing. Why isn’t he pointing a judgmental finger at me, crying, Shun her, shun the freak?
“And you call me kinky? What do your boyfriends say when they sleep over?”
“I repeat the words in my head, not out loud. And I’ve never had a boyfriend.”
“Wait, how is that even possible?”
“What? The no-boyfriend situation?” The words make me sound like a bigger loser when spoken aloud. There’s a very good reason. Too busy obsessing over my sister’s big love. But I don’t say that. Even in this sharing mood, some words strangle. Still, I’ve hinted at my blackest secret and wasn’t smote down, laughed at, or ridiculed.
A new song starts that’s all angsty and instrumental—dramatic violins, slow guitar riffs, and measured drumbeats. I don’t want to go dark, not right now, when everything almost glows.
I spy Bran’s iPod up on the dash and reach forward. “We need different music—”
“But we haven’t finished talking about— Wait! Hold up.” His hand darts but I’m quicker.
“What?” I dangle the iPod out of reach. “Cool guy like you have something to hide?
Maybe a secret Beyoncé playlist or…” I flick on the screen. “Oh to the Em Gee.”
“Go on.” He heaves an exaggerated sigh. “Don’t hold back.”
“I watched my nieces yesterday. They have a dance recital to the song next week. I helped them practice their routine.”
“You? That’s so normal.” And sweet.
“Yep. I broke it down to the Biebs.”
“Please, tell me there’s a video.”
“I’m secure in my manhood, Captain.”
***ATTENTION: LIA RILEY IS NOW ON MY FAVE AUTHORS LIST***
OK. So, I have to admit something. This is my first Lia Riley novel. But there is absolutely no way that this will be my last. For one thing, I have to find out what happens next between the two main characters in Upside Down. And now that I have
so covertly alluded to Upside Down, let me give you my insight into the novel. Before we do that, however, I have to admit to one other teeny-tiny bias. It seems as if most New Adult Contemporary Romances follow a certain pattern ~ person A has major issues/problems and tries to get distance from said issues/problems; meets person B who saves person A from whatever situation they’ve found themselves in, there’s some super hot passion, there’s some huge confrontation, it all works out and they all live happily ever after, The End.
That being said, I think in hindsight I was judging this book because of its genre (which I hate even admitting, but I think we all do this to an extent, whether we mean to or not) before I even opened it up to the first page. The first few pages, I was nodding my internal head, thinking to myself that I was right on in my assessment that this fit the mold of all the other New Adult Contemporary Fiction. About the time I was firm in this belief, Lia’s characters began to fly off the page at me. The depth she could imbibe into each character was amazing. I kept turning the pages, not only to read what was truly a fantastic book, but also to see another layer of the character’s life be brought to the light and out of the darkness.
The characters, Talia and Bran have both lost hope that their lives will be normal, good, worth something. When they meet, it’s absolutely one of the worst meetings in the world. It was one of those scenes where I felt embarrassed for both of them and basically read this scene with one eye opened! Adding to the embarrassment of their awkward meeting, they meet while Talia is supposed to be on a date with Jazza, who is friends with Bran and is oblivious to the awkwardness unfolding before him. For this scene alone this is a book that should be read over and over (just as I did) to begin to see the subtle layers of protection that both Talia and Bran have in place begin to peel back just a bit – just enough that you have to continue reading so that you’ll know whether both Talia and Bran ( or only Talia or only Bran) will allow more layers to be peeled back and allow hope in once again or will they close themselves off, unwilling to chance the pain that they could face once again.
Whew! That was a seriously long sentence! I hope I made myself clear, though. This book cuts through every stereotype and takes on a topic that most books in any genre avoid.
Lia Riley discusses mental illness in this book almost as a third main character. It is with them wherever they go, because as most people know, mental illness doesn’t just come and go as it pleases, it is an ever-present part of the person. Talia’s OCD and Anxiety Disorder play a huge part in the book and Bran’s unconditional acceptance of it comes as such a shock and surprise to Talia. From this one can infer how her family must have reacted to it growing up. Talia refers to he family calling it her “thing” or her “issues” and dismiss them, never seeking the help that she obviously needed. Because of their continued rejection that Talia has some real medical concerns, they push her further and further away after a tragic event in their family. When her mother comes to visit her in Australia, she pushes her away even more by blaming her for the tragedy and voicing Talia’s deepest fear, even though it’s a fear that is unfounded. However, by her mother finally verbalizing the blame, Talia is for the first time able to verbalize her thoughts on it, and realizes that she was not to blame, and refuses to take the responsibility anymore.
Bran has his own set of issues, even though they are not prolific enough to be considered a mental illness. And yet, because of Talia’s OCD and anxiety disorder, Bran and Talia are able to connect because they see something in the other that mirrors what they see in their own lives, in what they are going through at the time.
Lia Riley is truly honest regarding mental illness, the good and the bad of it, and it adds a complex and beautiful note of honesty and rawness to the story. And yes, there are many more ‘serious’ diagnoses in the world of mental illness, but I guarantee you that when someone is in the throes of an anxiety attack or cannot tap out the correct code that they must due to their obsessive compulsive order, there is nothing in the world more serious to that person at the time.
There are also amazing minor characters (although calling them minor characters seems disrespectful to their quality) – characters that have depth and aren’t simply one-sided but are completely rounded out. Marti has to be my absolute favorite! Without her incessant (seriously, truly incessant) pushing, Talia would have never taken the chance to put herself out there or find the seedy underbelly of Melbourne, which is where she got all the dirt on what she saw as her rival for Bran). Bran and Talia wouldn’t have met if it wasn’t for Jazza, one of Bran’s blokes who first asks Talia out and then once he realizes that Talia will not be one of his sexual conquests, is happy to invite her to his beach house for a weekend party that Bran will also be attending – in fact – it’s this trip that I believe cements Bran’s feelings for Talia.
Overall, this book is a beautiful and honest look at a couple who are trying to gain the confidence to open their hearts and allow another person to see beyond their defenses. It is a story that I didn’t want to end, and read it over and over again. There are some books that stick with you – this is absolutely one of them. Read it! Let me know what you think. As for now, I have to go, because it is sitting right beside me and is calling my name!
Keep looking for your chance to win a copy of the book as well as another EXCLUSIVE excerpt and information regarding the amazing Lia Riley!
Second Exclusive Upside Down Excerpt
“A few meters more, you’re almost there.”
It’s like we’re at the end of some old-school adventure tale, one where the heroes are stoic even as the blizzard rages, avalanches fall, and death hovers like a benevolent ghost.
Well, Bran is the hero.
I’m like one of the minor sidekicks who goes down during some important turning point. My death might even inspire the hero on his journey or teach him a valuable lesson. But at this point in the flick, the minor sidekick should be well and truly dead. Not white-knuckling a column of dolerite rock, thighs gripping the stone like it’s the world’s best lover.
“That’s it, Talia,” Bran’s voice is encouraging. “You’re holding tight, that’s great. Now, I’m going to need you to release your left hand and reach up a few inches to grab the next hold.”
I grit my teeth. The way he talks, you’d think I’m scaling Everest. Or at least Kilimanjaro. Instead—
“’Scuse, us, we’ll be by in a tic. That’s the way, Andy, right around the lady.”
I’m the lady. Andy is a kid who doesn’t look a day over seven who scrambles past me in a flurry of Spider-Man shoes and gap-toothed smiles. His parents bring up the rear, smiling up at their wild monkey child with obvious pride.
And they aren’t the first group to pass me.
Five Swedish women, a couple, and a guy who looked to be in his mid-seventies have also shot past me during the course of the last quarter hour.
The top is so close I can taste it. Bran is being nothing but encouraging, but below me is a twenty-foot drop. Not enough to kill me, unless I fall with some sort of suicidal intent, but enough to make me feel incredibly uneasy about the boulder field.
Bran eases toward me. “Talia, take my hand.”
“Can’t let go.”
“No.” This is it; this is the reason. Bran isn’t going to admit it here, while I’m bordering on a panic attack on a trail being conquered by elementary school children and senior citizens, but there’s no doubt this is A REASON to lose interest in me. I’m giving him a big capital-lettered reason, but I can’t stop. I physically can’t let go.
“Talia. Take a deep breath.”
“Give me your hand, no bullshit. I want your fingers in mine. You’ll be safe. I’m going to keep you safe. I need you to trust me.”
Somehow I do it. I give him my fingers. He assists me up. We’re doing this together. My head clears the boulder and I can see the steel marker that identifies the summit ahead. Holy shit, he’s right. I’m going to reach the top.
A few more steps, easy now, and we’re there. The kid in the Spider-Man shoes munches a Vegemite sandwich. I want to scoop him up in a smooshy squeeze. Except his parents would likely object, so I switch gears to give Bran a long and passionate kiss.
“I knew you’d get here,” he says.
He turns me to see the view, his hands tight around my waist. “Your place is here, Captain, in the sun,” he whispers in my ear. “Don’t ever forget that.”
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