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REVIEW:  Before You Break by Christina Lee

REVIEW: Before You Break by Christina Lee


Dear Ms. Lee,

Last year I read and enjoyed your debut novel, All of You. Enough so that I looked forward to your next book. Before You Break is about Ella, the best friend of Avery, the heroine of All of You.

Ella’s younger brother committed suicide when she was in high school. This left a mark on her entire family. They worked through their grief and moved on with their lives, but it influenced Ella in many ways. She’s studying to be a psychologist. She works at a suicide prevention hotline.

Unfortunately, some of these things are less ideal. She’s dating a guy because of a tenuous connection to her dead brother. Hardly a reason to stick with someone under the best of circumstances and even less so when the guy is an asshole who’s cheating on you. But Ella’s boyfriend is part of a frat and through that frat, she meets Quinn.

Quinn is the university’s star catcher. He’s also not living his own life. Feeling guilty for an accident that happened when he was in high school, he’s living out the life that should have belonged to his best friend. Quinn loves working on cars, not playing baseball. He wants to open a garage, not become a business major.

Given the recent conversation about readers’ hard lines, I want to start off by assuaging any fears. There’s no cheating in this book. Ella ends things with her cheating boyfriend before starting anything with Quinn. But she didn’t end things because of Quinn (and in fact, doing so would have made me doubt the long-term viability of their relationship); rather, meeting Quinn made her realize some deficiencies in her prior relationship.

Before You Break is a novel that plays with dual identities. Ella and Quinn know each other through the frat house and Ella’s ex. They also know each other as Gabby and Daniel, the suicide prevention hotline operator and the guy who calls in when he questions why he’s still alive. Neither knows about the other relationship. Ella doesn’t know Quinn is Daniel, and Quinn doesn’t know Ella is Gabby.

This is clever and all, but I’m not convinced it adds anything to the narrative. I understand why the device is used. Quinn isn’t going to unload all his baggage to Ella. In fact, his opening up about the past is a major hurdle he has to overcome in order to start a proper relationship with her. But I found the dual identity plotline drawn out. When will Quinn find out she’s Gabby? What will Ella do when she realizes the reason behind Quinn’s reticence? These questions only keep you hooked for so long. After a while it becomes “get on with it already.” In some ways, this reminds me of the Lucas/Landon bit from Easy but not as effectively done because Before You Break is told from both the POV of Ella and Quinn, not just Ella.

That said, I really liked the brief glimpses of Ella’s family. Ella’s family is Polish and we get to see what culture played out in their home life when Ella goes home for Easter. I have a fondness for depictions of immigrant families in fiction, and this hit the spot. It’s the little details that worked: the making of the food for an extravagant meal, the men from the older generation having loud conversation outside the house, older members of the younger generation helping their littler counterparts eat their food, and the way you get sent home with tupperware after tupperware after tupperware of leftovers. It’s chaotic and loud and everyone is in your business, but it’s something I really identify with, coming from an immigrant family myself.

Before You Break is about two kindred souls. Ella’s life was changed by the suicide of her younger brother, and Quinn feels unbearably responsible for the death of his best friend, to the point of wondering why he’s still alive when his friend is not. Their home lives are also a study in contrasts: Ella’s tight-knit immigrant family and Quinn’s lonely but politically driven parents. it’s about working through the grief from losing a loved one, exorcising any responsibility you may will, and learning to live for yourself. I like these themes. In fact, I love them.

But Before You Break somehow fails to make them shine. I don’t know if it’s because of the dual identity narrative. I don’t know if it’s because it’s so somber and heavy. I might just not be in the mood for a story like this. I don’t regret reading this book but in the end, it’s a C for me.

My regards,

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REVIEW:  Thrown By A Curve by Jaci Burton

REVIEW: Thrown By A Curve by Jaci Burton

Dear Ms. Burton:

Just last baseball season, I finally became seduced by the sport after watching the Washington Nationals’ (Go Nats!) improbable run into the post season. The Nationals’ star pitcher had reconstructive elbow surgery almost two years ago now, so the set-up for Thrown by a Curve interested me. Garrett Scott is a star pitcher for the St. Louis Rivers, a fictional MLB team. He has injured his shoulder and had the surgery to repair it, but his physical therapy isn’t helping him heal as quickly as he’d like. One day during a session with the Rivers’ training staff, a young female trainer catches his eye. She’s been watching his PT intently and he asks her why she thinks the therapy isn’t working. She tells him something to the effect of: “You’re barely trying, you bitch too much and you’re never going to heal if you don’t pull your head out of your behind.” He immediately decides that he likes her and he wants her to oversee his physical therapy.

Thrown By A Curve by Jaci BurtonAlicia Riley cannot believe she just said that. And to top it off, now she’s been given the task of rehabilitating the Rivers’ most valuable player, Garrett Scott. She decides an unconventional course of treatment, getting Garrett out of the training facility and working him hard at more distracting training that will give his shoulder the proper work it needs. Garrett is intrigued by Alicia. She’s no nonsense, taking absolutely no crap off of him, even going so far as to drive to his house and drag him out of bed when he skips a training session. He knows she’s good at her job, but as he spends more time with her, the more he imagines a “friendlier” relationship with her. Alicia is worried. She’s also feeling the draw to Garrett, but she knows her career is riding on this rehabilitation and she’s definitely not going to let her physical impulses ruin the best job she’s ever had.

As Garrett’s training progresses and he heals more and more, the Rivers decide to send him to Florida where the rest of the team is training. Alicia takes up residence in the house where he is staying and their close proximity ratchets up the sexual heat between them. Alicia knows that there is a clause in her employment contract that would get her fired for fraternizing with a player, but Garrett’s draw is so strong. Will she be able to withstand his pull? Or will she give in to the desire they both so obviously feel?

This was a fun book. Alicia is a tough, no nonsense kind of heroine. She’s worked very hard to land her dream job, and she knows she can help Garrett, if she can just get through to him that what she’s doing will work.  The chemistry between the characters was sizzling, and I liked that Alicia was really torn about how she was feeling about Garrett. I also really appreciated Garrett’s evolution throughout the book. He started out as a spoiled star player, but as we get to know him, we understand his anxiety about whether he’d get back on the field, and more whether he’d recover his talent. I liked that he genuinely liked and respected Alicia, and I liked that even though he seriously screwed up, he worked hard to make it right with Alicia. I love a hero who knows how to say I’m sorry, and do it in a way that is genuine.  I thought that the sexual chemistry between the characters was very strong and there were a duo of his/her masturbatory scenes that I actually thought were really sexy, where generally such scenes make me very uncomfortable.

The book stands alone well enough, but past characters do make appearances, so first time readers will be aware that there were previous installments. That fact shouldn’t deter you though, I think the Play-by-Play series is one of the strongest sports romance series available and wherever a reader starts, they’ll find a satisfying love story. My grade for Thrown by a Curve is a B+.

Kind regards,


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