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Sweet New Release! With Every Breath by Lia Riley *Review and Excerpt*

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With Every Breath
by Lia Riley

A New Adult Romance
Released December 29th 2015
From Forever

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BREATHE DEEP … AND JUMP IN

At the ends of the earth, Patagonia is a land where ambition trumps reason and the savage summit of La Aguja lures the most determined climbers. It’s also the last spot a “play-it-safe girl” like Auden Woods expects to find herself. But she’ll lace up her brand-new hiking boots and do whatever it takes to secure a dream job at an adventure magazine . . . even if it kills her. And it just might. When disaster strikes, her only chance at survival comes in the form of the surliest, sexiest mountaineer ever to come out of Scotland.

After a climbing accident cost him his brother, professional mountaineer Rhys MacAskill is at the end of his rope. Redemption is not in his future. That is, until a terrifying storm blows a budding journalist into his tent and it’s up to him to make sure they both survive until morning. Despite the demons weighing on him, Rhys can’t resist the temptation of the charming American and one wild night just isn’t enough.

Auden and Rhys soon learn there are no shortcuts as they navigate their way between life, death, and atonement, and discover something they never expectedlove.

 

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Review

5-stars

Whenever I start a new book expect her unique style of story-telling, her feisty heroines and her moody yet sexy heroes. And With Every Breath she does it once again!

With witty dialogue, a heavy dose of sizzling chemistry and a vast range in emotions, Lia Riley managed to draw me into the Auden and Rhys’ journey. I admit, I loved every single element she brought to the page. From the flirty banter through the stolen moments along their adventure and even the rampant emotions both Auden and Rhys were dealing. Everything worked together well bringing forth a sweet yet sexy and emotion-driven story.

Of course, it helped tremendously that the story was infused with Lia Riley’s understated humor which helped to move the story along and showcase the unique personality of the characters. While Rhys was appeared carefree and unbothered, he carried a great amount of guilt that weighted him down every day. And while Auden didn’t have major issues to deal with she did come into herself and came out a more confident and assured woman ready to tackle the world.

Auden and Rhys complemented each other in the most basic of ways. They had a great amount of chemistry that jumped off the page, but it was the moments when they found solace in each other when neither expected to find it in the other that truly sold me on the romance. I enjoyed their bickering and easy rapport, but it was the candid moments that showcased how deeply connected they were.

Although I’ve come to enjoy Lia Riley’s more angsty stories, I appreciated the fact that she balanced the emotions brought to the page with humor and camaraderie. The emotions were apparent, yet subtle enough that they didn’t weight down the story. And let me tell you, there were some mighty emotional moments in there!

All in all, a fantastic story. I loved watching Auden and Rhys, two complete strangers, find themselves and love along the way.

*I received a copy of this title in exchange of my honest opinion.
 

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Excerpt

Even in my sleeping bag and dry shirt, her teeth chatter. If she balked at my request to undress, she’s going to go ape over this. Fuck it. There isn’t a choice.

“Auden.”

A thin furrow appears between her brows. “Yeah?”

My stomach tightens. “I’m going to warm you.”

“How?” Her eyes widen.

I can’t hold her gaze and say what I must. “Body‑to‑body contact.”

The world outside rips apart, but in the tent, a heavy silence reigns. She shifts to a half sit. “Oh, no, it’s OK. Look, I’ll be better in a few minutes.”

“You said yourself the cold makes your asthma worse.”

“Yes, but—”

“I know you don’t have a reason to trust me. In fact, if this were normal circumstances, I’d no’ recommend it. But here we are.”

“Nothing about today is normal.” She slowly reclines to the mat, folding her arms across her chest like a mummy, eyes screwed shut.

“No harm’s going to come to you.” It sounds like I’m making a solemn oath.

She opens one eye, gives me an unfathomable look, before closing it again. I’m not used to a woman regarding me like something to endure. Uncertainty weaves through me.

I ease beside her. “This’ll go easier if you turn to the side.” Away from me.

“Good idea.” She rolls to face the tent wall. Her features are hidden, but I can hear each uneven breath, the slightly shuddering inhalation followed by a pause before giving way to a raspy exhalation.

She remains still when I reach, warily securing a handhold on her ribs, their sudden rise and fall the only sign of her silent gasp. “This all right?”

She utters no reply only a brief nod and grips the sleeping bag tighter.

“Everything will be fine, I promise you.” I keep my voice cool, aloof. Give no sign that my chest aches, as if instead of a heart, a great wallowing drunk stumbles about. I never cuddle. Prior to my last girlfriend, Sadie, my dealings with the opposite sex were kept to simple and straightforward shags. Occasionally girls tried to compete with the mountains, but they never stood a chance.

Auden gives another tentative nod, and her scent invades my senses, simple and straightforward, a hint of sweat from exertion, combined with the fresh fragrance of rain. She begins to settle, her violent shiver attacks growing fewer and further between, same with her coughing fits. I keep my pose rigid, controlled, resisting the mad urge to relax into her body as blood pounds thickly in my ears. I can’t do this, be with another person, be human. I need to be a machine. A robot with one goal and one goal alone. To conquer a mountain like La Aguja there can be no room left inside me for any other desire.

When my mind quiets and other wants are eliminated, my attention naturally focuses on visualizing the climb. Once on the rock, this single-​minded concentration will translate effortlessly into correct hand- and footholds or gear placements. In order to climb like you are the only person in the world, you can’t care about anything other than living in the moment. There can be no significant other in the mind’s periphery wielding the power to distract.

Outside the wind shakes the nylon, redoubling its assault. Zipped tight, shut away from the world, we could be anywhere. I’d always appreciated that about tents, how once inside, you became the ruler of your own cramped kingdom of cast-​off socks, sleeping bags, and carefully chosen gear. This time in Valle del Frances, away from the scene at the main climbing camp, is meant to be a chance to establish a cease-​fire in the battle with myself. Being in a tent, in the wilderness, far from a world I don’t understand and that sure as hell doesn’t understand me, is calming.

Now Auden Woods has come along and triggered a whole new conflict with her icy blue eyes.

Icy blue eyes? Looks like prolonged abstinence brings out a lad’s poetic side. If she looks back, she’ll see my mouth twisted in a humorless smile.

She doesn’t, though. She’s too busy trembling, and so I gather her closer, an unfamiliar protective sensation welling inside me. “Better?” I whisper, more a hoarse croak than anything gallant.

“Yes,” she says, turning, her full lips slightly parting to offer the word.

We’re two strangers, haven’t even shaken hands, and yet our bodies press flush. Despite every intention, mine starts to react, and Christ, quick, what are unsexy topics to ponder? When in doubt, go for geology. The Andes are the result of which type of plate boundary?

Conquering La Aguja is going to take all my mental resources. The next few days are needed for getting focused, concentrated, and prepared for the challenge ahead. Auden shifts, drawing closer, and my next breath is almost as ragged as hers.

Aye, this girl is just the sort of distraction that could ruin everything.

 

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About the Author

Lia Riley_Photo Credit Kitti Homme

Lia Riley writes offbeat New Adult Romance. After studying at the University of Montana-Missoula, she scoured the world armed only with a backpack, overconfidence and a terrible sense of direction. She counts shooting vodka with a Ukranian mechanic in Antarctica, sipping yerba mate with gauchos in Chile and swilling fourex with stationhands in Outback Australia among her accomplishments. A British literature fanatic at heart, Lia considers Mr. Darcy and Edward Rochester as her fictional boyfriends. Her very patient husband doesn’t mind. Much. 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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Now Available in Print! Inside Out (Off the Map, #3) by Lia Riley *Review, Excerpt and Giveaway*

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Inside Out (Off the Map #3)
by Lia Riley

A New Adult Contemporary Romance
From Grand Central — Forever

Released in Print July 28, 2015

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Lia Riley made New Adult readers fall in love with her breakout debut, Upside Down. Sideswiped, the second of her series, made readers clamor for more. Now, with INSIDE OUT, Lia Riley brings her evocative Off the Map series to a stunning conclusion.

When Talia first moved from California to Australia to study abroad, she never dreamed she’d find the love of her life. Bran understands her like no one ever has before. And despite the numerous challenges they’ve faced, they’ve always managed to figure out how to stay together. But this time they’ll face their toughest hurdle yet. Is their love strong enough to keep them together?

 

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Review

5-stars

What I’ve loved about these books is that Bran and Talia have faults–real, honest to goodness faults that the reader can identify with. And it’s in this installment that we get to the nitty-gritty of them and watch as Bran and Talia battle their own demons to make it through as individuals and as a couple.

I’ve followed this couple from the very beginning–I’ve wanted to throttle them for being stubborn about their attraction for one another, comfort them for having to make tough decision and smack some sense into them when they somehow lost their way. By book 2 I had starting thinking that I was emotionally invested in their relationship and this story made it abundantly clear that I was.

Once again, Lia Riley managed to bring forth emotions, light moments and realistic obstacles to the page. I enjoyed their easy camaraderie, their meltdowns and their chemistry. I liked that their story wasn’t wrapped up in a pretty bow, but still was infused with joy and hope of better things to come. Even in the darkest of times, the author didn’t fail to keep that spark of humor and the expectancy that Bran and Talia would find their way. Better yet, I loved that I got to see them grow as a couple while still allowing themselves the chance to grow as individuals. Bran and Talia’s journey hasn’t been easy but to me it has been worthwhile.

From the very beginning, Lia Riley grabbed me and didn’t let go. I cried with Talia as she confronted her current situation, was emotionally drained right along with Bran when he faced the uncertainty of their relationship. I laughed with them and at them. I was right in there with every up and every down and when it all came to be I was grinning like the fool I am.

It’s sad to have reached the end of their journey, but I am glad to see them moving forward together. All in all, a fantastic conclusion to Bran and Talia’s story.

*I received a copy of this title in exchange of my honest opinion.

 

Excerpt

“See how I want you.” His agonized whisper is barely audible over the water lashing the tiles. His hips lose their slow, lazy tempo. He pounds himself deeper, harder.

An intense ache spreads from my belly through my breasts. I’ve forgotten what it feels like to be turned on. Muscles tighten within my sex. I’m fast remembering.

“Want. You. So. Bloody. Much.” He always sounds like this right before he comes, as if it hurts, like I’m pressing on a wound that’s too much to bear. “Damn it, Talia.”

I can’t look away as he loses himself in a blaze. I’m a prism, refracting his light. His features spin through a kaleidoscope of emotions starting at brutal need and ending with an unexpected vulnerability. My fear about the future disperses so quickly it’s hard to believe only minutes ago it felt inescapable. Bran isn’t some scary what-if. He’s a fact, a truth to hold on to against all life’s uncertainty. Why have I been so afraid he’ll see me as a walking disaster? He knows what it’s like to mess up, to feel like a failure. I need to reframe my question. Rather than asking what if Bran gets sick of me, maybe I should ask, what if we’ve worked our asses off, and finally have a shot at a real forever?

He falls to his knees and grabs me before I can take a breath or do anything but throw my arms around his lean shoulders. Water soaks through the white cotton of my pajama pants until I might as well be naked too.

“Show me the way back to you.” He buries his face in my neck, drags his lips to the place behind my ear, the headwaters for all delicious shivers.

“I want that so much.”

“I’ll do whatever it takes, go off the map.”

“You will?”

“We’re already there.”

He’s right. We’ve been explorers for some time. During the last little while it’s as if a blizzard descended, we were stuck in a whiteout, so close, but the snow made everything indistinguishable. At last, the storm’s abating and he’s right there, and I’m over here. Suddenly, we can see each other.

Within us is the way forward. We each possess half of the compass and must join together to find the right direction.

“You’ve got to know how much I need you.” A lock of his wet hair twists in a boyish curl.

I go to smooth it down, but my fingers tangle in the thick waves, and instead draw him closer.

He bows his head, still panting a little. “You can’t check out on me like that again. I can’t live this bloody life devoid of you—”

I brush my mouth over his lower lip, that reddening mark where his teeth left imprints. “I won’t. I’m so sorry. I-I’m ready to try. Thank you for believing in me.”

“I’ll never stop.”

We rest our foreheads together, holding one another upright. Droplets fall from his hairline onto my cheeks, joining fresh tears. He’s water, I’m water, and our flotsam and jetsam fit in a way that’s strange, yet familiar. I have no idea where we’re going, only that the way out is lined with broken feathers, bloodstains, marrow ash, and the serrated teeth of sharks.

This journey will take all I’ve got, a small price to have everything.

And that’s exactly what this guy in my arms is.

 

The Off The Map Series

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Upside Down (Off the Map, #1)
Sideswiped (Off the Map #2)

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About the Author

Lia Riley_Photo Credit Kitti Homme

Lia Riley writes offbeat New Adult Romance. After studying at the University of Montana-Missoula, she scoured the world armed only with a backpack, overconfidence and a terrible sense of direction. She counts shooting vodka with a Ukranian mechanic in Antarctica, sipping yerba mate with gauchos in Chile and swilling fourex with stationhands in Outback Australia among her accomplishments. A British literature fanatic at heart, Lia considers Mr. Darcy and Edward Rochester as her fictional boyfriends. Her very patient husband doesn’t mind. Much. 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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Now Available in Print! Sideswiped (Off the Map #2) by Lia Riley *Review, Excerpt and Giveaway*

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Sideswiped (Off the Map #2)
by Lia Riley

A New Adult Contemporary Romance
From Grand Central Publishing – Forever
Print Release June 30th 2015

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It was only meant to last the summer…

Talia Stolfi has seen more than her share of loss in her twenty-one years. But then fate brought her Bran Lockhart, and her dark world was suddenly and spectacularly illuminated. So if being with Bran means leaving her colorless SoCal life for rugged and wild Australia, then that’s what she’ll do. But as much as Talia longs to give herself over completely to a new beginning, the fears of her past are still lurking in the shadows.

Bran Lockhart knows that living without the beautiful girl who stole his heart will be torment, so he’ll take whatever time with her he can. But even though she has packed up her life in California and is back in his arms for the time being, she can’t stay forever. And the remaining time they have together is ticking by way too fast. Though fate seems determined to tear them apart, they won’t give up without a fight-because while time may have limits, their love is infinite . . .

 

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Review

5-stars

Sideswiped picks up right where Upside Down left off with Talia back in the States and getting ready to return to Australia to move in with Bran.

The honeymoon is set to continue with Talia and Bran living together and working on their careers, but real life is a bit more complicated and worries, insecurities and ghosts from the past threaten to tear Talia and Bran apart.

As with the first installment in the series, I loved this story because of the range in emotions the author brought to the page. However, I was a bit disappointed that some of Talia and Bran’s camaraderie–that thing that made Upside Down such an enjoyable read for me–was lacking.

I understand that this was more of an exploration of how hard it is to make a relationship work. It dealt with the ups and down of a relationship and how real life can get in the middle of it. So yes, I understood that the funny moments and the banter would be kept to a minimum. But for me, that easy camaraderie, the bickering and the easy way Talia and Bran related to each other was what made their relationship so strong. They could deal with the emotional and the obstacles thrown their way and still keep their easy-going rapport.

That said, I still enjoyed this story. Lia Riley didn’t hold any punches in bringing the emotions to the page or in challenging Talia and Bran’s relationship from all sides.

This time around Talia struggles with the uncertainty of her future in terms of her career and how her decision will affect her relationship with Bran. Thankfully, she has matured enough to recognize that she must follow her own path and has grown confident that what she and Bran share is more than a passing emotion. But her struggle is made more complicated as she tries to get a handle on her disorder and when her biggest obstacle becomes the man she loves.

Bran is stubborn and refuses to compromise. His fear of abandonment, coupled with his previous experience in a relationship, make him reluctant to accept his dream position. A man used to going for what he wants, he struggles with being with Talia completely or pursuing his dream assignment.

As the story progresses, Their love continues to grow but the obstacles thrown their way take their toll on their will to make their relationship work. Talia and Bran confront their demons, withdraw from one another but ultimately decide to go for what they truly want.

Sideswiped is the second book in the Off the Map series and recounts Talia and Bran’s the journey of trying to find their place in the world–as individuals and as a couple. Although it can be read as a stand alone, I wouldn’t recommend it. This story would not have been as satisfying or heart-warming if I couldn’t have experienced how these two came to be together.

All in all, a wonderful story of how two individuals find themselves while still holding on to one another.

*I received these titles through NetGalley in exchange of my honest opinion.

 

Excerpt

Talia passes out hard from the travel and epic reunion sex. I’m too amped for sleep, so I lie in the dark and trace her spine. Can you love someone too much? No point being afraid, might as well jump in it with both feet. I press my mouth to her neck and she undulates, responsive even from her dreams. If miracles were real, I’d swear we were designed to fit together.

I loop my arm around her waist and hold fast, until our breathing syncs. I’m drifting off when she jerks—hard—once, twice. Her body recoils as she unleashes a lung-tearing scream.

“Talia, wake up. Come on, sweetheart, talk to me.” I clamber over her, hunching protectively. “Open your eyes. It’s Bran. I’ve got you. I’m not letting go.” I keep talking while she flays my chest like she’s drowning under ice, desperate to find a break in the surface.

“Can’t breathe. I can’t breathe. I…where am…oh God. Bran.”

“I’m right here.” I cradle her while she draws another unsteady gasp. Her hair plasters her forehead in sweaty wisps.

“Give me a minute. I’ll be fine.” She pushes herself to a half-sit and sways with disorientation. “This…this happens sometimes…panic attacks or night terrors…whatever. They seem to come when I drop my guard. Or, I don’t know, maybe it’s the meds. Those pills make me feel like a toxic waste dump.”

“Have you been bad this summer?” The muscles in my neck cord. It shreds my guts to see her hurting. I’d do anything, any fucking thing, to carry her pain. I don’t fully understand the inner workings of OCD but she’s explained that for her, the condition comes in waves. Everything will be rolling along fine, more or less, and then bang—a giant squid grips her brain. She fights hard for recovery, a warrior even when she believes she’s nothing but a coward.

“No, not really.” She grinds her eyes with the backs of her hands. “I kinda danced around the edge of the rabbit hole a few times but never fell inside.”

My muscles release some tension. “Try to go back to sleep. You need the rest. Don’t worry, I’ll keep watch, okay?”

“I’m sorry to be such a psych job. It’s totally shaming.”

“Shhhhhh.”

Her chin tips down. “Can you talk to me for a little while? Get me out of my fuckball head?”

“Hey now, I got mad love for that head, Captain.” I kiss her brow, acting chill even though I’m scared. How can I get her to settle? Then it hits me. “I want to take you surfing again.”

“Mmmm, that’d be nice.”

“Picture yourself out there, in the water, on a board, under the shooting stars.”

“With sharks eyeballing me from the depths?”

“Nah, they’re all busy hunting sea lions or some bloody mischief. This is you, the sea, and the sky. A set rolls in. You can’t make out the wave. The board lifts and you feel the momentum building. There’s fear deep in your belly, sensible, because you can’t see what’s coming or where you’re going. You fight the self-protective instincts, give yourself over, and the next thing you know—you’re having the ride of your life.”

“Thank you.” She flips in my arms so we’re belly to belly. “I mean it. That was beautiful, really, really beautiful. I’m so excited to be here, for right now—to live in the moment. But it’s like I have this…this weird mental stutter. My thoughts keep skipping over the same annoying question like a scratch on vinyl: What will we do?” Tears spill from the corners of her eyes, course silently toward her chin. “My visa.”

Talia’s been granted a three-month student visa to complete her senior thesis in history. In all its benevolent generosity, the Australian government expanded her time in the country by an extra month.

Four months—the sum of our allotted time.

“They’ll make me leave.”

“Don’t believe everything you think.” I wipe her damp cheeks.

“Can you tattoo that on my forehead?”

Maybe it’s my imagination, but the brass alarm clock on the dresser clicks louder.

Another second gone.

Another second gone.

“I’m not losing you to some shithouse immigration policy, Captain. We will be all right in the end.” I’ve no idea how the hell I’m going to solve this drama but I will figure it out. “We have to hope, otherwise we’re sunk.”

She jerks with surprised laughter.

“What?”

She hiccups and covers her mouth with her hand, shoulders shaking. It takes me a second to realize she’s giggling.

“I’m funny to you right now?” This girl drives me every sort of crazy.

“I’m not laughing at you.” She works her lips together and unsuccessfully smothers the smile. “It’s—”

“Forget it.” I instinctively stiffen.

“Bran the Optimist.” She grabs my wrists, lifts my palms to her face, and plants a kiss in the center of each one. “I like this side of you.”

“Never mind. I was being dumb.”

“You were awesome.” She pecks the tip of my nose. “And for the record, I love your stupid face.”

I give her a begrudging kiss back. “I love yours too.”

Love isn’t enough of a word.

I wasted almost an entire year of my life implementing a scorched earth policy, not caring who I left burned and broken in my path.

Talia was my oasis. My salvation.

“Don’t give the visa a second thought.” I nestle her against me, rubbing her lower back in easy circles. “I’ll sort this out, I swear to you.”

Even if I don’t have the first fucking clue.

 

 

The Off The Map Series

upside downUpside Down (Off the Map, #1)

Amazon | B&N | Kobo | BAM! | iBooks | GooglePlay

 

About the Author

Lia Riley_Photo Credit Kitti Homme

Lia Riley writes offbeat New Adult Romance. After studying at the University of Montana-Missoula, she scoured the world armed only with a backpack, overconfidence and a terrible sense of direction. She counts shooting vodka with a Ukranian mechanic in Antarctica, sipping yerba mate with gauchos in Chile and swilling fourex with stationhands in Outback Australia among her accomplishments. A British literature fanatic at heart, Lia considers Mr. Darcy and Edward Rochester as her fictional boyfriends. Her very patient husband doesn’t mind. Much. 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.

Website | Facebook | Twitter | Goodreads | Tumblr

 

 

a Rafflecopter giveaway

 

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Now Available in Print! Upside Down (Off the Map #1) by Lia Riley *Review, Excerpt and Giveaway*

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Upside Down (Off the Map #1)
by Lia Riley

A New Adult Contemporary Romance
From Grand Central Publishing – Forever
Print Release May 12, 2015

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If You Never Get Lost, You’ll Never Be Found

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 there’s a plane to California with her name on it.

 

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Review

5-stars

Talia is moving to Australia for a semester abroad. She’s conscious that what she’s really doing is running away from her problems, but after all she’s been through she just needs to get away–from the memories, the pain, the routine. Everything is going accordingly until she meets Bran.

A brooding, sexy stranger Bran manages to ‘see’ her as others have failed to do before. He’s been burned before and has vowed not to get his heart involved in any type of relationship, but there’s something about the American girl that calls to him.

I loved this story because it had a unique mix of fun and emotional with conflicted characters and realistic circumstances. Talia can be any college girl out there dealing with loss and a widely misunderstood disorder. And Bran is the mysterious handsome guy who’s had a lonely childhood and a broken heart.

Lia Riley did an amazing job in bringing these characters’ complexities to the page. I could easily understand where Talia and Bran were coming from and relate to them in other levels too. Who hasn’t been confronted with the uncertainty of life after college? Who hasn’t endured a broken heart and been afraid of risking being hurt again? But most of all, who hasn’t felt the pain of losing a loved one and struggled to find their way in life?

All of these real-life scenarios were delved upon in this story, but what made it unique for me was that the author went the extra mile in bringing the emotions these events would bring about while still bringing in funny and entertaining moments.

I loved Talia and Bran’s serious moments where they left their emotions come to the surface and I admired the way they eventually let their walls down to let the other in. But I also loved their candid moments, their banter and their flirty exchanges. Their connection shined through even as they fought their attraction and feelings for each other. This was what truly made this story such an enjoyable read for me.

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.”

“Justin Bieber?”

“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.”

 

About the Author

Lia Riley_Photo Credit Kitti Homme

Lia Riley writes offbeat New Adult Romance. After studying at the University of Montana-Missoula, she scoured the world armed only with a backpack, overconfidence and a terrible sense of direction. She counts shooting vodka with a Ukranian mechanic in Antarctica, sipping yerba mate with gauchos in Chile and swilling fourex with stationhands in Outback Australia among her accomplishments.

A British literature fanatic at heart, Lia considers Mr. Darcy and Edward Rochester as her fictional boyfriends. Her very patient husband doesn’t mind. Much. 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. Right now, Icelandic hot springs and Scottish castles sound mighty fine.

She and her family live mostly in Northern California.

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New Release! Carry Me Home (Off the Map #3.1) by Lia Riley *Review, Excerpt and Giveaway*

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Carry Me Home (Off the Map #3.1)
by Lia Riley

A New Adult Contemporary Romance
From Grand Central Publishing – Forever
Released May 5th 2015

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Love doesn’t have to be perfect to be true…

Years ago, Tanner Green loved Sunny Letman. She was meant to be his first kiss, first love, first everything. Then their world spun upside-down and out of control.

Free-spirited Sunny doesn’t do commitment. Sure, guys are great for a night or a week, but she always leaves first. That is, until professional skateboarder and town golden boy, Tanner Green, unexpectedly walks back into her life.

Despite their broken history, a fragile and undeniably electric connection still holds them together. Now Tanner has to convince Sunny that even though love isn’t always perfect, it’s worth sticking around for…

 

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Review

5-stars

What I enjoyed most about this story was Tanner. He was a little broken, a little insecure and a whole lot in love with Sunny. I liked experiencing his vulnerability–seeing the real Tanner–warts and all and not who I had assumed he would be from reading previous books.

I liked Sunny as well and thought that she was the perfect partner for Tanner. Although jaded in terms of relationships with the opposite sex, she was strong and independent with a great sense of humor and a great big heart.

Tanner and Sunny had known each other since childhood but due to circumstances out of their control they lost touch to only reconnect later on. However, they were in different people then. Tanner had a girlfriend he loved and Sunny was already on her way on not giving a damn about relationships. Thankfully their bond was stronger that they thought and when the time came around again to reconnect they couldn’t help but give in.

As a follower of the Off the Map series, I had gotten to know a bit about Tanner and Sunny. In truth, they didn’t make a great impression on me. Then again maybe I was way too involved in Talia and Bran’s relationship to give them proper attention. However, once I got to know them and what made them tick, I was immediately invested in their relationship.

I loved how Lia Riley r can simply (which I’m sure is not that simple for her!) bring two characters that are clearly different in many ways and shape them to be the perfect half for the other. I enjoyed watching how the connection they had shared years ago simply jumped off the page and how with every moment they shared together that connection grew even stronger.

I would have loved to read more about this couple but I am more than satisfied with this story. I loved the characters, the range in emotions, the candid moments and the chemistry Tanner and Sunny shared. Most of all I loved watching as these two allowed themselves to give love a try despite past relationships and insecurities.

All in all, a wonderful novella about second chances and finding your way ‘home’.

*I received a copy of this title in exchange of my honest opinion.

Excerpt

Tanner is in the shower when I let myself inside. There’s a wooden rocking chair in the corner. I walk over, sit and close my eyes. He’s naked, soapy, skin flushed from the hot spray. I could join him. He wants me. The space between my legs throbs to the beat of my heart. What’s set in motion between us isn’t going to stop.

I rock, straighten my backbone and focus my attentions. Imagine each breath spiraling through the open door, to the sky, leaving the atmosphere. A quiet prayer. Please. Please don’t let me fuck this up. My hands grip the rocking chair sides hard, hands that ache to touch his wet skin.

The water turns off and he’s out, rubbing a towel over his body.

I’m going for it, can’t help myself.

I tried my best to be my own island.

Turns out my best isn’t nearly good enough.

The door opens and he stands, backlit in a tight white t-shirt and  pair of low slung jeans. His mop of hair is wet, slicked back from his striking face.

“Good, you’re back,” he says. “I didn’t like you out there alone.”

“I was fine, nothing scary outside.”

He frowns, catching my double meaning. “I decided to sleep in the back of my car.”

“No, it’s fine.”

“I don’t mind.”

Of course he doesn’t. He’d sleep on bare concrete if he thought it would be easier for me.

“I get it.” He backs toward the door. “Tonight’s been extreme. You want space. I’ll go–”

“Stop.” I’m in the darkest corner, in this rocking chair throne, the Queen of the Shadows. There’s a great mystery at work. How can my heart be chained to this guy and still feel free?

A bead of water drops from his thick hair and falls to his shoulder. Then another. Tiny wet patches appear on his shirt each time one makes impact. The way he watches me, his gaze writes a secret poem on my skin. “Tell me you don’t want me,” he says. “Say you’re not interested and nothing will happen.”
I want to curl in a ball. Instead, I stand up.

“Sunny,” he whispers, and it’s hard to know if he intends my name as a question or an answer. Funny, the way it sounds like both.

My lids flutter closed of their own volition as he closes the distance. He’s tall enough that when he bends, his face buries into the top of my head. He inhales as if I’m a secret flower. I wish I only ever bloomed for him. A stupid notion. This moment would be perfect if it wasn’t us. If we were other people.

I hook my fingers into his belt loops and do an uncharacteristic fumble, aim too high and brush his stomach instead. His abdominal muscles flex and there’s my cue to explore. I can’t help but inch under the cotton, trace the thick muscles that make up his defined V-line. My nails gently cut to the top of his jeans. His groan vibrates into my skull.

He’s slipping,  less careful with every ragged breath. His skin heats under my fingertips. There’s no choice. There’s never been with him.

I rock into him, hard, and his mouth explodes on mine like a wet, hot grenade. He bites my lower lip and even though I’m scared, I’m not scared of him anymore.

 

 

Off the Map Series

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Upside Down (Off the Map, #1)
Sideswiped (Off the Map #2)
Inside Out (Off the Map, #3)

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About the Author

Lia Riley_Photo Credit Kitti Homme

Lia Riley writes offbeat New Adult Romance. After studying at the University of Montana-Missoula, she scoured the world armed only with a backpack, overconfidence and a terrible sense of direction. She counts shooting vodka with a Ukranian mechanic in Antarctica, sipping yerba mate with gauchos in Chile and swilling fourex with stationhands in Outback Australia among her accomplishments. A British literature fanatic at heart, Lia considers Mr. Darcy and Edward Rochester as her fictional boyfriends. Her very patient husband doesn’t mind. Much. 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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Tour: Inside Out (Off the Map #3) by Lia Riley *Review and Excerpt*

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Inside Out (Off the Map #3)
by Lia Riley

A New Adult Contemporary Romance
From Grand Central — Forever

Released December 2nd 2014

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Lia Riley made New Adult readers fall in love with her breakout debut, Upside Down. Sideswiped, the second of her series, made readers clamor for more. Now, with INSIDE OUT, Lia Riley brings her evocative Off the Map series to a stunning conclusion.

When Talia first moved from California to Australia to study abroad, she never dreamed she’d find the love of her life. Bran understands her like no one ever has before. And despite the numerous challenges they’ve faced, they’ve always managed to figure out how to stay together. But this time they’ll face their toughest hurdle yet. Is their love strong enough to keep them together?

 

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Review

5-stars

What I’ve loved about these books is that Bran and Talia have faults–real, honest to goodness faults that the reader can identify with. And it’s in this installment that we get to the nitty-gritty of them and watch as Bran and Talia battle their own demons to make it through as individuals and as a couple.

I’ve followed this couple from the very beginning–I’ve wanted to throttle them for being stubborn about their attraction for one another, comfort them for having to make tough decision and smack some sense into them when they somehow lost their way. By book 2 I had starting thinking that I was emotionally invested in their relationship and this story made it abundantly clear that I was.

Once again, Lia Riley managed to bring forth emotions, light moments and realistic obstacles to the page. I enjoyed their easy camaraderie, their meltdowns and their chemistry. I liked that their story wasn’t wrapped up in a pretty bow, but still was infused with joy and hope of better things to come. Even in the darkest of times, the author didn’t fail to keep that spark of humor and the expectancy that Bran and Talia would find their way. Better yet, I loved that I got to see them grow as a couple while still allowing themselves the chance to grow as individuals. Bran and Talia’s journey hasn’t been easy but to me it has been worthwhile.

From the very beginning, Lia Riley grabbed me and didn’t let go. I cried with Talia as she confronted her current situation, was emotionally drained right along with Bran when he faced the uncertainty of their relationship. I laughed with them and at them. I was right in there with every up and every down and when it all came to be I was grinning like the fool I am.

It’s sad to have reached the end of their journey, but I am glad to see them moving forward together. All in all, a fantastic conclusion to Bran and Talia’s story.

*I received a copy of this title in exchange of my honest opinion.

 

Excerpt

“See how I want you.” His agonized whisper is barely audible over the water lashing the tiles. His hips lose their slow, lazy tempo. He pounds himself deeper, harder.

An intense ache spreads from my belly through my breasts. I’ve forgotten what it feels like to be turned on. Muscles tighten within my sex. I’m fast remembering.

“Want. You. So. Bloody. Much.” He always sounds like this right before he comes, as if it hurts, like I’m pressing on a wound that’s too much to bear. “Damn it, Talia.”

I can’t look away as he loses himself in a blaze. I’m a prism, refracting his light. His features spin through a kaleidoscope of emotions starting at brutal need and ending with an unexpected vulnerability. My fear about the future disperses so quickly it’s hard to believe only minutes ago it felt inescapable. Bran isn’t some scary what-if. He’s a fact, a truth to hold on to against all life’s uncertainty. Why have I been so afraid he’ll see me as a walking disaster? He knows what it’s like to mess up, to feel like a failure. I need to reframe my question. Rather than asking what if Bran gets sick of me, maybe I should ask, what if we’ve worked our asses off, and finally have a shot at a real forever?

He falls to his knees and grabs me before I can take a breath or do anything but throw my arms around his lean shoulders. Water soaks through the white cotton of my pajama pants until I might as well be naked too.

“Show me the way back to you.” He buries his face in my neck, drags his lips to the place behind my ear, the headwaters for all delicious shivers.

“I want that so much.”

“I’ll do whatever it takes, go off the map.”

“You will?”

“We’re already there.”

He’s right. We’ve been explorers for some time. During the last little while it’s as if a blizzard descended, we were stuck in a whiteout, so close, but the snow made everything indistinguishable. At last, the storm’s abating and he’s right there, and I’m over here. Suddenly, we can see each other.

Within us is the way forward. We each possess half of the compass and must join together to find the right direction.

“You’ve got to know how much I need you.” A lock of his wet hair twists in a boyish curl.

I go to smooth it down, but my fingers tangle in the thick waves, and instead draw him closer.

He bows his head, still panting a little. “You can’t check out on me like that again. I can’t live this bloody life devoid of you—”

I brush my mouth over his lower lip, that reddening mark where his teeth left imprints. “I won’t. I’m so sorry. I-I’m ready to try. Thank you for believing in me.”

“I’ll never stop.”

We rest our foreheads together, holding one another upright. Droplets fall from his hairline onto my cheeks, joining fresh tears. He’s water, I’m water, and our flotsam and jetsam fit in a way that’s strange, yet familiar. I have no idea where we’re going, only that the way out is lined with broken feathers, bloodstains, marrow ash, and the serrated teeth of sharks.

This journey will take all I’ve got, a small price to have everything.

And that’s exactly what this guy in my arms is.

 

The Off The Map Series

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Upside Down (Off the Map, #1)
Sideswiped (Off the Map #2)

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About the Author

Lia Riley_Photo Credit Kitti Homme

Lia Riley writes offbeat New Adult Romance. After studying at the University of Montana-Missoula, she scoured the world armed only with a backpack, overconfidence and a terrible sense of direction. She counts shooting vodka with a Ukranian mechanic in Antarctica, sipping yerba mate with gauchos in Chile and swilling fourex with stationhands in Outback Australia among her accomplishments. A British literature fanatic at heart, Lia considers Mr. Darcy and Edward Rochester as her fictional boyfriends. Her very patient husband doesn’t mind. Much. 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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Tour: Off the Map Series by Lia Riley *Series Review, Author Q&A, Excerpt and Giveaway*

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Off the Map Series
by Lia Riley

A New Adult Contemporary Romance Series
From Grand Central — Forever

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Q&A with Lia

Tell us about your first book in the series. What would readers find different about the first one and your most recent published work?

Upside Down (Off the Map #1) is about falling in love. Sideswiped (Off the Map #2) explores how you earn the right to keep it.

How hard has it been for you, research-wise, to bring this series to life?

I’ve been lucky enough to visit pretty much all the settings in the book. While drafting Sideswiped, I was visiting family in Melbourne and could cruise to the Mornington Peninsula or into the city to refresh my memory. I also lived in Tasmania for four years which also helped.

How would you describe this series to someone who has not read any of the books but is intrigued by the concept?

Off the Map is about learning to get out of your own way and pursue your dreams. Lots of banter, surfing, travel and feelings.

Is there anything you find particularly challenging in your writing?

Fear! I draft in a state of terror. The blank page gives me hives. Editing is far more my happy place because words are already on the page, and that’s when the real work happens, tweaking and refining.

What are your current projects?

LOTS! I am working on companion novels to the Off the Map world, a contemporary adult series, another New Adult series and a paranormal.

 

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Upside Down (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.

Review

5-stars

Talia is moving to Australia for a semester abroad. She’s conscious that what she’s really doing is running away from her problems, but after all she’s been through she just needs to get away–from the memories, the pain, the routine. Everything is going accordingly until she meets Bran.

A brooding, sexy stranger Bran manages to ‘see’ her as others have failed to do before. He’s been burned before and has vowed not to get his heart involved in any type of relationship, but there’s something about the American girl that calls to him.

I loved this story because it had a unique mix of fun and emotional with conflicted characters and realistic circumstances. Talia can be any college girl out there dealing with loss and a widely misunderstood disorder. And Bran is the mysterious handsome guy who’s had a lonely childhood and a broken heart.

Lia Riley did an amazing job in bringing these characters’ complexities to the page. I could easily understand where Talia and Bran were coming from and relate to them in other levels too. Who hasn’t been confronted with the uncertainty of life after college? Who hasn’t endured a broken heart and been afraid of risking being hurt again? But most of all, who hasn’t felt the pain of losing a loved one and struggled to find their way in life?

All of these real-life scenarios were delved upon in this story, but what made it unique for me was that the author went the extra mile in bringing the emotions these events would bring about while still bringing in funny and entertaining moments.

I loved Talia and Bran’s serious moments where they left their emotions come to the surface and I admired the way they eventually let their walls down to let the other in. But I also loved their candid moments, their banter and their flirty exchanges. Their connection shined through even as they fought their attraction and feelings for each other. This was what truly made this story such an enjoyable read for me.

 

Sideswiped (Off the Map #2)

It was only meant to last the summer…

Talia Stolfi has seen more than her share of loss in her twenty-one years. But then fate brought her Bran Lockhart, and her dark world was suddenly and spectacularly illuminated. So if being with Bran means leaving her colorless NorCal life for rugged and wild Australia, then that’s what she’ll do. But as much as Talia longs to give herself over completely to a new beginning, the fears of her past are still lurking in the shadows.

Bran Lockhart knows that living without the beautiful girl who stole his heart will be torment, so he’ll take whatever time with her he can. But even though she has packed up her life in California and is back in his arms for the time being, she can’t stay forever. And the remaining time they have together is ticking by way too fast. Though fate seems determined to tear them apart, they won’t give up without a fight—because while time may have limits, their love is infinite…

Review

5-stars

4.5 stars

Sideswiped picks up right where Upside Down left off with Talia back in the States and getting ready to return to Australia to move in with Bran.

The honeymoon is set to continue with Talia and Bran living together and working on their careers, but real life is a bit more complicated and worries, insecurities and ghosts from the past threaten to tear Talia and Bran apart.

As with the first installment in the series, I loved this story because of the range in emotions the author brought to the page. However, I was a bit disappointed that some of Talia and Bran’s camaraderie–that thing that made Upside Down such an enjoyable read for me–was lacking.

I understand that this was more of an exploration of how hard it is to make a relationship work. It dealt with the ups and down of a relationship and how real life can get in the middle of it. So yes, I understood that the funny moments and the banter would be kept to a minimum. But for me, that easy camaraderie, the bickering and the easy way Talia and Bran related to each other was what made their relationship so strong. They could deal with the emotional and the obstacles thrown their way and still keep their easy-going rapport.

That said, I still enjoyed this story. Lia Riley didn’t hold any punches in bringing the emotions to the page or in challenging Talia and Bran’s relationship from all sides.

This time around Talia struggles with the uncertainty of her future in terms of her career and how her decision will affect her relationship with Bran. Thankfully, she has matured enough to recognize that she must follow her own path and has grown confident that what she and Bran share is more than a passing emotion. But her struggle is made more complicated as she tries to get a handle on her disorder and when her biggest obstacle becomes the man she loves.

Bran is stubborn and refuses to compromise. His fear of abandonment, coupled with his previous experience in a relationship, make him reluctant to accept his dream position. A man used to going for what he wants, he struggles with being with Talia completely or pursuing his dream assignment.

As the story progresses, Their love continues to grow but the obstacles thrown their way take their toll on their will to make their relationship work. Talia and Bran confront their demons, withdraw from one another but ultimately decide to go for what they truly want.

Sideswiped is the second book in the Off the Map series and recounts Talia and Bran’s the journey of trying to find their place in the world–as individuals and as a couple. Although it can be read as a stand alone, I wouldn’t recommend it. This story would not have been as satisfying or heart-warming if I couldn’t have experienced how these two came to be together.

All in all, a wonderful story of how two individuals find themselves while still holding on to one another.

*I received these titles through NetGalley in exchange of my honest opinion.

 

Sideswiped Excerpt

An hour later I’m zipping the back of Talia’s wet suit at the edge of the tide line. Moonlight glimmers on the black water. The waves line up perfectly, peeling clean. I breathe deep, savoring the air’s briny tang and the musty smell of decomposing kelp. My awareness is sharpened by anticipation, the five senses amplified by the dark.

Talia shuffles at my side, getting antsy.

“You sure about this?”

“Yes. Well, sure enough.”

Another set breaks. The conditions are choice. If she changes her mind, I might need to have a ride—a quick one.

Maybe two, tops.

“What’s that noise?” She stills. “There it is again. Can you hear it?”

I concentrate and smile when a sound like a wheezing donkey drifts from beyond the breakers. “Fairy penguin.”

“Shut up! There are penguins around here?”

“Sure. In the summer they build burrows in the scrub along the coast. If you stand outside a colony right after sunset, things get pretty noisy.”

“Penguins.” She almost whispers the word. “That’s so cool.”

The wash races over the sand and breaks across our toes. I figure out a plan of attack. “We’ll paddle to the left shoulder where the wave’s less steep. Stick with me, okay?” No one else is out and my voice feels extra loud even though I’m speaking quiet.

“Have you ever been to Rome?” She takes my hand.

“No, not yet.”

“Me neither. But I can’t imagine the Sistine Chapel being more amazing than this.”

Besides the moon, there’s zero light pollution. The Milky Way arches in a dazzling band across the sky’s apex. Individual stars are indistinguishable in the brilliant haze.

“You ready?”

She squeezes my hand in reply.

We paddle out.

“Whoa!” She pushes her chest up to better peer over her board’s tip. Around us the water casts a luminous green-blue light.

“Phosphorescence. Cool, eh? It’s blooming phytoplankton, caused by this marine species of dinoflagellates releasing enzymes that—”

“That’s enough, Sid the Science Kid. Let me retain this fairy kingdom illusion a little while longer.”

“Science is cool, Captain.”

“I never said— Oh, crap!”

Instead of duck-diving under the incoming wave, the water wall pounds her in the face. She breaks through the other side, coughing out a lung.

“We can head back to shore, don’t have to—”

“I’m fine. Please. There’s a wave coming. I can feel the pull. Can you?”

“You want it?”

“It’s all yours.”

I take off on a left break and fly down the smooth face. For a few perfect seconds, I’m right here in the moment. Rational thought is eclipsed and with it the aggravating confusion of having everything: Talia, Tasmania, honors, and still hungering for more like a greedy bastard. I paddle back to her.

“You looked great.”

“That was good.”

She sits, bobbing lightly. “It’s not as freaky out here as I imagined.”

“Fucking hell, Captain. You said you weren’t scared.”

“No, I never did. I’m scared by everything. But I want to do this.”

We’re quiet. A few more waves come but I let them go, happy to be with my girl, the stars, and the radiant water.

Hard not to believe in magic on such a night.

She clears her throat. “About what happened back at the house…if this is going to work, you can’t shut me out. You’re not just a you anymore; we’re an us. We have to be there for each other.”

I bob on my board and drag my fingers through the water. The phosphorescence lights from my touch. Finally I speak. “Karma’s got this mate; he’s on the crew of a Sea Alliance vessel. There’s an opening for a gig, with voyages to Japan and Antarctica.”

“You want to go for it?” I can’t decipher her expression.

I almost say no, but honesty’s easier in the anonymous dark. “Yeah, kinda. But I want to be with you more.”

“Oh, Bran, that’s way too much pressure.”

“What do you mean?”

“Imagine coming home in a few months and I’m all vegged on the couch, watching awful reality television. Will you think to yourself, ‘I could be gallantly defending the high seas but instead I’m attached to this boring anchor’?”

“Life with you is bound to be a lot of things, but boring isn’t the first depiction that springs to mind.”

“But life isn’t always night surfing. I…I can’t compete against a fantasy.”

“I never said you had to.”

“Isn’t supporting the other’s goals a fundamental part of the good girlfriend/boyfriend job description? I mean, say I always wanted to volunteer in Africa? Join the Peace Corps.”

“Do you?”

“I used to toy around with the idea. Now? I’m not sure but I don’t want to close myself off to opportunities.”

“We can travel through Africa someday.”

“Peace Corps is one of my dreams, not yours. I want you to have the freedom to pursue your own happiness.”

“You make me happy.” I strike my words like flint before sucking in a rough breath. “Look, I’m not a guy cut out for the long-distance thing. I hated every second we were apart the last two months.”

“Bran…” She reaches out her hand and I take hold. “I won’t let go.”

“Me neither.” I scrutinize the sky, heart clanging. Everything appears so deceptively still. In reality, the Earth careens through space. Talia and I, we’re little

specks of cosmic dust in the grand scheme. It wouldn’t take much to blow away from each other.

“But in the future—”

“I hear what you’re saying and I appreciate the support. But the only future I’m willing to discuss is the one where it’s me and you—together.”

Better to orbit far away from black holes.

 

About the Author

Lia Riley_Photo Credit Kitti Homme

Lia Riley writes offbeat New Adult Romance. After studying at the University of Montana-Missoula, she scoured the world armed only with a backpack, overconfidence and a terrible sense of direction. She counts shooting vodka with a Ukranian mechanic in Antarctica, sipping yerba mate with gauchos in Chile and swilling fourex with stationhands in Outback Australia among her accomplishments. A British literature fanatic at heart, Lia considers Mr. Darcy and Edward Rochester as her fictional boyfriends. Her very patient husband doesn’t mind. Much. 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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