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…..
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.”
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.
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.
Earlier this year I was ecstatic that I found this NA author and book 1 in her Off the Map series was a smashing success for me. Everything I loved about the first book was present in this second one: witty dialogue, dry & sarcastic humor, and the return of the likable main characters. As much as I enjoyed most of this book, the ending left me unsatisfied and made me see these lovable characters in a whole different perspective (in a bad way). Nevertheless, I already feel guilty for giving this book lower than a 4 star rating because that’s how much I adore this author’s writing and her sense of humor. I honestly do encourage readers to check out this series despite the minor bumps I had because her characters and writing style is truly a breath of fresh air.
Sideswiped is book 2 in the Off the Map series and continues Bran and Talia’s story after the events of book 1. In the first book, the story was mainly about these two characters falling in love and establishing the groundwork for their relationship. This second book is about them after becoming a couple and the challenges they face from both of their families, school, work, and their own demons. With Talia suffering from extreme OCD and Bran’s past constantly haunting him, I was both super impressed and happy that they took on their obstacles together. There were brief moments of insecurity and jealousy, sure, but they were a team. You couldn’t find a couple more in sync than this one, who matched each other in heart and mind, body and soul.
I can’t delve into the plot much because it’ll spoil book 1 for those that haven’t read it yet but I can say that I laughed a lot while reading. There is an underlying sadness within the story but when pitted against these irresistible, charming, and hilarious characters it’s a perfect match. Unlike most NA characters, Talia and Bran have a radical way of thinking and I can’t begin to tell you how refreshing it is to read a book that’s a smart romance but at the same time is so hot and so emotional.
Up until the last 10% this book was at least a 4 star read for me. I was never bored while reading and the story held my attention but it wasn’t to the point where it was unputdownable. Still, a wonderful read. However, I wasn’t impressed with the last 10% as the author does what she did with book 1’s ending here too: Bran has a momentary lapse in judgment and makes a mistake, something that’s completely out of his character and even more out of the blue in the context of the book (no it’s not cheating). I’m starting to see that while the buildup and main part of the book are the author’s high points, the wrap up and conclusions are not. Only Talia’s fierce determination and unwavering belief that her relationship with Bran could take on anything and they could walk away intact kept me from tearing my hair out.
Going into this series you have to understand that both of these characters are extremely damaged – both with their own quirks – and have been burned repeatedly by their loved ones so while I thought it was ok for Bran to waver a bit and make mistakes, his actions in the last 10% still pissed me off.
This book ends on a high note – not exactly a cliffhanger but it leaves you anticipating the third and final book even more. The author’s writing and the humor present in this book is GOLD and that makes me want to round to 4 stars period, but the minor drama along with the anticlimactic ending makes me want to give it 3.5 stars…so 3.5-4 stars it is.
ARC provided by Forever (Grand Central Publishing) via NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.
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.