***I was provided an e-ARC by the author in exchange for an honest review.***
Nowadays, contemporary romance, or romance in general is a genre that I tend to avoid. Specifically because it is so predictable! Up To Me was quite a refreshing surprise. The author, Christi Barth, takes up all the old elements, and makes something new and interesting out of them. Discovering the way she portrays her story and the details entwined within, is a pleasure. Though the novel has some painful moments, it contains no severe angst. Thus, a perfect balance of emotions.
What is the story?
Located in a small town, Mayhew Manor is a hotel which Ella inherited after her parents’ death. Their death left her broken emotionally. Three years later, she is at her hotel, still acting as a masseuse at her hotel spa, rather than taking on the role of the hotel owner. Enter Graydon Locke, a corporate assassin (which roughly translated means that he assesses and chooses whether an establishment should be overtaken next or not). He is working undercover, and Mayhew Manor is his new assignment.
Gray meets Ella, sparks fly. Soon though, Gray realises that Ella is the owner of the Manor. He is troubled, because he cares for her, and wants his decision to benefit her. But Ella is conflicted, so Gray is left even more confused. Ella is threatened on the emotional front, because she likes Gray. Later, she is threatened professionally because she realises that Gray has the power to take away her family legacy. Unwillingly, she just might have to choose legacy over love.
How the reading went?
I have previously read stories with similar synopsis. The guy usually turns out to be another undeserving idiot, and the girl turns out to be the all-forgiven-so-soon type. I expected something similar. I got whacked on the head for it, and I thoroughly enjoyed it.
The first few chapters focus on the sparkling chemistry between Ella and Gray. It is fun to read, the exchange of dialogues is great and I honestly burst out laughing hard at times. Then slowly, more elements got involved in the story, making it more vivid, and better for it.
The novel isn’t only about Ella or Gray, or just about their falling in love. It is about both of them. Ella is broken, which is obvious. She relies a bit too much on her friends but finally finds her backbone by the end of the book. The title of the book solely reflects her development as she lets go of her emotional crutches, and finds her own feet. But this story is also about Gray. His choices, his opinions, his past and his heart.
Gray is in this small town for a very short time, but that doesn’t mean he doesn’t care for Ella. On the contrary, he is insanely attracted to her. He truly helps Ella move forward, gives her self-confidence, provides a fresh eye to solve almost all her problems and most of all, there is no pity in his eyes. Gray himself has suffered a lot, but finds a unique solace in Ella’s companionship.
The story-line is obvious. Both fall for each other, and then Gray’s secret is revealed. What is not so obvious, is the way it comes to happen. Gray tries his best to avoid Ella, and takes the next step only because he cannot resist the attraction between them. He is conflicted, and it has been depicted clearly and it is impactful. His choices, and later how he will end up is clear from the beginning. But the surprise is in the manner the events take place. There are hardly any dramatic reactions, or angsty scenes. But there was no need for any severe angst. Gray’s conflict is palpable, and so is his helplessness. His practicality, his bluntness, his witticism, all are endearing. His maturity isn’t obvious, but it is there.
Ella hardly has anything to complain about when it comes to Gray, and so she doesn’t. Though a very real threat of losing the last connection she has with her parents hangs over her head, she still cannot hold a grudge against him. Mainly because Gray has helped her so many times, in ways she hardly ever fathomed would be possible.
I was okay with Ella, but I genuinely liked Gray. I shared his bafflement at the small town rituals, and the level of sharing among the community. There were some instances where I was annoyed due to the over-involvement of the other characters. The story of The Mailbox, the rituals that became associated with it, formed a few refreshing and extraordinary twists. Though I would say that I could never endear myself to the idea of The Mailbox, still the idea was remarkable on its own.
There are many more characters in the novel. I would love to read more about them in the coming series. And I am specially eager to read Ward’s story, and Joel’s, and Casey’s. In short, if the next book had been out, I would have gobbled it up immediately after this one.
Christi Barth makes the predictable novel unpredictable. Her characters are distinct and engaging. The backdrop of the story is well framed, which provides a nice backbone to the story, and the romance is benefited by both these factors. She also has a unbiased eye towards the subjects, be it the characters or the situation. The story is nicely constructed and doesn’t leave any loopholes.
A novel that surprised me. A book which left me happy, and definitely wanting more!