Again, But Better: Rereading Christine Riccio’s First Book & Reading Better Together Too

It’s so weird to think that it was back in 2019 that I got sucked into book blogging. I had recently gotten back into reading after a years long slump and the book that pulled me fully into the reading community again was Again, but Better by Christine Riccio. I reread my original review and it was a bit of a mess but it was a book that I was honestly incredibly excited to read and I can tell how caught up in my feelings I was about it. I remember when I started to get views on that post and then likes and even a comment I was shocked! My blog has always felt so small and insignificant that I still tend to forget that actual people read my posts and I’m not just shouting into the void.

For this post, I wanted to reflect upon that original reading of Christine’s first book and then review it a second time with some updated thoughts. After that I’ll dive into my review of Better Together which is her second novel and I’ll finish with a small wrap up on this experience.

Just a note before I begin, this post will contain spoilers.

Again, But Not Better

Again, but Better
Image: Cover of Again, But Better by Christine Riccio

I read Again, But Better at exactly the time I needed to read it. It made me sad and nostalgic for people that I no longer had and life opportunities that either passed me by or that I wish I could experience again. Reading it in such an emotional mindset I think I chose to overlook a lot of things that bothered me more this second time around.

One of the first things I noticed while rereading this was that there were constant references to Harry Potter. Not only did these age very poorly, I don’t think they were necessary in the first place. When it comes to contemporary books I know that there will be pop culture references but authors need to tread carefully because the more specific they get, the easier it is for the book to lack a timeless nature. In terms of the writing itself after years of watching videos from Christine it was obvious that she wrote this. It was enthusiastic and awkward with a sprinkling of quotable lines throughout. This book was also a self insert to the extreme. With the recognizable writing style coupled with the FrenchWatermelon19 blog name of the main character I was shocked that Christine was okay with this book going out into the world… I can only hope that if Pilot was based off of a real person that he did not read this book. Pilot was such a weird character for me because I actually liked him more than Shane at times because he was subdued compared to her but he also had seemingly no autonomy and I don’t want to speculate on things simply because of the self insert nature but it seems to me like Pilot was a 20-something who wasn’t interested in something serious and the do-over put him in a tight spot that ended up causing people a lot of pain. As a person who heavily romanticized relationships because of books and “happily ever after” I just have to wonder.

Overall, a lot of the issues I mentioned in my original review remain the same. I disliked Shane’s family. The fact that her father threw a hissy fit in front of an entire restaurant of people and promptly disowned her was appalling. Families are messy but there’s a fine line between a messy family and abuse and I think that Again, but Better lacked the nuance to have been written about an abusive family. In the end I did appreciate that Shane had something of a self discovery journey over the course of the plot and it was nice to see her make her own decisions. In terms of the romance in this book, the codependent nature of Shane and Pilot’s relationship upon getting their do-over was annoying and I actually enjoyed when they broke up. I don’t think either of them had enough self awareness to do the right thing and during this reread I thought that there was a lot less chemistry between the two than the first time I read the book. I’m also still incredibly uncomfortable with the cheating aspects of the story.

Again, But Better was an awkward debut novel and despite being a book I read at the right time, the second time around revealed a lot more flaws after realizing this was rated 4 stars on my Goodreads I changed my rating to 2.

Please Stop Vomiting: My Review On Better Together

Better Together
Image: Cover of Better Together by Christine Riccio

I’m not going to do it. Like really I will not go back and count how many times the characters threw up on page…

Okay, I think it actually only happened 5.5 times (the half time being a spit take and not actual vomit) but I still think this is too much vomit for this book!

Anyways, the quickest way to sum up Better Together would be Parent Trap but with significantly more trauma.

Like really, sisters Siri and Jamie were separated by their parents messy divorce at the ages of 4 and 6. They both end up attending the same self help retreat over a decade later and with the help of some more unexplained magic they swap places. Here’s the kicker though, Siri thought that Jamie was an imaginary friend. Seriously, their mother told Siri that Jamie wasn’t real and sent her to therapy in order to FORGET HER SISTER. So this ended up leading to a very dramatic scene at the retreat where Siri panicked over her “imaginary friend” appearing in front of her.

I’ll admit that Better Together, while not amazing, ended up impressing me more than I thought it would. It was obvious to me that Christine had grown slightly as a writer although it still had much of the same enthusiastic and awkward nature that Again, but Better had. I thought that Siri and Jamie ended up feeling like much more realistic characters than Shane did, however that doesn’t mean huge improvement since I really didn’t find Shane to be a well written character. With that being said I thought that Jamie was frustrating as hell and without the anger I felt while reading her chapters I’m unsure I would have been able to distinguish between the two narratives.

The main issue that I had with Better Together (other than the whole traumatic imaginary friend thing) is that there was so much conflict and so much angst that could have been played into but Christine barely scratched the surface. Both Jamie and Siri had personal struggles that they were trying to deal with and I wish that we could have seen more of how their switch allowed them to cope with and work through what was going on in their real lives. For this to be a standalone it didn’t give me the resolution that I was hoping for by the time I had reached the ending. Though I will say I appreciated that Christine had both girls attend therapy throughout the course of the book. It wasn’t perfect but it was a start.

I’ve gone back and forth a few times now about how I wanted to rate this and I think I’ve settled on 2 stars. It was okay and while it did have improvements from Again, but Better it wasn’t great. I was uncomfortable with how the divorce was handled by the parents and I felt like a lot of aspects to this book felt underdeveloped. I’ve watched most of Christine’s videos about her writing process and I know that she overdrafts when it comes to word counts. That being said I have to wonder what she ends up cutting out.

But Will Her Next Book Have Better in the Title

Christine’s books seem geared towards a younger audience and I think that they could be good transitional books as young adult readers look for adult books to pick up. That’s kind of the path that I took with them anyways. They are very surface level in terms of conflict and overall character growth and I think that younger readers would find them enjoyable. However, I would just hope as these readers grow up and read more that they could look back on these two books and eye them a bit more critically. They’re not great examples for how families and relationships should work and while no family or relationship is going to be perfect I just don’t want young readers to end up being set on a path where they normalize things they shouldn’t.

And one last random point… Something that I’ve noticed with both of Christine’s books is that she isn’t consistent with the things that she changes about the real world or the characters. In Again, but Better Shane didn’t seem to swear and instead used things like “fudge” instead of “fuck” but then there were moments when she did swear and there wasn’t necessarily a rhyme or reason to it. Then in Better Together with the changes about the real world there were numerous references to things and people that were unchanged, like Timothee Chalamet just randomly being included in the plot, but then in other instances Christine would do something like change a dating app name from “Hinge” to “Hunge”. The inconsistency was a bit confusing at times. Siri was also another character that “didn’t swear” so there were even more nonsense words in her chapters. Seriously, authors either use actual swear words or refrain from using any at all.

Even though I wasn’t a fan of either of these books, I thought that this was actually an enjoyable experience in the end. It was interesting reading the two books back to back because I was better able to see how Christine grew as a writer. At this point, I’m unsure if I’ll pick up her next book outside of potentially using it for blog content. Or just to see what outrageous unexplained magic she decides to throw into that plot.

The biggest thing that I have to think about though is, will Christine end up having the word better in the title of her third book??

And with that I’m signing off. I’ll talk to y’all in my next post, though if you’re interested in connecting with me before then you can find me at the following:

Twitter: nihilisticactus

Readerly: sideofadventure

For review inquiries, etc: adventuresandespresso@gmail.com

My Goodreads profile is linked here. You can add me as a friend or follow my reviews over there.

If you’d like to buy me a coffee, my Ko-fi is linked here.

Rant Review: Get A Life, Chloe Brown by Talia Hibbert (Spoilers)

Get a Life, Chloe Brown (The Brown Sisters, #1)

Synopsis

Chloe Brown is a chronically ill computer geek with a goal, a plan, and a list. After almost—but not quite—dying, she’s come up with seven directives to help her “Get a Life”, and she’s already completed the first: finally moving out of her glamorous family’s mansion. The next items?

• Enjoy a drunken night out.
• Ride a motorcycle.
• Go camping.
• Have meaningless but thoroughly enjoyable sex.
• Travel the world with nothing but hand luggage.
• And… do something bad.

But it’s not easy being bad, even when you’ve written step-by-step guidelines on how to do it correctly. What Chloe needs is a teacher, and she knows just the man for the job.

Redford ‘Red’ Morgan is a handyman with tattoos, a motorcycle, and more sex appeal than ten-thousand Hollywood heartthrobs. He’s also an artist who paints at night and hides his work in the light of day, which Chloe knows because she spies on him occasionally. Just the teeniest, tiniest bit.

But when she enlists Red in her mission to rebel, she learns things about him that no spy session could teach her. Like why he clearly resents Chloe’s wealthy background. And why he never shows his art to anyone. And what really lies beneath his rough exterior…

Rating

Untitled design-2

Review

I really wanted to love this book, I really did. So many people have raved about this book that I could not wait to get my hands on it. Which is why it took me by surprise when I read the first chapter and immediately wanted to DNF it. The writing felt so awkward to me and I was honestly shocked to find out this book takes place in the U.K. I know it doesn’t need to be explicitly said but I have no knowledge of Talia Hibbert or where she lives and so I guess I had book culture shock when Chloe was referred to as “love” on like the second page. Which is such a small critique but then it took me well over 100 pages to get into the flow of reading it. Now here’s the kicker for anyone who has followed me since last summer… This book reminded me of Fix Her Up by Tessa Bailey and in case you don’t know, I actively despise that book. Well and truly hated it. So for this book to remind me of that, it’s highly disappointing.

The premise of this novel was so hopeful, it sounded so good. I was so excited to read about the representation and honestly, that chronic illness/pain and the rep for coping with abusive relationships were the only things that I liked about this book. As someone who has experience with both of these things I think that Hibbert handled it all really well and I appreciated that at least. I think if Chloe and Red had been “normal” people I would have rated this one star or I might have even gone through with DNF’ing this book before I got any substantial amount through it.

I think this book was dramatic smut hidden under the cutesy illustrated cover that leads readers to believe otherwise. I couldn’t see why Red and Chloe had any reason to get together other than for the convenience of it. Literally I felt like between the prologue to the first chapter I was missing an entire book… Or at least a few chapters. I have no idea who Chloe is, why her family is so rich they live together in a family home and Chloe and her sisters get monthly stipends. I don’t know what her relationship is like with any of her family members other than through extremely brief interactions. These brief interactions or introductions are how every single character in this book is treated. Even Red’s introduction was so brief I was taken aback. He was just there with no explanation and with absolutely no shock literally no explanation as to why the hell they hated each other in the first place. I can give a bit of leniency to not fully developing character back stories but even Red’s mother, who seems to be incredibly central to his life, gets one scene unless his finger tattoo that says “MUM” is brought up in conversation.

And now for the freaking romance. INSUFFERABLE, lackluster, instant, horrid. UGH.

I like fluff. I like cutesy. I like happy even when it is laced with pain. This was lust. Like I cannot bring myself to describe it in any other manner. One second they hate each other and the next second they are ripping each other’s clothes off. The first smutty scene took place in PUBLIC which is something that automatically gets many points taken off from any book. It’s not okay, it’s literally against the law. So keep it in your freaking pants and be on your way. Beds are far better for those sorts of activities. The other sex scene that drove me up the dang wall was the camping one. Of any place to have the first “all the way” scene to take place, why the HELL was it in a TENT. Who goes camping and thinks about sex??? Granted their camping trip was different and not as strenuous but STILL. TENTS ARE NOT QUIET. WAS THERE LITERALLY NO ONE ELSE AROUND??? I’m genuinely confused and concerned.

And in the end THEY SAID I LOVE YOU AFTER TWO WEEKS. Considering these are two deeply damaged (that’s such a bad sounding word but I feel it is the best way to put it) individuals I could not put the ending of this book out of my head. Talk about some instant fucking love. I genuinely could not understand the chemistry between the characters. I wasn’t a fan. I still feel like I don’t even know who either of the characters really are.
Oh and considering things started off early on with Chloe spying on Red through her window. Immediate anger from me. Spying, prying, peeping, whatever the heck you want to call it is never okay. It’s not funny, it’s not cute, it’s a huge invasion of privacy and should never be tolerated. Writing it into books (and now I’ve seen it in two highly praised novels) just lets it seem like it’s okay which it’s not and never will be.

I was so disappointed with this book. I had really high hopes and was let down entirely. It was underdeveloped and felt like dressed up smut which I have never been a fan of. I’m really glad I got this through Kindle Unlimited because I was originally planning on buying my own copy of this because I was so excited to check it out but I definitely dodged a bullet there.

If you’ve stuck around this long, does anyone have any good cute and fluffy recommendations for either adult or young adult romance/contemporary books? I’m on a kick and need some good ones to read to make up for this one!

Review: Fix Her Up by Tessa Bailey

Fix Her Up

Fix Her Up by Tessa Bailey is a “romantic comedy” about Georgie Castle and Travis Ford, childhood friends that have decided to fake date to look more adult to those around them in their hometown and beyond. It’s a smutty mess and doesn’t compare to the description that’s listed on Goodreads whatsoever!! (Can you tell I’m salty about having actually read this book or is that just me?)

This book had been raved about by multiple people that I follow and then two people absolutely hated it. I had just gotten my copy from the library and decided to pick it up and see where I stood on it.

I ultimately rated it 2/5 stars because the plot didn’t align with what I went in expecting it to be, the romance felt toxic, and the timing felt completely screwy throughout the entire book. There were very few things that I actually enjoyed.

The rest of the review contains spoilers.

The plot was supposed to be a fake dating plot but there wasn’t a single part of it that felt like it was actually them fake dating. The more that I think about the more that I realize that there wasn’t a single aspect of this book that was truly fleshed out. It jumped around from one plot point to another so fast that I just got tired of reading. I ended up skimming the last 75 or so pages because I was so bored.

So much of the summary on Goodreads is about a life makeover… There was no true makeover scene, it maybe lasted three pages, if that. And that in and of itself was frustrating because it seemed like Georgie had her own style and was comfortable with that. Why change it? It was the stereotypical “girl wears not so flattering clothes so must change and start wearing sexier clothes to be appealing to literally anyone”. The girl “club” the Just Us league or whatever that they created was hardly a club. They really didn’t do anything other than sit and chat. It felt like it was just thrown in there to add some form of “feminist” tones even though they mostly just talked crap about the guys in their lives.

The timing was nonexistent. There was absolutely no transition that indicated a passing of time. It felt like one never-ending day even though I know that more time passed than that.

I found the romance in this incredibly cringey. It made me so uncomfortable that Travis spent so much of the book telling himself that he couldn’t be attracted to Georgie because of the fact that she had grown up as the the “dorky little sister”. It just felt like he was infantilizing her and it really didn’t help that he continuously called her “baby girl”. In general I find pet names really cringey but the two aspects paired together made me feel kind of gross. They didn’t even last more than a few chapters before the whole “no sex while we’re fake dating” thing went out the window. I don’t know why they didn’t just agree to be friends-with-benefits from the beginning and just ham up the romantic stuff for the paparazzi.

The romance between the side characters felt completely thrown in there too. I felt like Georgie’s brother had a very toxic relationship with his wife, he very clearly wanted kids and it sounds like she didn’t and was getting him to stay with her by stringing him along letting him think she’ll agree to have kids someday. It skeeved me out too when Georgie’s mom played “wing woman” so that Georgie and Travis could go do it in the pool house (omg the amount of public or semi public sex disturbed me too, don’t do that y’all, it’s not sexy), like her mom acted like she just wanted her daughter to get some. I can understand being supportive of the relationship but ew?

Even for the people that love smutty scenes I don’t really see any sort of redemption from them. Travis was grossly controlling and dominating and while yes there are relationships in which stuff like that works, it always needs to be discussed beforehand and safety always has to be a priority. I’m not saying that anything went out of hand or that anything bad happened but with the way that everything else was talked about (including the fact that her virginity was a main component of all the sexual stuff) it felt like Travis was borderline taking advantage of Georgie. One line that really stuck out to me was when Georgie was described as this “man’s pleasure tool”… Um no, I’m sorry but women aren’t for being used for men’s pleasure.

And how overly sexualized Travis was? Ew. He truly had no redeeming qualities. He treated Georgie like his savior which is absolutely bullshit. Women do not need to fix men. This book should’ve been called “Fix Him Up” with how much work needs to be done with Travis. It genuinely made me mad at how much Travis viewed Georgie as his “savior”. I think Georgie was young and is still in the midst of finding her footing in the world and figuring out who she is and what she wants. She’s only 23!! Also I enjoyed that she realized the potential that he clown business had by working to expand it to a full on party business but again, none of that was really fleshed out. All the side plots and side characters were so secondary to this overly sexualized lusty relationship. I hated the ending so much because it was so rushed and seriously, I get that you’ve known the guy since you were a kid but WHY are you agreeing to marry him??? And given that there really was no time frame in this I have no idea how long they fake dated but I just feel like this was the worst way that this could have ended. Way, way too soon to get engaged.

I think this book might end up being one of the biggest, if not biggest disappointments of the year. Despite going into it with slightly adjusted expectations because of the negative reviews that I saw the description itself sounds like a completely different book than what ended up in my hands. This book had the potential to be something really good and it just wasn’t. It could have been a sweet, steamy, well developed romance and all it was was a giant mess. All I want to do is send this book back to the editor and ask how the hell they let this get published as is.

I really don’t recommend this book. If you’ve read it, what did you think of it? I’m still trying to find a romance book that impresses me, but it feels like everything I’ve read has something that just grinds my gears by the end of it.

I’ll be back on Sunday with an update for Camp NaNoWriMo and shocker, it won’t be great! Have a great weekend everyone.