Book Review: Upside Down by Lia Riley

Off the Map, #1
If You Never Get Lost, You'll Never Be Found

Natalia Stolfi is saying good-bye to the past-and turning her life upside down with a trip to Australia. Everything is going to plan until she meets a brooding surfer with hypnotic green eyes.

Bran Lockhart is having the worst year on record. 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 . . . of if they were meant to live a world apart.

If you were to take a quick peek at my About section on the right hand side of this page, you would find my reading wish list: Tell me a story that will take me places and send me on an adventure. Introduce me to characters that are witty and eccentric. Unravel me and put me through the emotional wringer, then...put me back together with a spectacular ending. When I give a book a 4+ star rating on this blog, it usually meets most of that criteria, or even if it only does one of those things, it does that one thing very well.

Upside Down, by Lia Riley, accomplished everything on my wish list. It deserves the full 5 bright and shiny stars!!!
This book is rich with quirky charm, humor, and adventure, laced with a beautifully poignant story about exploring new heights in life and love! Lia Riley's spirited voice also makes this introduction to her series stars, Talia Stolfi and Bran Lockhart, exciting and heartrending all at once! By the time I was done reading it, I was practically shrieking the words, "YES! YES! YES!"
The first few pages are like walking into an Indie flick and meeting the unconventional-yet-fascinating heroine. Talia Stolfi can fit right in with the Ellen Pages and Anna Kendricks of the world. (There's even a "Holden Caulfield is my homeboy" t-shirt.) Her voice and personality pulled me in, making me want to know more and to follow this girl around.

Yet, in the grey, misty fog of Santa Cruz, I also felt her need for a change in scenery and an escape from all of the disconnects piling up in her life--the hollow state of her relationship with her parents, the mess she's in with school, and her OCD struggles that she hides even from her best friends.  Most of all, though, I felt the cold ghost of her sister's tragic death still haunting her.
People want to be with the sunflowers, those who rise and face the sky. Who prefers fungus, moss, things that grow in the world's dark and shadowed places? No one.
She held so much potential--to heal, to grow--and so I dove right in! Talia hoped a study-abroad program in Melbourne, Australia would help her move forward, and I embarked on this journey right along with her, fully anticipating some twists, turns, and bumps along the way, and the ride did not disappoint!

One of the things that I absolutely loved about Upside Down was its ability to transport the reader to beautiful Australia! Lia Riley made me want to hop on a plane and explore this whole new world! The country's vibrant nature was a highlight and reflected the novel's interesting characters, the bold and vibrant romance, and all of the intense emotions this book entails! Every location felt equally captivating, giving the whole book a uniquely "earthy" and enchanting personality.

After all, this is where Talia finds "brooding surfer with hypnotic green eyes", Bran Lockhart...Oh, Bran...I am a complete sucker for funny, unusual first-meetings, and Lia deserves a high five and a fist bump for the way she brought Talia and Bran together. Hint: koala suit...I may have even laugh-drooled my tea while reading...I loved the cheeky, wry humor, and broody Bran was already making me Eeeeep!, just 10% in!
Bran regards me for a long moment. His irises are dark green, devoid of any mottling browns or hazel, like a jungle's underbrush, intriguing, but likely dangerous.
I also happen to love it when characters start out with tough armor. It makes me look forward to the jousting match...two guarded souls who will inevitably come together, knock each other off-kilter, masks discarded.

adored the familiarity that developed between Talia and Bran. Gradually, Lia even chipped away at my defenses, pulling me in completely and making me fall into a groove with these two. Everything they did together, from the simple to the extreme, made me feel! I was reading this book laid out on my bedroom floor, and I had to flop over and starfish on the ground...a few times. 
"Dear Natalia, would you please come to Portsea with me for a few days? I'll introduce you to penguins and a weedy sea dragon or two."
"Now you're making fun of me."  
"Sea dragons are real. I'll find you one." 
As Bran and Talia fell for each other, Lia played up the attraction--the lust--so well. The noises I made included GAHHH! and HNGGG! (All acceptable English terms for "Ooh, check out that chemistry"...) It's everything exhilarating about being with someone new, discovering and exploring new boundaries with this person...Yes. Holy hot Aussie steam...
I once read in a magazine that a guy should go down on a girl like they're writing the alphabet with their tongue. Bran composes a sonnet. I'm consumed.  
But then the author gave me something else to dig into. Something to beckon me even deeper. I wanted to know more about their individual pasts, their still-raw pains and insecurities, the truth behind every flaw and fear, and Lia revealed them slowly but surely.
"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.
There were moments throughout the novel that were quietly powerful. Then, there were the moments that were gut punch-powerful. YUP! FEELS ALERT! They made my heart pound in my ears, and I was practically choking on that lump in my throat. But when you hurt this much, the remedy has to be really good. I wanted that dose of extra special.  I started to panic that Hey, this is only book one and shit, is Lia going to leave me hanging? It was the best-worst torture because I was so invested!
We've stepped to the edge of the truth with each other, but it's like we're daring each other to take the plunge. I'm scared to go first, not sure if he's ready to jump.
However, the biggest leap of faith, a huge gesture towards conquering one's fear, ultimately led to Bran and Talia completely stealing my heart! It wasn't Wow, what a perfect happy ending. It was Wow, this is only the beginning! I absolutely wanted more. I want whatever happens next. It's like hiking to the top of the mountain, enjoying the view, and looking forward to the next trek because you know you'll have something great waiting for you at the end.
There are beautiful places inside him, where laughter comes easy, where sweet words appear like surprises. But I also know his bitter valleys. The dark caves where he hides his fears, his hurts, and his disillusionments. And he knows mine.
This was a beautiful story about falling in love, the slow aching climb towards trusting, and--no matter how painful or lonely your past was--having faith in how good your future can beUpside Down had that satisfying balance of romance and life, breaking and healing. This was a beautiful, beautiful novel and an amazing start to this series!



| Author Interview - We chat about traveling and Upside Down! |

| Upside Down Blog Tour - Top 5 List & Excerpt |


After studying at the University of Montana-Missoula, LIA RILEY scoured the world armed only with a backpack, overconfidence and a terrible sense of direction. 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.

***ARC provided in exchange for an honest review***