Title: Hold Me
Author: Courtney Milan
Series: Cyclone #2
Genre: Contemporary Romance
Jay na Thalang is a demanding, driven genius. He doesn’t know how to stop or even slow down. The instant he lays eyes on Maria Lopez, he knows that she is a sexy distraction he can’t afford. He’s done his best to keep her at arm’s length, and he’s succeeded beyond his wildest dreams.
Maria has always been cautious. Now that her once-tiny, apocalypse-centered blog is hitting the mainstream, she’s even more careful about preserving her online anonymity. She hasn’t sent so much as a picture to the commenter she’s interacted with for eighteen months—not even after emails, hour-long chats, and a friendship that is slowly turning into more. Maybe one day, they’ll meet and see what happens.
But unbeknownst to them both, Jay is Maria’s commenter. They’ve already met. They already hate each other. And two determined enemies are about to discover that they’ve been secretly falling in love…
Source: ARC from the author via NetGalley
This is an antagonistic romance with bite. Jay definitely does not make a good first impression on Maria, and she has no intention of letting him forget it. They’re both super smart, but while Jay has let his emotional issues with his family define him, Maria has turned her own into her strength.
Both characters are likeable and sympathetic in different ways. They’re both smart and funny – even when they’re not liking each other, there’s a lot of humour in their attempts to one-up each other and it’s clear there is some chemistry beneath the hurt. But there’s a lot of hurt to get through first – and some of their interactions can also turn quite nasty. These aren’t people pretending not to like each other, these are people who don’t understand each other and have no intention of trying.
Jay might be gorgeous and a genius, but he’s also an emotional dunce with issues. He’s so busy protecting himself, believing that’s the best way not to hurt people, that he keeps on hurting Maria – both as the woman he knows and the mysterious Em he texts with. He has a lot of work to do in this book, both on his emotional scars and on some of his ingrained prejudices. It takes him a while to get the message some times, but I appreciated that once it went in he worked on it. True, he’s also a sexist jerk at times, but he does listen to Em (eventually) when she hauls him up on it.
I loved Maria. I love that she is unashamedly girly and smart and can balance both with ease. She’s awesome and confident on the surface, but she has her own troubles too – especially with rejection, after how her parents treated her. Her habit of turning her anxiety into apocalyptic scenarios was fun, although that and her inability to deal with emotional conflict did prove that she was human underneath all the awesome. She is also trans, but although this has shaped the person she is it doesn’t define her and is definitely neither the most important nor interesting thing about her. It just is.
The romance takes its time to get going, because there’s a lot of ground to cover before these two can ever get close to seeing each other for who they really are. I really loved that Jay is honest once he gets over his issues, and although Maria is more prone to hiding, the pair of them together make a wonderful team. Eventually.
I’m in two minds about Jay’s bisexuality, though. On the one hand, it’s great that it isn’t an issue. On the other, it’s such a non-issue that it’s barely there at all and didn’t really add anything except to feel like another check in the diversity box when this book is already packed with diverse characters handled in a much better and more thoughtful ways.
I loved the sheer level of geekery in this book. I loved Jay’s mother, especially the driving scene. I loved the relationship Maria has with her grandmother. I loved the flirtation. I loved the diversity – race, sexuality, religion. I loved the glow in the dark shark – and also why Maria didn’t love it. I also appreciated the message that girly girls can be geeky too, even though it felt like it was being laid on really thick at times and didn’t always acknowledge that even if you’re not super smart, you still matter too, even if you care more about shoes than lasers. Because not everyone can care about lasers.
So overall I really enjoyed this. It isn’t perfect by a long stretch, and with its slow pace and sharp-edged insults I’m not sure everyone will like how things turn out. It’s complicated and messy and emotional and not always nice, but it’s also witty and clever and thought-provoking with well-defined characters and a fully diverse cast. It felt like a long wait between this and Trade Me, but as far as I’m concerned it was worth it. I can’t wait to see where it all heads next.
Hold Me is Out Now.
Visit Courtney Milan for more details.