Review: What If You & Me – Roni Loren

Review: What If You & Me – Roni LorenWhat If You & Me
by Roni Loren
Series: Say Everything #2
Also in this series: Yes & I Love You, For You & No One Else
Publisher: Sourcebooks Casablanca
Publication Date: July 6, 2021
Genres: Romance
Pages: 320
Source: NetGalley

I received an advance review copy of this book from NetGalley. This does not affect my opinion of the book or the content of my review.

My rating: One StarOne StarOne StarOne Star

The world can be a scary place. At least, that's what Andi Lockley's anxiety wants her to believe. It doesn't help that she narrowly escaped a dangerous man years ago, or that every relationship since has been colored with that lingering fear. But things are better now―she's channeling everything into her career as a horror novelist and true crime podcaster, and her next book may be the breakthrough she needs.
If only her grumpy new neighbor would stop stomping around at all hours of the night.

Former firefighter Hill Dawson can't sleep. After losing part of his leg in a rescue gone wrong, he's now stuck in limbo. He needs to figure out what he's supposed to do with his life, and he can't let himself get distracted by the pretty redhead next door. But when someone breaks into Andi's place, Hill can't stop himself from rushing in to play the hero. Soon, a tentative bond forms between the unlikely pair. But what starts out as a neighborly exchange quickly turns into the chance for so much more...if Andi can learn to put aside her fear and trust in herself―and love―again.

New York Times and USA Today bestseller Roni Loren blends heat and heart in this emotionally charged story.

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Content notes: View Spoiler »

Grumpy/sunshine is a favorite trope of mine, so I was very excited to read this newest book by Roni Loren, and I wasn’t disappointed. It’s also a fascinating take on that trope: while Andi is extroverted and optimistic, she’s not without her own troubles, and I loved how in some ways she’s less sunshine-y than her “grumpy werewolf” neighbor. This is the second in the series but can easily be read as a standalone.

Andi’s never met her neighbor – frankly she half suspects he’s a werewolf since she only hears him moving around at night – until a late night horror movie session leads him to think she’s in trouble. It’s been two years since his career-ending injury, but Hill still thinks of himself as a firefighter, so of course he rushes over to help. Andi’s not entirely sure she can trust him (her gut’s been wrong before) but when she needs help, he’s the one she runs to. As horror movie viewings turn into quasi-dates, can Andi and Hill overcome their pasts to trust and rely on each other?

Andi was introduced in Hollyn’s book, the bubbly and extroverted true crime/horror podcaster who befriends a befuddled Hollyn and encourages her in her own relationship. While I’m neither a horror buff nor a horror virgin like Hill, I appreciated how much Andi loved the genre (while still understanding its shortcomings) and how it was a coping mechanism for her. I think a lot of times we think coping mechanisms are just crutches, but this is something she loves and makes money doing while helping other women. Definitely life goals material! Andi’s anxiety manifests in a variety of ways, but mostly constant “what-if’s” – what if she forgot to lock the patio door? What if her new neighbor is lying about being a firefighter? A lot of those what-ifs especially make it hard for her to have a relationship, as she’s very wary of men in general due to her past experiences.

“If you stop moving, you get more stuck, more hopeless. So even if moving forward is the last thing you feel like you have the energy to do, you have to force yourself sometimes—even if it’s little things.”

Hill is two years out from the injury that ended his career as a firefighter. He’s still woken every night by nightmares and has no idea what to do with himself, other than being landlord for a few rental properties, including the one he’s currently living in. His best friend is pushing him to write a cookbook since he loved cooking for the firehouse, but he can’t seem to drag himself out of his depression long enough to get started. But then he meets Andi and he can’t get her out of his head. To be honest, I was the same way, in that I found Andi to be the more compelling character of the two. This isn’t necessarily a knock against Hill but more that it was easy for me to empathize with her due to my own experiences.

“He knew what that feeling was—wanting something but not knowing if you were capable of having it without your demons getting in the way. He fought those wars, too.”

The romance between Andi and Hill is very slow-burn, partly due to Andi’s previous trauma. To be honest, neither person thinks they’re ready for a relationship, so it starts out as more of a friends-with-benefits situation. Both have scars from their past traumas that affect how they approach relationships, though in Hill’s cause they’re both physical as well as mental. And while I can’t speak to Hill’s disability, I felt like it was handled thoughtfully. One of the things I loved about Andi and Hill’s relationship is that they fit so well with each other, not in spite of their traumas but because of them, and watching them figure that out with honesty and patience and superb communication was incredibly fulfilling. The consent is excellent. While the situation that forms Andi’s trauma isn’t what most people would think of when with sexual assault – and it’s something her own parents deny was assault – Hill immediately grasps it. I liked how he respected her boundaries, and I liked how, once he admitted he had some depression-related inertia and that he needed a push, she became that push, inviting him over to watch movies and visit her coworking space. Trauma, especially Andi’s type of trauma, takes away your feelings of safety, and one thing I really loved was seeing the characters think about their relationship in those terms: which feeling came first in their relationship, love or safety?

“People seem to think horror is anti-woman, but I think a lot of it subverts gender dynamics. In most cases, you don’t want to be the dude in the horror movie. The dudes get dead. They ride in like the hero to save the ladies and the villain is like—nope. The women save themselves.”

I am a huge fan of how the author writes mental health. It’s normalized for characters to talk about therapy and coping mechanisms. If a character sets a boundary, it’s respected, and for the most part everyone involved, including side characters, is sensitive to mental health topics. It’s why I’m ok with reading this series (and her previous series) even though it has such heavy content because I trust it will be handled well. As for cons, I didn’t find the suspense portion of the story very compelling. I saw it coming from the beginning of the book and was hoping I was wrong, since it seemed to pop up at random times rather than being woven throughout the plot. I’m generally not a fan of the “omg I almost lost you” clue by four. In the author’s defense, it was done as well and gently as I thought it could be and it reinforced Andi’s control of her own life.

Overall, while I didn’t care for the suspense arc, it’s a small portion of the book and greatly overshadowed by the amazingly built relationship between Andi and Hill. Roni Loren’s solidified herself a place on my auto-buy list and I can’t wait to see where this series goes next!

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