Initial reaction: I'm pretty vexed I wasted the better part of a few hours total reading this book. Choppy and juvenile dialogue, half-developed characters, and yes, it feels like a fanfic of the TV series "How to Get Away with Murder." I didn't think the latter at first starting the novel, but between the switching of Before/After scenarios, Levi's mannerisms and teaching style, alongside the style of the cases, everything about it seemed like a pale imitation to me, plus with too much shallow sensuality and repetition (If I had to read the word "slam" one more time...)
I think the collected sentiment that I'll start with on this review is: at least I gave it a shot. This was my first read from J.J. McAvoy, and I knew that she'd written fanfiction based works at some point in the past with respect to narratives based from Harry Potter and Twilight. I'm not sure if this book is based on something she wrote in a fanfic measure before or if it's just a matter of inspiration, but this book had plot elements that were way too close to the ABC TV series "How to Get Away with Murder." That didn't sit well with me throughout the read.
Don't get me wrong, this is its own tale - albeit a weakly penned one. I think even if people reading this aren't familiar with "How to Get Away with Murder", it would still come across as a weak narrative taken by its lonesome. It was hard to maintain interest and focus with how juvenile and threadbare for development it was. Not to mention a whole host of other narrative issues.
The story revolves around a dual-perspective narrative between Levi and Thea. Levi is a lawyer and professor at Harvard Law School. He's well-renowned, super strict, and only taking 12 students into his firm following their completion of his class (Annalise Keating would not be impressed with this mirrored scenario, albeit slightly tweaked). He also happens to be a musician (though this isn't really a focus, he plays guitar some nights at a bar and this is how he ends up meeting the heroine.)
Thea is 23-year old African American woman (yay for a POC heroine at the very least, but I don't know how well that comes across for this particular story) who is dedicated to taking care of her teenage sister in the aftermath of her mother's death. Thea's mother was also a very high profile lawyer, though she died of a terminal illness. Thea's relationship with her mother was not so fond despite her mother's highly regarded reputation. Thea wants to become the best lawyer she can be and use that to take care of her sister. She will do whatever it takes.
Here's where things get complicated: Thea and Levi meet at a bar and have all measures of an instalove connection ("Bada-da-da, I'm an instalove machine, and I won't work for nobody but yooooou..." I haven't used that reference in a while.). They agree to have a week of mind-blowing sexytimes and then separate, going on with their regular lives. Well, fate doesn't work in their favor of forgetting, because Levi and Thea discover that they're professor and student on the first day of classes. (So we have the cliche teacher-student erotic story here. Though you might as well say they throw that moral/power question out the window early on. *sighs*) Thea even has to defend herself in order to keep her seat in the class on the first day, by a technicality. There's even a scene where - after class - she gives Levi his underwear and watch that he left back at her place (he keeps the watch, tosses back his underwear for her to keep and she stuffs it in her purse and she curses her weakness to do that. Meh.)
The story starts off trading between the week of their sexytimes and the present day - which was jarring enough and mostly unnecessary because it doesn't really contribute to the main storyline. I think the aim of including the week of sexy times was to establish their rapport and connection, but it ended up making the read very tedious to get through for all that back and forth. It didn't help that the sexytimes were written with such static dialogue. It wasn't steamy or sexy or a turn-on, it felt really annoying.
Part of it was also narrative repetition. While my Kindle copy only counted the use of the word "slam" 25 times throughout the entire book (I previously wrote "bang" and it should've been "slam". I regret the error...and not being able to use a Ricky Martin reference there.), the fact it was in the first half of the book as often as it was during the sexy times was too much. I didn't really feel the connection between these two leads at all.
Ultimately, the story transitions to the present and we see Thea not only tangling with a prejudicial competitor (There's a white guy named Atticus in Thea's class who competes against her and says "Why's it always about race with you people?" and "African Americans are always the one to pull the race card." I just about threw my e-reader against the wall. Thea responds that she moved to the north - U.S. - to get away from "you people" to mock him, among other comments.) but also deal with another thread of story involving her relationship with Levi, her missing father, and her little sister.
Ultimately, as much as I saw potential to develop this storyline into something much fuller than what it offered - this was no "How to Get Away With Murder" as far as a smart, engaging, invested and developed storyline was concerned (and the narrative similarities, between the shadowing, the before/after exchanges, among other smaller details for me really took me out of the story). The narrative was drawn and tedious to get through, and I could barely pinch enough flesh for development from the characters between sexytimes, despite some very tough subjects (racial attitudes, sexual abuse, false incarceration).
In the end, it wasn't worth the time for me to read and I didn't care for it at all.
Overall score: 0.5/5 stars
Note: I received this as an ARC from NetGalley, from the publisher.