Initial reaction: "Blue Notes" actually surprised me in a few ways for the strength of the narrative, but I'll admit that it fell into a number of cliches and the pacing felt uneven through certain turns of the work. But I have to say that the overarching story did draw me in and felt realistic for the genre, probably even more than the narratives its cited in comparison to. I'll explain more in the full review.
Yeah, color me surprised, because I don't often rate New Adult books above 2.5 stars often, but this read clicked more with me than I was expecting it to for the subject matter.
I'm going to start this review by naming the caveats right off the bat, because I think these made it difficult in the overarching read for me to rate this higher. This book, for the New Adult genre, is quite formulaic and it never really sheds its stereotypical coats. You have a virgin heroine with a tragic past who instalusts over a bad boy billionaire hero who seems to be rude and self-absorbed. There is some slut shaming, some bravado on the part of the hero that makes him a jerk, and times when the narrative pacing is far more slow than it should've been.
However, I really liked the environment and character insight/motivations established by this book. Those two aspects are things I'm really big on when it comes to contemporary college focused fiction. It felt quite realistic and I was able to follow the tough subject matter in this book far more easily (and actually believe it!) than many other reads in this respective genre. I feel it's a bit of a false comparison when the blurb depicts this as being similar to Jamie McGuire and S.C. Stephens. Having read both of the authors aforementioned - the comparison is false because "Blue Notes" lacks the constant melodrama and silly character actions/reaction being flung at you every which way but loose in McGuire and Stephens' narratives. Lofty's narrative really isn't like that at all, and I was glad to see that it wasn't. It's more realistic and grounded for the situations it sets forward (though I would say there are some points where I think taking out the obvious cliches and improving the pacing could've helped it be much stronger than what it comes across).
Keeley is a junior in college with an identity she's trying to forge after a childhood with rough considerations. Her father killed her mother, she had to testify at her father's trial at 15, ended up with a foster family who adopted her permanently, with a new identity in tow. She seeks to move on with her life from that. Attending college at Tulane in New Orleans, she engages with her music and mentors another younger student in the process.
But in the meantime, she happens to meet the mysterious Jude - a guy who radiates sexual tension with her at almost every encounter that they have. He's a jerk from point one, probably not so much in their first meeting as much as their second (he rudely makes another couple move from their seats during a performance). But Keeley can't stop lusting after this dude. He's not completely over the top or unrealistic for reaction though, which is probably why I tolerated him far more than some other NA heroes (unfortunately, I couldn't really see myself swooning over Jude's character, for reasons I'll get into in a minute.)
Part of me thought this was very annoying at how *long* Keeley seemed to lust after him without really knowing who he was. And while there may be some relationships that start with an intense physical attraction/gravitational pull to a respective admirer, I had a hard time for how long this was focused upon until the narrative got to a point where it started revealing some of Jude's backstory and associations. It was too drawn out and could've been pared down a little quicker to establish the grounding of the characters more, not to mention really help understand the attraction between the characters for more than just the physical.
Turns out that not only is Jude from a wealthy family, but he's also an orphan who takes care of his little sister and had to take over his family company at a young age after graduating from business school.
There is an age gap between hero and heroine (Keeley's 21, while Jude's 26, his younger sister is 18). The two had some very nice moments of exploring their intimacy with each other, though it does play into some stereotypes associated with virginity. But at least the two seem to talk to each other and their conflicts are palpable. There are multiple conflicts within the novel occurring in the interludes, and I have to admit that Lofty did a nice job with providing character insight into each of these measures. I was even convinced by Keeley's uneasiness to reveal her respective past and how that provided some conflict points within the novel, though there was still a part of me that thought the pacing could've been improved to delve into these even more, rather than spending so much time in Keeley's eye to her attractions. (In other words, I'm fine with the narrative highlighting what draws her to the guys in here in rationale, but it should've taken way less time in the overarching narrative).
I did like this work more as it went on and as the character relationships and interactions built upon themselves. Keeley's foster parents were cool and I liked that the narrative called out specific incidents that seemed like B.S. for the treatment of the MC. The college environment and interactions were authentic to me on the whole and well done for Keeley's experience, as well as how she eventually steps up to the plate to deal with parts of her past and present. So taking it into consideration on the whole, I liked the novel, but I do wish that it'd not fallen so heavily in reliance on its cliches and improved its respective pacing. I think those who liked Leah Raeder's "Unteachable" would probably find something to like in this, give or take its caveats.
Overall score: 2.5/5 stars
Note: I received this as an ARC from NetGalley, from the publisher Gallery Books.