Initial reaction: Seriously, if K.A. Tucker continues writing somewhat in the vein of what this book came across, I might have a new author to follow for the long run. This is probably the best book in this series thus far by a longshot. Great character development and conflicts, assertive leading characters who do have their respective issues and flaws but manage to be palpable and not over the top or melodramatic.
But I will level a criticism/caveat with this in that the story shifts from one cliche style to another and there were some flaws I found in the overarching story that I'll go into in my full review. But it was a serious improvement in more ways than one and can stand alone as its own story. And I'll admit I laughed more than once with it.
Probably rating this around 3 to 3.5 stars.
This is K.A. Tucker's strongest novel in this series (and personally the strongest I've read from her bibliography) to date. By far, in my opinion. Which is making me say "What the heck happened man?" in a good way.
Yeah, I'm quite (pleasantly) surprised because I wasn't even going to pick this one up given my frustrations with the first three books for various reasons. Much of it stemming from one offensive or silly cliche after another, with a good dose of melodrama and unrealistic expectations that made no sense.
"Five Ways to Fall" actually felt like a breath of fresh air in comparison because the characters in this one had SO MUCH STRONGER motivations and background than any of the other characters/stories in this series. It felt more real and less on the side of the melodramatic variety with conflict just for the sake of throwing things willy-nilly.
On the other hand, I preface this review with a huge tablespoon of caveats, because while this definitely felt like a installation that could stand on its own and not milk the series in a bad way, there are issues I had in retrospect with the read. I will say it's one I liked (if any book make me laugh until my stomach's in stitches in parts, that's usually a good sign.) I think it stands out among the carbon copy titles I've read in New Adult. Problem is, when you go from one set of cliches and substitute it with another story that has some bases with other cliches, you're still not necessarily taking away from the fact that it's...well...a cliche. More on this in a little bit.
This is Ben and Reese's story; "Five Ways to Fall" trades between their perspectives, much like "Four Seconds to Lose" did for the previous title in this series. Ben is the rather cocky dancer and serial no-strings-attached lover we've met in this series before, at the club where Lacey, et. al. work. I'll admit I didn't like Ben when I first met him. There, I said it - bias front and center. But dangnabit, I didn't expect to warm up to him in this book. Sure, he's cocky and annoying as get out, but somehow he managed to charm me in places and he actually treats Reese with some refreshing degrees of respect. (I still wanted to bring out my harisen for some of the things he says and does here, but can't really help that.) Not to mention he has a pretty rough backstory that actually felt somewhat plausible here, though it probably could've evened out a little more for pacing.
Reese is a carefree young woman who got married early, husband cheated on her and she let him know her rage. And there was a lot of rage. I didn't like the female shaming she does, but at least I understood she was angry about being cheated on and having to deal with the aftermath of her sentiments towards her ex-husband, no matter how brief the relationship may have been. Sometimes it's hard to let go, especially if you're so young and have ties to that person that are a matter of clicking. You may know the relationship is not good for you (Reese does and is refreshingly self-aware through the narrative), but there's moments where she still wants to hang on.
When Reese and Ben meet, it's not under the most ideal of circumstances. It involves drunkeness and embarrassing situations and the two don't think they'll see each other again until they show up at the place where they work, and to say its awkward is an understatement (but there are some nice moments of humor/banter in the mix).
I'm not going to spoil the overarching events of this book for how their relationship comes about, but there were moments in this book that were very funny, which is a very different take than most titles in this genre do for melodrama and depressing scenarios. (I still can't get over the smiley face condoms scene. Ben is so darned cocky, it's ridiculous, but there are moments like that where it's funny and his teasing feels somewhat genuine instead of showy or annoying.) I actually saw what these two saw in each other and why through this narrative.
There are tougher moments, especially as the story marches towards the latter part of the book. Some of it felt a little quick on the uptake, but I think I bought it a lot better than some of the other situations in the series. Ben's rapport with his family probably also helped me connect with his character a little better. His family's flawed, but they have their situations and issues that come across in ways that I could understand for emotional ties and relation. Reese and Ben are self-aware, and are refreshingly assertive as to who they are and what they want, which makes the more solid characters than any I've come across in this series to date.
But there are caveats. Ben's a cocky hero and some of his cockiness (for lack of a better term) did get to me. I didn't love his character, but I didn't completely hate him either. He had his endearing moments and he was admittedly very funny. So was Reese, I think both characters were palpable in their flaws and strengths which made this a better narrative to follow for the most part, because they're asserted well.
Pacing in the book is a bit sluggish even for a slowburning relationship (which I tend to like and appreciate). Think it could've been tightened a little more. I was okay with the other characters taking a backseat in this story - it really wasn't their story to tell, but rather Ben and Reese's. (But where the heck was Livie? Maybe I missed her.)
This book did ditch quite a few of the big recurring New Adult cliches that I've seen in the genre (thank dear goodness), but I almost feel like it went from that vein into taking a few big similarities to some titles in adult contemporary romance - lawyer setting, big family set-up, etc. Yet even with it being really close to the cliches of other stories in its vein, I still cared for the scenario and characters because their motivations were asserted well, especially in their POV sets.
Some other caveats, but mostly they were smaller details that I don't know if a lot of people would take issue with them as much as I did. I think on the whole this was a stronger narrative from Tucker and I hope if any other books in this series come across that they take more after this than some of the previous books. Because this at least had moments where I could say "Yeah, I can connect with these characters a lot more than some of the others and it doesn't feel like it's just for show or conflict/drama."
And notably, it had some fun moments, so that gives it enough for me to bump it up for rating. 3.5 stars from me.
Overall score: 3.5/5 stars
Note: I received this as an ARC from NetGalley, from the publisher Atria Books.