ARC Review – ‘More Than Friends’ by Jody Holford

Title:  More Than Friends
Author: Jody Holford
Genre:  Romance, Contemporary
Date of Publication: 5th December, 2016
Page Count: 166 pages (ebook)
Synopsis: (from Goodreads)

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Owen Burnett planned on a quiet, easygoing Christmas, hanging out with his best friend and neighbor, Gabby Michaelson. So when his mom pressures him to come home for the holidays, he tells a little white lie…that he’s spending the holidays with his new girlfriend. But when his family shows up unexpectedly, Owen pulls the best friend card and asks Gabby to play his fake girlfriend.

Gabby’s been hopelessly in love with her best friend Owen for what feels like forever, but playing his “fake” girlfriend when the entire boisterous Burnett clan visits is easier said than done. The more she tries to deny the attraction between them, the more obvious their chemistry becomes. But even though she’s not the only one feeling it, putting their friendship on the line is a risk she can’t take.

All the tropey goodness: pretend girlfriend, platonic pals sharing a bed (cue sexual tension), friends-to-lovers, playing happy families over the Christmas holidays! While predictable, I found this to be a cute read that helped while away the time I spend on public transport and will be entertaining to readers who aren’t expecting it to reinvent the wheel and be anything other than pleasantly predictable. The characters are likable and although I didn’t have my heart and soul invested in the outcome, I was still pleased with the inevitable happy ending.

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I know this sounds a bit lukewarm, but I don’t really have strong feelings about this story – I thought it was well-written and as sweet as a dozen sugary donuts, but it didn’t leave much of a lasting impression and I doubt I’ll return to it in the future.

Where I felt it was lacking was how the concept of long-term besties who end up falling in love at long last implies a slow-burn romance, yes? While we know from the outset that Gabby is in love with Owen, he was never attracted to her for all the years they’ve been friends and realistically it should take something out of the ordinary to make him realize that he does have feelings for the woman that he sees day in, day out. And yet in the first couple chapters, basically as soon as he proposes the fake girlfriend plan, his hormones instantly kick into gear and ALL OF A SUDDEN he starts noticing her lush curves and sex appeal. O.o It’s a bit hard to believe that he would’ve NEVER realized how stunning Gabby is – I’m not attracted to my friends, but I still notice a bountiful bosom when it’s right in front of me!

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The Proposal is my favorite rom-com of all time, and where it succeeded for me was that it threw the main characters into a series of situations with forced proximity and intimacy that wasn’t present in their normal day-to-day life, so they saw each other in a whole new light. (A bit hard NOT to have your eyes opened when you run into your boss stark naked in the bedroom!) That was what I expected here, that Owen would be startled at how right it felt to playact as Gabby’s boyfriend and come to realize he wants to explore a romantic relationship with her – instead, he was attracted to her near-instantly from the start of the story, which made the fake-girlfriend conceit feel clumsy and quite unnecessary. And that’s a shame because it’s what I was looking forward to in the first place!

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I also felt that Owen was a bit naive and irritatingly oblivious at times – the fact that he hadn’t considered the necessity of physical closeness, ie. KISSING as part of their deception made me roll my eyes. Even a two-year old knows that couples kiss, that’s a common enough part of expected interaction between romantic partners, so for him not to have taken that into account before asking Gabby to be his fake girlfriend was ridiculous!

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Okay, so what did I like? Well, the reasoning behind his plot was very sound – as an introvert, I completely understand being overwhelmed by large social gatherings, that is definitely not my favorite part of the holiday season. I love my family, but I prefer them in small doses, not the whole clan all at once! I’ve begged off a few family dinners by using prior engagements as an excuse, and as pushy and OTT as his family turn out to be, I can see why he had to manufacture a girlfriend for them to give up on trying to force him to visit. I felt his pain when they decided to instead invite themselves over to his place, how rude! :O

And oh, Gabby. Dear sweet hopelessly-in-love Gabby. She’s the reason I wanted to read this, because my god, have I been there. Unrequited love is the woooorst, you guys, and her character was so painfully real to me. I’ve been at that point of wondering whether it’s worth it to suffer the agony of knowing your feelings will never be reciprocated and continue being around that person or if you should cut your losses and walk away so you can try and move on…just like Gabby, I decided that I’d just take what I could get, screw my own fragile heart, lol.

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Given her background being an orphan from a young age and with no other surviving relatives in her adulthood, it made sense and I sympathized completely with Gabby deciding that she’d rather have Owen in her life in whatever capacity he was comfortable with, as opposed to risking their friendship and possibly ending up alone. And I really appreciated that she didn’t act territorial around him or try to interfere with his previous relationship/s – there’s nothing more frustrating than a character that refuses to make a move on the object of their affection, but who then sabotages their love-life which is so damn selfish. I liked that Gabby wasn’t possessive of Owen, recognizing that she didn’t have a claim on him, but she’s still only human, I totally got her when she hoped that he wouldn’t start dating and bringing other women around, that’s a natural reaction! (when my crush so much as laughed with another woman, I’d be inwardly cursing, ‘That bitch!’ even though I knew it was irrational)

I particularly enjoyed that Gabby decided to agree to Owen’s outrageous request NOT because she’s a pushover desperate to please the love of her life, but because she’s decided that even if they’re never meant to be, she’s still going to enjoy going through the motions of being blissfully in love and acting like a couple together. That was a nice touch! It gave Gabby a little more agency when the author could have run the risk of making her character weak-willed and on an unequal playing field with Owen, instead she ended up being the one to initiate a lot of the intimate moments and owning this role-play!

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More Than Friends is a frothy, fun romance perfectly timed for the Christmas season – it didn’t really suit my tastes, but I think people who are looking for a quick, light-hearted read will enjoy this.

Personal Rating: 3 of 5 kitties approve this book.

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Disclaimer: I received a digital copy free from Entangled Publishing, LLC  via NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.

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