Even since she nursed her dying father after her mother left them, Charlie St. James has wanted to help people, so she decided to go to college to become a nurse. Everything seems to be going well, school is good and she has a volunteer gig in Europe lined up for summer break. But then she finds a ring and fears that her boyfriend is about to propose. Charlie has always tried to keep her relationships casual and whenever one starts to get too serious she bails. Wanting to break up in a public place, she takes the boyfriend to the bar where her best friend, Liam, works to do it. Things don't go as she expected, then Liam kisses her in a spontaneous moment meant to get the boyfriend to leave. Liam takes her out of town for the weekend, and when they return, she finds her apartment has been vandalized by none other than her ex. Since she has nowhere else to go, Liam offers her the spare room in his apartment. However, Charlie can't seem to stop thinking about Liam's kiss. She tries to remind herself that they're just friends - and now roommates - but soon she finds herself longing for a whole lot more. Can she finally put her fear of commitment to rest for the one man who might be worth it?
Liam Walsh has been best friends with Charlie since they were kids. After her dad died Liam's family became her family and they were nearly always together. Even though they love Charlie, Liam's relationship with his own family, especially his dad, has become strained. With his grandmother suffering from dementia, his dad thinks Liam should have stayed to help out on the family farm rather than going off to college to study to be a veterinarian. As he struggles with difficult family ties, Liam is bombarded with memories of the kiss he impulsively gave Charlie. Until now, he's never thought of her as anything but a friend, but once she's living under the same roof with him, his fantasies go into overdrive. When those fantasies turn into reality, Liam is over the moon, but he's been applying to veterinary medicine programs all over the country. What will Charlie think when she finds out that his studies may take him away from her?
I can't recall how Friend Zone came to my attention, but when I saw it had a friends-to-lovers theme, I immediately put in on my TBR list. Normally I'm a total sucker for this trope, but this book had a lot of problems that ended up making it a so-so read. The characters were OK. I didn't have any major issues with them, although neither did I feel like I really got to know them on a particularly deep level. The story was OK as well, but again, things happen with little thought on the characters' parts and everything wraps up too neatly and easily. The ending wasn't even an HEA. It was more of a marginal - rather than solid - HFN with mere implications that everything would eventually work out for Liam and Charlie to be together permanently somewhere down the road. Then there were the technical aspects of the writing itself that had a plethora problems that added up to one huge distraction. So all in all, this wasn't a terrible read, but it also wasn't really memorable in any way and didn't excite me in the way I had hoped it might when I chose it.
Charlie is a college student, studying nursing. She decided to go into the field of health care after taking care of her sick father as a teenager before he passed away. Her mother left the family when her father became ill, and after his death, her best friend Liam's family became the only family she really had. The story opens with Charlie breaking up with yet another in a long string of boyfriends she's deep-sixed when things started getting too serious. She does this at the bar where Liam works, so when the guy turns belligerent, Liam plants a spontaneous kiss on her in hopes of shutting him up without things getting even more ugly. This, of course, leads to feelings surfacing that they didn't know were there. When the jerk ex vandalizes Charlie's apartment, Liam offers to let her move in with him, and from there things start heating up between them fairly quickly. I didn't dislike Charlie, but neither was she a stand-out heroine to me. Her backstory should have been fodder for the exploration of some deep emotions, but other than her realizing that she's a little too much like her mom when it comes to relationships and her father's illness inspiring her career, I just didn't get much of a sense of how the pain of the past affected her in the present. When her mother resurfaces, Charlie allows the woman back into her life too easily and with little affect on her psyche. Also, I didn't really understand what was so different about Liam, other than the fact that they'd been life-long friends, that made her fall for him and want a more serious relationship with him than she's had with other guys in the past. She was also way too quick to get mad at him toward the end for not sharing his school plans. It didn't seem like that big of a deal to me, because it didn't end up having much affect on the outcome of their relationship.
Liam is studying to be a veterinarian. He left his family's farm to become the first in his family to attend college, thinking that he could get an education and then help them out financially. But his father seems to think that him going to college was a dumb choice and has never forgiven him for leaving. He felt that Liam could have been more of a help if he'd stayed behind. This pits father and son against each other for most of the book. Then there's Liam's beloved grandmother who is suffering from dementia and will need to be placed in a nursing home soon, which is an additional financial burden on the family. Liam has been best friends with Charlie since grade-school and has always seen her as just one of the guys, until he impulsively kisses her. Then he starts to realize that maybe there was something more there all along. When things heat up, they're just enjoying being closer to one another, not thinking much of what the future holds, so he doesn't tell her that he's been applying to several different colleges to complete his veterinary degree which leads to some conflict. Overall, I liked Liam pretty well, but much like with Charlie I felt like his backstory didn't play into his present quite as much as it could have and that his reasons for falling for Charlie after seeing her as nothing but a platonic friend for so long weren't explored enough. The tensions with his father were dispelled a little too easily and I wasn't really pleased with how things turned out with his grandmother, especially since there was no real explanation as to how it happened.
In addition to the weakness in character development, I also thought that the plot itself was anemic with lots of holes and continuity errors. There just isn't much meat to the story itself, and I've already mentioned how some things occur too easily for our main characters. But there are also things that happen that either made me roll my eyes at the ridiculousness of it or scratch my head in befuddlement. Liam is supposedly very protective of Charlie and he knows that she just broke up with her boyfriend, yet when said ex asks Liam for the spare key to her apartment to collect his belongings, Liam hands it over without question, never even asking Charlie's permission or thinking that it might be a good idea for someone to be home while the guy is there. His excuse is that he's loaned the guy the key before, so no big deal, but I saw the folly of that from a mile away. Then after the ex vandalizes her apartment, the manager says he's holding her responsible and keeping her security deposit to pay for damages. No one ever even thinks to have the guy arrested. Not to mention, it would take a whole lot more than a security deposit to cover the havoc he wreaked. When there are no other apartments available while hers is being fixed and she can't afford a hotel, Charlie claims she has nowhere to go, yet at the end, after she and Liam fight, she stays with her two girlfriends for weeks. This just all seemed like a weak set-up for her and Liam to live together. However, one of my biggest issues came at the very end, when Charlie accidentally sees Liam's vet school acceptance letter before he can tell her about it. He flat-out says that although he applied to other colleges around the country, he's decided to stay in-state, but she gets upset with him anyway. This didn't make any sense, since he wasn't going to be far away and I was unclear as to why she couldn't go with him. It was doubly irritating because he'd started applying before they become romantically involved and she had her own plans to do a volunteer nursing mission overseas as well. Then at the very end, Liam "reveals" that he's staying in-state as though it's some kind of surprise and all is forgiven. It all felt like a non-excuse to stir up trouble for our lovebirds.
All the story and character weaknesses were bad enough, but then there's the technical aspects of the writing itself which left a lot to be desired. When I picked up the book and read the grammatically incorrect tagline on the cover, I feared I was going to be in for a bumpy ride, and it most definitely was. I accept that every book I read is going to have some typos (Eg. missing words, letters, or punctuation), but usually they're kept at a minimum. This book had tons of those, but most of the errors went far beyond mere typos and were the entire wrong word altogether. Sometimes it was homonyms like bear vs. bare, but more often it was confusing, incorrect words and/or extra words that created sentences that didn't make sense at all. Eg. "I moved in next-door to us." or "Your father isn't getting any older and needs your help." These zingers are peppered throughout the book and always brought me up short in my reading while I tried to parse what the author really meant to say. Occasionally it was so bad, I simply couldn't figure it out. Then there were the repetitious words and phrases (someone would say something then repeat themselves a couple of sentences later), sentences with clunky wording that needed to be smoothed out, mixing of past and present tense verbs in the same sentence, and overly simplistic word choices when stronger more interesting words would have really made the narrative pop. All of this really detracted from the story and frustrated me as both a reader and a writer. At first, I thought this author was a self-pubbed indie, which would still be bad, as we all have a responsibility to give our readers a quality product that's been properly edited and proofread, but there's a publisher listed on the copyright page. This IMHO makes it even worse, because that publisher should have provided an extra layer of quality control that clearly wasn't present. In fact, the number and type of mistakes are so egregious, it appears to me that this book was never edited or proofread at all.
The bottom line is that I liked Liam and Charlie, along with the friends-to-lovers trope, enough to call Friend Zone an OK read. However, for being life-long friends, their relationship just didn't feel all that deep or emotional to me, and them going from platonic friends to something more so quickly felt lacking. There are a lot of things that happen that needed a great deal more detail to really engage the reader and make the story genuinely believable and relatable. Also, for a book that's written in dual first-person POV, there's a lot of passive narration. Rather than taking that deep-dive on the characterizations, I felt like it was merely skimming along the surface most of the time. Readers who are forgiving of weak characters and plot points, as well as technical errors, may enjoy this one more than I did, but it was a pretty frustrating read for me. There are two more books in the series for Liam and Charlie's friends, but I can't say that I'm all that interested in reading them. I discovered that I have another book by Nicole Blanchard in a boxed set on my TBR pile that I may eventually read, but after this mostly unsatisfying reading experience, I'm not going to be in a hurry to do so.
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