Going Up

– by A.E. Radley

Honestly, I feel like A.E. Radley can go no wrong lately with her writing and storytelling, churning out hit after hit that have delighted, warmed and thrilled my heart and mind! Her latest, “Going Up,” was no exception! In fact, I was positively enthralled just by the title of the first chapter, “The Suited Idiot,” alone! I mean, COME ON!!! Who wouldn’t be desperately curious to find out just who the suited idiot was and why they’d garner such an abrasive reference, eh? See, that’s one of the reasons I utterly adore and revere Radley’s writing – her endless wit and dry humour, her vernacular always leave me devouring her stories at not time at all! In other words, her narrative style and storytelling are just my cuppa tea!

Back to this book, it has one of my all-time favourite lesfic tropes – ICE QUEEN. Except in Radley’s case, her ice queen named Selina, was a little different than those I’ve come across in lesfic, thusfar. Firstly, she was subzero deep freeze, more like, with zero sense of human interaction etiquette, utterly insensitive and oblivious to anything related to the people around her. Basically anything that was unrelated to her work was just unworthy of her time, patience, attention or effort. All she lived and breathed for in her entire adult life was nothing but her laser-focussed attention towards securing a Board seat in the company she’d been slaving for, for the past 30 years! In other words, she’d practically do anything for her cowardly boss (next-in-line to take the CEO position) just to be able to finally plant her arse on that much-desired 13th floor (her office was on the lowly 12th floor, much to her dismay and chagrin every time she was on the elevator with her finger hovering between the “12” and “13” buttons! Hilarious depiction that I could easily envision!)! So, naturally, she had no friends, no relationship with her own sister nor her nephews, just casual interactions with her colleagues and employees at work. Not that she cared because to her, she had no time for such trivial things in life. Poor soul! So basically, within the company, she reigned supreme as she was basically the only one hardworking, smart and savvy enough to ensure the company turned in profits year-in, year-out. Something that was crucial to her reaching her ultimate goal – to be seated at the “adult’s table,” so to speak! So, as far as she was concerned, nothing and no one, not her sister, or her soon-to-be ex-wife, or that wretched homeless person camped in the parking lot right outside her office building, could deter her from reaching her goal. Ohhhh….little did she know that the homeless person, Kate, would give her the run of her own money in every aspect of her life and well-being! Snap!

Sidenote: Can I just say, Radley’s decision to name every chapter of her books lately has made my overall reading experience even more enriching, fun and satisfying on top of all else because reading the chapter titles always elevates my level of curiosity and tickles my anticipation of what follows after the title! It’s not really common these days to find chapter titles in fiction so it feels like a novelty to see them again in the books I read. I don’t know, I just feel that chapter titles give an “oomph!” to the story and the journey. It’s so much more fun to explore the preceding content after the seeing the chapter title, innit? Well, at least for me! So, thank you, Ms. Radley, for that little extra gem! May you continue to do so! 

Obviously, I utterly LOVED Selina from the start! All her icy attitude, acerbic tongue and cutting sarcasm just made her even more endearing to me!! Heh, yeh, I’m a total sucker for ice queens, so there! Whilst my preference has always been the ice queen characters in books that feature them, including Radley’s other books where one of the MCs was an ice queen, in this book, though, I found myself loving and adoring Kate equally because she was one hell of a character inside-out! Radley truly crafted a richly in-depth character in Kate that matched Selina’s in every way, from the start, the moment they laid eyes on each other! It’s not that Kate’s character was similar to Selina’s. It was just that her personality was such that whilst they were polar opposites, they were strangely compatible! Although Kate was naturally a people-person, kind, considerate she was also hard, street-smart, a tough nut, mostly because of what she had to go through since being made homeless by some tragically sad and unfortunate circumstances that you’ll have to read to find out. In other words, she would never take any shite from anyone, least of all from the pompous Selina!

Speaking of homeless, first off, I was surprised to find out that one of the MCs was a homeless person right from the start. I never came across a homeless character as an MC in lesfic romance before. So I was immediately intrigued. I was struck by how Radley scrupulously crafted Kate’s character, so rich with the nuances of a young woman struggling to make ends meet whilst being homeless but never lost her way, her soul, her determination to live her life. It was an eye-opening exploration for me as Radley took me down the rabbit hole of what it meant to be homeless. I must admit, I was ashamed that I never gave any thought about homeless people before! All the stereotypes and misconceptions, as Radley pointed out via Selina’s POV, were on-point. I realised that my perception and perspective about homelessness began to change as the story progressed. I learned so much through Kate as Radley ever-so deftly depicted her character with such fervour and sensitivity. A down-and-out person who never allowed her homelessness nor misfortune to dampen her life but strove to get her own life back, being visible to the society again through hard work and independent means. All the potential dangers and darkness whilst living on the streets, the failure of the system where able people like Kate, who was on the cusp of getting the lifeline needed but not enough for the social services to take notice, hence, fell through the cracks, abandoned by the already-overwhelmed system, the list went on – were described with such resonating effect because Radley put a face on the situation – Kate (when we put a face on something abstract by itself, it resonates more, doesn’t it? Psychological). Eye-opening, indeed. In essence, I was on the same journey up the learning curve as Selina was! What a brilliant way to open people’s eyes and minds about a rarely talked about social issue like homelessness through a fictional character written with so much realism and authenticity, eh? Well done, Ms. Radley and thank you!

Back to Kate’s state of affairs, whilst it was heartbreaking, she never wanted anyone to feel sorry for or pity her predicament. Instead, she was fiercely independent, wanted to work hard to earn her keep if given half a chance, and she was steadfastly principled and knew who she was. From the start, she went toe-to-toe with Selina despite the latter’s intimidating personality. As I was reading and discovering both women’s unique personality traits, I marvelled at Radley’s astute awareness and understanding of their behaviours, meshing them ever-so authentically you believed in their characters and their compatibility even when they were throwing rude remarks and exchanging unpleasantries with each other! Oh, the banter! I LOVED the banter between Kate and Selina! Their chemistry was off the charts as soon as they laid eyes on each other, tbh! If there was one reason to read this book, it’s reading Selina and Kate’s highly entertaining, hilarious and totally adorbs back-and-forths! But I promise you, this book has so much MORE!

One of the many reasons I love Radley’s writing style is how she deconstructs her MCs’ respective journeys throughout the story – via slow-burn revelations, peeling off each layer of the character’s persona and her backstory/history as the story unfolds at each stage of development in the relationship between the two MCs. To me, this style makes one’s reading experience much more thrilling and her characters more absorbing. At least that’s how it makes me feel. I absolutely love it! Anyway, Kate’s backstory was richly layered and Radley aptly peeled it off little by little as her relationship with Selina developed more deeply, from being enemies to friends, as Selina inched more closely toward her. The entire dynamic between Selina and Kate during this tentative and cautious period of sussing each other out was utterly engrossing and highly addictive. Obviously, those pages couldn’t be swiped fast enough! I couldn’t get enough of them! Aargh!

Selina, Selina, Selina. Oh, Selina! So bloody adorbs with her utter clueless, obliviousness in the most basic, everyday manners, politeness and all-around consideration to others! It was like her mind had no more space left for basic human etiquette, what with all her plans and endless tasks at work just to get her arse to the “almighty” 13th floor! So, it was no wonder she was off-kilter when it came to Kate because the younger, defiant, unfazed woman would not allow Selina to throw her usual weight around with her caustic tongue, rude behaviour and utterly inconsiderate attitude. To say that Selina was always left dumbstruck and speechless every time she exchanged words with Kate was an understatement. And if you know Radley’s sense of humour, quickness and skill in turning words into authentic, conversational dialogue between her MCs, rest assured all the interactions between Kate and Selina will thrill you to no end! Utterly brilliant, imo! As Kate and Selina’s relationship at each stage of its development deepened emotionally, their interactions became more intimate and open. Trust. Something that Kate never had in life but for Selina to inevitably break down her walls of self-protection, was the catalyst.

In fact, one of my favourite moments in Kate and Selina’s journey was Radley’s construction of Kate’s trust-building with Selina. It was weaved ever-so organically with consequential occurrences and circumstances that Radley crafted with compelling and resonating effect that led to Kate’s wall of trust to dismantle, brick by brick, as she witnessed something in Selina that nobody else saw (or was allowed to, really, what with Selina’s infamous ice-queen persona and all!). Time after time. That was the catalyst, the turning point of their relationship. Their mutual attraction, whilst unbeknownst to each other, was depicted with such earnestness, sincerity and warmth. Utterly witty, adorable and heartwarming! Selina’s constant cluelessness and naiveté and Kate’s increasingly irresistible pull toward the older woman, were a riot to explore!

And as if their dichotomous yet hopelessly compatible personalities (perfect, actually, imo!) weren’t enough to complicate matters, there was also the issue of their evident age gap. I absolutely loved how Radley turned it on its head about nature vs nurture. Kate’s life experience despite her age was so much more enriched, exposed, seasoned and lived through with so much hardship and harsh reality thrown at her, effectively added more emotional and mental years to her age, as opposed to Selina’s, whose life was pretty much sheltered, privileged, hence, sustained (on all fronts in her life), you know what I mean? So in essence, what is age, really? It’s all about life experience and the depth of one’s mental and emotional maturity and growth, innit? Kate was closer to Selina in age, emotionally and psychologically, than the number itself, which is just that. A number. And you know what they say about soul mates? Age is irrelevant. Kate was an old soul who met her soul mate in the most unlikely person, Selina. Destiny. Affinity. Love. That’s why it worked beautifully between Selina and Kate.

The secondary characters were a delight to explore, too, especially Carrie, Selina’s soon-to-be ex-wife. Oh, you simply must read it to find out just WHY she was “soon-to-be” instead of just a plain ex! Radley crafted a hilariously creative and original situation between Selina and Carrie’s relationship which I’d never come across in lesfic before! All the usual MC-vs-Ex dynamic that I’d gotten used to reading about in lesfic romance was thrown out the window the minute I was exposed to the uniquely different dynamic that Radley had created between Selina and Carrie. Needless to say, I had a blast in this outrageously entertaining bumpy ride with these two exes! I never quite knew what would transpire next, what with Selina’s wayward behaviour and all, which made it even more fun and unpredictable! And did I mention that Kate was unwittingly roped into this whole complicated yet amusing situation, too? Needless to say, I thoroughly enjoyed the unique dynamic that this trio exuded! Bloody original! Jolly good, Ms. Radley!

All in all, I LOVED this book. I loved Selina and Kate’s utterly fascinating and captivating characters. I loved their story and their journey. It was funny and dramatic, poignant and utterly heartfelt. I strongly recommend it to every fan of romance! Just like Radley’s other romances, her wit, humour and brilliant conversational writing style in this book will leave you chuckling whilst feeling all warm and cosy inside all throughout your reading journey of this book!

In other words, “Going Up” is yet another HIGHLY ENTERTAINING Must-Read from one of my favourite authors! Defo reread material for me! ‘Nuff said!

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