This post may contain affiliate links or I may be reviewing a book that I have received for free as part of a review program or as an advanced reader copy. That being said, all opinions are my own. The book cover, author biography, and plot summary for Next To You are courtesy of authorjuliagabriel.com.
Fourth book from StoryCartel! I’m becoming a regular there! Next To You by Julia Gabriel was the find this time. I’m always a sucker for materialistically perfect people with a not-so-perfect past falling in love, so the plot synopsis of this one seemed right up my alley. Curious about my view on Phlox and Jared’s story? The review is just below!
Next To You in 85 Characters or Less
Burned beauty mogul shows burned billionaire recluse he’s worthy of love
Full Plot Summary
A scarred and lonely billionaire hiding from his past …
Jared Connor lost his innocence at the age of ten when his father poured gasoline around the family home and left his two young sons to die in the flames. Now an adult, he’s carefully crafted a pretend life where he can hide his scars and his death row father behind the guise of a caretaker’s pickup truck and a pair of gardening shears. But when a beautiful woman with scars of her own barges into his quiet, solitary life, Jared finds it increasingly difficult to hide from what he really wants.
A successful young businesswoman ill at ease in her newfound beauty …
Phlox Miller was never the pretty girl and no magic mascara or secret serum was ever going to change that—not even one manufactured by her own company. When an accident at her country home burns her face and body, she spares no expense on her recovery and plastic surgery. Now she turns heads on the street, but can’t recognize herself in the mirror—and can’t convince the man she loves that he’s beautiful, too.
Can two people see beyond appearances to find true love?
Knowledgeable Business Writing
Phlox and Jared were/are both business people, and business people that were leaders in their industry at that. Some authors wouldn’t have taken the time to learn about business so they could use its terminology in their writing or would have merely stated their careers without letting that part of their lives play a huge role in the plot.
Gabriel did neither. Business was a huge part of both Jared and Phlox’s personal lives, and even their physical ones, too. They talked about business with professional terms. Some critical scenes and plot points occurred around Phlox Beauty, and Jared wouldn’t have been near the same character without his history in and knowledge of business. This type of specificity gives authors more credibility, which was something Gabriel earned successfully through this type of dialogue.
Plot Timing Seemed Off
A huge part of Next To You revolved around how Jared loved his past life of riches but no longer had access to that life due to his current dermatological situation. Another huge part of the story was about how he could pay women for sex but no one would love him because of his face. Another huge part of the story was how he couldn’t go out in the public eye anymore, so he got rid of his company.
Now. Jared’s accident was when he was ten years old. He grew up, went to college, and build his empire with the face that the fire left him with. He was happy when he was younger and realistic about his situation when he was a young adult. And then…? What Gabriel doesn’t go into is what happened in his adult life that made him want to sell his company and become a recluse.
Let me rephrase: she does do that, but her reasoning was that it was because of his face. Then I ask, what changed? Why was he okay with his face when he was starting out in the business world and why did that comfort go away? Though the story was still complete without this fact, knowing what life event occurred would have given me a more complete picture of Jared Connor and more security in the timeline of the story.
In most romance novels you read, there’s at least a part of the story where one of the main characters sees the other and all they can think about is getting them into bed. This is generally a small part of the story that gradually develops into a relationship and then into love. I’d say that’s a pretty common affair in real life, as well, right?
With Phlox and Jared, we get the case of insa-lust hard. They see each other, and a good portion of the first half of the book is talking about how physically attracted they are to one another. That’s fine. It’s great to know they think the other one is sexy, but where’d the buildup go? Where was the gradual increase in chemistry? Maybe this was absent due to Jared’s insecurity with his looks, which would be a good reason. Something to ponder, though, as it made the first part of the book a bit of a drag.
Once we got past that solely physical stage and into the final third of Next To You, I really found myself falling for Phlox and Jared. Their characters become more developed in their separation, which makes the times when they are together even more emotional and important. Phlox is able to accomplish her goal of making Jared feel beautiful (spoiler! Though I guessed you thought that one was coming anyway…). You get some humor from Phlox’s assistance, some major confidence from both Jared and Phlox, and some loving family banter from Jake and Mina, Jared’s brother and sister-in-law.
This part of the book was what really made it worth it for me. It was the completion of their characters and relationship within the world Gabriel created for them. The swoon-worthy moments at the end really seal the deal: Jared and Phlox, though having an unconventional start, are truly good characters and good people who deserve the love they’ve found in the other
Where to Buy
I write sweet but sexy contemporary romances from a very messy (my husband will confirm this) office in a small town in New England. I love New England—the towns really are postcard cute (especially in autumn when the leaves are breathtakingly beautiful). I’m not from here originally. I grew up in a small town in Pennsylvania (still pretty cute though—think town hall with clock and square with Christmas tree), about halfway between Gettysburg and Antietam. Actually, not too far from Boonsboro, Maryland, for all you Nora fans.
Since then, I’ve moved around a bit. Pittsburgh … then Washington, DC … then moved to San Francisco for love … moved back to DC when the love thing didn’t work out … and now New England. If things had worked out with my college boyfriend (an adorable French boy with an equally adorable accent—oh la la), I’d be living in the south of France right now. Ah well, hindsight and all that, right? Instead I’m happily ensconced in New England with my banker-slash-former Marine husband, our black belt son and the assortment of bears, coyotes and turkeys that reside in our back yard (not always peacefully).