Arc given to me by HQN in exchange for an honest review.
Content/Trigger Warning: Cheating, postnatal depression, maternity struggles/infertility, anxiety, depression, passive-aggressive divorce, toxic relationships, and sex scenes (for those of the younger audience).
This review is going up the day of release (May 28, 2019), so Happy Birthday Unexpected by Kelly Rimmer!
Abby Herbert has had her life all mapped out. From the perfect job all the way to the perfect husband, she’s a girl with a plan and she intends to stick to that plan. But when devastating news shatters her dreams, she’s suddenly thrown into a whirl wind of chaos that she has no control over. Marcus Ross has been harboring not-friends feelings for his life long best friend Abby Herbert. Knowing his feelings have been one sided, Marcus has been desperately been trying to move on since their New Year’s kiss. But when he learns of Abby’s curveball, Marcus instantly jumps into the stirring pot to do whatever it takes to help and be there for Abby. With emotions and feelings running high, it isn’t long before all the rules start to break and the boundaries start to blur. And that deal struck between two good friends starts to blossom into something perilously close to something that will change their lives forever!
“No point beating about the bush on this. I hope you know I’ll support you whatever you decide, and I’ll be here for you whatever happens.”
Have I even mentioned how much I love books that have two different point of views? I really, really like books that have two point of views and we can get two different insights on the two main characters. Not only that, having two different perspectives for the two main characters allow us to really see how one or the other handle each situation or conflict with their own unique personalities. It’s a fun time and I’m always down for some really two point of view books.
Speaking of two point of views, we have two main characters in this book. Our first main character is Abby Herbert. Abby Herbert is a professional gamer/streamer. She does a lot of her work from the apartment she shares with her best friend, but she does have a previous history of working for a publishing company before she truly committed to her gaming full time. Abby also has some serious anxiety going on with a history of depression. Not to mention, she has to have control over everything. I want to say she may have slight OCD behavior, but she’s definitely a planner and has to have little thing under control otherwise she ends up having an outburst of from frustration or has a breakdown from panic. Which is why she has her binder full of her life long dream package and of course, everything is planned from the type of guy she wants to be with, to the house they will share, and right down the amount of children running around their home. She has it all figured out and she intends to have it happen when she wants it to happen. Also, my favorite thing that is brought up from time to time in this book is Abby having a very curvy body. While it’s not actually stated or put into full details, it’s been stated she has fuller figure than the other girls in this book (and you know I’m here for diverse body rep!). And while I’m still on Abby, the one thing this girl has never compromised on has been her life long best friend, Marcus Ross. Which brings me to our second main character, Marcus Ross. Marcus couldn’t be more different from Abby. They’re as different as night and day. Marcus is a head strong, tech entrepreneur who has never had time to truly put though into wanting a life long partner. In fact, Marcus has said no to the wedding and no to the full commitment of a life term partner. No wedding and no serious relationship. In fact, everyone sees him as the type of guy who prefers to casually date, but likes his options open. If there was ever more of a Batman, this guy is it. He’s got full on daddy issues and full blown emotions for a girl who doesn’t feel the same way for him in return. However, Marcus has a lot of self-doubt and questions himself a lot of the time with making the right moves or what’s the best thing to say. But in general, Marcus is a really good guy who’s dedicated to his job, cares deeply about his friends and family, and genuinely thinks about others. Plus, did I mention his brother? His brother Lucas is a such a sassy pants and his interactions with Marcus are just the most precious moments.
Essentially, Unexpected revolved around the whole plot of this book being our one main character, Abby, ends up being told her ovarian reserve is diminishing. So Abby begins to plan to become a single a mother as soon as possible and begins trying to find the best way to getting herself pregnant. When her first two options fall short, she ends up turning to her best friend, Marcus, and shortly after a deal is struck between them. Eventually, the rules and boundaries that were established during to them agreeing to cross-over that best friends forever line end up getting broke and boundaries blur together is a messy pot of unexplored feelings.
Yet somewhere in between the pages of this book, we see the good, the bad, and the ugly. We see how these two characters interact and navigate what is most definitely a difficult and stressful situation for both of them. We also get to see a lot of their thought process, but also them reaching out to their closest, most trusted friends about their feelings. But somehow, even though this book had some great elements that I love in a romance, it fell a bit short for me.
” We can have a reset if I move out. We can get things back to normal and stay friends. It’s the smart move.”
Okay, first the good and the things I really loved. This is probably the first romance book I ever read that hits close to home for me. Granted, there have been other books that got me emotional, but most of those were either comics or fantasy. This is the first ever romance that had me sobbing with our main character, Abby. I already liked Abby because she was a gamer (as come to learn very early on in the book), I do some serious hardcore gaming when I need it, but it became so much more than that. Between her struggles with depression, having anxiety, and then topped with fertility complications, that was it for me. I felt connected with her and I found myself rooting for her. Even as I read on, she was a very relatable character to me. So this book became a faster pace read for me once I found a way to get connected and to throw myself into the book. Also really loved that we got some LGBTQIAP+ representation. As I mentioned before, Marcus has a brother, Lucas, and he’s just great! Not only is Lucas the more playful brother, but he’s married to a chef named Austin. The moments we get interactions with Lucas and Austin or when our main characters and the wonderful pair are together, they were so wholesome and warming.
We also get some talk about postnatal depression which is the very first time I’ve seen it talked about in a romance book. While there’s no in depth conversation and there definitely could have been more talk about it, it’s handled very nicely and in very realistic way especially for why it’s an issue/concern for Abby. Not to mention this book really goes into detail of the struggles a person with fertility complications has to go through if they want to have a child. This book talks about how long the process it, talks about legal actions that have to be taken with parties involved, and even some of the financial hardships that will come during and afterwards. I was really surprised that all of that was featured, but I was also overjoyed. It’s not often books (a lot of genres) talk about serious issues that aren’t often discussed. So seeing that in this book was such a pleasant surprise. I also really liked and enjoyed the way Abby relationship with Rodger was addressed. We not only got to see Marcus calling out how abusive the relationship was, but we also got to see how her friends viewed the relationship. What made my heart smile, most about whenever this toxic relationship was brought up, was how the characters addressed Abby. Both Isabel and Marcus reassured her that she was not in the wrong and that she was the one who pulled herself out of those dark days. I loved this and how beautifully it was done. That type of love and support is always so beautiful to see and read about.
“She’s the key player in all of my best memories, and now, she’s the star of all my dreams for the rest of my life.”
However, even though there were many wonderful things about this book, there were also plenty of things I had issues with that made it hard to look past. For starters, I definitely don’t like the fact that both of our main characters ignored the advice of the doctor. I understand that Abby wants a baby and time is of the essence, but the fact that they weren’t willing to listen to the doctor to all the details, I mean ALL of the details in what he had to say, it felt rude, ignorant, and definitely a naive thing for both of them to do. Not to mention after they went home and didn’t even talk about what was discussed in the doctor’s office and they both went straight to Googling at home, do it yourself with a turkey baster or syringe. I don’t know if this was for comedic relief or if the author was being serious, but this whole part fell flat for me. It felt like this whole thing was counter-productive and just didn’t sit well with me. Secondly, Abby’s sex scenes felt very virgin-ish. I had a better time and a more leg crossing time with Marcus’s sex scenes than I did with Abby. The thing is, Abby is a very appealing character and the descriptions we receive of Abby, she’s a very beautiful woman. So the fact that Marcus’s scenes were the most steamy, more intimate, and more leg crossing than Abby was a bit surprising. Her scenes felt safe, they felt like there was a lot of overthinking happening from the character and the author, and half the time if felt like she wasn’t even doing anything at all because Marcus would end up dominating the whole scene in the end. I just expected more from the intimate Abby scenes and expected her to let loose a little. Speaking of Abby, there were also a lot of moments where it felt like she was being extremely immature and, in all honesty, being a real jackass to Marcus. I understand that the author was trying to show Abby’s level of anxiety and just how far it could be push or show just how desperate she needs to be in control of everything, but when it boiled down to everything, there were times where it felt like she was being a child throwing a tantrum because things weren’t going her way. But those moments she would go off the rails and be totally unfair about things to Marcus were a huge problem. For me, it almost felt like it was right on the edge of becoming a toxic relationship. Considering how well Marcus and Abby’s personalities mesh, seeing how quickly it would flip and she would go off on him made me really uneasy and uncomfortable reading. Anxiety and insecurities is one thing, but to push it to the point of toxic situation just felt like it didn’t belong in this book. Now I know it feels like I’ve only been talking about Abby, but I do have my issues with Marcus. My biggest issue with Marcus is the daddy issues. So in this book during the whole Abby and Marcus thing, we have a situation brewing with Lucas and Marcus where their father comes back into their lives by sending these Facebook messages. Of course, both Marcus and Lucas are internally struggling with how to deal with this level of stress and unease, but my true issues lie with Marcus (which will tie in with my biggest and most delicate situation from this whole book). With these issues coming up as a side situation in this book, one of two things needed to happen; (the easiest thing to do) One: Remove the whole sideline, “father coming back into the picture to reconnect with his sons” situation. OR (the more complicated thing to do) Two: Don’t allow Marcus to get Abby pregnant or become a father. These seem like the only two options because once you hit that point in the book where the two brother actually do go meet with their father…it’s a hot mess (like any type of reunion would be if you haven’t seen your parent in years) that’s followed up by another hot mess of the brothers trying to sort how they feel about everything. I wasn’t that big of a fan with how Marcus was handling the whole situation and the icy tones that were coming through that whole section with, not only how he was addressing his father and the situation, but how he was addressing his mother when he called her. Even outside of of this whole section, the “father popping back into his sons’ lives” part felt very distracting to what this book is actually about. There were times where I was wondering how it was going to play into everything and it definitely felt like a minor distraction that derailed the story-line.
The Really Bad:
With all of this being said, it’s time to lay out the biggest issue I had with this book. I have sat on this for three days now and stating this doesn’t make it easy because I did genuinely like some parts of this book…however, this is something that by the end of the book just didn’t sit right with me. Marcus and Abby shouldn’t be having a baby. Now before you come at me with torches and knives, I didn’t conclude this overnight and it wasn’t an easy choice to make. I went back through and looked at everything I marked, tabbed, noted, and wrote down just so I could weigh all the pros and cons. But after all of that, they truly shouldn’t have a baby and so many factors went into me deciding this. For starters, Abby and Marcus, both, have some serious issues. These are the types of issues that should be worked out before you decide to have a child. For starters, Abby has serious concerns especially the postnatal depression and since she has a history with depression, it felt like that should have been taken more seriously. Also, as I stated before, there were a lot of times where Abby would start an argument and it would feel like she’s acting like a child. I feel like this conflicts because how can you truly be a parent to a child if you yourself are going to act like a child as well. Not to mention, you see no sign of her looking for a therapist or a counselor for any help with her anxiety. To me that’s a huge issue because anxiety can be a very hindering mental health condition especially if it goes untreated. And considering almost every chapter that’s from Abby’s point of view it feels like she’s about to go into panic attack, have an emotional breakdown, or she’s putting herself in emotional and mental turmoil, the fact that there’s no mention of a therapist or any professional counseling make me come from a place of concern. I’m not saying it’s the answer, but I definitely think Abby needs some guidance in the right direction before having a child. Then there’s the matter of Marcus who is dealing with own issues. He’s a busy tech entrepreneur that struggles with keeping balance between his work and personal life. Then add on top of him trying to come to terms with everything that happened between his mother and father as well as him trying to reconnect with his father. That’s a lot of stress riding on him. Plus, he has to console Abby every time she tries to start an argument or causes so much turmoil that she has a break down. He’s already dealing with so much. We also have the fact that the both of them went and completely ignored a professional doctor who was giving them sound advice and genuinely trying to help our main heroine to become pregnant as safely and as quickly as possible. I have a lot of issues with this and with that whole situation being what it was, didn’t impress me at all. I understand that Abby wants everything done her way, to her pace, and on the drop of her word, but the fact she blew off the professional and then Marcus went along with her on it makes me think they’re both really naive. And even though they went home, sat on things, and then did their own research via Google, that doesn’t mean that was the smartest move for them to do and a lot of stuff on the internet is misleading. Once again, it all felt like a waste a time that could have been used in a more productive way instead of them both acting clueless and being irresponsible by not listening to a medical professional. There’s also the fact that no alternate paths to motherhood ever being discussed which is definitely a problem since there are so many other options out there for our two main characters. Abby seems to feel like if it isn’t her being pregnant then it isn’t motherhood. Not only that, but her own mother (who also suffered fertility issues) is pressuring her to settle down and breed. I’m coming to the topic as someone who wants to have kids, but can’t and I’m honestly surprise I didn’t go into a blackout rage (I’ll be surprise if anyone who is struggling with fertility complications doesn’t go into a blackout rage). With all of this being said, I truly believe they’re not ready for a baby and they shouldn’t be having a baby until they actually listen to a medical professional and have all their options before them.
Overall, I have so many mixed feelings on this book. There were some parts that I really loved and thought were the sweetest moments. On the other hand, there were parts that should have been removed or never included, parts that were frustrating and absolutely ludicrous, and then there were parts that were just absolutely awful and almost insulting. I understand romance novels are escapist. They are also capable of introducing and evaluating serious issues but Unexpected fails on all counts. I don’t think I’ll be continuing this series as this first book has stirred quite a mix of feelings. If you have read this book and plan on continuing this series, comment below and tell me your thoughts. I would love to know what you loved and didn’t love about this book and why you plan to continue on.
The quotes above were taken from an ARC and are subject to change upon publication.