Love is a game: “Level Up” by Cathy Yardley

I’m an original cover truther. It’s too wholesome and adorable!

I guess this one is fine. Whatever. 

A friends-to-lovers romance with a geeky Latina heroine who is a Whovian to boot. "So, you bought and read that the second you heard about it, right?" you may ask. And you'd only be half right, because after I bought Level Up, it sat on my Kindle for at least a year. Sometimes I do things that don't make sense. I'm unpredictable like that. It keeps people on their toes.

Deciding that my long list of owned, unread books and continuing trips to Barnes & Noble on my way home reflect poorly on me as a person, I have made it a point to work through my TBR. Level Up reads quick. It might even be short enough to fall in novella territory.

Tessa Rodriguez is terrified of social interaction. That, and love, aren't priorities for her, because her sole focus is getting promoted to game engineer at the male-dominated gaming company where she works with her roommate, Adam London, a project manager. Adam, as she is at least sort of aware, is a total smoke show, and as her roomie/landlord, totally off limits.

To his credit, Adam has never made a pass at Tessa. To his discredit, he is still butthurt about his ambitious ex who left him for a job opportunity, so that same ambition in Tessa is a red flag for him.

Early in the book, Tessa is forced out of her introvert bubble and befriends some very cool fellow fangirls who own a struggling bookstore. Tessa gets the wild idea that creating a fandom-based video game for a contest a few weeks away will get them some publicity to save the store. She's a skilled coder, but that fast turnaround means she'll have to enlist (and try to impress) the tech bros at her job who underestimate her.

As she and Adam spend more time together, their budding sexual tension is exacerbated by bets, arrogant jerks, and winter power outages. Never did I think anything about a snowstorm would appeal to me, but this cutie patootie, sexy romp of a book surprised me at every turn.

The highlight of this book was Tessa. She was full of realistic contradictions, like being painfully shy and awkward, yet blossoming with assertion if she felt strongly about something. I kept picturing her as Cierra Ramirez, because shades of her and her workplace reminded me of the show Good Trouble. Particularly, dealing with tech bros, though this group is less vile than the crew on Good Trouble.

This book was a delight, and if I weren't playing catch-up with my shelf, I'd be binging the rest of the Fandom Hearts series. Read this if you want a fun, lighthearted rom-com that still has depth and relatable stakes.

Level Up, by Cathy Yardley

P.S. I recently got an iPad and an Apple Pencil, which have transformed my writing. I can work on my book anywhere, in longhand, which I feel helps my ideas flow better (and makes me feel like a very old- fashioned, Serious Writer). I use handwriting recognition to convert to text. However, it can struggle with my sloppy handwriting sometimes, so when I use it to write reviews, you'll have to pardon some weird errors and spaces between words when I'm too lazy to proofread. I welcome flawed tech. If it gets too smart, the robots WILL take over. Stay woke, yinz!