Overall Grade: ⭐️ ⭐️ ⭐️
This review is a difficult one for me to write because the story, Friendzoned by Rachel Blaufeld, is a story in the Busy Bean arm of the World of True North series. Thus far, whether it’s Moo U or Vino & Veritas or Busy Bean, I’ve enjoyed the stories of the authors who have deigned to write romances in this world. I can’t imagine it’s easy creating characters and their stories in a world made popular by a superstar author such as Sarina Bowen. It’s why I sign up for each ARC because I love the geographical area, the anchor characters such as the Shipleys, Audrey, Zara, Roderick, etc., and the tropes and sub-genres of these books are so enticing. All of these conspire to have me reading several books a week in this world.
But it’s difficult when you feel underwhelmed by a story. I’ll be honest. There has only been one or two that have left me this way, but Blaufeld’s Friendzoned tops that list.
Here’s the thing. There is so much well-meaning behind this story, and in our world today, her story feels important. As is the case with most of the books of this series, there is an underlying message that lends gravity to these stories that feel sweet to their very foundation. With Blaufeld’s hero, Ben, and her heroine, Murphy, we encounter discussions about socioeconomic strata and parity and the issues with coming from two very opposite sides of it. In Friendzoned, Ben was a scholarshipped football player at a private elite boarding school, and Murphy was the progeny of a couple of one-percenters. Throughout high school, in private, they relied on each other, but in public, people would be hardpressed to call them friends. This left one with feelings of resentment and the other with feelings of guilt. Several years later, Murphy has fled New York City at her parents’ prodding after a scandal, and she’s trying to make it on her own without the resources of her family. While difficult, given that she doesn’t have the skillset for the Busy Bean, each day she undertakes to get better. She is also trying to figure out who she is and what she wants from life so that she can be a better version of herself. One day, Ben comes to the Busy Bean, a far cry from his former self. A doctor who has gained affluence, he is the polar opposite of his boarding school self; however, Ben still struggles with his past and Murphy’s treatment of him. Yet, there has always been an attraction between Ben and Murphy even when they were younger and her parents wouldn’t approve. As Ben and Murphy struggle with their attraction and their present set of circumstances, they must battle for a future. Will they find one, or are they destined for the “friend zone” in perpetuity?
The strengths of Blaufeld’s story are Murphy’s journey towards living an authentic life and their eventual coupling. I’m a huge fan of makeover stories where a character redefines themself into a better version. All of that is here as Murphy comes to find what she loves about herself and life. Additionally, about two-thirds of the way through their story, you actually start to really enjoy Murphy and Ben’s relationship. There is a complication between them towards the end that is frustrating; I don’t think Blaufeld writes it well so its believability is undermined, but overall, Ben and Murphy’s struggles guide them to a beautiful happy ending that makes the entire story.
The issues I have with this book are its consistency and believability. From start to finish, there are issues with consistency in the characterization of Ben and Murphy. I found myself saying “this doesn’t make sense” quite a bit as I slogged through their journey. I’m not sure that I really liked them until their epilogue. One minute, Ben is reminded of how much he likes her, and the next, he can’t. His character progresses in that way for a large portion of the story. And Murphy mimics that as well. One minute, they seem like they are moving forward, and then Blaufeld interrupts their progression for story angles that aren’t necessary. I found my head spinning keeping track of their feelings. I simply wanted to like them more, trust in their attraction to each other, and believe that they could move forward. For much of the story, I didn’t feel that way which disappointed me because I want to like all of these stories.
Why should you read this book? You will encounter the Busy Bean crew, Zara figures pretty heavily into Ben and Murphy’s burgeoning relationship. You are also offered more of Hunnie and Gigi from Claire Hastings’s Cakewalk. Honestly, I left this book praying that Hunnie will have a story. If that is enough for you to find your way to the Busy Bean world, then you should grab Friendzoned.
In love and romance,