the glow up coverRating: 4.25 stars
Buy Link:
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Length: Novel


After flitting from major to major, Christopher Delaney has finally settled on something that speaks to him—getting his massage therapist certificate and his business degree to one day open a holistic health center. The only thing left for him to figure out is how to introduce himself to “his science guy,” but after two years of crushing from afar and surreptitiously watching him study, broodingly, Chris doesn’t know how or even if he should make a move. So when broody science guy, aka Aiden, shows up at the school massage clinic, Chris isn’t sure if his luck is the best or the worst. Determined to be a professional, Chris does his best to put the clearly tense and uncomfortable Aiden at ease. Unfortunately, as the massage begins to relax him, other parts become stimulated, and the horrified Aiden rushes out.

Aiden Russo is beyond mortified when he leaves the clinic and desperately hopes he never sees the hottie with the great smile and even better hands again, despite his libido and his loneliness saying otherwise. Being pre-med and struggling with his major classes has Aiden tied up in physical and mental knots, but he made a promise to himself that he would become a psychiatrist and somehow help his dad with the depression and alcoholism that has been ruling their lives since his mother left them six years ago. Aiden’s barely keeping his head above water and certain he doesn’t have time for anyone, but when he runs into Chris again, he can’t say no to the laid-back, confident cutie.

As the two spend time together, Chris helps Aiden see that sacrificing every piece of himself that isn’t dedicated to school isn’t doing him any favors, while Chris comes to learn that his fantasy of Aiden can’t compare to the reality. As their feelings grow, each wonders if this is just a college thing or something that could last, but unless Aiden learns to choose himself, he may lose himself and the man he loves.

The Glow Up is the fifth entry into the multi-author, standalone Franklin U series and is a delightfully sweet, low-angst story about two kindred spirits finding one another. As the story mostly takes place over the course of a semester, it’s a getting together tale featuring walks on the beach, dates in the cafeteria, and study sessions that end with the pair jamming on their guitars and/or sexy times. The tone is a bit more serious than other books in the collection seem to be, but is still relatively light and easy. While Aiden is an intense, self-contained character and his father’s struggles provide a serious motivation, the story isn’t dark or melancholy; though he’s constantly stressed about school and trepidatious that his burgeoning relationship will affect his grades, Aiden doesn’t brood about it with the Batman level of intensity expected by Chris’s stalking observations. Aiden has let his father’s troubles and his own determination to become a doctor blind him to the fact that his career path may not be the best for him mentally or even attainable no matter how hard he grinds. He used to be a fun-loving, extroverted musician, but has closed off most parts of himself to deal with the staggering pre-med course load, made harder by his lack of affinity for math and science. Meeting Chris, with his sunshiny, easy-going nature and matching love for music and the guitar, lets Aiden feel like himself during the time he allows them to have together.

The story is told in alternating first-person POV, and Chris is allowed to be a fully realized character with his own goals and motivations and not simply a (slightly stalkerish) antidote to Aiden’s self-imposed isolation. He’s an uncomplicated guy with a caretaking personality, who (according to his BFF) has a tendency to be overgenerous with his time and attention, but he doesn’t seem to do that with Aiden. He’s understanding of Aiden’s goals and willing to go with the flow, but isn’t self-sacrificing; he recognizes that Aiden’s major is breaking the poor boy, but doesn’t add to Aiden’s stress by constantly telling him that. He wants to help Aiden as much as he can, but knows that ultimately Aiden has to figure it out on his own.

The pair are really sweet together as they fall awkwardly and adorably into love; at first, both are nervous about hanging out and what it means—for Chris, because he’s finally interacting with a guy it feels like he’s known for two years and for Aiden because he feels so far removed from who he was before college that dating feels new to him again. There’s a lot of cute, tentative handholding and shy smiles, and even when sex enters the equation, the pair take their time with it. They are very honest and open with each other, even when it’s uncomfortable, and Chris is always respectful of Aiden’s time and boundaries, even when he’s tempted to push for more. There isn’t a major obstacle for the them as a couple per se, but Aiden does have to make some important decisions for his mental health and their continued relationship.

For me, the supporting cast don’t really add or detract from the story; they do their job of enhancing the college atmosphere and giving insight into the MCs’ personal lives/personalities (although I did find Aiden’s roommate more tolerable than Chris’s best friend). There are cameos from other FU leads, as well as from Johnson’s other books, but their appearances are no different to any other secondary character’s. All in all, The Glow Up is a fun, feel-good but not overly fluffy NA romance that many may enjoy.

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