This is a special “Group” review, featuring five of the JLR reviewers! Thank you so much to Riptide Publishing for allowing us to read this one together!
Looking For Group, by Alexis Hall
Publisher: Riptide Publishing
Release Date: August 29, 2016
Mel: 5 out of 5 stars ()
Rafa: 4 out of 5 stars ()
Kristie: 4 out of 5 stars ()
Rita: 4.5 out of 5 stars ()
El: DNF at 30%
So, yeah, I play Heroes of Legend, y’know, the MMO. I’m not like obsessed or addicted or anything. It’s just a game. Anyway, there was this girl in my guild who I really liked because she was funny and nerdy and a great healer. Of course, my mates thought it was hilarious I was into someone I’d met online. And they thought it was even more hilarious when she turned out to be a boy IRL. But the joke’s on them because I still really like him.
And now that we’re together, it’s going pretty well. Except sometimes I think Kit—that’s his name, sorry I didn’t mention that—spends way too much time in HoL. I know he has friends in the guild, but he has me now, and my friends, and everyone knows people you meet online aren’t real. I mean. Not Kit. Kit’s real. Obviously.
Oh, I’m Drew, by the way. This is sort of my story. About how I messed up some stuff and figured out some stuff. And fell in love and stuff.
Friends to Lovers
Here at JLR, we have a really awesome, close-knit group of reviewers, most of whom met in a Facebook group for a pair of M/M authors (affectionately called “Group”). When this book came out, we were all incredibly excited, because it’s a book about meeting people online and forming relationships. Which… is us!
So we got permission to do a “Group” read of Looking For Group, and settled in to read it together.
(Before I start, a quick note from Mel: There is a glossary at the end of the book that I didn’t see until after… and I think this might actually be helpful, for non-MMO players!)
Going in, we had mixed feelings:
Mel: I expect this book to be really nerdy and I expect to be able to appreciate it but not fully get it, because while I know my way around games and things a little, I never played a MMO and I’m not a nerd.
El: I’m admittedly a bit nervous about starting this book. I have high expectations, and I’m worried that the book won’t meet them.
Rafa: I’m expecting a unique blend of geeky gaming jargon and gorgeous Alexis Hall imagery.
And right from the start, I think we could all agree that the book was geeky and chock-full of gaming jargon, and sometimes a bit indecipherable. But as Kristie pointed out, it also “showed how nicely awkward it can be to join a new group… figuring out where you fit in this new space, how they’ll fit with you.”
Mel: What Alexis wrote in his blog about the book being for and not merely about nerds is definitely true and I really love that he wrote a book for them.
Rafa: Struggled with gaming lingo and keeping track of the barrage of characters. I suspect this will get easier the further I read, hopefully?
El: As someone who is not a gamer at all, I found it jarring and confusing, difficult to follow, and ultimately inaccessible. I did enjoy seeing a group of friends having fun instead of taking the game too seriously, which was important to show Drew appreciating that change from his previous guilt.
Rita: Halfway through it hit me how strange and wonderful it is that Drew was able to join a group of complete strangers and work together as a team. By now I’ve resigned myself to the fact that not having any MMO experience has me lost a good part of the time but I keep feeling that if I were into this type of gaming I’d be thinking “YES! Finally someone has written a book just for me!” and I kinda love that.
Kristie: There is so much actual game play written out that you have to read through to get to the interpersonal feelings. It’s better because they’re actually speaking and not texting, but still. It was too much for me. The game play dialogue does get better!
At about the one-third point, El had to mark the book as Did Not Finish. “Simply understanding what was happening took up so much of my mental focus that I had nothing to spare to actually enjoy what I deciphered. I’m not a gamer.”
Another thing everyone noted was that only the group chats were difficult to follow, and those took a backseat to the one-on-one interactions between Drew and Solace as the book progressed:
Mel: I really love how Solace is such a curious character, how she likes to explore the game world—and since Drew is tagging along, he’s learning to enjoy it anew (or even for the first time) in this way. The descriptions of the gaming sequences are also engrossing and entertaining.
Rita: The world building of HoL is incredible. Drew’s appreciation for the details really shines through and gives us a vivid look into this vast realm of challenges and possibilities. I felt like I was right there in the game with them.
And those one-on-one interactions in the game between Drew and Solace were definitely making the book more enjoyable. There was no denying that Hall was able to show a gorgeous, slow-build romance between the two main characters, and everyone agreed that it was incredibly well-done:
Mel: I really, really appreciate that Drew’s insecureness isn’t glossed over but taken serious. It’s not rushed or for the sake of romance smoothly moved forward. I totally get that he needs a bit of time to process things.
He gave a little whimper and stuck his head back under the covers. Right now, he had no idea who he was or what he was or where he was going or what he was doing or what he wanted. Tinuviel would probably tell him placidly that This is all very fluid and complicated, Andrew, and that labels were meaningless.
Rafa: The flirting [on their first date] was on point. I can really begin to see and appreciate how supportive they are of each other both emotionally and tactically – they’re totally a unit, and I dig that.
Rita: There were a lot of “Awww’s” and “Heeeeee’s”. They are so adorable together I could barely stand it <333 I loved that [Drew’s] just going with it and following his heart.
Kristie: I love [Drew’s] bravery. The realization that Solace is someone he misses when he’s not around. That he’s able to know himself enough to move forward and talk. And Kit is seriously the coolest dude ever. I understand and get how he needs to keep guarded, but love that he’s willing to try too.
And, furthermore, the relationship was one that many of us could relate to, having found both friends and romances of our own online:
Rita: Drew and Solace have become such good friends that Drew is afraid to lose that by asking for more. This is such a common problem in a friends-to-possibly-lovers relationship and it really hits home for me because it’s scary as hell to take the risk of that first step that may ruin everything that’s been built thus far. This quote struck me:
“He was starting to think that maybe one of the things about sex was that you put up your own barriers. Worrying about what someone else would think about you. Or what you might accidentally be showing them or telling them. But if you liked someone—really liked someone—then… suddenly none of that mattered anymore. And it was no different from anything else you did together.”
I needed to read this when I was Drew’s age. I think it would’ve helped to ease my self-conscious mind.
Mel: I love how they are so openly awkward and insecure with each other. And they are right: Talking behind a screen is often so much easier. I am the same. I am a lot more open and empathetic on screen than IRL because there is nothing to hide behind.
Another overwhelmingly favorite aspect of the book was the relationships that formed between both main characters and their friends—especially Tinuviel!
Kristie: I love his mates. Just love them. Drew has some pretty amazing friends. Tinuviel… just wow. She’s totally the shit.
Rita: Tinuviel knows what’s up! She may be my favorite character ever and I hope she gets her own book someday. She’s incredibly insightful and lays down all the knowledge on human relationships.
As long as you cared about what you were doing and who you were doing it with, then it didn’t matter if you were in a pub or your living room or on a virtual rock in an imaginary kingdom in a video game.
In the end, the romance between Drew and Kit (Solace) won out over the initial confusion during the chat scenes, and all of the remaining reviewers agreed that it was an incredible book:
Rafa: I finished this book with a grin on my face. It wasn’t perfect, and some parts were downright tedious… but it was a really sweet, really nerdy romance, and I am a complete sucker for that particular combination. I don’t know if there’s a way to calculate this, but probably a good 50% of the novel took place within HoL, and probably half of that was spent in less-than-exciting circumstances (fishing, waiting for the sunrise, or doing the easy-peasy older versions of the game). I totally expected to get bored… but credit to the author for somehow using those in-game moments to build the story and grow these characters. The novel is definitely not for everyone – I would recommend it to gamers and AJH fans and… that’s about it.
Rita: I really enjoyed Looking for Group. I’m afraid the lengthy chat in the first chapter may be a deterrent for readers without a gaming background so I hope they stick around to see what an adorable and interesting story this is. Drew and Kit are so sweet together that I thought my heart might explode from all the cute, and their private chats were some of my favorite parts. I also feel the supporting characters were written well and they helped back up the reasons why Drew and Kit’s approach to friendships is so different.
El: While I did DNF the book, I can recognize and fully appreciate the way that Alexis shows that online relationships are real. I think that’s an incredibly important message to send out, and one that I truly loved. I think this quote sums it up for me:
[Group][Orcarella]: dont you get lonely
[Group][Solace]: I used to before I met Morag and Ialdir
So while I do think the format was really a struggle to anyone without a gaming background, I think the message within that was one that everyone can love!
Mel: The book is less accessible than I thought and I even struggled a little through some of the longer game sequences. But [Looking For Group is] innovative and unique and [has a] daring writing style . This is the cutest, most adorable story ever. I enjoyed every minute of Drew and Kit. The scenes in and outside the game were funny, intimate, so honest and real, and relatable. Through Drew’s and Kit’s conflict, Alexis opened my eyes concerning some inhibitions I still had concerning my online time/friends and I feel so much more at peace with it now.
Kristie: I think if I’m a gamer of these types of games, a young adult, I’d read this book and give it 5 stars. If I break it down, the writing is perfectly beautiful. The story is the same. It’s not written for me, but I really enjoyed it a lot. I might not go back and read it again, but I really love the meaning behind it. The way the world has changed, so fast in the last 10 years even, has afforded us all to make friends faster and from all over the world. That’s a beautiful thing. Internet friends can become real life friends, but they don’t always need to either.
And, finally, a message from Kristie that sums it up for all of us:
I hope this book finds its way into the hands of a bunch of young people who are looking for their Group. Speaking from experience, finding your own group is life changing. I think you all know that since we’ve found ours.
Alexis Hall was born in the early 1980s and still thinks the 21st century is the future. To this day, he feels cheated that he lived through a fin de siècle but inexplicably failed to drink a single glass of absinthe, dance with a single courtesan, or stay in a single garret.
He did the Oxbridge thing sometime in the 2000s and failed to learn anything of substance. He has had many jobs, including ice cream maker, fortune teller, lab technician, and professional gambler. He was fired from most of them.
He can neither cook nor sing, but he can handle a 17th century smallsword, punts from the proper end, and knows how to hotwire a car.
He lives in southeast England, with no cats and no children, and fully intends to keep it that way.
Connect with Alexis:
- Website: quicunquevult.com
- Blog: quicunquevult.com/blog
- Twitter: @quicunquevult
- Goodreads: goodreads.com/alexishall
Pre-Order Looking For Group From:
We received advanced copies of this novel from the publisher in exchange for a fair and honest review. Please note that many of the reviewers are friends (or friendly) with the author, but have made every effort to be unbiased in reviewing this work.