The Road Trip
Grade : A

Narrated by Josh Dylan and Eleanor Tomlinson

The Road Trip opens in the PoV of Dylan Abbott, just after he and close friend Marcus set off on a road trip to northern Scotland to attend a friend’s wedding.  Dylan’s sort of listening to Marcus struggle to apologize (for what we don’t know – yet), but his attention is elsewhere; it’s fixed on the profile of the driver of the car in front of theirs.  Is it Addie?

I almost take pity and tell him it’s all right, he doesn’t have to say it if he’s not ready, but as we idle . . . Marcus is forgotten. The driver has wound the window down, and she’s stretched an arm out, gripping the roof of the car. Her wrist is looped with bracelets, glimmering silver-red in the car lights’ glare. The gesture is so achingly familiar—the arm, slender and pale, the assertion of it, and those bracelets, the round, childish beads stacked up her wrist. I’d know them anywhere. My heart jolts like I’ve missed a step because it is her, it’s Addie.

But just then Marcus screams, the car in front brakes hard, and Dylan can’t react fast enough.  He ploughs straight into Addie’s car.

Road-tripping with Deb to Cherry and Krish’s wedding in Scotland was supposed to be an epic adventure.  With plenty of snacks, an excellent country music playlist, and loads of time, Addie was looking forward to getting away with her best friend and sister.  A car slamming into the back of Deb’s Mini was definitely not part of the plan, and neither is running into the driver currently exiting the other car.

It’s Dylan.  Twenty months ago he left her and she’d shouted at him to never contact her again. . . Seeing him is even harder than I expected it to be. I want to do everything at once: run to him, run away, curl up, cry. And beneath all that I have this totally ridiculous feeling that someone’s messed up, like something didn’t get filed when it should have up there in the universe, because I was supposed to see Dylan this weekend, for the first time in almost two years, but it should have been at the wedding.

After confirming Deb is okay (and getting an “I’m okay, too” from the stranger in the backseat (Rodney, who posted on the “Cherry & Krish Are Getting Hitched” Facebook group yesterday evening asking for a lift to the wedding from the Chichester area)) who she’d already forgotten about, she climbs out of the car to survey the damage.

Told in dual PoVs (Addie’s and Dylan’s), and in a dual timeline (Now and Then), The Road Trip is alternately hilarious and heartbreaking.  Dylan and Marcus end up cramming into the Mini with Deb, Addie, Rodney, Deb’s breast pumping kit, and the luggage, and nothing goes as planned.  The trip is a trip; if something can go wrong, it does.  I laughed out loud at some of the hilarious situations this misfit group found themselves in, and could wholly relate to the misery of too many people in a too small car, trying and failing to remain civil with one another.

There are twists and turns, traffic jams, lorry drivers and stalkers, and oh my goodness, it’s all magnificently awful.  Terrible.  The Worst.  And very, very funny.  It’s also perfectly balanced by the alternating Then chapters that chronicle the failed love affair between Addie and Dylan.  You’ll swoon as these two quickly fall in love during an idyllic summer in Provence, and then struggle alongside them as life, friends, and a surprise turn of events brutally and abruptly shatter the relationship.  O’Leary brilliantly and cleverly segues between Now and Then, and I waited on tenterhooks to finally discover what happened to tear these two apart. The big reveal is terrible and heartbreaking and frustrating, and also – somehow – worse than expected.

As addictive and entertaining as The Road Trip is (both timelines), the author’s superb characterization of both the principal and vibrant, fabulous secondary characters, sets it apart.  Addie is a relatable twenty-something trying to find herself.  She’s plagued with the same self-doubts and worries most women have at that age, but she’s emotionally wise and good and kind.  She loves her family and Dylan, and is slowly but surely finding her way professionally.  Dylan, a scholar and poet, spent a childhood belittled and bullied by his father, and now that he’s graduated, he’s struggling to find himself while keeping his depression at bay.  He finds comfort and solace in Addie, and tries to extricate himself from his toxic relationship with his dad.  In the Then portions of the novel, the author ruthlessly depicts Dylan’s depression and its devastating effects on his decision making, and then beautifully juxtaposes it with Dylan Now – in therapy, working, pursuing his master’s degree, and no longer financially dependent on his father.  I loved the contrast between the slow burn of Now and the speed at which these two fall head over heels in love Then; moments like this

He’s not looking at me like he’s never seen me before—he’s looking at me like he’s never seen anyone else.

near the close of the novel, made me swoon.  It’s lovely.

The secondary characters are equally good.  Brutally honest and unflinchingly loyal to Addie, Deb is the sister we all wish we had.  She’s totally give no shits awesome, and might be my favorite fictional character ever.  I was less fond of Dylan’s friend Marcus.  While he has some genuinely funny moments, I spent most of the novel hating him and his dysfunctional relationship with Dylan.  He’s a dick.  Honestly, I’m still marveling over how the author managed to redeem this character by the end of the novel.  But she does!  Then there’s Rodney, awkwardly awful and ridiculous; Uncle Terry, obnoxious and gross and perfect; Cherry (I mean, I loved her); and lifesaver Kevin, the lorry driver.  Friends, this oddball cast of characters is terrific and enhances the story in every way.

While I fully enjoyed the plot and its execution, new-to-me narrators Josh Dylan and Eleanor Tomlinson (Poldark’s Demelza) are a revelation.  Their performances are flawless, and they bring each of these characters vividly to life in audio.  I can’t imagine a better narrator for either of the leads, or any of the secondary characters, and I giggled every time Dylan or Tomlinson voiced Rodney in all of his strange and awkward splendor.  I finished listening and immediately looked to see what else they’ve narrated.  They’re that good.

Friends, when I initially read the blurb for The Road Trip, I wanted to read it.  Despite my current ‘NO MORE WOMEN’S FICTION’ thing, I went with my gut and bought the audiobook.  Best decision ever.  Frankly, I wish I could discover this story all over again.  The Road Trip is – so far – my favorite book this year, and it’s a delightful reminder that Beth O’Leary perfectly straddles the line between women’s fiction and contemporary romance.  The Road Trip audiobook is that wondrous combination of brilliant storytelling and pitch perfect narration.  I loved it and highly recommend it to listeners and readers alike.

Breakdown of grade:  Narration – A      Story – A

Running time: 10 hours 15 Minutes

Buy it at: Amazon, Audible, or your local independent retailer

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Reviewed by Em Wittmann

Grade: A

Sensuality: Subtle

Review Date : June 13, 2021

Publication Date: 04/2021

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  1. This author (Judith Ivory) used to appear frequently in “best of” lists for historical romance; and it seems that this…

Em Wittmann

I love romance novels - all kinds. I love music - some kinds. I have strong opinions about both and I like to share them.
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