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Everything's Better With You
Everything’s Better With You is a TED LASSO-inspired sports-themed funny romance featuring two guys who've pined for each other for 15 years while their careers soared and their bodies fell apart. Retired quarterback and “nicest guy in the NFL” Leslie Payton met former college cheerleader-turned-reality-show darling Joe Judd fifteen years ago. They spent one magical night...talking. They’ve been pining for each other via text and phone calls ever since while their careers kept them geographically apart. When their alma mater recruits them to reinvigorate a flagging athletic program, Leslie is thrilled to finally have Joe close enough to see if their “what if” can become a reality. And the sooner the better before Leslie’s history of Traumatic Brain Injury catches up to him and he’s unable to be a true partner. Joe has spent their years apart dancing on reality TV, Broadway, and concert tours, knowing full well the clock is ticking on his body’s ability to continue taking the abuse. Leslie wants forever to start now, and Joe doesn’t have that luxury, though Leslie makes him want things he’s never allowed himself to dream of with anyone else. But a lifetime of only feeling worthwhile for his performance ability makes him doubt whether he could ever be a good coach or enough of a partner for the best man he’s ever known. As football and cheer coaches, they’re forced to be rivals in public, but behind closed doors, their chemistry is unstoppable. A wager triggers their competitive sides, but the secrets they keep come to light and present them with a seemingly insurmountable obstacle. Can they finally meet on the relationship 50-yard line and move forward as a team?
Plot/Idea: 7 out of 10
Originality: 8 out of 10
Prose: 9 out of 10
Character/Execution: 7 out of 10
Overall: 7.75 out of 10


Plot/Idea: Everything's Better With You is a pleasant mix of classic romance tropes and unique challenges for the story's gay couple, Leslie and Joe. There are sections of the novel that feel unnecessarily drawn out, and the drama between the couple comes across as manufactured at times.

Prose: The prose is clear and engaging, compelling the reader forward even when the plot slows down.

Originality: Everything's Better With You is a heartwarming, original queer love story. Readers will appreciate the diverse characters and the ways in which domestic violence, trauma, and heteronormative masculinity are addressed (and in a way that does not feel triggering). 

Character/Execution: This novel has a large cast of characters that add levity and interest to the plot—the relationship between the Payton brothers is especially enjoyable. There are parts of the novel in which Leslie's character feels slightly stereotyped (the aging jock with reservations about being openly gay), and also moments in which his qualms about Joe and their relationship slow the plot, but the happy ending is well worth the wait.

Blurb: Everything's Better With You is a sweet and steamy queer love story that follows ex-NFL star Leslie and his long-time crush Joe, a professional dancer. 

Date Submitted: May 02, 2023

This compelling romance from Merrill (author of Haunted, among others) showcases the ways love can be defined and redefined through the complexities of a life riddled with chronic pain, trauma, and second chances. Joe, a renowned dancer and former college cheerleader, finds himself caught between worlds when reunited and falling for Leslie, a retired NFL star, for whom he has always kept a steady flame. Their connection began over a decade ago in college, and continued over messages and lavish displays of affection over distance for years. Focused on his career and not ready to commit to the long-term relationship Leslie has wanted, Joe has kept his distance. Until now.

Leslie and his brother Barry are revamping the athletics program at the college of their meet-cute, and want Joe there to coach cheer. Joe commits to a year of coaching, both to prove to himself that he’s more than just a dance star, and also to explore the love for Leslie that has always been bubbling under the surface of his life. The first few months are exhilarating, a budding competition between the two programs makes a perfect environment for playful banter and flirtation. However, as time wears on, Joe and Leslie must decide the life they want to build together and what each is willing to do to create it.

Merrill writes sexual tension and chemistry with irresistible charge, and the leads’ attraction and connection pulses on every page, building to satisfying scenes of intimacy and love. The prose is quick and witty, even as characters’ conflicts within the building of their relationship are believable and relatable, as Merrill takes seriously the difficult but common worries that thread together beautifully human lives. This strength only ties into others within Merrill’s writing, which is focused on the representation of queer joy in the romance genre. Gender disparities and prejudices are addressed with poise and wisdom.

Takeaway: Standout second-chance romance showcasing love, trust, and joy.

Comparable Titles: Casey McQuiston’s Red, White & Royal Blue, Liz Bowery’s Love, Hate & Clickbait.

Production grades
Cover: A-
Design and typography: A
Illustrations: N/A
Editing: A
Marketing copy: A