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
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.
Design and typography: A
Marketing copy: A