Will Murphy spends his down time doing subversive cross-stitch, crafting saucy baked goods for the romance book club he attends with his Nana, and desperately trying to hide the fact that he’s been in love with Vanessa Woodbridge for, well, ever. For years, he’s been content to wear the best friend label. But suddenly it’s starting to chafe, right when Vanessa needs a trusted friend more than ever.
Vanessa Woodbridge wants to be a hedge witch more than anything, but her chances of becoming one are laughable. Her father’s pride stands between her and her dream of leaving her barista job behind in favor of crafting helpful potions and magical edibles at Wicked Brews. The Woodbridge patriarch has forbidden her from a career path that is, in his opinion, beneath their magical family legacy. She might not care about his feelings, but without his signature, Vanessa can’t sign up for the classes she desperately needs to learn essential hedge witchery.
She’s ready to give up, but with Will at her back, she finds the courage to fight for what she wants. She’s never been able to count on her dad, but she can count on her best friend. Will’s her rock. He would never crumble.
Only Will feels like he’s doing exactly that. He’s falling apart inside and he’s not sure how long he can keep up the façade of the calm, platonic, best friend. But for Vanessa? He’d do anything to help her get her dream…
Even if it costs him the one thing he cherishes most.
CW – Parental emotional abuse
Dear Ms. McBride,
“A Little Too Familiar” hit a sweet spot for me. No, I’m not a great fan of paranormal but the found family aspect and the humor nicely balanced the darker stuff. Given the number of secondary characters (who had roles to play here rather than just being placemarkers for other books) I had a feeling that you would be returning to this world. Now we get Will and Vanessa working out all kinds of stuff to get to their happy ending.
Will is an arcane piercer at the tattoo shop run by the brother of “Familiar’s” heroine. He won’t just give a client piercings but, if needed, arcane magic to go with them. Will is a scrupulously hygienic piercer (really, he hits the roof when he discovers that most if not all of the other shop staff have made use of his padded dentist-esque chair [it tilts and moves!] in ways that Will doesn’t approve of) and all around good guy. Raised by his Nana after his (way too young) parents realized they were over their heads, Will will do backflips for those he loves as well as being a dependable contributor to the romance book club (Oh, don’t think I missed that call out to “Hen Fever.”) to which he and Nana belong. The book opens with them discussing least favorite tropes!
One person Will would tie himself into a pretzel for is Vanessa (also known as Van and who is in Will’s phone contacts as “Loch Nessa”). Will freely admits to having fallen in love with Van within five minutes of meeting her. But as Van has Issues with self acceptance, Will has kept the words silent though the world can see his heart emoji eyes whenever he looks at her. Van and her younger sister Juliet had a Troubled Upbringing. Their father is a famous Arcanist as well as a world class asshole while their mother skipped out of their lives to be with her string of rich boyfriends.
Van and Juliet have stuck together and learned how to hide their emotions, likes, and dislikes around their father as it only gives him ammunition to hurt them. Snob that he is, Van knows he will never accept that she wants to be a hedge witch. Such a profession is beneath contempt to him so Van knows getting dear old asshole dad to sign off on the certification that she needs to enroll at Seattle Uncanny University (SUU) is a long shot but she tries anyway. Assdad demands that she and her sister, along with Juliet’s daughter Savannah, come to dinners as well as Van passing three tests which will be administered by Assdad’s teaching assistant.
Van has trouble asking for help but her found family is willing and able. Will jumps at the chance to be there for her but still holds back on telling Van how he really feels. There’s a scene early on when the Found Family gets the wrong idea and Van is horrified which tells Will all he needs to know about baring his heart. Instead he will settle for smoking hawt sexy times with her.
My elbow hit the horn, startling us both. We jolted back, panting. Will’s cheeks were flushed, his lips wet and red. His hair was sticking up in places, his shirt askew. From me. One kiss and I’d completely undone this man.
Been undone by this man. But what a kiss. I’d always thought the phrase “kissed me senseless” was hyperbole. Except Will had kissed me senseless. My wiring was fried, my warranty voided, and I’m certain smoke was coming out of my ears.
But during the final test, when Van’s supporters demand that everyone present drink some truth potion so Assdad can’t cheat, Will honestly answers a question and blows their relationship sky high. Can Van get her head around his truth or will she have to leave him the fuck alone as Jim the Minotaur advises her when she comes asking for help?
I love this group of characters. They are a Found Family and there for each other. Still they are also there to service this plot. We get glimpses of Declan and Lou (h/h of book one), Nana, Juliet and Savvy, Lou’s brother Bay (and don’t think I can’t guess who the MCs of the next book will be), Trick the fire elementalist and his familiar Dammit (see book one to understand the fledgling firebird’s name), as well as Van’s familiars the cheeky ferrets Kodo and Podo.
Lou was tender hearted, and for a second, she wavered. Then Declan put a cup of coffee in front of her, leaning down to nuzzle her temple. “Might as well. It will hurt you to keep it in, and Van can take it.”
Lou drew in a breath. “Fort vajayjay has been stormed, the white flag raised.” She fanned her fingers out. “He laid siege to your battlements. Boiling oil was poured.” Lou frowned. “That analogy got away from me at the end there.”
“You have danced the forbidden dance.” Declan’s voice was brimming with dry amusement as he settled into his chair, leaning his elbows on the table.
“The hankiest of pankies.” Lou was getting into it now.
“Sheets were shook,” Declan added, sipping his coffee. He snorted. “The walls were shook.”
Lou snickered. “The entire house was shook. Asses were definitely tapped.”
“You’re a woman now.” Declan pretended to throw confetti, his expression wry. “Huzzah.”
Van is a tricky character to love but she acts the way her background has been written. As one character says, “Intimacy involves being vulnerable and Van does not like being vulnerable.” Assdad has really done a number on the emotional health of both daughters and Van has self esteem problems as well as believing that everyone will eventually leave her (although only her mother was mentioned as doing so). Van’s default is to keep every emotion locked down, deflect, and react defensively. Will, bless him, does his best to work with this and frankly is a Prince Among Men.
Oh, sweetheart—I’ll parade in front of you any time you like. Just say the word.”
Vanessa sank deeper into her seat. “I’m never going to hear the end of this, am I?”
“No,” I said, earnestly. “I’m already planning what other undergarments I can get that might turn your crank. How do you feel about thongs? You more of a lace and fringe kind of girl, or do you want to see me in leather?”
Van’s cheeks were bright red and I was enjoying myself deeply.
He also realizes that he can’t just let Van revert to form when she gets upset or their relationship will never survive. The stakes are high for Van so for most of the book, she is acting the way she’s learned will protect her from her father’s efforts to cut her down. Thank goodness that Jim has just joined the romance book club and has a better plan than the ferrets’ suggestion for Van to follow in order to make up for her spectacular inept handling of Will’s confession. Yes, romance fans, we know what that is.
I can’t blame Van for the way she tells her father of her future plans or the actions of her ferrets. The scenes with Will’s dad and his second family are a hoot. It was good to see the vast family parties that Bay and Lou’s family throws. The HEA was a little ooey gooey but then Will has a vast nougat center so I guess it all works. B
“Also, we have to wear matching outfits, like, all the time.”
“That’s a deal breaker.”
He thought on this as he pulled my hand until it rested against his chest. “What about special occasions. Like, couple photos and holidays?”
“I think,” I said slowly, trying to picture being the kind of person who even got couples portraits done, “it would depend a lot on the outfits.”
He gave me a soft kiss, smiling against my mouth. “I’ll bring you around.”
“If anyone can, it’s you,” I said, wrapping my arms around his neck.
“Can we go back to bed now?” Will whispered.
“I’ll race you.”
We both won.