Review by Gabrielle

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“Lauren couldn’t help but notice he smelled good. Like, really good. It was one of life’s true mysteries, because she felt like she’d know his scent anywhere, but she couldn’t quite place what it was. Some mixture of cedar and citrus, not overpowering, never burning her nose like some colognes did. But always present whenever he was nearby, and sometimes she’d catch the tail end of it when she entered a room he’d just been in. She lived in fear that one day he’d catch her inhaling a big whiff whenever he was close, and she’d have to quit her job and move to North Dakota.”

With Love, from Cold World is another quirky and sweet offering from Alicia Thompson.

Lauren Fox is the bookkeeper for Cold World, a tourist destination that’s always a winter wonderland despite being located in humid Orlando, Florida. Sure, it’s ranked way below any of the trademarked amusement parks and maybe foot traffic could be better. But it’s a fun place to work, even if “fun” isn’t exactly Lauren’s middle name.

Her coworker Asa Williamson, on the other hand, is all about finding ways to enliven his days at Cold World–whether that means organizing the Secret Santa or teasing Lauren. When the owner asks Lauren and Asa to propose something (anything, really) to raise more revenue, their rivalry heats up as they compete to come up with the best idea. But the situation is more dire than they thought, and it might take these polar opposites working together to save the day. If Asa thought Lauren didn’t know how to enjoy herself, he’s surprised by how much he enjoys spending time together. And if Lauren thought Asa wasn’t serious about anything, she’s surprised by how seriously he seems to take her.

As Lauren and Asa work to save their beloved wintery spot, they realize the real attraction might be the heat generating between them.

I absolutely loved Alicia’s first adult novel, Love in the Time of Serial Killers so I knew I had to get my hands on this book. I’m so glad I did! With Love, from Cold World is everything I wanted it to be and more.

Once again Alicia has crafted incredible characters full of depth and interest. We meet Lauren. Buttoned up, cardigan-ed up Lauren. She loves organized to-do lists and numbers that fall into neat rows. She doesn’t know what to say around people sometimes, so she can come off as cold or even rude. But she’s really not. Growing up a foster child, she’s learned that people leave, and she’s just protecting herself by not getting too close to anyone. Cleaning out her closet is her idea of a great weekend, but she secretly longs for more.

And then there is Asa. Easy-going, friendly with everyone Asa. He makes social interactions look easy. A 10 year veteran of Cold World, he doesn’t seem to take anything too seriously, including his job. But there is more than meets the eye to Asa. Caring and sweet, he has a good group of found family in his roommates and we get to watch as he slowly brings Lauren out of her shell and breaks down her barriers. In turn, she helps him deal with unresolved past trauma.

The chemistry between Lauren and Asa is wonderful. It starts off with them being rivals that jab at each other and slowly morphs into something much sweeter. I love those moments in an “enemies to lovers” book when the characters are obviously attracted to each other, but can’t yet be honest with themselves about their feelings. We get a lot of these delicious moments in this book and I’m here for it.

Both Lauren and Asa are dealing with some pretty big traumas and just like in her first book, I’m blown away by how well Alicia handles these issues with sensitivity and care. The foster care system is discussed with such thoughtfulness. I liked how Alicia incorporated perspectives from both sides of the issue. Rejection by family for living your truth also features prominently in this book and as a reader, it is heart wrenching to take in. Again though, it is balanced with a wonderful found family. One of things I appreciate most about this book is that although we see growth in both characters, not everything gets wrapped up in a neat bow by the end and neither character “solves” anything for the other. I like how they supported each other and assisted, while letting the other person walk their own journey. These are huge traumas that take years to overcome, so I was glad to see an acknowledgement of that here. It felt much more realistic to me.

With Love, from Cold World has cemented Alicia Thompson as an auto-buy author for me.

Thank you, Berkeley, for the ARC in exchange for an honest review.