REVIEW: Where I Belong (Alabama Summer #1) by J. Daniels

I was first introduced to J. Daniels with her Sweet Addiction series a few months ago. I enjoyed her characters and her writing style…sweet, sexy, with a little angst, but not too much to be frustrating. As a anti-fan to new adult romance, something about her stories still worked for me. After falling in love with Reese and Dylan in Sweet Addiction and Sweet Possession, I went looking for Daniels’ backlist and found Where I Belong.

I love a good enemies to lovers story. This trope is known for couples who really harbor secret crushes on each other but hide it with snarky banter and such. Not here! Mia and Ben were REAL enemies. As children/teens Ben and Mia hated each other. Ben tormented and bullied his sister, Tessa’s BFF, Mia, for years until her family eventually moved. It’s been 9 years since Mia left Alabama for Georgia. In those years Mia’s gone from the ugly duckling to a hot swan. Ben, who was a certified asshole in his teens, has changed for the better as well. He’s now a cop and a single father to a cutie pie, dragon slaying, 3 year old, Nolan.

Mia has spent the last months taking care of her ailing mother. Her mom is doing better so she’s planning to spend the summer with Tessa in Alabama. She has one last thing to do before arriving in town for her summer of fun — FINALLY lose her v-card. Mia picks up a guy in bar, has an amazing, orgasm-filled one night stand with a nameless stranger, then goes off to start her vacation the next morning. Then she finds out that the stranger isn’t so nameless after all.

Let’s stop here for a moment, shall we…I had some questions.

How did Ben and Mia not recognize each other AT ALL? They meet in a bar but neither is intoxicated so how is it that neither has even the slightest thought that the other looks remotely familiar?

Mia is 23 years old and there’s no mention of her being a trust-fund baby, sooooo…what does she do for a living that she is able to take 3 months off sunbathing around the pool, 4 hours from home with her friend? Even if she left her education/job/career to take care of her mother, it would have been nice to know what Mia had going on in that area of her life presently or formerly rather than guess. It’s just left out completely; as if it’s not important.

The womanist in me doesn’t find it all that cool that the heroine seems to have absolutely no life before meeting The One. Then have everything to miraculously work out so that she can seamlessly just move right into her hero’s life for their HEA.

Anyhoo…back to our regularly scheduled programming…

So Mia and Ben realize who the other is and he’s decided that Mia is IT for him. Mia isn’t quite so convinced. Ben has to work hard to get back into Mia’s good graces. Although that one night they spent together was great, Mia can’t forget all the mean things Ben said/did to her nearly a decade ago. I get it…Ben’s behavior cut deep. Mia carries around emotional scars from what Ben did to her. But it’s been NINE years, for goodness sake. NINE YEARS!! They are both adults now. People change between their teens to their 20s. Mia seems a bit immature in that regard that she can’t see Ben for who he is now, rather as the 16-17 year old he used to be.

“I had no idea I got to you like that. I was a kid, Mia. I didn’t really care about hurting your feelings back then. But Christ, it’s been nine years. I’m not that guy anymore.”

Admittedly, I couldn’t quite get all this out of my head throughout the book.

Once Mia does let the hurt go and let’s Ben in, things go well until there’s some outside drama that I felt was a little OTT. Although this wasn’t a 5 star read for me; overall, I enjoyed this story and I’m looking forward to Tessa and Luke’s book coming soon.

 Rating: ⭐️⭐️⭐️½

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