I’m Reading: The Charm Offensive by Alison Cochrun

Dev Deshpande makes happy-ever-afters happen. As a producer on the top reality dating show, his specialty is crafting a story of true love, even when his own love life crashes and burns.

But this season’s bachelor, tech genius Charlie Winshaw, is a disaster. Stiff, awkward, picky, and anxious, he’s as far from prince charming material as the show has ever seen. Worse, he doesn’t even believe in loveā€”he’s only on the show to rehabiliate his image.

Dev’s mission is to get Charlie to open up, relax, and give love a chance with the women vying to be chosen as his princess. But the more Charlie opens up, the more they realize he has better chemistry with Dev than the 20 women he’s supposed to choose a wife from. The two men are faced with a high-stakes choice: Go along with the illusion and save both their careers, or challenge everyone’s assumptions of who deserves a happy-ever-after.

This is one of those rare and precious cinnamon-roll love stories that make my heart sing, because the author does not confuse cinnamon-roll with passive or feminine. Charlie is strong, loyal, physical, and willing to fight for what he wants. He’s just also soft, sweet, anxious, and wounded by a world that refuses to see him. With OCD and panic disorder, his biggest struggle is internal; he must take off the mask that he’s worked so hard to make, because he assumed he had to meet the expectations of others to deserve happiness.

Dev and Charlie’s dynamic is reminiscent of Alex and Henry in Red, White, and Royal Blue. Dev has the same frenetic energy and wild charm, balanced by Charlie’s wounded softness. It’s a dynamic that works well, lending itself to adorable squee moments and outrageous, witty banter. The writing craft is strong from the line-level on up, the pacing well-balanced, and the secondary characters are ones we want to see center-stage in their own stories. This one is definitely going in my re-read pile.

Look and ask for The Charm Offensive at your local library, or visit the author’s website at https://www.alisoncochrun.com/ for purchasing options and upcoming titles!

I’m Reading: Gravity and Lies by C.G. Volars

I’m breaking my contemporary romance reading streak for a very good reason. Gravity and Lies, the first book in the Static Over Space series by C. G. Volars, is worth jumping genres. It’s quirky, queer sci-fi adventure with a tough, trash-talking, bisexual Latino MC and a big cast of lovable and hateable aliens.

Izo Lopez has not had an easy life, cycling through the foster system and surviving homeless. But he has a big goal and a bigger secret. He is scrambling to save enough money to save his best friend from the foster system and create a stable family life for them both.

Oh yeah, and he can fly.

But when he’s snatched up and transported across several galaxies by alien traffickers, he finds himself on a new world where his powers of flight make him a hot commodity, and his kidnappers are the only ones who know how to get him back to the obscure little uncharted planet he calls home.

Volars pulls the rug out from under the classic damsel in distress tropes of adventure novels with a delightful, gender-bending twist in the form of the tough, stubborn, sarcastic Izo. Then the author goes on to flip and twist every other stereotype, resulting in an aerial circus of sharply unexpected, delightfully wicked, and dynamically complex characters.

Above all, the story is fun! There are dark moments, and heartbreaking moments, and stand-up-and-cheer moments. But Izo’s indomitable spirit and sharp wit always lift us right back up again. We’re right there rooting for him as he fights a whole galaxy in a relatable search for home, family, and identity (and a sandwich!)

Visit the Static Over Space website at https://www.staticoverspace.com/ to get a copy, or request it at your local library.

I’m Reading: Written in the Stars by Alexandria Bellefleur

Elle’s blind date with the beautiful, snobby sister of her new business partner is a disaster, but she considers that emblematic of her life in general. It’s for the best, really. Darcy strikes her as a particular kind of stick-up-the-butt snob who would hate everything about Elle and her chaotic life. But every time her mother asks if Elle is seeing anyone, it’s one more reminder that Elle is a failure in her family’s eyes.

Darcy is fresh off a painful breakup and done with her brother’s pressure to “get out there” and open her heart up again. All she wants to do is stay in and stay the course of her quiet, orderly, successful life. Her brother’s latest setup for her (with an astrologist, of all people) was the final straw. But she never could say no to her baby brother’s puppy-dog face. When he tries to push her into speed dating, she lies and tells him the date with Elle was a raging success, just to get him off her back.

Elle and Darcy’s fake relationship makes both their families happy, even if it comes with an agreed-on expiration date. Falling for each other was never part of the plan, but the chaotic pull of Elle’s gravity turns out to be too much for Darcy to resist. As Elle learns to believe in her value and Darcy learns to open her heart, they both find themselves reaching for the stars.

This is a great, tightly-written contemporary romance. I’ve seen it billed as a Pride and Prejudice meets Bridget Jones’s Diary, but I’m not sure I agree completely with that comparison. The elements of P&P are more about the characters than the plot. We have the aloof, snobby love interest with a cinnamon roll bestie-brother; and the free-spirited woman with catty sisters, passive father, and judgy mother. Bridget Jones is more of a stretch. Sure, Elle thinks she’s a mess, but she’s actually pretty together with a successful career about to launch. Her brain weasels come straight from her parents. She doesn’t need anyone to hand her success, either. She knows what she wants to do from the start, she pursues it, and she’s damn good at it. That competence makes Elle much more likeable and relatable than Jones.

Overall, I found it charming, sexy, funny, wholesome, and well-written. The romantic and sexual tension are nicely crafted, and there are moments of lovely imagery and connection. I highly recommend it to any fans of contemporary romance. Check out the author and their work at www.alexandriabellefleur.com, and look for the book at your local library!

I’m Reading: Finding Joy by Adriana Herrera

Warning: Contains Spoilers

26-year-old American Desta Joy Walker begin his life in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia. The country was his father’s first love as well as the place of his death. When Desta tries to follow in his father’s footsteps as an aid worker, he finds the shoe doesn’t quite fit. He reconnects with his heritage and understands the love his father held for Addis Ababa, but feels the pull of a social work career back in the U.S. He must balance his own identity and calling against his parents’ dreams. The stakes for his decision skyrocket when he falls hard for the gentle, beautiful Elias Fikru. Both under the pressure of family legacy and in a place where gay relationships are illegal, they risk everything if they choose to be true to themselves.

This was a beautiful mix of steamy-hot sex and sweetly beautiful love of all kinds. We fall for the beauty of Ethiopia through the eyes of the character, and our hearts break for him and Elias for the intense pressure and danger they face together. The blend of Ethiopian and Dominican cultures and their fierce family loyalty is a rich tapestry to frame the story and the decisions the characters face.

The only downside for the story for me isn’t a downside for many: The story is low-angst. That means there’s some very real, plausible sources of conflict and danger the author chooses to leave on the table and not throw at the characters. They would greatly increase tension, but for some, tension is not always the goal. Some people want their happily-ever-after without putting their characters through hell and breaking them, first. I would chalk this up to simple differences in taste, rather than anything actually wrong with the story.

Similarly, some reviewers have mentioned the sex scenes being “out-of-tone” for the slow, sweet pacing of the story. They are indeed high-steam and graphically erotic, but I wonder if the same reviewers would complain if the main characters were M/F? This is a sensuous story, where the food, coffee, and other richly detailed textures of life in Ethiopia are an integral part of the story. I think the author brings the same sensual details to the love scenes.

You can find this and the author’s other books at https://adrianaherreraromance.com/

Content Notice: Contains LGBTQ discrimination and ethnic discrimination