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 love—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: Weather Girl by Rachel Lynn Solomon

Ari Abram’s dream is to be a meteorologist, and counts herself lucky to work with her childhood hero, the ever calm and cheerful Torrance Hale at KSEA 6 in Seattle. But instead of the close relationship with her mentor she’d craved, she spends most of her time trying to defuse shouting matches and petty fights between Torrance and her divorced husband, the news director.

Desperate, she teams up with cinnamon roll sports reporter Russell Barringer to play matchmaker. If they can make their bosses fall in love again, it will make everyone’s lives easier at KSEA 6. But Ari wasn’t planning to fall in love herself. It would mean letting someone see past the sunshine girl, into the darkness beneath.

My favorite romances have both elements of light, funny, wholesome squish and tackle darker themes of identity and self-growth to keep it real and grounded. Weather Girl is a great blend, with the refreshing bonus of a sexy-sweet fat male lead, Jewish characters, blending families, and a twist that is as surprising as it is satisfying. I love the exploration of generational trauma relieved by laugh-out-loud dialogue. The author is also a master of steam, putting more panting sexual tension into a casual brush of skin than some books pack into an entire sex scene. There are, of course, also a few sex scenes, so lovers of extra chili peppers will enjoy this book.

Please be aware that the book deals with depression and mental health, childhood emotional trauma, and inpatient mental health in a respectful, accurate way. It addresses issues that don’t get discussed often enough, like the effect of medication on sex drive, the reality of bad days even on well-managed symptoms, and processing forgiveness as an option instead of an obligation. It’s real, but so are the good moments, the vulnerability, and the happy-ever-after.

Visit the author’s website at http://www.rachelsolomonbooks.com/ to find a copy of Weather Girl, or request it at your local library.

I’m Reading: Just Haven’t Met You Yet by Sophie Cousens

Laura is a hopeless romantic and professional meet-cute reporter. Her own parents’ story of being brought together by a broken antique coin across the sea has set high standards for her love life, and she’s not about to settle for less than epic romance.

As she travels to the island of Jersey to trace her parents’ romantic footsteps for a story, her luggage gets switched at the airport. The contents of the mystery suitcase convinces her that the owner is the man of her dreams and she must find him to fulfill very own meet-cute. But as she tracks him down with the help of a surly cab driver and rediscovers her island roots, she uncovers family secrets that threaten to unravel her belief in happy ever after.

For me this romcom had the perfect balance of serious, funny, wholesome and whimsical to draw me right in. There are clever nods and twists to genre tropes and reader expectations that made the story fresh, and a light touch on the history of the island that captures the heart of the place without feeling that we’re being lectured on a school trip.

The plot threads get a little meandering at the end, but the dynamic characters carry it through with a well-constructed twist. The resolution is deeply satisfying all around, and the light touch makes this a great, cozy, curl up on the beach, escapist kind of read, with more laughter than tears, and all the warmth of a good cuppa with friends.

Visit the author’s page at https://www.sophiecousens.com/ to buy this book, or request it at your local library!

I’m Reading: Get a Life, Chloe Brown, by Talia Hibbert

Chloe Brown is a chronically ill web designer who wants to experience life away from the hovering and smothering care of her family. So she gets an apartment and makes a list: Do something bad, ride a motorcycle, go camping, enjoy a drunken night out, have meaningless but enjoyable sex, and travel the world with nothing but hand luggage. But being chronically ill makes it tough to make friends to do bad things with. Not friends she can trust to stick around on bad days, through broken plans and physical limitations. Leave it to the grumpy, impossibly sexy handyman, Red, who secretly paints beautiful art at night and resents Chloe’s wealthy upbringing, to be the one to help her get a life. He doesn’t know that Chloe has already done her “something bad,” by way of spying on him at night through the curtains. But as he sticks around through thick and thin and helps her check off more of her missed experiences, she must decide if she can take the biggest risk of all; adding him to her list.

“Keep Red.”

This is the first in Talia Hibbert’s Brown Sisters series, and it pulled me in immediately with vivid characters, humor, a perfect balance of sweetness and steam, and beautiful writing craft. I immediately blew my entire monthly book budget on her back catalog and haven’t been able to stop reading since. This series marks her leap from Indie to traditional publishing, and you can see why she caught an agent’s eye. She balances witty hilarity with a rich, lyrical voice and captures beautiful scenes with a few evocative brushstrokes. Her men have emotional intelligence, her families are loving but imperfect, her characters are beautifully rounded, and her steam is so hot it should come with burn cautions. Overall, I would put Hibbert right up in my top 5 favorite re-readable authors and platonic author crushes.

I wholeheartedly recommend you check your local library for Talia Hibbert’s books, or visit the author’s website at https://www.taliahibbert.com/

I’m Reading: Highland Games by Evie Alexander

Zoe uproots everything when her great-uncle leaves her a run-down cabin in the Scottish Highlands. The cabin is the scene of her happiest childhood memories, and she hopes it will be where she finds herself and her future away from the pressures of London life. But her rosy memories of a rustic summer are no match for the reality of a leaky, ramshackle hut in winter without plumbing, electricity, or a front door. Or for the massive, muscular estate manager for the Kinloch castle who seems determined to be rid of her.

Rory is under enormous pressure to make the Kinloch castle profitable in the face of enormous debt, or lose his job. All he really wants is to fix up the abandoned cabin on the estate and live out the solitary life he wants, away from the stress of work and memories. When a strange, magnetic London woman claims his cabin and turns his world upside down, he must find a way to scare her off, or lose his last hope of peace and quiet.

I was fortunate enough to be a beta reader for this book and received an ARC copy.

This debut romcom is a delicious, sexy delight. The characters bring sparks and wit to the enemies-to-lovers trope, with banter and shenanigans that made me laugh out loud. I love that Zoe gives as good as she gets, and meets Rory blow-for-blow in the battle of wits and pranks. I also love the found family and the town as a secondary character. For me, it had the mark of great immersive setting, in that I want to move to my own cabin in the Scottish Highlands and see if I can become part of their family, too.

But OH THE CHEMISTRY between the lead characters, here. It builds well, with the fire of animosity turning to physical attraction, then we peel back the layers of the characters to reach something deeper. It hits all the romance buttons for me, and I think we can look forward to a lot of great stories from this debut author.

For more on this and the author’s future works, visit Evie Alexander’s website at https://eviealexanderauthor.com/

I’m Reading: The Spanish Love Deception by Elena Armas

Catalina Martín has a problem. When she discovered that her newly-engaged ex would be best man at her sister’s wedding in Spain, she may have accidently let slip that she would be bringing a date. Not just a date, though, a boyfriend. A handsome, charming, non-existent boyfriend. It was that or showing up single (again) and playing the poor pitiful sad girl (again.)

As W-Day draws near, Catalina must consider taking the offer of a date from the last man on earth she would willingly spend time with. Her fellow engineer Aaron is a humorless, soulless asshole who lives to make her miserable. It’s out of the question. She doesn’t even know why he offered, except maybe to mess with her. Why would a man who hates her guts want to fly to Spain to pretend to be her boyfriend?

And why, as the sparks fly and his touch lights up her body, does it feel less and less like pretend?

The Spanish Love Deception is everything I’m looking for in a feel-good, enemies-to-lovers romcom. It’s witty, quirky, and steamy. The characters are sharp, the secondary story meaningful, and the sexual tension is through the roof. The writing craft is solid, and while I would describe it as The Proposal meets The Hating Game meets telenovelas, the voice, the heart, and the nicely balanced classic romance tropes makes this book a phenomenon all its own.

(Minor spoiler alert)

My one complaint about this book is that Aaron joins the company after Lina, in the same role, yet he is being promoted ahead of her. The author isn’t shy about other elements of workplace discrimination, but this doesn’t even seem to show up on the characters’ radars. If she’s a highly competent engineer and team leader who has been there longer, why wasn’t she considered for the promotion? A company would normally post the position internally and interview applicants, not just pluck someone from the team arbitrarily to promote. Why would HR allow this, and why doesn’t Catalina fight it, or at least resent it? If Aaron is simply better for the job, I feel that the author needed to sell me on it more. I feel like this should have been caught by beta readers, at least.

***End Spoiler Alert***

But that is me being SUPER PICKY about an otherwise great book that I got very invested in reading. The rest of the story is solid. We get some of my absolute favorite romance tropes (Fake relationship feels all too real! Then grumpy one is soft for the sunshine one! and THERE’S ONLY ONE BED!). The romance is swoon-worthy, and the characters are real people you want to spend more time with.

This amazing debut goes on my re-read list, and I’m eagerly awaiting the chance to read more from Elena Armas!

Visit the author online at https://www.authorelenaarmas.com/

I’m Reading: The Simple Wild by K.A. Tucker

Calla Fletcher is pure city girl. A banking analyst and aspiring social media influencer in Toronto, her life is all about fancy coffee and high fashion. Then she gets the call. Her estranged biological father, an Alaska bush pilot and small airline owner, is sick. Calla must decide if she wants this chance to repair things with the man she thinks abandoned her and her mother long ago. Venturing into the wild frontier of Bangor, she learns that their history is more complicated than she’d ever imagined. She doesn’t belong here, but the Alaskan tundra has its appeal, as does the surly young pilot who works for her dad and seems to hate everything about Calla. More than anyone, Calla knows better than to fall in love with a bush pilot. In the end, the sky cowboys always break your heart.

This was a delightful, well-rounded contemporary romance. The delicious enemies-to-lovers trope, the heartbreaking complexity of family, and the beautiful natural setting come together in a book I couldn’t put down. The side-characters were well-developed, and Bangor became a place I want to explore in as many sequels as the author wants to give me. The author manages to capture the bleak hardness of the wilderness, and the struggles of those who live there, without sacrificing its beauty and charms. If I had one complaint, I’d say the romantic tension felt slightly rushed, but the writing craft is so strong it didn’t hurt the story a bit. After finishing The Simple Wild, I’m ready to blow most of my book budget on Tucker’s other works!

Read an excerpt, find ordering options, and see the author’s other work at https://www.katuckerbooks.com. Remember to check your local library, and encourage them to stock the authors you enjoy!

Content warnings for this book are below, and may include spoilers. If you ever have questions about the contents of books I’ve reviewed, please reach out to me via the contact form, or on Twitter at @JoGeekly. I’m always happy to help you decide if a book I’ve enjoyed is safe for you to enjoy as well!

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Content warning: The story contains multiple depictions and descriptions of parent death, cancer, divorce, and parent estrangement. We also see characters experiencing fear of flying, and depictions and references to plane crashes.

I’ve added this and many other books to Does the Dog Die, a crowdsourced website that lists common trauma triggers in media content.