The Charm Offensive by Alison Cochrun

Warning: If you’re at all sensitive to reading on-page depictions of major depressive episodes and/or severe anxiety/panic attacks, please use caution when reading this book.

Oh boy. Where to start with this review… I started The Charm Offensive by Alison Cochrun at the beginning of March thinking it would be a semi-lighthearted read with a bit of mental health and good asexual rep. Little did I know this book would make me feel a whole lot of things I didn’t expect to feel.

Yes, this book is cute as hell, but it also covers a lot of deep topics like Dev’s deep depression, Charlie’s anxiety disorder and OCD, discovering yourself, and learning to accept the love you deserve. This book gave me a lot of anxiety because it hits on a lot of insecurities I have and a lot of issues I’ve had in the past with relationships (both platonic and romantic). I am elated this book exists, but damn. It makes me feel shit. If you are at all bothered by descriptions of depressive episodes, OCD spirals, and/or anxiety attacks I would strongly use caution if you plan to read this one. My anxiety was triggered a few times while reading. I also want to mention that, while there is sexual content, it’s not super descriptive like a lot of other romances I’ve read.

Things I absolutely loved:

1. Charlie Winshaw. From the moment he stepped on the page I knew I was going to love him. He’s an absolute wreck and I love him so much. Seeing his journey of self-discovery as a queer man and opening up to someone for the first time that isn’t Parisa, his publicist/best friend.
2. Dev Deshpande. Even though a lot of his struggles hit way too close, I’m glad to have a character I can relate to via those struggles. To know that I can work through them and end up okay. I just have to put in the work.
3. Literally all of the side characters. This book has such a queer cast and I love it! I’ve never read a book with so many ace characters in so many forms. It was really affirming. All of the characters are funny, smart, and have absolutely great chemistry with each other. And the banter! I’m a sucker for fantastic banter and boy does this book have it.

Things I didn’t love:

1. All of the mentions of Charlie’s “giant hands.” I don’t know why it bothered me so much. It’s such a small thing, but every time it was mentioned I’d get quite irritated. Aside from fan art, I couldn’t get a good mental picture of what Charlie (or Dev, for that matter) really looked like. I knew Dev was taller than Charlie and Charlie was muscular, but other than that I couldn’t quite picture anything. *shrug*

2. Maureen Scott. I absolutely hate her. It wasn’t confirmed until around the middle to last fourth of the book, but gods I hate her stinking guts!

I’ve never been a fan of the Bachelor or the Bachelorette, but I quite enjoyed getting to see behind the curtain of Ever After, the show modeled after both these reality shows. It shows just how toxic the environment can be and how heteronormative the whole process is. (Which, let’s be real, is a huge reason why I’ve never been a fan. Even at a young age before I knew I was queer and a sex-repulsed ace.) It was interesting to see how Charlie was in front of the camera with the women he was supposed to be courting and how he was with Dev when the cameras were off. I loved getting to see him grow with Dev’s coaching. While I don’t want to get into too many details about my own issues that this book brought to the forefront of my mind while reading, I can absolutely guarantee The Charm Offensive will live rent free in my head for a really long time. I don’t think I’ve tabbed or annotated a book quite as heavily as I did with this one. And that’s saying something because I am a liberal tabber. Seeing the way that Charlie was celebrated for differences he was told his whole life were “quirks” and made him inadequate was so beyond anything I could have asked for.

I haven’t really been adding ratings to my reviews this year outside of StoryGraph because I don’t think they’re necessary, but give this book all the dang stars. It deserves them. It made me emotional on more that one occasion:  for having characters I could see myself in, for the aspec/queer rep, for showing that letting people be with us in our darkest and messiest moments is okay and that we deserve love even when we’re in those moments, and for showing that no matter what, it’s never too late to find out who you are and to find the kind of love you want. Whether it’s romantic or platonic, everyone deserves love regardless of their romantic/sexual orientation.

I hope to maybe see a second book set in this world featuring Daphne, the next chosen princess.

Content Warnings:
Graphic: anxiety, OCD, depression, homophobia, misogyny, grief
Moderate: sexual content (not super descriptive), language, germophobia, toxic work environment, acephobia/arophobia, biphobia, blood, injury, bullying
Minor: vomit, violence

The Love Hypothesis by Ali Hazelwood (spoilers)

Fair warning that this review does contain spoilers, but I’ll try to keep them to a minimum.

Where to begin with this book? I bought The Love Hypothesis by Ali Hazelwood sort of on a whim after hearing just about every romance reader I follow fawn over it and seeing a tiktok video about how the main character is demisexual. That right there had me sold because I rarely see acespec characters in mainstream romance books. Shortly after that I learned the story originally started as a Reylo fanfic and that had me even more interested. Now, don’t misunderstand; I was never a Reylo shipper. I was firmly in the camp that Rey and Ben Solo were separated siblings like Luke and Leia and that’s why they had such a strong connection. I was wrong, but a girl can dream, right?

Quick synopsis:  Olive fake dates a biology department professor when a small lie gets out of hand.

Review:  I devoured this book in less than 3 days. I think I started it after midnight on January 2nd, read a few chapters, went to sleep, woke up, read all day, stayed up ‘til 4:30 am on January 3rd, read even more, and then finished it around 4 pm on January 4th. I could not put this book down. It’s been a good while since that has happened and I’m glad I’m starting the year off strong. The banter in this book is frankly TOP TIER. (Yes, the all-caps is necessary.) It had me smiling from ear to ear, grinning like a doofus, laughing out loud, and biting my lip to try to contain my joy. The fluff factor is spectacular. TLH combines my favorite things:  fake-dating, grumpy-meets-sunshine, slow burn and forced proximity. I’m not always fond of an age-gap romance, but this was done in a way that it wasn’t predatory or creepy. It does have a professor/grad student relationship, but Olive isn’t Adam’s grad and they made sure their fake relationship wasn’t going to be breaking any Stanford ethics guidelines. (Adam checked. 😉)

Throughout the book we see Olive talk about how she’s doesn’t experience sexual attraction unless it’s with someone she knew and trusted deeply and that was something she had only recently figured out. This was the first time I had ever seen a demisexual character talked about in such a way that wasn’t a big deal. There’s a bit of acephobia from Olive’s best friend Anh a bit later in the book, which, as an ace person myself I know all too well. We don’t get Adam’s point of view at any point during the book (which is a total shame), but from the way he talks/acts, and what we learn from his childhood best friend Holden, it seems that Adam may also be demi. Which, total win for me and my ace ass. (There’s a bonus chapter if you sign up for Hazelwood’s newsletter and it confirms that Adam is also demi.) I loved seeing bits of myself represented in a character in a romance book because I’m so very often not the target demographic as a sex-averse ace.

The writing style had me hooked from the very beginning. It was easy to follow and the story felt natural. You can tell that the author is a science academic herself and that she really knows what she’s talking about. My only complaint is about some of the word/descriptor choices during the sex bits, but that’s generally my complaint with all romance books so far. 

I absolutely love how Adam begrudges Olive her choices in coffee-like beverages and food. You can tell that he’s really besotted with her, even from early on in the book. The way that he lovingly calls her a smart-ass and how she calls him an old man (34 really isn’t that old). I loved everything about it.

I would rank this pretty low on the spice factor, though chapters 16 and 17 were definitely steamy. One thing I will say that sets this apart from the other handful of romances I’ve read is Adam made sure he had Olive’s enthusiastic consent every step of the way. There was even a point where he said something along the lines of “I know you said yes before, but you can absolutely change your mind at any point in this process.” I really vibed with that. At one point he could tell that Olive was really not having a great time with what he was doing, so instead of forcing things he changed course to get her more relaxed. I really don’t see that often; especially when one of the people involved was so inexperienced like Olive was. That made me love Hazelwood and her writing even more. Making me wish I had my own Adam Carlsen in my life. (Don’t get me wrong, my partner is fabulous. But sometimes you just want to be the main character in a romance novel falling for the tall, dark, and brooding love interest who is definitely modeled after Adam Driver/Kylo Ren.)

I cannot sing my praises about this book enough. I absolutely adore it and already want to give it a reread. That really says a lot.

Rating: ☆☆☆☆☆//5

CW: Graphic: Sexual content and Sexual harassment

Moderate: Cancer, Cursing, Death of parent, Sexism, Misogyny, Grief, Emotional abuse, Gaslighting, Toxic friendship, Bullying, and Abandonment

Minor: Alcohol and Acephobia