A Willful Woman…

Thoughts about books from a romance addict.

TBR Challenge: The Charm Offensive by Alison Cochrun

on November 17, 2021

The theme: Competition

Why this one: I read it, I loved it, I felt like writing about it, and it fit the theme! The fact that it’s a new book didn’t seem so important. 🙂

“Honestly, who even cast last season? Was the network trying to make it a queer party?”

I’m pretty sure the author was trying to make this book a queer party, and she did a great job. Comparisons to Casey McQuinston’s work are quite apt, not only because of the quality of the writing, but because of the time spent in effortlessly delightful queer space.

Dev Deshpande would be thrilled to know that he’s a character in an interracial gay romance. Ever since he was a little boy and declared that he wanted to marry Aladin, he’s been in love with love, making him one of the best possible “handlers” for competitors on the reality show “Ever After.” Dev genuinely sees his job as helping people fall in love, and when faced with a miserable, stammering, vomiting Prince for the latest season, he assures him, “You can do this. I believe in you.”

It’s not so easy to make tech superstar Charlie Winshaw into reality show Prince material. He has significant mental health issues, doesn’t like to be touched, and has never really felt sexual attraction. He’s so far from believing he could have a happy ending, he doesn’t even want to try; his only goal is to appear publicly “normal” so he might be able to work in tech again. Dev diligently works to understand Charlie’s needs and help him feel comfortable and relaxed, succeeding well enough that the Charlie is able to start bonding with his potential Princesses. (Who are treated with great sympathy throughout the story.) But the only one he really wants to kiss is… Dev.

As you can probably guess from that synopsis, there’s a lot of not-great stuff happening here. Dev is absolutely not allowed to get involved with a cast member, and he has mental health problems of his own. Charlie is often put into uncomfortable/humiliating situations. And they spend a lot of time pretending around their feelings. But countering this are gorgeously written falling-in-love scenes, which are most tender when they focus on what each thinks are their weaknesses: Charlie relishes “scrawny” Dev’s sharp points digging into him. Dev is enchanted by Charlie’s constant blushes and awkward vulnerability.

And then there’s that big queer party. The times when Dev and Charlies and their friends and co-workers, all varieties of LQBTQA+++, drink, dance and have fun, and stop worrying about who’s supposed to fall in love with whom.

“Men flock to Charlie, and Charlie tries to introduce the men to Dev, but it’s impossible to see anyone else when Charlie’s around, hulking and blond and sweating in the flashing lights… He wonders how many nights like this Charlie Winshaw has had in his life. Permanent smile, completely out of his head, not worried about being weird and being totally, unapologetically weird as he thrusts his hips to Lady Gaga. Has Charlie ever had a night like this? Has he ever just let himself be? Charlie dances like his skin is a pair of stiff jeans he’s finally broken in, like for the first time, he fits.”

There’s so much joy in this story, and the bleaker parts are all so thematically important and well integrated, that it was pretty much a charmer from beginning to end.

5 responses to “TBR Challenge: The Charm Offensive by Alison Cochrun

  1. Caz says:

    I loved this one, too – I listened to the audio version, which was excellent.

  2. […] TBR Challenge: The Charm Offensive by Alison Cochrun Nov […]

  3. KeiraSoleore says:

    Your review totally convinced me to pick it up. I’d been leery of it at first because I wasn’t sure if it would suffer from comparison with McQuinston’s work.

    • willaful says:

      Oh, I hope you like it! It was one of those rare cases where thinking about a different work or author didn’t make me go “yeah, why bother, this one isn’t as good.” 😉

  4. […] and with what seemed like an attempt to smush in the “big queer party” atmosphere of The Charm Offensive. It was […]

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