Title: The Charm Offensive
Author: Alison Cochrun
Release Date: September 7th, 2021
Genre: Adult Fiction – Contemporary – Romance – LGBTQIA+
My rating in stars:
My rating in words:
I loved it
WHAT IT’S ABOUT:
Dev Deshpande has always believed in fairy tales. So it’s no wonder then that he’s spent his career crafting them on the long-running reality dating show Ever After. As the most successful producer in the franchise’s history, Dev always scripts the perfect love story for his contestants, even as his own love life crashes and burns. But then the show casts disgraced tech wunderkind Charlie Winshaw as its star.
Charlie is far from the romantic Prince Charming Ever After expects. He doesn’t believe in true love, and only agreed to the show as a last-ditch effort to rehabilitate his image. In front of the cameras, he’s a stiff, anxious mess with no idea how to date twenty women on national television. Behind the scenes, he’s cold, awkward, and emotionally closed-off.
As Dev fights to get Charlie to connect with the contestants on a whirlwind, worldwide tour, they begin to open up to each other, and Charlie realizes he has better chemistry with Dev than with any of his female co-stars. But even reality TV has a script, and in order to find to happily ever after, they’ll have to reconsider whose love story gets told.
In this witty and heartwarming romantic comedy—reminiscent of Red, White & Royal Blue and One to Watch—an awkward tech wunderkind on a reality dating show goes off-script when sparks fly with his producer.
MY THOUGHTS (spoiler-free):
I’ve never watched an episode of The Bachelor in my life. But there’s something about books with fictional reality tv show settings that always manages to snatch my attention. Add to that the fact that this story features the bachelor falling for his male producer instead of one of the women competing for his love, and you’ve got the recipe for my most anticipated 2021 release! And though it wasn’t completely what I expected, I ADORED this read and would definitely recommend it to everyone. Here’s what I loved about it:
The reality tv show setting à la The Bachelor
This story revolves around the newest season of Ever After, a popular reality tv dating show in which one man plays the part of Prince Charming and a group of women compete for his love and a proposal. This year, the show’s Prince Charming is Charlie Winshaw, a tech guru who came on the show to save his reputation. There’s just one issue. You see, Charlie is riddled with extreme anxiety and as such, appears extremely cold and awkward on screen (even though the man actually is as sweet as can be). So in comes Dev Deshpande. Dev is a producer for the show and he LOVES the show and creating a perfect love story for the contestants. So he steps in as Charlie’s handler and is convinced that he can find true love for Charlie by the end of the show, as well as help him save his reputation. Except that all may become VERY complicated when Charlie falls for Dev instead.
The entire story revolves around this season of Ever After and we can experience everything behind the scenes from the start of filming up until the very final episode. And it is so much fun. Though we see the story unfold through the dual POV of Charlie and Dev, we also meet the women competing on the show and get little tidbits of interviews and cut scenes in between chapters. And even if you only hate-watch these kind of tv shows, even if the book itself discusses and points out the harmful narratives in this kind of show, it’s still so easy and fun to get lost in all the drama and behind-the-scenes shenanigans.
The amazing mental health and sexuality rep
What I especially loved about this book, even if I wasn’t really expecting it, was the amazing mental health rep. This is so much more than just a rom-com and a lot of the focus of the story is actually on mental health. Charlie has generalised anxiety disorder as well as OCD, and Dev suffers from depression. The two bond and just form this natural kind of understanding about each other and while it’s definitely NOT a case of the ‘love cures them’ narrative (the story places a big emphasis on the importance of therapy and medication), they still are able to connect with each other and help the other feel seen and understood.
As well as mental health rep, I also thought the story handled discovering one’s sexuality really well and had amazing sexual diversity. While Dev is gay, Charlie’s questioning his sexuality throughout the story and I thought this was handled so well and naturally. The story also features lesbian, bi, pan and ace representation. This beautiful diversity just feels so comforting, like this book is a little safe space for every sexuality.
The great characters and friendships
All these characters felt so real and well-developed and fleshed-out. Both Charlie and Dev are human, they are flawed and can make annoying and bad choices. But they also both grow so much throughout the story and that’s beautiful to read about. Also, Charlie and Dev are not alone in this. There’s a whole host of amazing secondary characters and I LOVED all of them (okay, most of them, there are some not-so-great characters in there as well). The friendships are amazing and there’s even a little found family vibe in here.
This book just felt like giddy joy, warm hugs and the happiness that comes with feeling understood. The story was so heartwarming and real and the mental health rep and sexuality rep was so well done and I just loved it so much. If you’re looking for a sweet romance that deals with themes such as self-acceptance, self-love and self-esteem, look no further because this was pretty amazing and Charlie and Dev will win your heart for sure.
“I’ve learned it’s possible to be so in love with an idea of something, you can be blinded to the reality. And I’ve learned I want something real.”
“Most of the time, Dev is like a human bonfire walking around generously warming everyone with his presence. But burning that bright and that fiercely must be exhausting; no one can sustain it forever. Charlie wishes he could tell Dev it’s okay to flicker out sometimes. To tend to his own flame, to keep himself warm. He doesn’t have to be everything for everyone else all the time.”
“That’s okay.” Dev reaches over to touch his knee. “Sexuality isn’t always a straight line from closeted to out-of-the-closet. You can take time to explore and evolve and figure out exactly what kind of queer you are, if that even matters to you.”
“Charlie hasn’t met many people like this—people who don’t make assumptions about you when they discover your brain doesn’t work like theirs; people who don’t judge you; people who simply stay with you and ask what they can do to help. People who trustingly hand you all of themselves in PDF form.“
“It doesn’t have to be,” she says, “and you’re not obligated to figure it out, or come out, or explain yourself to anyone, ever. But also” […] “labels can be nice sometimes. They can give us a language to understand ourselves and our hearts better. And they can help us find a community and develop a sense of belonging.“