cover image The Charm Offensive

The Charm Offensive

Alison Cochrun. Atria, $17 trade paper (368p) ISBN 978-1-982170-71-4

Cochrun probes the realities behind a fairy tale romance in her warmhearted if flawed debut. After awkward tech millionaire Charles Winshaw is ousted from his Silicon Valley company, he makes the improbable decision to rehabilitate his image by becoming the next star of Ever After, a Bachelor-style reality show. He’s not expecting to find real love with any of the women competing for his proposal, but he does discover a genuine connection with handsome producer Dev Deshpande, a hopeless romantic tasked with making Charlie seem more personable on camera. Their relationship deepens in secret as Dev coaches Charlie through filming, but their obligations to the show threaten their happy ending. Cochrun beautifully captures how inexperienced Charlie comes to recognize his feelings for Dev and takes great pains to portray her diverse cast of LGBTQ characters sensitively. She’s also scrupulous in portraying both Charlie’s and Dev’s struggles with mental health, though Charlie’s panic attacks during difficult social interactions or unexpected physical contact make the premise that he would choose to participate in a dating show even more dubious. And in order to achieve a twist ending, Cochrun arranges the denouement in a way that strains credulity. Nonetheless, readers seeking romance that prioritizes inclusive explorations of sexual identity and mental illness will treasure this. [em]Agent: Bibi Lewis, Ethan Ellenberg Literary. (Sept.) [/em]