Book Review: The Charm Offensive (ARC)

Expected publication: September 7th 2021

Author: Alison Cochrun

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 open up to 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.

The Charm Offensive was a very unexpected surprise in an amazing way as it is an excellent blend of heartwarming rom-com mixed with an exploration of more serious topics, such as, depression, OCD, and severe anxiety. Similar to One to Watch or If the Shoe Fits, the novel explores the behind the scenes action of a Bachelor-like show with the main characters being both involved behind the camera and in front as the star. I can see why it is also compared to Red, White & Blue with the secrets and connection that exists between the characters and those around them. The novel was very addictive as I could not stop reading about these two lovable characters and rooted for them to find a way to be together. It was an excellent introduction to this author and has become one of my favorites for the year.

Dev Deshpande provides one of the perspectives to the story. He is a 28-years-old producer of the reality dating show Ever After. Although I have never watched an episode of The Bachelor, I love the general concept of a dating show. This was a very fun look into the behind the scenes chaos. It was fun to not only focus on Dev’s situation, but the reader gets a look at: Maureen Scott, the showrunner, Skylar Jones, the lead director, Mark Davenport, the on-air host, Jules Lu, the personal production assistant, and Ryan Parker, the supervising producer. The first three are more in the background than the latter two as Jules is also Dev’s best friend and Ryan happens to be Dev’s ex-boyfriend. The story begins with the new season of Ever After getting ready to film and this will be the first time Dev sees Ryan again after they broke up their six-year relationship three months ago. Despite his romantic setbacks, Dev is a believer in true love and the magic of Ever After. When he becomes the handler for the new Prince Charming suitor, Dev realizes that he has his work cut out for him.

Charlie Winshaw is starting his nine week journey with 20 women vying for his heart for the new season. At 27 years-old (about to turn 28), he did not expect to be here, but he has his own reasons for signing up for the show and hopes it will be a way to restore his presence in the tech world.  Charlie has OCD and severe anxiety, so being around a large group of people who expect touching is tougher than he imagined. Luckily, he has Dev around who tries to help him through the experience. Dev presents to Charlie the idea of going on “practice dates” to help Charlie become more comfortable interacting with others and to make it through filming. The more the two of them get to know each other, the more they start to wonder if there might be more than a friendship forming between them. Although Charlie initially identified as straight, he starts to question his orientation. I enjoyed the exploration of the spectrum and there is not always one label, if any, that works for every person.  

The show goes all around the world, which was a fun addition to appeal in the traveler in me. It starts in Pasadena and moves through Munich Germany, New Orleans, Cape Town, South Africa, Amed, Bali, Indonesia, San Francisco, Macon, Georgia, Raleigh, North Carolina, and Los Angeles, CA. The different locations would have been nice if they were further explored, although some of them are, such as Table Mountain. This was a tiny part of the novel, but I still loved the trip around the world. Now where the novel shines is its inclusivity without feeling forced. The diversity in this novel was well done, as it did not feel forced. There are characters from different backgrounds including Dev, who is Indian, Skylar, who is Black, and Jules, who is Korean. There are characters that are straight, lesbian, gay, bi, and questioning. Additionally, there is a huge exploration into mental health and self-worth. This does not even cover everything that is included in the story and all of them were well done. At times, for me, I did wish there was a little more detail into culture, such as Dev’s Indian background.

Overall, this story has a lot of character growth packed into a joyous romance story in a chaotic reality show environment. Dev and Charlie have growing feelings for each other, but they have their personal obstacles plus the fact that Charlie is on a show to become engaged to a woman. The two of them were fantastic together as they worked with each other’s boundaries and tried their best to understand the other. Both characters have issues with self-worth, so there is their emotional journeys as a potential couple, as well as, their individual growth. The side characters were well done in this novel and easily many of them could have amazing spin-off stories of their own. I would love if this novel became part of a series with many of the side characters having stories of their own!

**I give a special thank you to Netgalley and the publisher, Atria Books, for the opportunity to read this enjoyable novel. The opinions expressed are completely my own.**

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