Smut we’re reading: Trade me (Courtney Milan)

trade meSo, I’m going to start out by acknowledging that I did not start reading “Trade Me” objectively. I love everything that Courtney Milan has written. Her books, particularly all of the Brothers Sinister series, are simply fantastic. I may have re-read them all at least three times (but who’s counting?). Distinctive, memorable characters, interesting plots, and characters who react to situations honestly. Conflicts are never shrugged off quickly: consequences actually matter in her books.  This means we as readers actually give a shit what happens to her characters, which is essential. The number of romance books where conflict is created because…plot…and then the characters shrug it off in order to embrace their happy ending is beyond count. It is the difference between a book that is simply sex with filler and an actual story (although the former is certainly fun on a long night).

Aside — For step-brother-kink-based plots, this hole is usually essential for a happy ending to ever convincingly transpire. I have yet to read one where the essential conflict (“the guy is my stepbrother, this is bound to create incredible stress of my family and make our parents quite upset”) ever actually comes to fruition. Anyone know of a stepbrother-kink book where the parents ever actually step in? I’d actually be very curious to read one where there are realistic consequences. (Books where the stepfather then steps in to have sex with the stepdaughter and she’s totally into it don’t count, there are a lot of those). –End aside.

I admit I had doubts when I first heard about “Trade Me”. Huge fan that I am, I looked a bit to the side when Milan sent a message to her subscription list that she was writing a modern romance and putting aside the historical (yes, I’m the kind of fan that follows her subscription list. They’re useful. Sign up to ours here and get a free book. Not apologizing for the promo in the middle of a blog post.).

My doubts were enhanced by her choice of cover art. The guy she chose for her covthat guyer is literally everywhere. Think you’ve seen that guy’s face somewhere? You have. His mug is in every stock photo database in a variety of poses. And, because his image is available for any author to add to their cover, he’s one of a few guys who show up on a LOT of places. So many, in fact, that having him on your cover basically SCREAMS that Milan decided to go self-publishing on this book rather than sticking with the traditional publisher who released her first books. Also means she didn’t want to invest in Photoshop and just slapped the photo up there and put words in front of it. Behold his bright blue-eyes staring out at you, inviting (daring?) you to think of him as a Viking lord. He’s also (see below) a werewolf! It’s a good thing Milan’s description of the male were wolf guyprotagonist, Blake, is so rich and detailed, that I no longer had to think of Blond Blue-Eyes as my mental image after a few chapters. Blake simply became himself. Although, now that’s been a few weeks since I finished “Trade Me,” when I see this guy I always wonder if he’s eating enough and if he’s okay.

Which brings us back around to “Trade Me.” It’s great. Read it. Funny, thoughtful, and empathetic to real people problems in ways that are often avoided (or glossed over and prettied-up) in romance novels. The female protagonist is Tina Chen, a Chinese-American whose second-generation heritage actually matters to the plot. Her culture, familial expectations, responsibilities, and history are all part of what drives her actions and means that consequences build naturally from her background rather than the necessities of the situation. The male protagonist, Blake, could have been just another billionaire playboy with an obsession with a lowly working girl, but Milan writes him with empathy in a way that he comes alive as someone who deserves compassion, not just lust. I also believe he could take Christian Gray in a fight.

Aside — Why has that TV show not been made yet? Fictional, rich, romantic leads beating eachother up to prove their manliness? There are a ton of shows based around the premise of hot guys doing violence (Yes, devoted Supernatural watcher for ten years, also Arrow and Flash and The Originals and… name a show), but almost never are the guys doing the beating and the guys receiving the beating both 1-percenters. I would LOVE to watch two equally-rich guys just beat the shit out of each other because they recognize that their lifestyles are now more dependent on the movements of digital numbers than actual tangible skills.  –End aside.

So this review ended up being about a lot of other things rather than “Trade Me,” but I have a problem describing my feelings about a book/show/movie without spoilers, so — for the sake of people who intend to read the book — I’ll stop here. Enjoy, folks. And keep an eye out for that blond guy on covers. Once you start to recognize the common faces, a sort of fondness for the book before you’ve even read the book is inevitable. Who gets more lives (for less initial effort) than a model for romance cover art?

-Annie (the “A” of “AJ”)

And, I can’t help it… here he
is again:

courtship maneuvercourtship 2

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