Author: Courtney Milan
Rating: 4 stars and lots of flailing
I received this book from NetGalley in exchange for an honest review
I started reading romance in about 2012 (I used to sneak peeks at my mom’s bodice rippers back in the 90s, but we shall not speak further of those dark times), and one of the first authors I really read in the genre was Courtney Milan. She’s since become an auto-buy author for me. She writes historical romances that twist and defy the stereotypes of the genre, her books are both feminist and intelligent, and she writes with great humor. Basically, it’s a perfect recipe for Everything Heather Wants In a Book.
So then, earlier this month, I heard about Trade Me.
This book worried the hell out of me. First, it’s a contemporary. NetGalley labeled it “New Adult.” It’s written in alternating first person present. It’s about a BILLIONAIRE.
No. No no no no a thousand times no.
I was a little more than dubious at the prospect of all that. That is the perfect recipe for Everything Heather Hates With the Fiery Passion of A Thousand Suns. I was anticipating simpering wet-mop heroines, BDSM-lite, an asshole hero who uses money to compensate for lack of human feeling.
I am an idiot.
Because of course Trade Me was fantastic, and of course I loved almost everything about it.
Tina Chen is working hard to earn her degree and provide for her parents and little sister. Blake Reynolds is the billionaire heir of Cyclone Technology (an Apple sort of company). When he makes dismissive comments about being poor, Tina loses her cool and tells him that he couldn’t handle living her life. To her shock, Blake proposes a trade: he will take on her dumpy apartment, her debts and her minimum-wage bank account for a semester, while she takes on his house, his car, and his income.
Tina is reserved, cautious, and has some legitimate trust issues. She struggles with wanting to pursue her passions or pursue a career that will give security to her family. Blake is, surprisingly, a really nice, down-to-Earth guy, albeit one who thinks its totally reasonable to have a spending account of 15,000 a month. He also has a problem, which is why he wants to switch lives with Tina in the first place. I’m not going to spoil it, but I thought it was a pretty unusual issue for the hero of a book to tackle, and it was dealt with sensitively, and I loved that.
There’s actually a lot about this book I want to talk about but I feel like I can’t. Character spoilers more than plot spoilers, per se. Just know there are feels to be had.
I found the parent-child relationships in Trade Me much more interesting than the romance. The romance wasn’t bad, but I could guess at the general shape of it, I kind of knew where it was going to go, and it just didn’t hook me as much. By contrast, I found the relationships between Blake and his dad, and Tina and her mom, much more unpredictable and fascinating. Tina’s mom could easily fall into the trap of immigrant mother stereotypes. She has no sense of privacy or decorum, she thinks her daughter with ADHD just needs to “apply herself,” she holds the past over Tina’s head like a sword. But she also knows the ins and outs of the legal system, and helps immigrants deal with citizenship and deportation as a hobby. She’s kind of a badass. Blake’s dad Adam is manipulative, genius, immensely powerful, and calls his son “asshole” as a term of endearment. He’s also fiercely protective and loving of Blake, and surprised me by becoming my favorite character in the book (the foul mouth really helped in that regard).
Milan has planned at least two more books with these characters, and I already cannot wait. I guess it goes to show that it can be really rewarding to jump out of your comfort zone once in a while.