Can't Escape Love
Grade : A

I’ve been enjoying Alyssa Cole’s Reluctant Royals contemporary romance series, with A Princess in Theory well deserving of its spot on my top ten of 2018 list. After reading book two, A Duke by Default, I was definitely curious about Portia’s sister Reggie, and Ms. Cole has fulfilled my wish of writing a story for her with this delightful geek-culture filled novella, Can’t Escape Love.

Regina Hobbs can’t sleep. With all the work going into her website and social media empire, Girls With Glasses, and the constant research of current anime and comic culture, she’s got a bad case of insomnia she doesn’t have time for. A few years ago she’d developed an online friendship of sorts with a puzzle master, a man whose voice had often soothed her to sleep in his online videos but they’ve disappeared from the net so she can’t even replay them anymore. With help from her sister Portia (currently engaged in her own swashbuckling adventure in Scotland) she’s been able to get in touch with the man of her dreams, so to speak.

Gustave Nguyen knows he’s a bit different than the rest of his family, but puzzles have always clicked with him and his latest assignment, to build an escape room for an anime convention based on the popular romance anime Reject Squad Ultra is an exciting but problematic task. The trouble is, he knows nothing about the story, and even when he’s watched it, he doesn’t really get the hype. When Reggie contacts him with her strange request, he very much remembers her. She’s the one fan he’d had, a person he’d shared a lot with in the few months they’d connected via chat messages and he’s missed that contact. Plus, she’s the one who’d inspired him to get into escape room planning. He agrees to her ‘sleep voice’ request but wants to do it live with nightly phone calls.

During one such call, they discover that they actually live really close to one another, close enough, in fact, to meet in person if they want to. And when Reggie finds out about Gus’s escape room assignment, and that it involves her absolute favorite anime in the world she proposes an agreement to help him make it the best ever in return for his help with her insomnia. Can an online friendship turn into a real life love story?

If you are at all a fan of superheroes and comics and puzzles and anime culture, this story will be a delightful reading experience! The author captures all of the current trends in one story package, complete with a sexy romance for a witty, smart and self-assured black heroine and her friendly, intelligent and sensitive Vietnamese-American hero. Kudos to the Cover Gods too as the book cover is exactly how I picture this couple.

Reggie is in a wheelchair due to ataxia, a condition brought on by a childhood bout of meningitis. She’s fortunate to come from a well-off family so she has her own house built with the specifications for easier day to day living. She’s also got a selection of wheelchairs for different purposes – ones for comic conventions with specific paint jobs and others for hardier daily outdoor activity. While she is able to walk with a walker, it is more painful and less convenient than using a chair. She has a good amount of upper body strength honed from lifting herself in and out of her chair and her weekly physio sessions, and is very independent. She chafes at people doing things for her that she is fully capable of doing for herself.

The author has done an excellent job of portraying that Reggie’s challenges come more from other people’s expectations of her than from her own take on her disability. It’s one of the most positive disability representations I’ve read in a romance and shows how Reggie deals with everything from physical tasks to her new burgeoning relationship with Gus. Gus is attracted to Reggie for her looks as well as her brain but also tries to be sensitive without being presumptuous. Reggie is used to previous boyfriends trying to ‘fix’ her while Gus believes she’s perfect as she is. Gus understands what it’s like to be different. The logic of puzzles makes more sense to him than feelings and social niceties.  Watching these two connect emotionally and physically is sweet (and the love scenes are sexy!).

Reggie and her sister Portia have a strained relationship because after her meningitis, her parents never treated them the same way again. Coddling Reggie and ignoring Portia, they did damage to both girls and their sibling relationship that they themselves are still trying to repair. Portia’s been helping Reggie’s website by providing some inside scoops from Scotland. As this story takes place concurrently with A Duke by Default, there are some spoilers for that story here.

Can’t Escape Love is an easy, low-angst read that has a lot going for it. What feels to me like authentic disability representation, a fun and interesting anime story that would be awesome to read in real life, appealing characters and a sweet and sexy romance. Just a note too, as I tend to judge story arcs by the percentage shown on my ereader that this one ends at 75% with some chapter excerpts of the author’s next full length novel making up the remainder, so the ending came a bit earlier than I expected – but did not lessen my enjoyment of the overall story (I was just sad there wasn’t more!).

Buy it at: Amazon/Apple Books/Barnes & Noble/Kobo

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Reviewed by Maria Rose

Grade: A

Sensuality: Warm

Review Date : March 19, 2019

Publication Date: 03/2019

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Maria Rose

I'm a biochemist and a married mother of two. Reading has been my hobby since grade school, and I've been a fan of the romance genre since I was a teenager. Sharing my love of good books by writing reviews is a recent passion of mine, but one which is richly rewarding.
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