Dildos and romance collide in Barbara Bell’s bite-sized treat of a novella, Cutie Pies.
Joey has found his place working at Cutie Pies, the smallest adult novelty shop in Sydney, Australia. It’s not only a job for him but is also a kind of home away from home, a locale where his teasing best friend Becca and his serious-minded boss Kate have helped him form a secondary family.
He’s not thinking of romance when Mick, an unassuming man who seems to be roughly the same age, ambles into Cutie Pies and asks Joey for help selecting a dildo. After a brief flirtation, Mick leaves with a ten incher, which is enough to spark Joey’s sexual imagination but leave him feeling guilty; Mick also stated he had a partner, which means he’s off-limits for Joey. Through Becca he later learns Mick has a crush on him too, and when they meet again and hit it off. Mick invites Joey to Sydney Pride, and an innocent date soon turns to something more serious. But will the presence of Mick’s uncaring boyfriend spoil the party? Or will the sexual chemistry between Mick and Joey be just enough to push things to the boiling point?
Cutie Pies is a sweet, sometimes serious, sometimes silly diversion that seems to have escaped straight from the same world that houses the musical Mamma Mia. You don’t have to think hard about it – it’s just an enjoyable chunk of cute with likable people learning how to love one another.
The characters are great; I liked Mick’s well-adjusted nature when placed against Joey’s more neurotic, slow-to-heal background. Their romance is gentle and down to earth and makes a lot of sense. The supporting characters are nice, with Kate, Joey’s boss, making a hilarious foil for Joey and Becca’s flightiness. You can tell that Ms. Bell also has experience working in the adult novelty business and in customer service in general; even if you can’t directly relate, if you’ve worked a counter anywhere you’ll recognize the people that daily confront Joey at his workplace. Also – spilled lube is a pain to get out of anything, trust me on this subject.
On the other hand, this novella’s sweetness hides a core that’s surprisingly bitter. Joey and Mick’s relationship is predicated on infidelity, so if that isn’t your cup of tea you’re not going to want to read this one. It’s made quite clear that Mick’s relationship was all but over in name before he met Joey, and the ex is a liar, but the infidelity is a clear and present subject. There’s a somewhat uncomfortable subplot whereby Kate starts to sleep with Becca who’s half her age. Age differences don’t bug me in romance, but when there’s that kind of power imbalance I do get a little squicked. It’s worth noting that there’s a brief mention of underage sexual activity, as well.
But even with those flaws, Barbara Bell’s Cutie Pies is a warm-hearted and gently humorous story with some surprising, hidden hints of depth.