This review contains information that may be considered spoilers. This includes character descriptions and the reality of Happily For Now (HFN) in this book, but not necessarily plot elements (except where character realities are part of the plot).
I have almost 500 books on my To-Be-Read pile, including a variety of books that I have received free for the purpose of reviewing and library books. So I have NO business buying a new book. No business… oh, did you say Courtney Milan has a book out…? Helloooooo, 1-Click!
Hold Me is the second full book in the Cyclone series, Milan’s contemporary romance series. A theme of this series appears to be conquering life’s real difficulties while falling in love. Am I complaining about that? No, I want more. Trade Me dealt with money, immigration, food issues, and addiction. All that plus sex and banter and I’m very much “Where do I get this, please?”
Frankly, Hold Me piles on the issues like they are whipped cream. What’s that? Shall we casually mention a character is bisexual? Yes, we shall. And another is a transwoman? Yes, yes, we shall. And some people use he/him/his and some use she/her/hers and some use zie/zir/zirs and some use they/them/theirs. Mention it! And that the accepting and supportive family member is a practicing Christian (Roman Catholic) who wrestles with where she disagrees with the church (not an active plot line)! MENTION IT!!!
The main plot line involves Jay and Maria who hate each other at first sight in person. Turns out, they’ve warmed to each other online, though, and they don’t know that yet (but the reader does). Even in their antagonism, they are attracted to each other. They both have painful histories that affect their ability to trust themselves and others around them. Frankly, I would have read 50 more pages for the unpacking of some of those issues, but other reviewers felt that the book was a little slow. I didn’t, but we’re all different.
The general inclusivity and welcome in this book is refreshing. Not only regarding sexuality and gender expression, but also around religious identity and intellectual affinity. There is flirting with math. FLIRTING. WITH. MATH!
My one real reservation with the book had to do with Maria.
POSSIBLE SPOILERS AHEAD!!!!
BEWARE THE POTENTIAL SPOILERS
Maria is a transwoman. Her portrayal as unabashedly femme is really fun to read and made me super pleased. She’s 24 and beginning to look for post-college jobs (explained in the book) and she emphasizes needing health insurance to pay for hormone replacement therapy (HRT). That’s a great detail that makes the story pop as real. The part that pulled me up short is that Maria has had top and bottom surgery. There is no discussion of her surgery (that I saw) or how it was funded. It is possible that insurance paid for some of both surgeries and it is ENTIRELY acceptable that a transwoman or transman would want the surgeries.
It is also equally possible and acceptable that they might NOT want the surgeries, not because of $$$, but because they don’t. Maria’s surgical history meant that the sex scenes in this book were likely easy to read (if not write) for a cis-gendered audience. The expected innies and outies were all present. (And condoms were used! Hooray!) As the series goes on, Milan may begin to explore non-heteronormative sexual expressions and I hope so and look forward to that.
SPOILERS HAVE ENDED… YOU MAY PROCEED WITH CAUTION
I loved this book and I was not bothered at all to put other things on hold to power through it. I found the enemies-to-lovers a slow burn that I enjoyed. I would have happily spent much more time in that world and I CANNOT wait for the next book in this series. My criteria for 5/5 stars is that I bought or acquired the book, I would read it again, and I would buy it for a friend (not just recommend). Hold Me definitely meets that standard.