For Real by Alexis Hall is not my normal sort of romance novel (I tend to favor quasi-historical romps). But I kept seeing people recommend it in various different places and I finally picked it up out of curiosity (the list that tipped me over was Slytherin/Hufflepuff pairings). I was surprised at how much I enjoyed it. It is contemporary BDSM m/m erotica but it has a compelling romance to ground it all.
Laurie is a trauma doctor who is pushing 40. He sees 19 year old Toby at a BDSM club and has pants feels for him. The book plays with expectations in that is Laurie is the sub and Toby is the dom in their relationship. Laurie is very uncomfortable with the age difference between the two and both of them have traumas that affect their ability to connect with one another. The story alternates viewpoints as they try to navigate the relationship and find their HEA. There is lots of sex and a fair amount of enticing food description (Toby is a short order cook), sometimes at the same time. Along those lines, there is a recipe at the back of the book for a lemon meringue pie that plays a role in the sexytimes which I thought was a cute touch. But mostly there are two people trying to figure out how overcome their fears, preconceptions, and uncertainties and learn how to fit into one another’s lives. It is surprisingly sweet and I am really glad I broke out of my comfort zone to read it. I’m also happy that it gave me the quote I used in my review title, when Toby acknowledges that another character thinks exceptionally highly of him despite what Toby feels is evidence to the contrary. “He thinks I’m this astonishing, talented, wonderful person, in spite of all available evidence to the contrary. But that’s sort of what love is, I guess. A perpetual state of semideranged partiality.”
This book is part of the Spires series but I haven’t read any of the other books and it did fine as a standalone. The supporting characters were nice color for the story but I never felt like I was missing anything in terms of their relationships with one another as sometimes happens when I come into a series midway.