An adjunct professor and a widower find love behind the bar in Mickey Chambers Shakes It Up. Charish Reid is an auto-buy/auto-read author for me because of her skill with character building, humor and tension. I was a little hesitant to pick this up because I don't enjoy books with lots of alcohol, but I'm happy to report this book strikes just the right balance by focusing on the workplace dynamics rather than endless descriptions of alcoholic drinks. If that's a concern for you, have no fear! I would put this in the same category as Natalie Caña's stellar debut, A Proposal They Can't Refuse, but with more heat.
Mickey's university has only assigned her one course for the summer and she's got bills to pay, including necessary appointments and medication to manage her chronic hyperthyroid illness. When she walks by The Saloon one day, she impulsively stops in and interviews for a job. Diego's bar has such a hard time keeping servers that the staff has a betting pool for how long each new server will last. Still, at 42 years old, he's finally made the commitment to go back to college and get his Bachelor's. Starting with... Mickey's class. While I always felt the power balance was tipped in Diego's direction because Mickey needs a paycheck to stay alive, I liked that Reid's characters talk about it frequently. Mickey could flunk him, Diego could fire her. Of course, they're both good people and neither would ever do that without just cause.
The tension in Mickey Chambers Shakes It Up is delicious. There's a lot of "we shouldn't be doing this" and strong personal arcs that make the characters wonder if they've got their priorities straight. One thing Reid never does though, is present Mickey as somehow better for Diego than his late wife or cast Mickey in the role of jealous girlfriend. Lucia was a great partner and person and when she died Diego grieved for five long years before daring to risk his heart again. There's no question if Mickey will respect her memory. Such a refreshing and deftly handled change.
I received a digital copy of this book for review but ended up buying it in print and alternating between print and audio (borrowed on Hoopla) as I read. The audio narration was fine not great, but I wish they'd cast two narrators as I felt Diego's POV was lacking.
Pick this up if you want a well-developed contemporary romance with a grumpy/sunshine vibe and excellent character arcs.
Character notes: Diego is Latino, Mickey is Black. Mickey is 33, Diego is 42. Mickey is fat and has been managing chronic illness since a young age. Side characters are queer, Asian, Latine, White and Black.
Content Warnings: cancer (past, parent and spouse), chronic illness, on-page medical distress, physical altercation in the bar, public drunkenness (bar patrons)