Fangirling About Books: Even Odds

From the publisher:

Geeky meets kinky in this first deliciously sexy novel in the Slices of Pi series by RITA-nominated author Elia Winters, which follows the romantic rendezvous of the employees at PI Games, a gaming company based out of sultry Florida.

As a design manager at PI Games, Isabel Suarez is no stranger to the struggles of being a woman in a male-dominated industry. But when her team attends a gaming convention on the other side of the country, she figures there’s no harm in putting aside her professional demeanor for one weekend to participate in a risqué scavenger hunt. Why shouldn’t she let loose and have a little fun?

A careless romp soon turns into more, however, when Isabel ends up having a fling with Caleb Portland, an artist and animator, without knowing he has just been hired to partner with her at her company—and Caleb can’t bring himself to tell her. When they end up coworkers a few weeks later, they need to find a way to work together and keep things strictly professional. Caleb doesn’t want to take on a relationship and risk failure. Isabel doesn’t want to risk ruining the professional reputation she’s worked so hard to develop. But when faced with the undeniable sizzling chemistry between them, will either of them be able to resist temptation?

A sexy and witty tale of romance and modern workplace politics, Even Odds is the latest winning entry in Elia Winters’ unique and well-loved erotic novels.

If you're sensing a theme here, that's fair. Nerdy people doing sexy things is Sionna catnip, yes, please and thank you. So I was excited to get my hands on this one from Elia Winters, whose work I've enjoyed and who regularly makes me snort giggle on Twitter. And it's also why I was a little let down. I definitely enjoyed it, but it wasn't quite what I was hoping for when I started reading.

The first couple of chapters suffer a bit from first in series syndrome, introducing a bunch of characters and backstory before any of the present tense plot shows up. Once the plot starts, the first half of the book follows Isabel and Caleb at DiceCon, and I went into reading thinking that their hook-up at the convention would be the set-up and catalyst and not where the bulk of the relationship building was supposed to take place. This is not the fault of the writing or the story, but an expectation mis-match that I think the cover copy doesn't help. 

It bugged me that we're supposed to follow along with their story and be rooting for them when they're both being at least mildly dishonest with each other. To me, Caleb's level of dishonesty is far more egregious—he doesn't tell her that he interviewed at her company, and justifies it to himself by saying there's no way he's going to get the job but come on, dude, they're calling your references--because it doesn't allow Isabel to make a truly informed decision about whether or not he's someone she wants to sleep with.

And that lack of informed consent—Caleb deliberately chooses not to verify where she works before they sleep together, even though he has a feeling it's PI Games, and then when he knows for sure, continues to skirt the issue—cast a shadow on their relationship for me. There isn't enough to their attraction, aside from hey, you're cute and also like video games and the two of them telling us that they're having all the falling in love type feels, to offset my annoyance with Caleb for his behavior. Especially given the work environment that she's in, where she's constantly battling sexism from her co-workers and from the industry at large. (The fact that he doesn't immediately get that when she voices her concerns was also points taken off for Caleb.)

That being said, there were a bunch of things that did totally work for me.

Once they're back in Tampa and Caleb joins the office, the story picks up, and it makes me wish that more of the book was set there. We finally get to see Isabel and Caleb having conversations that aren't about sex or why they shouldn't be together. It gets easier to believe that they would want to set aside their issues and fears and make it work. Even their sex banter gets better. The sex itself is also hot and while they lacked fully informed consent at the beginning, consent to physical acts is handled neatly while still being sexy. There's something to be said for insisting that she tells him what she wants at each step of the way the first time they hook up.

Isabel's work nemesis is so vile I experienced actual, physical revulsion every time he showed up. (My notes contain so many instances of me writing want. to. punch). He's so relentlessly awful it should be a caricature, but unfortunately, talk to any woman who's worked in gaming and the reality is that he's horribly believable. Isabel's reluctance to be seen as a sexual being by her co-workers, the way she hides in baggy polo shirts and khakis, and gets sucked into their scavenger hunt because she's trying to be one of the guys, and the way every one of them brushes off her concerns at one point or another is so, so believable and it made me so, so angry every time it happened.

When confronted with Isabel's nemesis, Caleb resists the urge to white knight for her, and lets her figure out how to handle it for herself while being supportive off to the side. You get the sense he wants to step in and punch the guy, but he doesn't. This made me forgive him a lot.

All told, I did enjoy the book and I am definitely looking forward to the second installment of the series,  Tied Scorewhich will follow PI Games's HR rep and the hot baker who owns a shop down the street. Yes. Please. Bring on the pastry pr0n.