Even Odds (Book 1)
As a gamer girl myself, I’ll always have a soft spot for those characters in romance novels. But it’s so hard to find stories that portray gamers of either gender realistically, much less those who work in the industry. Winters, on the other hand, described the world so well that reading the first half of the book, set at a gaming convention, often felt close to home – and not in a comfortable way. The awkwardness of men in gaming (and SF/F culture, where I mostly hang out) is so real, and Winters created multiple characters across that spectrum I could easily imagine meeting in real life.
The story arc is simple and goes about the way you’d expect, but the realism of the two romantic leads prompted me to keep reading. I identify all too well with Isabel’s need to balance expressing femininity in a still male-dominated profession and with Caleb’s stress about pursuing his art. Caleb also gets so many bonus points for NOT being the typical hero in this story. A male character who actively recognizes and rejects the signs and impulses of toxic masculinity was a joy to read.
Despite how many sexy bits there are in the romance books I read, I don’t often call them out. I’d love to make an exception here because Winters does a fantastic job of literally making consent sexy. This inclusion is especially important in an interaction between characters who have just met, and I applaud this writing decision.
Tied Score (Book 2)
The appeal of this series to me, especially after the first installment, was the mixture of romance with characters who are gamers. So, I was a tad disappointed that this book instead focused on the gaming company’s HR specialist and a baker. On the surface, there’s not much gaming. But Iris’s character is developed naturally, showing that she’s just as creative and quirky as her coworkers at PI, but that it’s also okay to have an organized side. Someone has to manage payroll, after all.
Despite this initial disappointment, the characters of Iris and Owen swept me up in their relationship at once. I’ve read a decent amount of BDSM fiction over the past few years, but this book flipped the script on me in multiple ways. The most obvious is that the heroine is the dominant rather than the submissive. However, the aspect of this story that I especially enjoyed was watching the characters learn about what they enjoy and develop their kinky bond.
This character growth also followed Iris and Owen into making positive changes in their “real” lives. The gaming aspect slips back in for Iris, and I cheered for her subplot arc even while I ached for her anxiety regarding Owen. Luckily, this is still a romance book, so we get our happily ever after. Whether you’re into gaming or not, this is a lovely romance book that I thoroughly enjoyed.
Single Player (Book 3)
My favorite thing about this trilogy has more to do with the individual characters created by Winters than the relationships she puts them in. The relationships are meaningful and are often the impetus, but I enjoyed the character growth that everyone goes through separate from the love stories. Winters creates a strong sense that the character growth will remain beyond the end of the story, even if the relationship doesn’t work out.
In this particular story, the relationship obviously does work out. No spoilers here, but the teased final ending set up at the beginning of the story does happen. It’s cliché enough to be entertaining but still realistic enough to be incredibly swoon-worthy. The spouse asked why I was grinning like an idiot on the couch as I finished this one.
Matthew’s growth here from coasting along through life to figuring out he wants more of a challenge was cool, but special props must be given to the delicate balance Winters creates for Silas. He is a neuro-atypical character, but that is not what causes his personal problems, nor is it something Matthew ever tries to “fix” or is frustrated with. Instead, Winters writes a delicate balance of mental health and past trauma, the healing of which is presented in a positive light by all relevant parties. (Also, there’s a cat. You can never go wrong with a cat.)
The epilogue is written to feature a sneak peek into how the other two couples from this series are doing, leaving me with a satisfying sense of this entire trilogy. Tailored for gamers, but written for anyone who enjoys a good love story.