Charlie in a Red DressRating: 4.75 stars
Buy Link:
Amazon | All Romance
Length: Novella

It’s Halloween and Charlie’s best friend, Jeff, has convinced Charlie to go to a costume party dressed as his date—his female date. Charlie thinks it’s just going to be slapping a little makeup on and squeezing into a dress and heels, but Jeff, with help from his sister, insists on making Charlie up “right.” After a thorough transformation that includes three different types of hair removal cream and press-on nails, Charlie is shocked to look in the mirror and realize that he actually looks like “Charli,” the alter-ego he’d planned to adopt for the evening.

Even more surprising is the fact that he actually starts to feel like Charli while at the party, and he actually starts to enjoy acting like a girl. More specifically, acting like he’s Jeff’s girl. Which is weird, because up until tonight, Charlie would have sworn he was completely straight. He’s not sure what these confusing feelings mean for his own sexuality or for his relationship with Jeff, but he knows he wants to figure them out. Especially if it means keeping Jeff on his arm in a more permanent way.

This story was not at all what I expected—in the best way possible. From the summary, I was thinking I’d get some good kink and at least a HFN ending, and if I was lucky, I’d get some great kink with a great ending. This book is so, so much more than that. Men in women’s clothing (for any reason) is one of my favorite kinks, but unlike a lot of my other favorite kinks and tropes, it’s not something I can enjoy no matter what. This kink, for me, has to be handled in a certain way and address certain things for me to consider it done well. And while yes, most of this plot revolves around a “straight” guy wearing a dress (and consequently this review does, too), I got what I needed in terms of character motivation to back that up, plus there was so much more to love about this book.

One of the things I need to see with my cross dressing kink is for it to work for the characters. I hate any kink that feels like just an afterthought to the plot and the motivation behind it doesn’t make sense, but it really bothers me in a cross dressing story because there is such a range of needs this kink can satisfy and the motivations behind indulging in it can get very complex, and if that’s not respected and addressed the kink element just feels hollow or uninteresting. These characters really work for this kink and the way it’s presented. Charlie is sweet and he starts off thinking that wearing the dress is just going to be a little awkward but really funny. His fumbling realizations that he actually kind of likes dressing like a girl, and more specifically, pretending to be Jeff’s girl feel really organic and made me have such a soft spot for this character. His struggles to understand what all of this means for him, and what it means for him and Jeff, are painful and honest and really enjoyable to follow. And when he finally has his “epiphany” and connects with his feelings for Jeff, it’s amazing.

Then there’s Jeff. Oh boy, do I love me some Jeff. Throughout the first part of the story, the reader is mostly speculating about his motivations—does he have a thing for cross dressers? Is he aware of it? Is that why he suggested the costume?—and it adds just the right amount of tension to all of his and Charlie/Charli’s interactions. During that time he’s just Charlie’s kind of goofy, but thoughtful and sweet best friend, and he’s Charli’s caring and gentlemanly date. But then, when his motivations are revealed, wow. It was so sad to hear how he viewed his life and his sexuality. It was heartbreaking that he just wanted to be free to be himself and felt like he couldn’t. I absolutely adored this guy and frequently felt the urge to smother him in hugs.

I don’t really have a lot to say about the plot overall other than it worked, it felt complete, and nothing felt forced or contrived. But the ending? Holy cow, was it much better than I hoped for; it blew me away. It was tender, and moving, and a touch awkward, and it was so very perfect for these characters.

So, let’s get down to the nitty gritty now—the kink (because let’s face it, that’s the glue that holds this story together). It was really, really well done. It hit all three “levels” of a well-executed cross dressing story: we got to see Charlie getting ready, we got to see how wearing women’s clothing made him feel in a non-sexual way, and we got to see how it made him feel in a sexual way. All three are vital to making this kink enjoyable, in my opinion, and all three were not only present, but lovingly detailed, so that was definitely a win. Jeff’s reactions to Charlie in women’s clothing are great, and the whole story is just smoking hot.

The real gem of this story though, is the time dedicated to addressing the issue of sexuality for these characters, but also just in general. Sexuality, and gender identity, are not as cut and dry as society would have us believe, and it was so refreshing to see that come up here. Both characters are struggling to define themselves, and with the idea that sexuality is something that can’t be neatly defined in some cases. It was a surprisingly deep theme for such a short story that was so centered on erotica and it was thoroughly enjoyable.

Even if cross dressing is not one of your favorite kinks, I still highly recommend this book because I think it transcends the kink. This is a story about a guy putting on a dress, but it goes so much further than that. The well-developed characters, the intriguing character motivations, the lovely romance, and the thought-provoking conversations about sexuality make this a story just about anyone can enjoy.

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