Book Reviews

Satisfaction Guaranteed by Karelia Stetz-Waters


CW/TW: backstory of bullying by intimate partner who is also a professor

Shana: When Tara showed me the blurb for an opposites-attract rom-com set in a sex toy store, I jumped on the chance to read it together. I’m glad I did, because Satisfaction Guaranteed is my first official Squee of 2021.

Tara: Isn’t it the freaking cutest? This book made me laugh out loud and gave me so many happy sighs. But let’s start by telling everyone what it’s about.

When Cade’s aunt Ruth dies, she leaves Cade one half of everything she owns: a house, a cabin, and a feminist sex shop, all of which are across the country in Portland. Cade’s new co-owner is Ruth’s employee, Selena, who also lives on Ruth’s property. Unfortunately, the business is up to its eyeballs in debt. Cade and Selena have a month to figure it out, or they’ll have to liquidate everything.

Parting ways with Ruth’s legacy might not be the worst for Cade, since she’s already busy running her parents’ prominent art gallery in New York City. But Selena has nowhere else to go and no other plan for the future, so she wants to give the store a real shot. At first glance, they couldn’t be more different: Cade is a workaholic who’s never had an orgasm and Selena is a free spirit who’s taken a vow of celibacy while she gets her life together (long story short, her life was very much NOT together before she met Ruth).

Shana: These two are my new favorite odd-couple. Selena is a sensual painter with a close-knit group of friends who seem to all have slept together at some point, while Cade is a lonely art lover, with one friend and an exasperating family.

Buttoned-up Cade drinks black coffee for breakfast, and eats boiled chicken breasts for dinner; Selena tempts her with caramel mochas and tater tots.

Cade wears colorless sweater vests, Selena wears corsets and fake fur. But they’re mesmerized by one another.

I loved the way Selena described Cade as a “hot, uptight, genderqueer prep-school boi.” And Cade’s a goner from pretty much the first time she sees curvy Selena’s unintentionally hilarious eulogy, where she rambles about Aunt Ruth’s clitoris. They have great romantic and comic chemistry. How many times did you laugh out loud during this book?

Tara: I laughed far too many times to count. This romcom truly delivers on both the romance and the comedic sides of things. I knew I was in for something special when it opened with this:

Cade Elgin sat in the first pew at Whole Heart Departures Funeral Home feeling out of place because she was the only person in the room not wearing gold lamé. She wore a dark suit. Dry clean only. Expensive.

Excuse me, what kind of funeral is this? Edibles are passed around, there’s that eulogy you mentioned where we learn the name of Ruth’s clitoris, and the closing song is “Total Eclipse of the Heart.” I loved that first chapter so much that I crossed all my fingers and toes hoping it would stick the landing. I was thrilled and relieved on the last page to learn that it does!

A huge part of why I love Satisfaction Guaranteed is because it feels like a fresh take on opposites attract, thanks to everything you mentioned, Shana. Except the boiled chicken breasts, which were just gross.

What were some of the standout elements for you?

Shana: I loved the slow burn of their mutual crushes. Selena and Cade both think the other is so beautiful/talented that they couldn’t possibly be interested in them. Au contraire, lovelies!

I adore a flustered love interest, and Cade is in a constant state of blushing with Selena around. Especially when she’s nonchalantly flashing photos of her vulva. Selena’s a dreamboat: not only does she check my tortured artist box, but she also has a motorcycle. Her tender caretaking of Cade the first time they rode together undid me.

That was the point where I told you that if I wasn’t already gay, this book would make me gay.

Tara: Oh yes, I think that scene nudged me a little farther on the Kinsey scale, too. It’s particularly special because Selena has a feedback system for Cade, so Cade can communicate while riding whether she wants Selena to go faster, slower, or to stop. I loved how it foreshadowed what sex would be like between them and how it showed that you can build consent into all kinds of experiences outside of the bedroom.

Shana: I thought the book was incredibly sex-positive, and the depiction of life at a feminist sex store was flawless. I particularly liked the way Cade’s limited experience and Selena’s playful attitude toward sex were both treated with zero shaming. The book normalizes a wide range of sexual experiences and handles consent well. Between Selena’s celibacy and Cade’s hesitancy, the book has a long, slow ramp up of sexual tension that focuses more on their romantic relationship than sexual compatibility. I appreciated that getting Cade to orgasm isn’t treated as an essential pinnacle to climb, which is what gives her the space to get comfortable in her body.

Tara: Hands down, one of my favourite moments of the book is during their first sexual encounter, when Cade tells Selena that she’s never had an orgasm. Selena offers the perfect response, which I didn’t anticipate and it makes my heart happy just thinking about it.

Show Spoiler

“I’ve never had an orgasm,” Cade blurted out.

The part of her brain that could still form thoughts half expected Selena to sit up, wipe her lips, and say, How is that possible?

Instead, Selena whispered, “You don’t have to.”

How good is that? Because you can absolutely have great sex without an orgasm and I love that Selena doesn’t promise anything or make Cade feel like she’s broken. The reassurance calms Cade down enough that she can relax into the moment.

Shana: Even though the book is set in a sex shop, it has more subplots about the art world than sex-related industries. I loved that both heroines were pretty knowledgeable about the talent and business side of art.

Tara: Yes, that was a nice surprise!

Remember how I said Selena didn’t have her shit together? That’s almost entirely related to her previous life as an artist. Information about her past is trickled out, so we learn why Selena doesn’t paint anymore, why she dropped out of art school, and why she isn’t with her ex-girlfriend anymore. More on all of that and how it relates to the CW/TW in the spoiler tag.

Show Spoiler

Selena’s ex was also her professor, who was intimidated by her talent. I was concerned the story was going to turn into a toxic love triangle and was so happy to be wrong about that.

Even better, Selena has the opportunity to pursue justice for how her ex bullied her out of art school. Assholes frequently prosper and predators are rarely held accountable in real life, so I found it satisfying and heartening to see how receptive the school’s dean is to Selena’s story.

Shana: I wanted to fist-bump Selena for standing up for herself.

One of the book’s selling points for me is that both Selena and Cade are excellent at what they do, and their skills are complementary. Our heroines have a short period of time to try to save the store, with Cade using her financial wizardry on the books, and Selena teaching her how to sell vibrators. Because they only have a month to turn things around, they truly need both Selena’s encyclopedic knowledge of sex and Cade’s business background. So I was initially frustrated with how much Selena struggled with Cade’s marketing advice on the store.

Tara: Yes, I was cringing just reading Selena’s resistance, because she was so precious about Ruth’s legacy. Once I was able to step back, I could understand why Selena was so sentimental. Ruth took Selena in during a rough period, so she was grieving the loss of an important person in her life. Also, Selena didn’t know where she was going to live if they couldn’t save the store. Grief and panic are not the best decision-making cocktail! That store sure sounded bonkers, though, so I had a lot of sympathy for Cade, who was trying to save the store while also managing the art gallery from afar.

Shana: Ah, yes. Aunt Ruth, everyone’s favorite nudist, certainly left her stamp on the store’s inventory. I was glad you pointed out that Selena was letting grief impact her decision making, and she does eventually come around. Honestly, her process beautifully mirrored the defensiveness many of us initially feel when it’s pointed out that a space that feels safe and welcoming to us, doesn’t feel inclusive of others.

Tara: Speaking of inclusivity! One last thing I want to bring up is my other favourite element of the story: the theme of belonging. Cade feels like she doesn’t belong in her own family, which isn’t helped by her parents’ regular jokes that she was switched at birth from a family of accountants. And, while Selena has a found family of friends, artists and burlesque performers, she’s feeling kind of adrift now that Ruth is gone and she doesn’t know whether the store will make it. Both of their emotional journeys involve understanding their value and self-worth, and I love how it makes them stronger as individuals, while also making them better partners for each other.

Shana: I stayed up late reading Satisfaction Guaranteed because I just couldn’t put it down. This book reminded me why I love contemporary romances—experiencing the heady rush of falling in love through characters that feel so real, they could walk off the page and into one of my dinner parties. Reading this brought me such joy.

Tara: I couldn’t agree more. I adored Cade and Selena, and I could have easily read hundreds more pages about them. This was the sex-positive, clitoris-forward (is that a thing? I think this book made it a thing) romance I didn’t know I needed. It made me laugh and it made my heart sing. I cannot recommend it enough. This is going straight to my to-reread list, because I will come back to this again when I need a pick-me-up.

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