“The laced-up spinster and fly-by-the-seat-of-his-pants bad boy is often seen in romance, but rarely with the depth of character and growth displayed here. The emotional complexity of the serious woman and the not-taken-seriously man provides a touching contrast, and an ultimately believable, sweet ending. Readers may not come away from this novel remembering all the details, but they won't forget the satisfaction of a warm story well told.”
Contemporary romances are an endangered species in this paranormal-saturated market, so it's doubly gratifying when they are thoroughly delightful as well.
In her latest novel, the second in her Donovan Brothers Brewery trilogy, Victoria Dahl taps into one of the most common tropes in romance fiction—but commonality does not lessen its appeal nor its power.
Olivia is a mouse. She's shy, she's retiring, she's boring. She's not the kind of woman who has girlfriends. She wears neat clothes, and glasses, and her hair in a sensible bob. She's not the kind of woman who attracts the hot bartender, let alone the hot younger bartender.
Except, after divorcing her cruel, cheating husband and starting to stand on her own two feet, Olivia is beginning to wonder if maybe her mouse persona doesn't quite fit. A chance encounter with a colleague leads to a book club meeting, and, what do you know? Maybe Olivia is the type of woman who attracts a bartender after all.
Jamie loves women, and women have always loved Jamie. He doesn't set out to cultivate a bad boy reputation, but after one one-night-stand too many, his credibility is ruined, and with it any chance he has of being taken seriously in the family business. He needs maturity, he needs serious, and he needs it in a tangible form.
There's a lot to like about Ms. Dahl's story, but what works in this second installment of the trilogy that was missing in the first is the developing depth of character. Jamie is a boy who thinks he's a man, but his need for outside validation undermines him. His growth through the story from thinking he's a man to actually becoming a man follows a tradition more often seen in literary bildüngsroman, but handled with a light, romantic comedy touch.
Olivia also grows meaningfully through the novel, recognizing the role she played in her own oppression—then making and implementing the plan to push through it, even when faced with a set-back or two. While her planning may come across as obsessive, it's perfectly in character, and little details like post-its in her book club copy of The Last of the Mohicans are wonderful show-don't-tell moments.
As an aside, followers of Victoria Dahl's Twitter account will enjoy the sly in-joke of this book choice indicating the deep admiration Ms. Dahl has for the Daniel Day Lewis film adaptation.
Of course, the novel is not all growth and developing self-awareness. Ms. Dahl has a reputation for bold sexuality, and this novel delivers. Her characters rarely have sexual hang-ups—refreshing in a genre that still bears the scars of frightened virgins and forced seduction—and Jamie and Olivia's bedroom (and kitchen and bathroom) antics are well-handled as further character exposition, from Jamie's easy eroticism to Olivia's neurotic justifications. Both characters embrace the sensual side of their relationship, though conflict comes in when Olivia mistakes sexual favors for sexual favors.
The laced-up spinster and fly-by-the-seat-of-his-pants bad boy is often seen in romance, but rarely with the depth of character and growth displayed here. The emotional complexity of the serious woman and the not-taken-seriously man provides a touching contrast, and an ultimately believable, sweet ending. Readers may not come away from this novel remembering all the details, but they won't forget the satisfaction of a warm story well told.