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TRIPLE PLAY REVIEW: Donovan Brothers Brewery series by Victoria Dahl

Dear Ms. Dahl:

I had been planning to review Good Girls Don’t, but by the time I got to it, Bad Boys Do was out and Real Men Will was imminent. So I figured I might as well review all three, since the trilogy’s release dates are so close together. I’m not a stickler for reading a series in order, and I don’t think the Donovan family series needs to be read that way, but I will say that reading it in order made a definite impact on how I experienced each book, sometimes for the better and sometimes not. In general I enjoyed each book, though, and am glad I read them together for the full Donovan experience.

Good Girls Don’t

Good Girls Don't Victoria DahlDespite being the youngest of the Donovan siblings, Tessa carries the weight of the family’s coherence like an increasingly heavy burden. When the Donovan Brothers Brewery is burgled, and it turns out that older brother (and reputed reprobate) Jamie was spending the night with the daughter of a potential corporate client, Tessa senses that her burden is starting to overbalance, threatening to topple and break what’s left of the family. With their parents now dead for almost fifteen years, the three Donovan siblings are all that’s left, and Tessa has been doing quite a dance to ensure they all remain on relatively good terms and dedicated to the family business.

When older brother Eric finds out about Jamie, he will think the worst of Jamie – again – and this time he may be right, since the big wig client with whom oldest brother Eric was negotiating a big wig deal to provide Donovan brew on their family-run airline was ready to call the deal off after seeing Jamie with his daughter the morning after. Tessa is used to stretching the truth when the ends justify it, and this incident is no exception; whatever she has to do to salvage this deal she will do before Eric finds out the truth, especially when he already doubts Jamie properly secured the Brewery the night of the burglary.

When Luke Asher and his partner, Simone, are called to the Brewery to investigate yet another theft of computers, payroll records, and credit card numbers, he’s surprised by the force of his attraction to Tessa but intrigued that she seems to return his interest. Jamie, though, who partied hard with Luke in college, definitely plans to stand in the way of any potential relationship, believing, like the rest of the town, that Luke both impregnated his partner and left his ex-wife back in California while she was sick with cancer. One dog can instinctively scent another, after all. Fortunately or unfortunately at that point, Tessa takes one look at the 6’2” Detective Asher and decides she needs some under-the-covers fun with a guy like him.

Luke and Tessa make an interesting pair. Luke is sort of a protective OCD-type, the kind of guy who secretly reads baby books so he can be there for Simone when she has the baby, even though she refuses to disclose the father or even talk about the impending birth with former best friend Luke. And to protect Simone’s reputation, he hasn’t disputed the common accusation of paternity, which creates a bit of conflict in his budding relationship with Tessa. It’s not so much that Tessa believes he’s lying to her when he tells her he’s not the father; it’s the fear that she might be “that stupid girl who falls for someone awful.” And because Luke may be the very first man she hasn’t been able to manipulate in exactly the way she wants, she can’t break through his reticence in confessing the truth behind the most scandalous stories that follow him through life in Boulder.

For me, Good Girls Don’t was a pleasant read that served primarily as background and set-up for the next two books. The conflict between Tessa and Luke seemed a bit overblown on both sides, and while I enjoyed Luke’s almost obsessive gallantry where Simone was concerned, at times I felt he was more emotionally invested in his relationship with her than with Tessa. Learning the secret of his past might have created a stronger bond of understanding earlier for me with Luke, too. Also, Tessa’s manipulative inclinations, which made her somewhat unique to me, don’t really survive the book, a surprising (to me) disappointment, since I liked the idea of those qualities being a central part of her personality and not an insecure coping mechanism she seems to shed by the end. B-

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Bad Boys Do

Bad Boys Do Victoria DahlJamie Donovan is used to his bad boy reputation, even as he chafes beneath its limitations. As the “face” of the Brewery, he’s used to all the crazy stunts Tessa puts out on Twitter under his name, and while he doesn’t mind wearing the kilt and keeping the female customers happy, he’s also read to show both his siblings that he has more to offer the Brewery. In particular he has an idea to expand the business to include a limited food menu, and his determination to present a convincing plan to Eric leads him to a no-credit business course at the local college.

Olivia Bishop cannot believe that the handsome bartender from Donovan Brothers who flirted with her is a student in her class. The 35-year old adjunct faculty ex-wife of a tenured professor who cheated on her with students and told her she was “no fun,” Olivia is just starting to break out of her good girl shell, which is particularly disconcerting to ex-husband Victor, who simply cannot understand why Olivia divorced him. And Jamie’s expressed interest disconcerts Olivia, not only because he’s clearly younger than she, but also because he’s a sort-of student and totally hot. Too hot for a conservative, sheltered woman life Olivia, who is afraid that Victor was right when he called her “boring.”

Still, the idea of going to a faculty party alone is too much for Olivia, and when she asks Jamie to accompany her, the mutual attraction is undeniable despite Olivia’s concern that she’s too old and too boring for someone like Jamie. So they strike a deal of sorts: Olivia will help Jamie with his business plan (she has always secretly wanted to start her own consulting business) and he will help her learn to have fun, some of which will occur sans clothing.

Bad Boys Do is my favorite of the Donovan books. Olivia is likeable and her insecurities and sheltered personality understandable. The academic politics are rendered believably, even though I found Victor a bit extreme in his characterization. My one issue with Olivia is that she skewed over 40 for me, and while this wasn’t a problem with the relationship, I kind of wish she had been identified as a few years older. Jamie, whose charisma is palpably rendered in his characterization, is appealing and sympathetic, especially when he starts to take control of his own reputation, wresting the Twitter account away from Tessa and carrying on a surprisingly mature relationship with Olivia.

My primary issue with Jamie was that his reformation, which was the nominal subject of the book, seemed to take place off-page between this book and the first. In some ways he seems more committed to the relationship than Olivia, who is understandably insecure about both her feelings and Jamie’s, given the fact that until Jamie she only slept with one man who then proceeded to tell her in myriad way that she wasn’t enough for him. So all of the angst around how Jamie would be able to convince Eric, especially, of his willingness to take on more responsibility, seems manufactured. Either we have to see Eric as monumentally blind and unreasonable or ignore Jamie’s consistently mature behavior throughout the book. There is also some important information on the source of Jamie’s past recklessness that would have had far more impact on me if it had been revealed much earlier. Still Olivia’s character growth was sufficiently compelling for me to find the book a solid B read.

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Real Men Will

Real Men Will	Victoria DahlEric Donovan has carried the responsibilities of a father and a business owner since he was 24, when his parents died in a car crash, leaving him two substantially younger siblings and a family business to manage. His feelings of obligation to Michael Donovan go beyond the typical father-son bond, and Eric still operates from a sense of gratitude and self-expectation that is exacting, if not downright exhausting. Still, Eric has a secret, a sexy little secret he has spent months trying to forget, until the evening she walks into the Brewery asking for Jamie Donovan.

Beth Cantrell manages The White Orchid, the local shop supplying everything from the sexiest lingerie to the latest in self-pleasuring toys. But despite the reputation of the shop, which extends by association to her, Beth views herself as stubbornly vanilla in her tastes, happy to be an advocate for others who want to get their freak on but quite certain her own inner freak is on permanent strike. Another character in the series with a secret past shame (that, like the others, is revealed far too late in the story to have sufficient emotional or dramatic impact), Beth has a more recent secret she’s been trying to forget – a one-night stand with an incredibly sexy man named Jamie Donovan whom she met at a local business expo.

Except, of course, Beth’s Jamie Donovan is really Eric Donovan, and once the hypocrisy is publicly revealed, Eric finds himself in trouble with Beth, Jamie, and Tessa, none of whom can believe the selfish, insensitive lie. Beth, especially, is humiliated, and even worse, still attracted to the deceitful Eric, who had given her a sexual thrill beyond anything she had anticipated or experienced before. And Eric, who had always been in control, had “lost his hold” on his life. Everything he’s worked for now bores him and despite his shameful actions toward Beth, he cannot get the memory of her out of his head – or other parts of his anatomy.

Eric turned out to be my favorite hero of the series, in large part because his conflict was the most interesting to me. The combination of shame, desire, and hypocrisy worked well with his backstory and as a nice contrast to his sibling’s stories. Beth was a tougher sell for me. I liked the idea that she was being written against type – the manager of a sex shop who wasn’t hyper-sexualized. However, that portrayal also set her up to be the somewhat undersexed heroine who finally finds her sexual freedom with the book’s hero – which is essentially what happens to her. Further, her own shameful secret (which, when revealed late in the book, was way tamer than I had imagined) is supposed to be bad enough to make her father call her teenaged self all sorts of horrible names, and yet the man is presented in the novel as a loving, devoted father who is proud of his daughter for running a lingerie store, the lie she tells him to ward off his disapproval. It was difficult for me to see a man proud of his daughter for managing an underwear store as so disapproving of her as to warrant the fearfully perpetuated lie.

This untruth plays a large part in the story’s conflict via the Donovan Brewery burglary subplot that commenced in the first book, and it exemplifies a persistent issue I had with Beth’s character, namely that she was walking a line between being sexually open and confident but not too open and confident. I had this line-walking issue with several of the series protagonists, in fact, a sense that the envelope was simultaneously being pushed open and pulled slightly shut. Shame is a clear theme in all the books, and there were moments I felt that each book held back a little where it could have absolutely soared in its exploration of this provocative and multi-faceted theme. The series as a whole contemplates the process of overcoming shame and finding happiness in one’s own skin, and I appreciated the attempts to play the characters against type, even though I don’t think it always worked.

Reading the books in one shot probably exacerbated my response, and had I read Real Men Will without the other books, I would not have noticed Jamie’s regression nor been so shocked by information revealed about Eric’s past that would have helped clarify a lot in the first two books. And in the same way that Good Girls Don’t read stronger to me as part of the series, Real Men Will suffered a little bit, resolving into a B- read for me. Olivia and Jamie’s book turned out to be my favorite, but I am glad I read the series as a whole, and while I don’t think the books need to be read in order, I do think they are each enriched by the whole.

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~ Janet

isn't sure if she's an average Romance reader, or even an average reader, but a reader she is, enjoying everything from literary fiction to philosophy to history to poetry. Historical Romance was her first love within the genre, but she's fickle and easily seduced by the promise of a good read. She approaches every book with the same hope: that she will be filled from the inside out with something awesome that she didnʼt know, didnʼt think about, or didnʼt feel until that moment. And she's always looking for the next mind-blowing read, so feel free to share any suggestions!

19 Comments

  1. library addict
    Oct 25, 2011 @ 17:35:02

    I’m just starting the second book, but I enjoyed Good Girls Don’t after its slow start.

    Did you read the prequel novella about Eric & Beth, Just One Taste? Eric has a long way to go before I’ll buy him as hero material.

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  2. Jane
    Oct 25, 2011 @ 18:55:15

    I can see why the middle book was popular but I felt like the hero had to undergo a personality transplant in order for him to be “hero” material. As for Eric, well, he doesn’t get much better in book 3 and frankly I didn’t think the repressed sex shop owner was very innovative. That sort of trope has been done a ton before in the form of the sex therapist who is a virgin or repressed herself and it just needs the right man to bring out the naughty girl inside. Overall, while all three books were readable, none of the Donovan family were very likeable or even mature enough to carry on a long term loving relationship.

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  3. rachel
    Oct 25, 2011 @ 18:56:06

    I just finished the last book and was glad that I stuck with them. I really didn’t like Tessa in the first book and thought her manipulative behavior needed to get pointed out to her more by her brothers and Luke. I loved Jamie and Olivia and really enjoyed seeing the progression of their relationship and the way they brought out the best in each other. After reading the first two books I wasn’t sure that I was going to come around to liking Eric but he ended up being my favorite hero as well. One of the things I liked about him was that he was portrayed as very alpha and in charge in his relationship to his siblings but very worried that with Beth he was too vanilla and she saw him as comfortable or boring. I love that in Dahl’s books her characters have sexually mature relationships which (in my opinion) make her sex scenes some of the hottest around.

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  4. Kaetrin
    Oct 25, 2011 @ 19:44:02

    I think it makes a big difference to Eric’s story to read the novella first – I read them all at once too and having read the novella (the novella is chronologically the first book and sets up the relationship with the airline big wig too), I went in with a little more sympathy for Eric right from the start. The novella is more like a long prologue rather than a complete story (in that there’s no HEA). I actually graded the novella and RMW together because I felt they were one book. Eric was a real asshole in the second book so I was glad to have gotten to know him just a little in the novella first.

    Like you, I enjoyed Jamie’s book the best but Eric was a close second.

    @Rachel – she does write a scorching sex scene doesn’t she? :)

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  5. Praxidike
    Oct 25, 2011 @ 19:45:15

    I’ve read all three and I agree with your conclusions, Jayne. The other thing that bothered/irritated me was the way the series relied on Tessa to resolve the problems between the brothers by essentially acting as a gatekeeper (or, as I thought of it, a goalkeeper, because I don’t know how to appropriately use sports metaphors). Every time Jamie and Eric got into a confrontation, Tessa tried to defuse it.

    Now, I don’t have siblings, so I can’t say whether this is a realistic depiction of sibling relationships. What I CAN say is that I wished Tessa would mind her own business a little bit. I got that she didn’t want the family to fall apart or disintegrate, but conflict is a part of every day life and it can’t always be avoided or swept under the rug. I wish the author wouldn’t have put Tessa in that “motherly” role of deflecting the tension between the brothers.

    (And yes, I do know that that’s not how it ALWAYS was in all three books, but I don’t want to give away spoilers here. My main point is that I found the behavior to be a turn-off, and I wanted to see less of Tessa’s meddling in books 2 and 3).

    I’m editing this to add that aside from this, and the other issues that Jayne pointed out, I really did enjoy these books. I will probably read them again. And the sex scenes were certainly smokin’ hot, especially the ones in Book 3.

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  6. Robin/Janet
    Oct 25, 2011 @ 21:59:47

    @library addict: I did read the novella but didn’t review it here because it was part of an anthology, and I didn’t want to review the whole anthology. Also, I feel that the books should be stand alone (and each book stand alone, for that matter).

    When you finish Eric’s book, I hope you’ll comment on your experience of it. I didn’t have the negative reactions to Eric that many other readers did, so I didn’t feel he had as much reformation to undergo.

    @Jane: I think both Jamie and Eric transformed mostly off-page. Although to me Jamie had more maturation to undergo than Eric. One of my big problems was the late-stage revelations that IMO were supposed to explain issues and shift the reader’s sympathy.

    @rachel: I didn’t really find Tessa’s manipulations likeable, but I thought they were one of the more interesting aspects of her character, which is why I was kind of bummed to see her transformed by her epiphany re. the insecurity behind them. One thing that really seemed to just fall by the wayside (thankfully, IMO), was her determination to play those stupid games with Luke. THAT did not appeal to me at all, even though I liked her assertive pursuit of him.

    @Kaetrin: I did not read the novella until I had started RMW, and I read it because I was confused about the Jamie/Eric name mix-up in the book. I vaguely remembered something about that being mentioned when the novella was released, so I went back and read the novella before finishing RMW.

    I’m torn about Eric’s change in behavior between book 2 and 3. OTOH, we see some of Eric’s behavior in BBD through Jamie’s eyes, so that makes a difference, IMO. Although as I said in the review, I had issues with the characters changing from book to book to catalyze dramatic shifts. Jamie’s backsliding was the worst case, IMO, and maybe I’m letting Eric off a little too lightly because Jamie’s shift was so abrupt to me. And maybe the novella affected my view, as well. Still, Eric didn’t seem like such a horrible guy to me, even though he did a horrible thing. But at least he didn’t stand behind that horrible thing for very long, once he got caught. Should he have confessed before that? Definitely, but as I said, that hypocrisy made him interesting to me.

    @Praxidike: I actually thought Tessa’s adoption of the motherly role was realistic, so it didn’t bother me. What really seemed over the top to me was Jamie and Eric’s crazy protectiveness of Tessa where Luke was concerned. The idea that Jamie would actually think she was still a virgin, especially given her sexual frankness and her willingness to use Jamie’s sexuality in advertising the bar made him seem even more blind than a normal brother would be.

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  7. Kaetrin
    Oct 25, 2011 @ 22:37:28

    @Robin/Janet I didn’t think what Eric did was SO awful. It wasn’t great, but he did grovel once he was caught. I thought he came across as a real dick in Jamie’s book more than anything for the way he went off his tree at Jamie all the time without knowing the full story.
    I agree that the characters did change a bit from book to book, but I put that down to mostly the change of POV.

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  8. Danielle D
    Oct 26, 2011 @ 05:07:38

    I just picked up Read Men Will yesterday and will start after I read the current book I’m reading. I’ve been waiting for Eric’s story and he was a real pill in Jamie’s story.

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  9. Evangeline Holland
    Oct 26, 2011 @ 06:00:21

    Only read the review of Tessa/Luke’s books since I’m just starting Jamie’s book, but I will say that I loved Tessa Donovan to pieces. Dahl’s characterization was so spot on for someone like her (and like me, lol) it was uncanny, and I enjoyed her realization of her meddling-mediation tendencies. I actually found Luke rather blah outside of his conflict with Simone (now that you mention it, Robin, he did seem more emotionally invested in her than in Tessa), but he was a nice foil for Tessa. Now off to complete the trilogy–and visit the home brewery section of the newly-opened Whole Foods in my area. *g*

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  10. Janet P.
    Oct 26, 2011 @ 06:12:02

    None of this series so far has really been enjoyable to me but I’ll probably read the third just to close the series out in my mind. I really haven’t liked any of the Donovan family characters. They seem to need counseling much more than romantic partners.

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  11. Pat L.
    Oct 26, 2011 @ 06:59:01

    I will definitely read all 3 – I love her work.

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  12. SH
    Oct 26, 2011 @ 10:11:50

    I hated the prequel to this series – more particularly the last book. It was in an anthology with a couple of other authors nearly a year ago, and Dahl’s contribution was a completely unfinished story with an open end that screamed at us to buy the book – the third one, a YEAR later on.
    I couldn’t believe the dodgy marketing ploy, and the original didn’t make me at all enthusiastic to read the rest of the series.

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  13. Erin L
    Oct 26, 2011 @ 10:59:11

    I just bought the whole series at Harlequin. I found a coupon code SAVE5DOllARS that worked so I thought I might as well get them all at once.

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  14. Praxidike
    Oct 26, 2011 @ 12:05:00

    @Robin/Janet: I just noticed that I called you Jayne in my previous comment. Mea culpa, mea culpa maxima.

    And yes, I found that unbelievable, too. I know virgins in their 20s and 30s exist in this day and age, but that perception definitely didn’t fit Tessa’s personality.

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  15. Pia
    Oct 26, 2011 @ 12:22:25

    I read the second book first, and really liked both Olivia and Jamie. Unfortunately, I think the first book suffered because of that. I was just constantly irritated at Tessa for pushing Jamie to lie and then making snide comments towards him. I definitely liked her the least out of the siblings and I suspect it was knowing how Jamie matured that caused my dislike.

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  16. Jeannie
    Oct 26, 2011 @ 14:45:37

    I read the first two and I’m in the middle of the third book now. So far the second one has been my favorite but mostly for Jamie.

    In the first book Luke’s attachment to Simone made me uncomfortable. It was just a little too close for someone involved in a budding romantic relationship. And Tessa came off as a little high-strung, but then maybe that was Dahl’s affection for exclamation points.

    Overall, all three of these are coming off a bit flat for me.

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  17. Samantha
    Oct 26, 2011 @ 17:34:14

    My first experience reading Dahl was the novella prequel for this series. I wasn’t familiar with 2 of the 3 authors in that anthology but decided to give it a shot. I like Dahl’s story the least and definitely turned me off from ever trying anything else by her.

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  18. library addict
    Oct 26, 2011 @ 22:21:25

    I am rather meh on Real Men Will. Overall Tessa and Luke from Good Girls Don’t were my favorite couple. But since so much of their book was set-up for the rest of the trilogy, I don’t feel we got to know them as well as the other main characters. I wish all the page time spent on his relationship with Simone had been spent on his relationship with Tessa instead.

    Bad Boys Do was my favorite of the books since its main focus was on the relationship between the h/h. But the book seems out of place in some ways since Jamie reverted back to being a real jerk in the next book. It’s like all the progress made in the relationships in book 2 was thrown out the window in book 3.

    While Eric did apologize and grovel, I never bought his reasons for lying to Beth in the first place. As for Beth, I didn’t dislike her but her story arc did not hold my interest. And the reveal about Eric did nothing to truly explain why he was such a jerk to Jamie and to a lesser extent Tessa in the first two books. Combine all that with the fact that Jamie went back to being such a jerk in book 3, I didn’t enjoy the last book as much as I did the first two.

    In all three books I felt the conflict both between the various couples as well as the arguments between the siblings felt forced at times. The overreactions often seemed more to move the plot along than a true reflection of the characters.

    @Robin/Janet: Given the things her father said to her in high school and the way he reacted when he first found out about the shop, I can totally understand why Beth and her mother lied to him all of those years.

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  19. Robin/Janet
    Oct 28, 2011 @ 13:19:34

    @Kaetrin: Some of the changes I ascribed to POV shifts, but some I just couldn’t, especially the Jamie/Eric tension in the last book.

    @Praxidike: I think it would have been more believable to me if Jamie knew he was snowing Luke but tried it anyway to keep him away from her.

    @Jeannie: LOL, I think Tessa is a bit high strung, but I kind of liked that — or at least I found it interesting aspect of her character and didn’t want that to be extinguished once she had a Luke-induced orgasm. ;D

    @library addict: My problem was more generally in reconciling the guy her father had been when she was in high school and the guy we meet in the story. I felt the guy we meet in the story couldn’t possibly BE the guy we hear about from high school.

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