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REVIEW: Close Enough to Touch by Victoria Dahl

Dear Ms. Dahl,

I am still surprised at how little I liked your latest Western-lite book, Close Enough to Touch. I’ve enjoyed many of your books–especially the sexy Bad Boys Do (reviewed here, along with the other Donovan books, by Robin) and the very funny  Lead Me On (given a B+ here by Jane)– and you’re hilarious on Twitter. This book, however, wasn’t funny, sexy, or probable. The leads, Cole and Grace, are ill-suited sad sacks faltering through life who meet in a small Western town and share rough sex and peevish conversation. It’s rare I’m raring to finish a book; this one I was pleased to plow through.

Close Enough to Touch by Victoria DahlGrace Barrett slunk away from Los Angeles where, poor baby, she lost her true self pandering to her ex-boyfriend and his self-absorbed clients in big bad Hollywood. Over the past ten years, Grace’s gone from homeless teen to small time make-up artist–she kinda liked herself at that stage–to big time makeup artist. Sadly, she also acquired a blowhard boyfriend, Scott.  Scott not only cheated on her and hooked her up with soulless movie big wigs (professionally); he dumped her and threw her out of the home they shared. Grace, at a low point, stole scummy Scott’s  wallet–she figured he owed her a bit of cash. Unfortunately for Grace, when she then crashed at an old friend’s place, the dude threw a wild shindig where some asswipe stole Grace’s purse–and Scott’s wallet which had eight grand in it. Scott threatened to have Grace arrested; furthermore a producer she ticked off –she lectured the non-gent about his abusive treatment of his girlfriend, a famous actress–told the movie world Grace was a quarrelsome drunk and now no one will hire her. Grace, feeling defeated by LA and life skips town and heads for Jackson, Wyoming.

Why Jackson? Well, her cantankerous great-aunt Rayleen has offered her an unfurnished apartment in a building Rayleen owns rent-free for a few months. Rayleen doesn’t know Grace at all; she’s only letting Grace stay at the Stud Farm–so called because Rayleen usually only rents to hot young guys–as a favor to her sister Rose, Grace’s grandmother.  When Grace arrives and asks Rayleen for the key, Rayleen sums up all that sucks for Grace.

“Aunt Rayleen?” Grace finally ventured.

The old lady grunted.

“I’m Grace. Grace Barrett.”

Still no response.

“Your niece?”

Her silver eyebrows rose and she finally looked up. A sharp green gaze took Grace in with one flick of her eyes. “Thought you’d be knocked up.”

“Pardon me?”

Her eyes fell back to the table and she resumed her card flipping. “A grown woman who can’t keep a job or support herself and has to write to her grandmother to ask for money? I figured you were out of commission. But you look perfectly fine to me.”

….“I was living with someone and it didn’t work out. With the economy—”

“Who told you could ever depend on a man for anything?”

“I… No one told me that.”

“You probably learned that from your idiot mama. That woman doesn’t have the sense God gave a dog. And dogs ain’t exactly nature’s Einsteins, are they?”

A strange, hot wash of emotion trickled along Grace’s skin. Fury, certainly, but it was mixed up with shame and the awful burn of truth spoken bluntly.

“Listen,” she pushed out past clenched teeth. “If you don’t want me here, say so and I’ll leave right now.”

….“Listen, honey,” Rayleen said, finally setting down the cards. “It’s not a question of me wanting you here. I don’t know you from Adam. But I’m willing to have you here because I have an empty apartment and Rose asked me for a favor. You pay the utilities and you can stay. But just through ski season. August is one thing, but come December? I’ve got my eye on a handsome snowboarding instructor I had to turn away last year.”

….“You’re pissed, ain’t ya? I like that. Pride’s a beautiful thing, but you’ve got to ask yourself where your pride has gotten you up to this point. Because as far as I can tell, it’s gotten you homeless and bitter. You enjoying the taste of that?”

Once Grace takes the key, she’s no longer homeless. But she’s still bitter and, for much of the novel, she stays that way.

Grace’s bitterness doesn’t turn off the injured cowboy across the hall from her, however. Cole Rawlins wants to jump her bones the minute he hears Grace cursing and kicking her suitcase in the hall outside his door. Cole, who had a horse fall on him over a year ago, still hasn’t gotten back in the saddle. His leg and pelvis, which were busted to hell in the accident, still hurt like a bitch and his long-term dream of buying the ranch he’s worked on most his whole life is ominously iffy. Grace looks like just the distraction he needs.

That girl was going to be trouble. If the purple layers in her dark, choppy hair didn’t make that clear, the hard glint in her eyes certainly did. He knew that look. He’d seen it before. And despite his image as the wholesome and friendly good ol’ cowboy, that look stirred something in him. It was like a dare. A challenge.

And he did love a challenge.

Grace turns out to be no challenge to bed–Cole’s riding (for the first time since his accident) Grace between his sheets within a few weeks of her coming to town. No Grace is, drum roll please, a challenge to get close to. She keeps her heart slammed shut to all but her friend Merry. (Is it me or do the names in this story seem a bit cornball?) Grace wants Cole to fuck her but not care for her. Cole wants more; Grace continually pushes him away.

“More,” she said. “Harder.”

He paused.

She felt him lift his head and look at her, but she kept her eyes closed and turned her face away.

His fingers curled a little tighter against her, but when he bent his head again, his mouth was just as gentle. He teased her, tempting her to feel something more than just sexual need.

His lips slid down to her ribs, lingering over the tattoo he couldn’t stop asking about. It was as if he wanted to collect details about her for his own amusement. Why?

“Harder,” she rasped, sliding her hand over his to push his fingers more firmly against her. “Cole.”

“Shh,” he whispered against her skin. “It’s okay.”

But it wasn’t okay. She didn’t want it like this. Even though the cotton grew wet under his fingers. Even though her skin bloomed with warmth under his mouth. She didn’t want this.

She pulled his hand higher and forced it beneath her panties. She wound her free hand into his hair and squeezed her fist tight. “More,” she ordered. “No.” He twisted his hand up and captured her wrist. She pulled his hair tighter until he pushed her down into the mattress.

Grace turned her body, turning away from him, struggling, forcing him to treat her roughly. He yanked her back against his body, her ass pressed to his cock.

When she pushed away, her flesh only pressed more tightly against his thickness. She wouldn’t be soft for him. No matter what he thought. No matter what he asked for.

When he shoved her to her stomach and fucked her, Grace was smiling. She didn’t need gentleness from anyone. She just needed this.

I didn’t need any of it. The two are joyless, clinging hard to pain from their pasts. Cole, in particular, is stuck on a mistake he made when he was young. He’s thirty-four, never had a serious relationship, is angry at his long dead dad, and unable to think of any future for himself other than the one he’d always assumed he’d have.  Grace can’t figure out any solutions to her problems that don’t require oodles of brooding and self-flagellation. Depressed doesn’t equal deep–Grace and Cole act in ways that are predictable and indulgent. Their predicaments–both singularly and together–failed to flag my interest.

I also didn’t like the silver screen induced conflict between the two. Cole loathes all things Tinsel Town ever since his dick led him, when he was twenty-one, to grief  at the hands of a bitchy Kathryn Bigelow-esque director. When Grace suggests the ranch Cole longs to own as the perfect place for scenes in same director’s latest movie, Cole is an utter ass about it even though it offers rewarding work for Grace. For her part, Grace seethes with misplaced anger when she discovers Cole’s kept his long ago Hollywood heartbreak from her.  By the time they did finally pull their heads out of their respective rumps and worked toward some sort of adult happy ending, it was too little, too late, and too far-fetched.

I do like your way with dialog; it’s a strength of this novel. The way the characters talk to one another is realistic and engaging. Rayleen, in particular, is shown by the things she says to be a woman with a bigger heart than she wishes any one to see. I also enjoyed the banter between Cole and the other “studs” in the book. These guys talk like guys–I found the male shooting the shit to be more believable than the burdened blather Cole and Grace share. And I was left wondering about Eve, Grace’s boss in Jackson. She comes across as a complex woman with a story worth telling.

When I finished this book, I paged through my favorite of your contemporaries, Bad Boys Do. That book has likable leads, verve and wit, hot sex, and a satisfying HEA… unlike Close Enough to Touch. I give the latter a C.





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I loved romances when, back in the mid 70's, in junior high, I read every Barbara Cartland novel I could check out from the library. Then, thanks to a savvy babysitter, I got my hands on the hot stuff. To this day I can remember how astonishingly steamy I found Rosemary Rogers' Sweet Savage Love. I abandoned romance when I went to college and didn't pick one up again until 2007 when I got my first Kindle. Since then, I’ve read countless romances; loved many, liked more, hated some. Most of what I read is historical and contemporary romance, but I’m open to almost any genre. I like my books to have sizzle, wit, and plots that make sense. I’d take sexy over sweet any day. I’m a sucker for smart heroes and smart-mouthed heroines. When not reading or writing about reading, or wishing I could rule the world, I'm meddling in the lives of my kids--I have four, ages 17 to 21--, managing my husband's practice, doing bossy volunteer work, and hanging out with Dr. Feelgood.


  1. Jenny Lyn
    Sep 07, 2012 @ 13:22:23

    First, Victoria Dahl’s contemporaries will always be auto-buys for me. I have Close Enough To Touch on my Kindle now in the TBR file. I enjoy her style, dialogue, and sex scenes just that much. Lead Me On, Talk Me Down, and Start Me Up remain some of my all-time favorites. Perhaps she ventured a little outside her wheelhouse with this one and stumbled a bit in the execution. I think infusing a character with any degree of bitterness is risky in itself for the reasons you pointed out. Too much and you’ve spoiled the soup.

    Great review!

  2. Lisa
    Sep 07, 2012 @ 13:41:39

    I just finished Close Enough To Touch yesterday and totally loved it. In fact, I think it’s one of my favorites by Dahl. I usually don’t like books about Hollywood, but I give this book 5 stars!

  3. Kari
    Sep 07, 2012 @ 13:51:58

    Agree with everything you said! It isn’t her best. If you’re a Victoria Dahl fan, you’ll be disappointed. The sex wasn’t hot and she writes great sex. One of the reasons I love Victoria Dahl are her female friendships and this one didn’t have it. The girls night was stilted. The book felt rushed.

  4. willaful
    Sep 07, 2012 @ 14:36:45

    I didn’t find it depressing; my main issue was feeling no chemistry at all between the leads. The sex scenes thus became a whole lot of no fun.

  5. Dabney
    Sep 07, 2012 @ 16:46:25

    @willaful: I didn’t think it was depressing–I thought the characters were depressed. I’m with you about the chemistry.

    She’s written so many other couples with great spark–I was bummed to not feel that between Grace and Cole.

  6. Jen
    Sep 08, 2012 @ 21:15:52

    I loved the book! I thought there actually WAS good chemistry between Grace and Cole. I could buy it that they’d be drawn to each other because they were both damaged, and they were both pretty ready for their lives to change at that point so it didn’t seem like such a stretch. These two have serious issues–depressing, as you point out. There’s no lightweight romance “mental illness” here, but for me that’s not an issue. And one of the things I like about Dahl is that her books end happily but not “happily ever after”. I don’t know, I thought it made for a complex story and I really enjoyed it.

  7. Molly O'Keefe
    Sep 10, 2012 @ 12:13:20

    I really enjoyed this one too. I really liked Gracie and Dahl’s treatment of her history and how it added conflict to the sexual relationship. I loved the sexual conflict – she knew she was being used and convinced herself she was not only okay with it but wanted it that way. When he realized he was using her – he felt crappy. And I believed him. I loved that dynamic.

    I know that when I am putting together a character’s backstory I tend to create one big terrible thing and if that terrible thing hadn’t happened – perhaps that character would have been fine, well-adjusted. But as it stands that character has to get over that thing and then they move on to well-adjusted. Which in hindsight is utterly unbelieveable. Dahl didn’t even bother with that Gracie is always going to be damaged. I dug it.

  8. Trisha
    Sep 13, 2012 @ 10:54:24

    I agree completely with this review, and the opinion that the chemistry between the two leads was lacking. Dahl can handle damaged characters just fine—ONE WEEK AS LOVERS was amazing—but something about these two was just off-putting. Their ways of handling their issues felt childish and went on way too long. Although I enjoyed her previous contemporaries quite a bit, this one had me wishing even more that she would go back to historicals. That said, the peripheral characters were more appealing and since I really like Dahl’s other works I’m sure I’ll give the books about Merry and Eve a try.

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