Romance, Historical, Contemporary, Paranormal, Young Adult, Book reviews, industry news, and commentary from a reader's point of view

Review

REVIEW:  Lead Me On by Victoria Dahl

REVIEW: Lead Me On by Victoria Dahl

cover of Lead Me On by Victoria DahlDear Ms. Dahl:

I’m probably not going to do this book justice in the review and I actually have some fear of turning people off the book based on what I am going to write. Robin and I talked about the book and she said it was brave and I agree. It’s brave because Jane, the heroine, is a complicated and messed up character that is both likeable and unlikeable afraid of her own sexuality and ashamed of her past. She is full of prejudice and bias and anger and shame and in order to achieve her happy ending, she has to overcome these things.

It’s often acceptable to read about the damaged hero finding redemption but I appreciate Jane’s road to acceptance just as much as an infamous rake redeemed story.

There is a memorable scene in the Princess Bride wherein Valerie, cries “Liar, Liar” and shakes her finger at Miracle Max for denying that Westley said “True Love” after Max extracts breath from Westley’s mostly dead body. Valerie says that ever since Miracle Max was fired by Prince Humperdink his confidence was shattered and he was afraid to perform any magic.

Jane is like Miracle Max only she never had any confidence. Jane’s mother was a prison groupie who moved from prison town to prison town latching on to various lifers. Jane’s biological father was a lifer who wrote to her from prison regularly until she was twelve. She had no male role model in her life and she thirsted for affection and approval from someone. After Jane suffered one rejection too many at a young age, with her newly blossoming body, Jane went out looking much older than she was to find the only kind of affection that she could from boys and men who never should have touched her.

She ran with a hard crowd and after allowing herself to be used one too many times, Jane had a wake up call and she changed her entire life. She dyed her hair, changed her name, moved away from her family, and suppressed every instinct that she had ever had and became, to the best of her ability, plain Jane. She works as the office manager in Quinn Jenning’s architectural firm. She is efficient, responsible, and very good at her job. She dates upwardly mobile professional men like lawyers, vetinarians, dentists. She is certainly not attracted to a man like William Chase with his beat up pickup, his tattoos, his big rough body, and his job as a excavation specialist, even if he does own his own company.

The truth is that a woman with confidence and self respect (as Jane would like to see herself) would not care whom she was seen with as long as she loved that man. But Jane lives under specter of hurt and shame. She has rebuilt but to a large extent it’s all a facade. Jane refers to herself as faking her way through each day. With Chase, she can let go and be herself but Jane isn’t even sure who she is anymore, only who she wants to be. What she doesn’t understand and has to come to grips with is that she needs to love and accept herself, all her flaws, her past mistakes, her weaknesses and her strengths because who she is is worth loving. And she’s strong. When you read about her past and how she recreated herself, you realize how strong of a person Jane really is.

As for Chase, he understands the embarassing past. He has one. He’s accepted his mistakes. He loves his alcoholic father while being saddened and angered by his father’s addiction. He’s in a good place in his life. The question, of course, is what attracts Chase to Jane who plays hot and cold, who tries to use Chase as a sexual object, who really is embarassed to be seen with Chase.

At first, Jane appeared to be an uptight secretary who might be interested in being messed up by a bad boy and then Chase realizes Jane is far more complicated. Something about her draws Chase and while he knows he’s being dicked around, he sees something worthwhile in Jane. Even more importantly, Chase knows that he can’t fix Jane, that she has to fix herself. And Jane, well, she can’t control everything:

Ending the kiss with a faint taste of her bottom lip, Chase framed her face in his hands so she’d have to meet his gaze. "I’m falling for you," he repeated.

"No."

He let her go. "You have no say in it. Sorry." Reaching past her, he opened the truck door. "Where to?"

"Chase, we can’t… There’s no future for us. None!"

"You want to go to your grandma’s house?"

She put her hand flat to his chest and pushed him. He took a step back so she’d feel some satisfaction. "Listen to me!"

"I’ll do whatever I want, Jane. I just thought you deserved fair warning."

What makes this such an easy read is though the subject matter might be weighty, the overall tone of the book is fairly light. Chase and Jane have great dialogue. There are very humorous moments interspersed throughout the book. One of my favorite is when Chase and Jane are at a biker bar and a bosomy redhead comes on to Chase while Jane is off talking to someone else, trying to get some information on her parole skipping brother.

Chase’s head jerked up so fast the room spun. Smack in the middle of that spinning was a tight bundle of angry Jane.

Her lips flattened into a thin line as she narrowed her eyes at the woman. "Would you please remove your hands from him?"

"I don’t think so, darlin’," the woman drawled, tightening her hold on Chase. He raised up his free arm to show his helplessness.


Jane drew in a deep breath, her nostrils flared, and he saw the flash of rage in her eyes as she went to the dark side. "Get your tits off him, you heifer!"

"Jane!" Chase coughed, a shocked laugh choking off his voice. But the woman finally let him go.

Arms crossed, Jane watched until she was at least ten feet away before turning her glare on Chase. "You want me to leave so you can get a closer look at those?"

"No!" He held his hands up in complete surrender. "I couldn’t get away from her."

"Funny, because you look awfully big and strong. Almost like a full-grown man."

Chase gave her his best puppy dog eyes, silently begging for forgiveness.

Further, the story is very sexy and the sex scenes, while hot and explicit, actually mean something. They advance the story, the character arc, the romance. It’s not like you can skip these scenes because they aren’t just descriptions of sex but exhibits of the state of mind of the characters and where they are in the relationship. For Chase, he tries to show her she’s worth more than a quick lay and for Jane, it’s a release, but as Jane and Chase’s relationship matures, so does their interaction during sex.

It’s really beautiful to see Jane gain her courage and embrace her confidence at the end of the story.

So why the B+ grade? Jane and Chase were so carefully drawn and so were Jane’s family, her mother, her irresponsible brother, her stepdad, and even her grandmother. Yet, conflict was inserted toward the end with Jane’s ex boyfriend Greg in a hamfisted way. Greg’s actions lack organic motivation and his portrayal seemed obviously manipulative of the events at the end of the story.   Fortunately, the story does not end on this note.

This story has a lot of depth and I think it takes quite a bit of skill to write such a deep story with such a light hand. B+

Best regards,

Jane

P.S.   I still think we readers deserved one last sex scene with Chase and his shaved head.

This mass market can be purchased at Amazonor eHarlequin.com in ebook format from eHarlequin.com or other etailers.

This book was provided to the reviewer by either the author or publisher. The reviewer did not pay for this book but received it free. The Harlequin Affiliate link earns us an affiliate fee if you purchase a book through the link.

REVIEW: Over Her Head by Nora Fleischer

REVIEW: Over Her Head by Nora Fleischer

Cover image for Over Her HeadDear Ms. Fleischer:

When I saw that the novella you sent to Dear Author for review was published by Drollerie Press, I eagerly snagged it for review. Unfortunately, it’s been a while getting to the review, but I at least hope I can encourage a few readers to try Over Her Head, a sweet, nicely-crafted romance that takes place at the turn of the 20th C and offers a refreshing take on the merman/mermaid myth.

Frances Schmidt is a doctoral student in history in Massachusetts, and her doctoral dissertation is on merfolk. However, there is very little primary research on the subject – except for an enormous collection held privately by one Garrett Hathaway of Ipsiquinguit, Maine. When Frances travels alone to Maine, she does not know what to expect; she is merely compelled by curiosity, a desire not to return a failure to her family in Minnesota, and the need to protect her work from a fellow-grad student, Norbert, who has taken Frances’s topic and is trying to beat her to Hathaway’s collection. What she finds, however, is a relatively young man, a “New Yorker” with a summerhouse in Maine, who has an extensive and eccentric collection of merfolk literature. And, despite the inviting beach right outside his back door, very little sun on his fair skin.

If you’re thinking that Garrett is a vampire, rest assured that he’s not. But he does have a secret that makes him a bit more than the mere mortal Frances finds herself growing more and more attracted to, after, that is, she wins him over to letting her into his library with a tasty plate of homemade spice cookies. A somewhat unorthodox form of scholarly argument, but successful, nonetheless, in gaining her access to a house adorned with almost every iteration of mermaids, mermen, and other underwater decorations, built not by Garrett, but by another fan of mythic sea folk.

Perhaps the popularity of the merfolk stories keeps Frances’s curiosity about Garrett’s extensive collection to a minimum, because she seems relatively content to merely enjoy the burgeoning friendship between her and Garrett, with whom she shares a profound sense of not wholly fitting in to society’s expectations. For both, there is both pain and opportunity in this situation. For Frances, there is a sense of not measuring up to other, more attractive, women:

When she was a teenage girl, she’d dreamed that one morning she’d wake up beautiful. On the day she put her hair up and started wearing long dresses, she’d wished for a miraculous change. For some of her friends, it had been like that. But she was doomed to stay plain, lumpy Frances. And the horrible thing was that she loved just like a pretty girl.

Not that Garrett sees her as dumpy, though, even though at first she appears to him as somewhat “stout” and plain. But as their friendship grows, so does his experience of Frances as a lush, beautiful woman. But his perceptions of himself are less embracing:

And for Garrett, the moment seemed to freeze. The beautiful summer’s day, the happy picnickers, the distant brass band faded away until he was confronted by the face of the only living human being who had ever seen his true shape. He had always known how fragile it was, his life – music, the law, all his pleasures, everything that made him more than a beast in an aquarium. He would lose it all, despite his caution, because he wasn’t really human.

A substantial part of the charm of Over Her Head is the earnestness of both Garrett and Frances, the genuine interest they have in each other and in doing their best to live good, fulfilling lives. There is a real quaintness to the story but also a touching sensitivity around how vulnerable loving and being loved can make one feel. As Frances comes to understand it, “the mermaid stories represent the uncertainty of love, the natural fear that results from unbosoming oneself to a new lover. He is strange to one, as one is to him. But perhaps, if we are fortunate, there may come a mutual understanding.” And here is the significance and Frances and Garrett’s story and the movement of the novella.

Frances stands out, first as a female doctoral student in history, and then as a woman alone in a small Maine town that includes some who might not be so keen on a single woman so openly enjoying the company of a single man. Garrett has made an effort to blend in as a respectable lawyer who had enough income to afford a summerhouse at the beach. But he is hiding his second nature from the human world, convinced that he is tainted. Neither Frances nor Garrett believes that love, marriage, and children is likely (possible, even), and despite their obvious compatibility, something happens between them that threatens any future happiness they might share as a couple. Something that puts Frances’s degree in danger, as well as Garrett’s well being. And its resolution depends not on magic or fantasy or fate, but rather on the willingness and ability of these two people to find that place of mutual understanding.

And this is what I really like about Over Her Head – that it is ultimately a very human, very humane, story about two people, neither of whom is precisely “normal,” in society’s understanding of human terms. It is sweet, it is charming, it possesses and innocence and an exuberance, as well as a sense of hopefulness that I found touching and uplifting. I wondered why a scholar like Frances was not much more curious about Garrett’s interest in merfolk (or at least in the extensiveness and originality of his collection), and I felt that some of the secondary characters (particularly Frances’s landlady in Maine and her rival in grad school) were a bit stereotypical. And I don’t know if it is the limits of the novella or the crafting of this particular work, but at times I felt there was a polite distance from the emotional depths of the characters that may have been appropriate for Edwardian propriety but not so much for the passionate nature of the story’s protagonists. But in the main, I really enjoyed this novella and hope that others will, too. B.

~ Janet

This book can be purchased at Drollerie Press in ebook format or other etailers.

This book was provided to the reviewer by either the author or publisher. The reviewer did not pay for this book but received it free.