Book Review

So Tough to Tame by Victorial Dahl


Title: So Tough to Tame
Author: Victoria Dahl
Publication Info: Harlequin September 2013
ISBN: 978-0373777891
Genre: Contemporary Romance

Book So Tough to Tame Let me just say, I loved this book. I loved it.

Typically historicals and romantic suspense are my thing—straight contemporaries, not so much. I was treading with caution when I read So Tough to Tame, but it stood up and slapped in the face with a big rainbow of reading joy and squee. It’s a sexy, funny, emotional romp, and it makes me say things like “sexy, funny, emotional romp,” like I’m writing a blurb for a goddamned Julia Roberts movie. It’s also really smart, and, without being preachy or obvious, makes the reader ponder gender inequality in a way I haven’t seen in romance before.

Our hero is Walker Pearce, a down on his luck cowboy. Walker was fired from his last job, supposedly for botching paperwork, but more likely for making out with the boss’s wife. Despite being a sexy, bearded cowboy (I love it when heroes have facial and/or chest hair—all the denuded heroes make me think of boy band members, yech), Walker has some self-esteem issues.

1. He’s beating himself up for being dumb enough to start something with a married woman.

2. He’s dyslexic and feels like he’ll never be able to do more than manual labor.

He’s in the midst of a funk when he finds out he has a new neighbor, Charlie Allington, his former tutor from high school. The Charlie that sashays in is not the quiet, good girl he remembers. She’s all tight jeans, high heels and a sassy mouth.

Charlie has returned home with her own car load of baggage. She’s come back ostensibly to work security for the new Meridian Resort that’s opening outside of town. In reality, her options are pretty limited. She’s worked hotel security before—in Vegas and Tahoe, much nicer venues—but she was implicated in an embezzlement scheme with her last boss. Charlie is not a criminal, but she did make mistakes. She was sleeping with her boss, unaware that he was married and engaged in illegal activity. Now she’s broke (having paid for a top notch defense attorney) and her reputation is horribly tarnished. She believes the only reason she got the job at the Meridian is because the owner is her high school friend's, Dawn’s, husband.

So both Charlie and Walker start out the novel licking their wounds. They quickly move on to licking other things (sorry, I couldn’t resist). At first Dawn and Charlie’s other friends are trying to salvage her reputation by making her a ‘good girl’ again. Apparently this means wearing ballet flats, a cardigan, and living at the hotel where you work so everyone is all up in your bidnezz. Dawn is also über paranoid that Charlie is going to make a pass at her husband, Keith. Nice friend, right?

Charlie makes a break for freedom and instead of staying at the free accommodations at the resort, rents a room at the Stud Farm where Walker lives. She and Walker start with friendly drinks at the bar next door, and before you know, it’s all sexy bearded cowboy smexytimes.

Charlie had a crush on Walker all through high school, but he was the hot, popular guy and she was kind of a shy nerd. Now she pursues him, happy to engage in some enthusiastic, healthy sex without strings attached. Charlie is aware she has a reputation for being a fallen woman, but she’s not about to change her attitudes regarding sex just because other people are shitty and judge her:

She wanted to sit [Dawn] down and explain to her that it was the twenty-first century and women could enjoy their sex lives just as much as men. They could be single and have sex and make money and still be nice, fulfilled, genuine people. But those crazy eyes were not open to seeing sexual equality for women. Not right now. Not in the face of Charlie Allington, husband hunter.

I love that Charlie pursues Walker. The trope where the former nerd or good girl comes back to town and finds her high school crush and he falls for her because now she’s all grown up and owns her shit is one of my big catnips.

Walker is a little intimidated by Charlie. Oblivious, he always assumed she was too good for him. She was the smart girl with all the potential, and he was the dumb dyslexic kid.

Charlie keeps their relationship casual, assuming that’s what Walker wants. He does have a reputation as a lady killer. Walker, for his part, assumes that Charlie looks at him as someone for a good time only, not someone she could ever love.

There was a part in the book that just crushed my heart. Charlie and Walker have just had volcanically hot sex. He invites her to stay the night and she agrees:

He hadn’t realized he’d been tense about her answer until he heard it. When she agreed, he felt…surprised. Grateful. He would have been less shocked if she’d said, Naw, you know this isn’t like that, Walker. You’re not the kind of guy a girl cuddles with afterward.

I thought that Dahl dealt really well with Walker’s dyslexia. Dyslexia is something that’s close to my heart. I spent a lot of time tutoring college students who had it, and my husband is dyslexic. Walker’s attitude about his own intelligence and worth mesh with what I’ve seen in students who are struggling.

As the book progresses Walker and Charlie start to fall in love—of course, but they’re both in denial about it, both afraid of being hurt. Charlie knows why Walker was fired from his last job. She encourages him to go for a job at a place called the Ability Ranch working with disabled children. Walker knows he can’t get the job there because of his dyslexia, but he’s too ashamed to tell Charlie.

And Charlie is too embarrassed by the whole affair and embezzlement fiasco to tell her Walker about it. Then she starts noticing strange things at work—skips in security tapes, Keith and Dawn both acting weird, and Charlie’s past catches up with her fast. When Walker finds out about what happened to her from another source, things implode.

So much of this book was about healing old wounds and betrayals so love and trust can find a way in. It is also, subtly, about the huge disparity in how we treat men and women with regards to their sexuality.

Walker fooled around with a woman he knew was married, and the community doesn’t shun him for it. They look at his with sort of affectionate exasperation because that woman was his boss’s wife and you don’t shit where you sleep, as one character puts it. The community, specifically her former friends and her brother, treat Charlie like she’s wearing a scarlet letter. She slept with a married man (even though she didn’t know he was married) which makes her a voracious succubus out to get the pants off every married dude in town.

Walker made a bad choice. Charlie is a bad person. Something to chew on, eh?

The other reason I loved this book was Rayleen, a great secondary character. She’s a tough old bird, the owner of the Stud Farm, and she gleefully sexually harasses her cowboy tenants. She arrives to a party at Charlie’s apartment and announces:

“Well, you could start by bringing fewer chickens around this place and a lot more cocks. Where’s all the man meat at this party?”

Rayleen gets her own romance in this book, and it’s delightful.

So Tough to Tame was a delicious, funny, warm-hearted read. My birthday is next month and I printed off Dahl’s backlist, handed it to my husband, and said “BUY ME ALL THE THINGS!” Obviously I highly recommend this book. It’s like a comfort read with a dose of sass and smarts; it’s just about perfect.

So Tough to Tame is available from Goodreads | Amazon | BN | Sony | Kobo | iBooks | All Romance eBooks.

Comments are Closed

  1. 1
    KarenF says:

    Thanks for the review!  Victoria Dahl is one of those authors where I either love or hate an individual title.  “Bad Boys Do,” is on my keeper shelf, but several others I DNF.  So I always seek out reviews to try to figure out which way a new release is going to go.  This looks like one that I might like.

    It’s always more difficult when an author is unpredictable.

  2. 2
    Kate says:

    I’m with you, KarenF. The ones I like, I really really like. The ones I don’t, I want to burn in a fire.

  3. 3
    lorelai says:

    I’m so excited to see this book get an A+ review! Victoria Dahl is an autobuy for me, I just haven’t had the time to read this one yet. I skipped the review so I would avoid spoilers but I can’t wait to read this now.

    Kate and KarenF – I love everything Victoria Dahl has written but I understand your pain. I feel that way about Kristan Higgins. A couple of her books I really liked, most of the others I read I HATED. Others I didn’t read at all because I just couldn’t decide if it was worth my time if I was going to hate it, especially considering there are so many other books I want to read more.

  4. 4
    Amy K says:

    Every time I read a Victoria Dahl book, I’m disappointed. They all seem to have this really great set up or a fun idea, and then the book just…fizzles. I won’t even buy them anymore.
    This review was really nice, but I just can’t drum up any enthusiasm for this author anymore.

  5. 5

    I’m so glad to hear you loved this one—I did, too! :) Dahl is awesome at writing sexy, funny and real contemporary romances! Great review, after reading your thoughts on the book I think it’s time for me to do a reread… :D


  6. 6
    Jen says:

    Dahl is an instant autobuy for me (I’m embarrassed to admit how many of her books I’ve literally read within hours of them automatically arriving on my Kindle). This book was good for me, but not great. Maybe I’m just tired of this Jackson series, but I felt like I was reading a very similar story to the others (secrets from the past, cowboys, defiant women, etc). I LOVE the way Dahl tackles sexuality and people’s attitudes towards women vs. men wanting sex, having sex, enjoying sex, etc. I love her female friendships. I love that she writes really hot sex scenes that tell you something about the characters. I started out loving the first book in the series, really liked the second, and now by the third I’m a little more lukewarm.

    But definitely read the Donovan Family series if you haven’t! Bad Boys Do is genuinely one of my top 5 romances ever. So great.

  7. 7
    Jinni says:

    This was so lukewarm for me. I love Dahl. I love her in person, on Twitter, etc. I loved the Tumble Creek series. This was too contemplative for me. I also think she could ditch the light suspense from her books and they would benefit mightily.

  8. 8
    Jean Tallman says:

    Totally starting this after I finish Beautiful Player.  I really like Dahl too and have not been disappointed in her books.

  9. 9
    kkw says:

    Mostly I love Dahl, although I’ve certainly been disappointed. Usually both, actually. There is catnip, and good times, but it’s never quite as awesome as it might have been. Still reliably better than most.
    I liked this one. I get impatient that all the past heroines are instantly best friends, but that’s a minor quibble. I liked the characters, but only by discounting their back stories. Too much ignorance and infidelity and happenstance. And the heroine being framed. Repeatedly? I chose to ignore those bits. But it was easy to do because there are so many better bits.
    I’m hoping that Rayleen’s marriage signals the end of this series. I have impressive powers of disbelief, though I say it myself, but I’ve been to Wyoming, and I just…I have my doubts, ok?

  10. 10
    Kelly S. says:

    @kkw Dahl has said she’s doing another set of 3 books set in Jackson Hole.

    In this series, so far, I enjoyed the second one best, I think.  I disliked the first one. This one would get a B from me, primarily because the plot concerning Charlie’s job got wrapped up off stage.  I also felt in this book Walker had his plot line, Charlie had a plot line, they had their plot line together which didn’t often overlap into their personal plot lines, and there was the “secondary” plot lines carried forward from the previous books & novellas.  I also found the thumb up her butt less sexy and more ewww.  Yep, prude, that’s me.

    My favorite series of Dahl’s is the Donovan Brewery series.  Fun, contemporary, romance without the sub-mystery plot line.  Although, I think Ben from Talk Me Down is my favorite hero she’s written.

  11. 11
    Lara says:

    I liked “So Tough to Tame” well enough, but I didn’t think either main character was quite as likable as the ones in the previous book in this series, Merry and Cole. And as far as plotting goes, I think her Donovan Brothers series blows this cowboy one out of the water.

    That said: Rayleen actually really gets on my nerves. I mean, it’s one thing to portray older women as still having a sexual appetite and being sexual beings. That’s fine; I wish more books did it. But that’s not what this is. I find it really, really gross how Rayleen objectifies and sexually harasses all these younger guys, even gives their girlfriends a hard time—and all the younger characters just laugh it off because, I don’t know, she’s old, I guess?

    Like, imagine if Rayleen were an old man, instead of an old woman—would her behavior still be played for laughs? Or would she just be the creepy old man who only rents out to young attractive people and feels that gives him a free pass to openly ogle and remark on her tenants bodies and sex lives? Ugh, she just gives me the creeps.

  12. 12
    kkw says:

    No! No more Johnson, er Jackson Hole. Dammit!
    Whatever. I’m still going to read and like them, even if I will spend quality time between now and then wishing a mortifying and protracted death on Rayleen.

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