Book Review

Start Me Up by Victoria Dahl


Title: Start Me Up
Author: Victoria Dahl
Publication Info: Harlequin July 2009
ISBN: 0373773900
Genre: Contemporary Romance

Book CoverBack when Jane and I started the Save the Contemporary campaign, I found a reader who was mighty pissed that we’d recommended Talk Me Down as a contemporary romance. Why? In her opinion, it was romantic suspense. I disagreed – I thought the secondary story line operating behind Molly and Ben was not nearly as pronounced and spicy as the conflict between the protagonists themselves. I liked Talk Me Down – and I’m not a fan of romantic suspense on the whole.

So that may be part of the reason I didn’t enjoy Start Me Up nearly as much: the mystery surrounding the heroine is way too prominent in the story, and overshadows way too much of the romance, the characters, and in my opinion effectively undermines them both. I welcomed any scenes featuring Ben or Molly because even with the ongoing whodunwhatnow, they restored interpersonal tension to the story.

Lori Love, Girl Mechanic, inherited her father’s auto repair business and her father’s home when he suffered a traumatic head injury and spent years in a coma. Drowning in debt and having given up her dreams of world travel and a life greater than what she has now, Lori decides to take back one form of excitement for herself: the thrill of having a no-strings-attached affair. Thanks to her friend Molly’s erotic novels and the spicy writing of other erotica authors, Lori has been thinking a lot about what turns her on, and she’s ready to start her own engine. When she meets up with Quinn Jenkins, Molly’s older brother, and catches his attention – something that’s quite a challenge to accomplish, as Quinn spends much of the time in his own head, completely oblivious to everything around him – Quinn nominates himself for the job of stringless hottie with whom Lori can indulge herself.

Unfortunately, someone seems to be trying to scare Lori, or get her to give up something she didn’t know was valuable to anyone. On top of that, Ben has decided to take another look at her father’s past, because something doesn’t add up right. So Lori is on the edge of deciding who she wants to be when everything she thought she was is called into question.

Inside this book, there are some amazing moments. Dahl is capable of writing some wonderful scenes, and creating images that speak louder than the character’s dialogue, like Lori’s map of jeweled pushpins and Quinn’s 3-d model tour. The writing is sneaky and fierce and evocative and I savored some of the descriptions and phrases, like this one where Lori is ruminating about Quinn:

Quinn was different… shiny and polished from the constant flow of letting his own dreams wash over him.

When he settled into the driver’s seat and flashed her a smile, Lori’s throat froze again, so full of need that she wondered if she’d cry. She wanted sex with him, there was no doubt about that. But maybe more than that, she wanted a little of that glow to rub off on her bare skin, wanted to feel what she’d felt as a younger woman.

Her glow was long gone[;] now she just wanted a taste of Quinn’s.

My problems, let me bulletpoint them:

The hero: Quinn had the potential to be so much more than he was. I love the distracted genius, the guy who gets so caught up in his work that he focuses on nothing else and comes out of that creative trance unsure of where he is or what he missed. When a person with that kind of focus uses it on an object he desires – rwor. But due to the plot of whodunwhatnow, he doesn’t really grow or even develop beyond the distracted hot guy who does his homework about what Lori might like in the sack, and is left playing a supporting role, and at times acting as a foil, for Lori’s growth.

The idiocy: I’d have had a lot more faith in any of Lori’s growth if she wasn’t so blithe and clueless at times. I recognized the significance of many points long before Lori did, and I thought someone as sharp and business-savvy as she is would have caught on earlier than she did. Plus, two separate times she makes a choice to do something totally irresponsible that absolutely floored me, considering how otherwise careful and not completely stupid she was.

The lack of satisfaction: the resolution of whodunwhatnow is so unsatisfying and completely (and unintentionally, I think) creepy, I shuddered. Lori’s reactions undermined her strength in my eyes.

The difference: there’s a marked and jarring difference between Lori when Horny, Lori when Happy, and Lori when Scared – almost like reading three different characters. I didn’t think there was any cohesion between them, and I only really liked one of them – Lori when Happy is hilarious.

Finally: the discomfort. One of the things that Lori learns to appreciate about herself sexually during her fling with Quinn is her enjoyment of some spicy experimentation in the nookie department. I’m all for heroines who own and nurture their sexuality and who frankly admit to having simmering hornypants. But all of the scenes that played with bondage, dominance, and role playing take place after Lori and Quinn have had some sort of personal conflict, either a minor disagreement or a full-on moment of anger. Because of that, the scenes – which normally do not bother me or squick me out – left me twitchy and dismayed, and deepened that disconnect between the different facets of Lori’s character.

Even though I didn’t enjoy Start Me Up nearly as much as Talk Me Down, I will still eagerly grab anything Dahl writes, because I enjoy her writing voice, her humor, and her deft development of scenes and characters. I wish that the personal wholeness that Lori sought in this book had been achieved, but even with my disappointment, I look forward to the next book set in this town, and with these characters.

Start Me Up is available for pre-order at IndieBound,, BAMM, and may be at your local library.

Comments are Closed

  1. 1
    Katiebabs says:

    I didn’t find Lori as clueless as you did. I think she was unsure and stuck in a situation she never wanted and doesn’t know how to get out of. I really like Lori better than Molly and her relationship with Quinn was really enjoyable to read. Quinn is a lovable nerd who has the power of orgasmo at his fingers!

    The suspense plot was a bit lacking, but overall I really enjoyed the read. I can’t wait to see what Victoria has planned for Quinn’s assistant Jane.

  2. 2
    AmyW says:

    I loved this book, and actually liked it better than Talk Me Down. Only quibble I had was why Lori didn’t tell Quinn her suspicions. Didn’t understand that.

    And because I was spreading this around Twitter yesterday, too: sex ninja! Gotta love a book/author that can get away with lines like that…

  3. 3
    Jane says:

    But all of the scenes that played with bondage, dominance, and role playing take place after Lori and Quinn have had some sort of personal conflict, either a minor disagreement or a full-on moment of anger.

    This is partly why I couldn’t take the Outlander books – I hated the way the two leads use violent sex when they’re mad at each other!

  4. 4
    Lori says:

    So my name is Lori and my daughter’s name is Mollie and Victoria Dahl is my girl writer crush (when Jane’s not looking). Auto-buy!

    My spam word is over69. I can’t even comment on that, it’s too freaking funny!

  5. 5
    MichelleR says:

    I’m looking forward to this, just waiting for the Kindle version.

    I just discovered the author this week. Talk me down has been on my Kindle for weeks, but Victoria Dahl made me laugh a few times on Twitter, which gave me the nudge to read it.

    Loved it.

    Then, I read The Wicked West which is loosely tied to Talk Me Down. I liked it slightly less, but some of that is a timing issue. I’d just read a full-fledged book, so that gets you into a certain flow and switching to a different type o story—short, but kinky—should have cleansed by pallet…

    I’m actually happy to read “bondage, domination, and role playing,” because it sounds like the best of both worlds. I’m also glad to see more of the friendship between Molly and Lori, because female friendships done right are so rare.

    It does sound like Lori is going to do some of the same stuff that irritated me when Molly did them—like no disclose important information in a timely manner. I’m also a little bummed to hear the mystery is more prominent here.

  6. 6
    Lucy says:

    Why isn’t there a Kindle version yet? I hate waiting! Lucy

  7. 7
    MichelleR says:

    When I complain, I mean, gently mentioned this on Twitter, Victoria Dahl said July 1 is the official release date and the Kindle version should be offered then.

  8. 8
    Jocelyn says:

    Swinging by the bookstore after work – Dahl is my first auto-buy author that I found through this site.  Love her, though I love her historicals better than the contemps (not that I don’t usually like contemps – I’m not big on small-town settings no matter the year the book is set in).

    Someone (Jane at DA?) mentioned that they don’t like romantic suspense because the genre always forces someone to behave like an idiot at some point to keep the plot going.  It sounds like this might suffer a little bit from that flaw.  It also sounds like I’m going to love it anyway.

  9. 9
    SonomaLass says:

    I’ve been really looking forward to this book because of Quinn.  I was ready to fall for him as a minor character in Talk Me Down, because I do love my beta heroes.  Ahhh, the sexy intellectual, the nerd who knows how to please a lady, the—sex ninja!!  *fans self*

    Thanks for the clear explanation of what you liked and didn’t, as usual.  I expect to have similar issues with the suspense plot—I don’t remember who first said it, Jocelyn, but I agree that the problem is often the requisite idiotic behavior.  Maybe the h/h need smarter adversaries, so that they can be smart and still get out-smarted sometimes to keep the plot going?  That’s the formula that works for me in mysteries.

  10. 10
    Jess B. says:

    Thanks for the review! The suspense plot was my least favorite part of Talk Me Down, but I still want to read Lori and Quinn’s story (not to mention check in with Molly and Ben), so I think I’ll check this one out too. If nothing else, as SB Sarah pointed out, Dahl’s a very entertaining writer.

  11. 11
    kinseyholley says:

    Someone (Jane at DA?) mentioned that they don’t like romantic suspense because the genre always forces someone to behave like an idiot at some point to keep the plot going.  It sounds like this might suffer a little bit from that flaw.

    that’s freaking brilliant – I’ve always had a problem with romantic suspense, and I never could put my finger on why.  But as I think about every RS book I’ve read, most of them feature a “heroine has a moron moment.” 

    And it occurs to me that, in those books where there is NOT a moron moment, where the mystery is tightly plotted and there aren’t any big holes and you’re seriously guessing till the very end—the suspense plot pushes the romance to the background, and I’m left grumbling that I didn’t get enough romance with my mystery.

  12. 12
    kinseyholley says:

    crap.  I hate when I do that.

  13. 13
    rigmarole says:


    Anyway. Really glad I read this review and the comments (ESPECIALLY the Outlander one) before buying. I think I maybe should hold off for now.

  14. 14
    Jocelyn Again says:

    SonomaLass – I totally agree on Quinn and love for the beta heroes.  As for smarter villians – Amen to that.  One of my favorite things as a reader is a villain that comes across as an actual person with actual motivations that make some freakin’ sense.  This may be why I love historical mysteries that take advantage of holes in past legal and ethical systems (Benjamin January novels FTW) and paranormals so much, they often sidestep realistic villain development by using the setting/worldbuilding to provide conflict (vampire politics in the Sookie books, for instance, or the Corp in Ann Aguirre’s Grimspace novels).

    Man, I’m trying to think of some of my favorite villains that came across as real people, and I’m failing miserably here.  The vampire queen in the Mercy Thompson books is a good one – collateral damage stopped bothering her, but her motivations are clear.  Laura Kinsale had some great villains, and made their evilness stem from tragic human flaws rather than innate badness.  I think there’s a worry that if you make the villain too sympathetic, it’ll take away from the romance and soak up the reader’s attention and sympathy.  And it might be justified, some of my very favorite romances suffer from inexplicable villain evilness (most Julia Quinn books and Jennifer Cruise novels for instance) and I wonder if some sympathy for the evildoers would take away from the clean and shining happily ever after in those books?  Kinsey makes a good point about that.  If you’re reading for the romance, moral qualms about the treatment of the villain are probably not a good thing.

  15. 15
    LizC says:

    So that may be part of the reason I didn’t enjoy Start Me Up nearly as much: the mystery surrounding the heroine is way too prominent in the story, and overshadows way too much of the romance, the characters, and in my opinion effectively undermines them both.

    See, I don’t feel this way at all. In fact, I’m kind of the opposite with Talk Me Down and Start Me Up. I feel like the suspense was too much in the former and not enough in the latter. There hasn’t been enough mystery and suspense in Start Me Up for me to put together pieces and figure out the mystery and I’m almost done. Whereas Talk Me Down had me yelling at Molly to stop being so blind.

  16. 16
    Moth says:

    Damn. As far as I know I always agree with the Bitches’ assessments of books. So this will probably bug me. I loved Talk Me Down but the suspense parts in that bugged me. Well, crap. 

    And I was really looking forward to this book too. *sigh*

  17. 17

    I still haven’t read TALK ME DOWN-have it, though, and plan to read soon.

    I just have to say, though, I love that cover.

  18. 18
    chisai says:

    I really liked this book.  A lot.  I think I actually prefer it to Talk Me Down, which I loved and bought despite Sarah’s review (a very rare thing) on the strength of it.  I found the mystery aspect of it far less than Talk Me Down.  It is certainly possible that’s because it wasn’t terribly compelling and therefore I took no real notice of it.  I loved, loved, loved Quinn, and yeah, Sex Ninja is freakin’ awesome.

    The very mild bondage aspect of it didn’t bother me at all, since this was what Lori Love wanted.

    Long live Quinn!

  19. 19
    Carin says:

    I have to weigh in and vote with the “liked it even more than Talk Me Down” group.  And I liked Talk Me Down a lot!  I see the points Sarah made, but I guess they just didn’t bother me.  Sex Ninja!  And so many other moments had me laughing out loud.  And I loved that, in the end, the heroine pulls her own life together.  Quinn wants so badly to sweep in and rescue her, but that’s just not what Lori needed.  Love, love, love this book!

  20. 20
    Hillary says:

    What on earth happened to the reviews on Smart Bitches? I mean, it’s been at least a month since this review came out, and it’s getting a little depressing. Hearing about the plight of romance, and seeing how well the Smart Bitches book is doing is all well and good- but you know, I ended up just missing Cover Snarks and Link Fridays and the awesomely venomous reviews.

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