Book Review

Talk Me Down by Victoria Dahl

B+

Title: Talk Me Down
Author: Victoria Dahl
Publication Info: Harlequin January 2009
ISBN: 0373773560
Genre: Contemporary Romance

Book CoverIn a lot of ways, the book is a very familiar and almost typical setup:  Molly Jennings, a big city girl with secret, returns home to small mountain town, surrounded by old friends and familiar parental figures. Actual parents optional, some assembly required. Ben Lawson, the sheriff,  has lived in Tumble Creek his whole life and has little patience for her secrets, or for his attraction to her. Sound familiar? I could name a few books that follow the plotline, especially the heavy mountain snows = oh noes, we’re snowed in—let’s break out the mulled cider and sex, eh?

However! Be ye not bored or dismissive! Victoria Dahl maneuvers that familiar pattern into a savvy contemporary with spice and style, batteries definitely included.  Oh, how they are included.

Let’s try that description again, this time with Dahl-ripples: Molly Jenkins is an epubbed erotic fiction author who moves back to her home town after a breakup that went on way too long, thanks to her ex’s manipulating, overbearing behavior. Her career, her pen name, and that entire side of her life are a secret from everyone, including her parents. Ben Lawson lived through a deeply embarrassing scandal as a teen, and abhors secrets. He knows she has one. He knows she’s not telling. Despite the degree to which that drives him batty, he can’t stay away from her.

First, there’s the dialogue, the humor, the comedy, and the lightheartedness, along with the genuine awesome that is the pair of protagonists. Both the heroine and the hero are charming and marvelous. I loved the fact that Molly Jenkins is unabashed and unapologetic about her sexuality. She happy to be turned on, and to turn other people on as well. More power to her.

And yet, she’s not full of bravado, nor does she demand that everyone adopt her view: she’s not ashamed of her job or her skills as a writer, but she knows it would embarrass her parents and her family, not to mention cause undue gossip about her personally, so she keeps her pseudonym and her career a secret. I admired her spunky charm and her determination to be herself and live her life while remaining mindful of other people’s boundaries and expectations. Molly is a realistic combo of tough and tender: she’s happy to get attention personally, and dresses with a style designed to attract the attention of one particular person, but she wants that attention on her own terms, not based on someone else’s conjecture as to her morality. After all, if she writes dirty books she must be a ho, right? (Of course not.)

And oh, did I love the hero. Love love love. Ben is, as I mentioned, the town sheriff, and a long-past scandal keeps him living a very quiet, straight and narrow life with few risks and fewer passions. He has hidden artistic talents, and comes across initially as a character who one would think doesn’t give a crap what you think about him. But yet, he very, very much wants to avoid undue attention. Ben is happy to not be noticed, but when he notices Molly again, and their past interactions heat up in the present, he’s as much unsettled by the fact that he can’t keep his eyes off her as he is by the fact that everyone around him has noticed his attraction. And the two of them together are impossible to ignore.

While casting Ben as law enforcement lent a somewhat tired and overused quick-dash of nobility to his character, Dahl doesn’t rest on the easy way out. Molly’s ex is in law enforcement as well, in a very high-profile position, and the degree to which he abuses his authority makes him a foil for Ben, and a complete douchebag besides. The ex isn’t the only antagonist, either. As with any small town, there’s nebby old dudes and gossip, secrets and old scandals, and additional shady characters galore. But there’s also the beginnings of true friendships for Molly and a sense that neither character operates in a vacuum.

But even though there is an established community in Tumble Creek, there are characters who we are told are important figures, but we never see them. The degree to which her family didn’t appreciate or even notice her was underdeveloped portion of backstory and her personality. While I think it was complimentary to her character that she’d consider their feelings about her somewhat off-beat career and the ramifications thereof, the fact that they weren’t such a presence in her life growing up, or even now, made me wonder why she bothered to worry about them so much in the first place. Their role as damaging or encouraging factors in her life was underdeveloped and could have been stronger.

The subplot of stalking and harassment went on a bit too long – and I’d guessed the solution before it was revealed – but the joy of their relationship overshadowed the frustration I had in figuring out whodunit. One note: if you’re going to set a novel in a small town, you’re already working with a small cast of characters to begin with. The limited cast can be cumbersome because it’s increasingly easy to figure out whodunit.

What I enjoyed most about the book, however, aside from the simple and enjoyable pleasure of watching two confident, likable people act on their attraction – in some hilarious scenes, I might add – is that the plot examined and played with themes of identification in each character. Who can see and appreciate the “real you,” and who truly knows you, down to the last shameful secret? Dahl’s writing gets busy evaluating and examining relationships and personal history for each of the characters, exploring the significance of seeing (or not seeing) through the bullshit other people throw in front of themselves to hide behind. Within that exploration of identity and artifice is a hero and a heroine who face down past demons (figurative, not literal) and move past shame to decide to be happy.

Furthermore, I’m floored at the idea that RT would label Molly a “dog in heat.” This, folks, is realistic sex. Gritty sex. Passionate pent-up sex. And most of all? FUN sex. How long has it been since sex was comic and passionate simultaneously in a contemporary romance? It’s emotional, erotic, and often hilariously funny. And the heroine knows what she wants, knows what turns her on, and has spent pages upon pages exploring those turn-ons in fiction – and hello, Molly, she has the chance to act those fantasies out with the object of her desire, fantasy, and passion. This heroine, in short, is a grown up, with adult passions. So is Ben. There is no shame in being horny, or in being happy.

Dahl takes a handful of familiar setups and molds them into something new, something that’s adult, witty, smart, and utterly fun.  I’m looking forward to the next contemporary offering from this author, because what she does, she does laugh-out-loud excellent.


This book can be purchased at Borders.com with $1.00 coupon (enter HAR1222D at the checkout) available now in pre-order, shipping January 1, 2009. The coupon is good from December 15, 2008, through January 15, 2008. Stay tuned, and you might win a copy today.

ETA: 11:00 am EST: Borders is working on a known error with the coupon, and it will be working within the hour. Thank you, Borders!

Comments are Closed

  1. 1
    Lori S. says:

    A heroine who enjoys sex?  Oh noes!  Call the dog pound!

    This sounds like a great read.  Thanks for the review!

  2. 2
    joykenn says:

    Hey, any chance this is going to be released for Kindle?

  3. 3
    katiebabs says:

    Oh for shame that a heroine enjoys sex and they label her a dog in heat. Pulease!

  4. 4
    Tina C. says:

    I tried to use the coupon at borders.com and it says that it is an invalid number.  Any ideas?

  5. 5
    SB Sarah says:

    Tina C: I’m looking into it now. Sorry about that.

  6. 6
    Chicklet says:

    A heroine who likes sex is “a dog in heat”?! It appears I have good reason to be biased against RT.

  7. 7
    Nicole says:

    Hey, thanks for the review.  I’ve been wanting to check this one out ever since I saw the cover.  It’s great that it looks to have a great story between the covers.

  8. 8
    Julie Leto says:

    I hope Victoria gets lots and lots of sales…but I think it’s fascinating that both RT and AAR hated the book and both you and Dear Author loved it and gave it a B+, which is a high grade.  If ever something proves that reviews are subjective and readers need to decide for themselves, this is it!!!

    I must say…the hero of this book sounds absolutely delicious.  And a heroine who likes sex?  Sign me up.

  9. 9
    SB Sarah says:

    I’m utterly fascinated by the divide between AAR and RT, and Jane’s and my reviews.

    Srsly.

    I think, as does Jane, that it’s an indication of the growing divide in romance readership. Their audience and reviewing and their expectations of romance appear to be very different from ours, particularly on the issue of female sexuality. The acquisition of sexual agency in their perspective can only happen with and through the hero. If the heroine gains sexual agency autonomously, and goes after the hero because he is her ultimate sexual partner – even within the proscribed context of monogamy – it’s unacceptable to the readers who demand naivete.

    Obviously, I disagree.

  10. 10
    Fizzy says:

    I think that’s probably the reason why I can’t seem to enjoy the earlier romances and some of the newer ones (think Harlequin’s tycoons). I get impatient reading about the man-whores and his incredibly naive and virginal heroine or the sexually suppressed heroine who is brought to life by the hero. bleh. I’d much rather read about dogs in heat.

  11. 11
    Jaime Benton says:

    I’ve also noticed the growing divide in the reviews given to various books and have to say I’m actually kind of excited about it. Clearly there is a huge spectrum of interests out there from plain vanilla sex to bizarre pseudo christians who believe men should beat their wives (sorry, off high horse now!)  I feel that the breadth of reviews out there means that there is finally a corresponding breadth of books out there for people to choose from!  And I for one think this is fantastic, b/c regency romance with dippy heroines is just not my cup of tea!  I also gotta hand it to you guys at SBTB b/c you do an excellent job of reviewing a wide range of books (and giving me some great coffee spewing moments at least once a week) :P

  12. 12
    Barb Ferrer says:

    Dude, RT gave it 2 stars?  Because of the SEX??  Wait—because the heroine likes sex.

    *headdesk*

    The idea of a savvy, comfortable in her own skin woman who’s not afraid of her own sexuality is COMPLETELY my cup of tea.  And it sounds as if Vicky has crafted exactly the type of contemporary romance I’ve been dying for—a real one.

    Bravo Vicky!

    Off to order a copy or twelve.  (What?  Stocking stuffers!)

  13. 13
    Silver James says:

    Perhaps this is why urban paranormal is so popular? Kick-ass heroines who can make their own decisions and hey…SEX. While I’m not a huge fan of LKH, both Anita and Merry come to mind when considering lots of sex (and enjoying it) without the monogamous restrictions.

    Once again, another good book that will get stuck on the “when I get to it” list. *whimper* So many books, so little time.

  14. 14
    SB Sarah says:

    Regarding the coupon: Borders.com is on the case, and it should be fixed within the hour.

    Thank you Borders! You’re awesome!

  15. 15
    Jane says:

    I was flabbergasted when I saw that RT and AAR had given the book such a low grade and amused that the heroine seems to be the subject of both reviewers dislike. 

    On the issue of HP tycoon’s, for me, I find that it’s less the tycoon and more the emotional agnst and immediate payoff that I find appealing about the HP series AND I have certain expectations from that line.  Frex, I was surprised at SusanNapier’s latest release and how sexual it was (pleasantly surprised).  Her heroines are actually quite bold for an HP heroine.

  16. 16
    Cassie says:

    This reminds me why I stopped getting RT.

  17. 17

    I think Dahl’s first historical heroine also caught some flack for being too forward, sexually.  I loved her and I’m sure I’ll love this one.  Nothing wrong with a hot-blooded gal who knows what she wants in the bedroom—and gets it.

  18. 18

    Jill, wait’ll you read the historical heroine I’m working on now. Oh, some people are going to hate her so much!

    Sarah, I am so, so happy you liked this book. So happy. *sob* I can’t get any work done today. And I seriously hope you have no way of knowing how many times I will hit Refresh in the next few hours. And I’m very much enjoying the disparate reviews, because now you will all have to read the book to decide who is right. Right?

    Also, I put a magic hooha joke in there just for you Bitches, I kid you not. It’s like Where’s Waldo but with the dirty place.

  19. 19
    Katie Ann says:

    I’ve never read anything by Victoria Dahl, but damn does this sound like a great way to start.  I rarely buy books new, but I have a $5 gift card to B&N;that will do nicely come January…

  20. 20
    Chicklet says:

    It’s like Where’s Waldo but with the dirty place.

    I suppose it falls to me to make the stereotypical “guy trying to find the clitoris” joke….

  21. 21
    Barb Ferrer says:

    I suppose it falls to me to make the stereotypical “guy trying to find the clitoris” joke….

    Yanno, babe—the real discipline would’ve been in resisting the impulse.

    :-P

  22. 22
    amybee says:

    Sounds good. Paper for me.

  23. 23

    Really looking forward to reading this! Yay Victoria!And I think the disparate reviews are good, too. Just an illustration that there are *way* divergent tastes out there. Me, I’m hanging with the Bitches.

  24. 24
    rebyj says:

    As a reader, I have few reviewers that I trust . Here and Dear Author being at the top of the list of reviews I trust. I’d say 50% of my new book purchases are based on reviews here and DA.
      The disparate reviews on Victoria’s book have people talking   which can’t be a bad thing!

      If I don’t win a copy, I’ll definitely be buying a copy.

  25. 25
    Robin says:

    AAR is on the opposite end of the grade spectrum than I am for almost every book we both review.  I don’t know what that means, but the frequency is pretty eerie, lol.  Anyway, Dahl’s book is no exception, although this time I was really frustrated by the sensibility of the AAR review (it reminded me of the low first review Abe’s The Smoke Thief got there), because to me it did smack of the “dog in heat” rationale, albeit less crudely stated.

    This soooo reminds me of AAR’s review for Susan Donovan’s Public Displays of Affection where people were horrified that the heroine had anonymous roadside sex with the hero (on her way to pick up her then boyfriend from the airport) and staunchly refused to read the book.  It didn’t matter that Donovan spent the rest of the book turning her into a saint (too much so, IMO); that one scene got the heroine labeled an unredeemable slut in very short order.

    I get that there are certain hot buttons for readers in the genre, but I always wonder whether readers who find robust female sexuality sluttish also have the same objection to sexually active heroes.

  26. 26
    Barb Ferrer says:

    I get that there are certain hot buttons for readers in the genre, but I always wonder whether readers who find robust female sexuality sluttish also have the same objection to sexually active heroes.

    I suspect they do, Robin, but they tend to be more forgiving of the male who behaves in this fashion than a woman, especially if a man a) goes about redeeming himself (as the female character did in Donovan’s book) or b) has some deep, soul-hurting sort of reason for behaving the way he does.

    Strangely enough, I found a sort of parallel reaction to the characters on Mad Men—a lot of times, post-episode, I’d read where viewers were appalled by Don’s (or any of the other men’s behaviors) but were willing to excuse them within the context of the times, yet when the women behaved in a manner they found objectionable, they reacted with a very contemporary mindset.  (Like the incident with Joan’s fiancée, for example).

    It’s an interesting dichotomy.

  27. 27
    Trin says:

    I am disappointed that this book is not actually about Rachel Maddow. THAT I would read!

  28. 28
    Colleen<img src="http://www.finitesite.com/chlor/r says:

    Definitely goes on my “must buy” (if I dont’ win) list!!  If I am so lucky as to win – my choice is paper please!

  29. 29
    Jocelyn says:

    I’m so excited to see this come out!  I loved Dahl’s last novel (so much that I bought her first historical off one of Amazon’s used bookstores – I have to seriously love an author before I buy a book I haven’t touched first) and I’m more of a contemporary fan, so I’m delighted this is finally going to be in bookstores.

  30. 30
    ev says:

    Sounds like a good read to me. Can’t wait and screw RT.

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