I’ve been wanting to talk about this book for a few weeks but I haven’t felt very tolerant. The problem of my intolerance has not been for Dahl’s excellent book, but for readers of this review. There are things I am very tired of reading that I know others are not. If I say “I am so freaking sick of the man whores already” then I will be approached by the man whore defender. If I say “I have had it to about here with the mousy introvert” the same thing will happen. But I have, I’ve had it with both of them. Yet I loved Bad Boys Do.
Dahl has done something great with power dynamics in this book. Making our man whore (Jamie) the younger member of the partnership and our mousy introvert (Olivia) the elder, she has shifted the balance just enough for me to be interested. As Bad Boys Do progresses, it becomes obvious that Dahl is upending a few more apple carts. Because Jamie is sexually attractive and works in a bar, no one thinks twice about exploiting him. From women grabbing at his kilt (manskirts are another thing I hate) to his sister pimping him out to draw crowds, everyone expects Jamie to enjoy the attention. What else is he for? Having been told he’s a plaything without substance, Jamie is perfectly primed for a sexual predator to take advantage of him.
That’s not Olivia. I found Olivia far less interesting. I don’t care about her recapturing her power after shaking off domineering parents and an older spouse. I am not that compelled by her as a heroine. She is interesting (for me) only as a catalyst for Jamie’s personal growth. It’s Olivia who, in the guise of an empowered heroine, further exploits Jamie. Her belief that they are exchanging her professional expertise for his sexual services further erodes Jamie’s self confidence. The heat meter in a Dahl book is fairly elevated. She’s not an erotica writer, but her characters use sex to further their relationship. I was sorry when they fell into bed (or the hot tub or…) because I didn’t want to skim ahead but I so completely don’t care about the physicality of the characters relationship that I didn’t want to read on either. (I felt a little bit like Jamie.)
Olivia has a realistic and well detailed experience of personal growth but my impatience with her Mouse That Roared backstory kept me from really rooting for her. I don’t know why Jamie couldn’t find his way to his self worth with someone more personally assured. While the power dynamic was interesting, the required building up of Olivia undermined the emotional components for me. Jamie has to do some pretty heavy lifting in this book. Not only must he disprove the tired belief that men are always up for it, that an endless stream of women is a dream come true, but he also has to be the one who lifts the mouse out of her hiding place. Jamie had it coming from all sides, no one really believes in him but Olivia, a woman he has to help believe in herself. No wonder he breaks.
As in the first volume, Good Girls Don’t, the family dynamics are spot on. The unspoken regrets, the emotional assumptions, the burdens of roleplaying – all are expertly depicted in the Donovan siblings relationships. Where I frequently lost patience with Tessa, the compulsive liar and pleaser, (in book one) she shines here. The time table is a bit frantic (Bad Boys Do takes places almost immediately on the heels of Good Girl’s Don’t) yet her evolution holds together. For me the strength of this series has been the family relationships. I can easily see Victoria Dahl having a Nora Roberts like career on the basis of those alone. After all, I’m coming back for Real Men Will in which the heroine owns a sex shop. A skimmer of sex scenes has no business in a book with that setting, yet there I will be. (Is the sex shop the new toy store? Will all future quirky young business women stock fetish wear instead of trains? Should I even talk about trains and sex shops in the same parenthetical? Probably not.)