Do-Over, by Dorien Kelly

>> Friday, March 19, 2010

TITLE: Do-Over
AUTHOR: Dorien Kelly

PAGES: 218
PUBLISHER: Harlequin Flipside

SETTING: Contemporary US
TYPE: Category romance

REASON FOR READING: Random TBR pick when I was in Uruguay.

If the gods decided to grant Cara Adams one "do-over," the choice would be a no-brainer--she wouldn't have been sucked in by Mark "the Shark" Morgan. Back in law school, Cara had "dumbed down" to catch Mark's eye. Thanks to her stunt, she lost a plum job at a Wall Street firm, and the Shark is enjoying life in the Big Apple. Now Cara's thirty and doing just fine, thank you very much. Positive she's a shoo-in for a partnership at her prestigious Michigan law firm, Cara's bought herself a new loft, paid off her student loans and is ready for the success she deserves. But the gods are laughing now. Her ally in the law firm bolts in the middle of the night, her secretary gets fired for using the file room as her own boudoir, and...Mark the Shark has come home. Really, the gods must be crazy.

Will Cara go down without a fight? Not this time.
What a deceptive cover this book's got. No one looking at the fluffy cartoon cover and the Harlequin Flipside logo would suspect that what's actually inside is a powerful story about a woman fighting to find her place in a man's world. Not fluffy, not flip, just plain good and quite a powerful story, as well.

Cara Adams has been working her tail off for years at her law firm, and it appears her efforts are beginning to pay off. Everything points to her being made a partner in the coming few months, with the ensuing prestige, money and security. A good thing, too, because otherwise the killer mortgage on Cara's new condo will really begin to bite.

Cara's world begins to unravel when she arrives at work one morning only to discover that her longtime mentor at the firm has jumped ship and gone to work for another. Having been very close to this person, Cara is immediately suspect in the partners' eyes, and confidence in her is put on hold while they assess the damage over the weekend.

And things go from bad to worse when Cara finds out Mark Morgan has just joined her firm. Mark was in uni with Cara, and her big crush on him meant she underperformed in her interview when they were competing for the same job. Cara has always remembered that moment with shame, and she'll be damned if she'll allow him to beat her again. But it seems sexism is alive and well at her firm, and just by being a man, Mark is able to build an immediate rapport with the senior partners.

Even worse, what's also alive and well is the attraction between Cara and Mark, hard as she might work to ignore it.

Do-Over was a book that really affected me viscerally. It's probably a weird comparison, but you know how I felt when I was reading it? Exactly like I did when I read Susan Elizabeth Phillips' Ain't She Sweet, and Sugar Beth had just returned to her home town, only to face hostility all around. Exactly like I did when I used to read mountains of Harlequin Presents years ago, and they all featured the heroine being the victim of a Big Minsunderstanding that meant the hero despised her.

It's the unfairness and injustice of it all that affects me. I got terribly frustrated with what Cara was facing at work, the overwork, the good-old-boy sexism. Even though I've never faced anything like it myself, I completely identified with Cara and her reactions. It sounds like an unenjoyable read, but that wasn't the case at all. I found it cathartic, actually, and it's a credit to Kelly that she was able to make me feel so strongly, without feeling manipulated in the least.

So as sort of denunciation of the good-old-boy club and sexism in the workplace, this works. Kelly had a harder time with the romance, I thought, since Mark is pretty oblivious a lot of the time. He's not a sexist pig himself, but he doesn't quite get it. He doesn't really understand what Cara is going through. He'll accept the invitation to play golf with the senior partners without even thinking about it, even though if he did, he would agree that it would only be fair that Cara be afforded the same opportunities. So he supports her, but it doesn't even occur to him to give up his advantages for the sake of fairness. Could he? Should he? Is it really his problem that the other parners are a bunch of fossils? Those were all questions it was interesting to think about.

In the end, the romance does work, because oblivious or not, Mark is a good guy, and Cara ends up getting what's best for her. That, the ending, was something else I had to pause to think about. Now, this might be a bit of a spoiler, but I thought there was a danger, if the book went in the direction it ended up going, of getting a "women can't cut it under pressure" message.

In the end, though, that wasn't the message I got. I didn't feel that the book was arguing that Mark was any better than Cara because he was all right with the pressure. For starters, as a man, it was clear he didn't have to push himself as hard as Cara did, just to keep running in place. The message I got was that Cara (not women in general, Cara), because of the person she was, and the pressure she automatically put on herself if in an environment such as the law firm she was in, would do a lot better and be a lot happier in a more relaxed place, where the focus was on satisfying work, rather than getting more and more money. Ergo, happy ending all around, even for my extremely feminist sensibilities.

It's not often that a barely-200-pages-long category romance will make me think about things and feel so strongly as this one did. It's a good one.



Lynn Spencer,  5 April 2010 at 20:24  

I haven't read Julia James yet, but I do have Practice Makes Perfect in my TBR.  I've heard that she handles the legal setting well, so I'm curious.  Will have to get to it sooner rather than later....

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