Good Girls Don't, by Victoria Dahl

>> Tuesday, March 13, 2012

TITLE: Good Girls Don't
AUTHOR: Victoria Dahl

PAGES: 384

SETTING: Contemporary US
TYPE: Romance
SERIES: 1st in the Donovan Brothers Brewery trilogy

With her long ponytail and sparkling green eyes, Tessa Donovan looks more like the girl next door than a businesswoman—or a heartbreaker. Which may explain why Detective Luke Asher barely notices her when he arrives to investigate a break–in at her family's brewery. He's got his own problems—starting with the fact that his partner, Simone, is pregnant and everyone thinks he's the father.

Tessa has her hands full, too. Her brother's playboy ways may be threatening the business, and the tension could tear her tight–knit family apart. In fact, the only thing that could unite the Donovan boys is seeing a man come after their "baby" sister. Especially a man like Luke Asher. But Tessa sees past the rumors to the man beneath. He's not who people think he is—and neither is she.
Good Girls Don't is the first in Victoria Dahl's latest trilogy. The books were released in quick succession, and I chose to read them the same way, one after the other. Well, "chose" is a bit of a misstatement, as once I started, I really couldn't stop until I'd read all three. It was the best sort of trilogy, the kind that feels more like one massive long book, where the focus moves from one couple to the other every 400 pages or so.

The series is about 3 siblings running a family-owned microbrewery. Eric Donovan was in his early 20s when his parents died in an accident, and he chose to give up the life he was building for himself and go back to the family business. His brother, Jamie, and sister, Tessa, were in their late teens at the time, and even though this wasn't the life Eric would have chosen for himself, he felt keeping the brewery alive for them was the right thing to do.

Some 12 years later, all three are still involved in the brewery, but there are issues. Things haven't been easy over the years, with Jamie often making bad decisions and Eric becoming increasingly rigid and dismissive with him, refusing to take him seriously when Jamie talks about taking on more responsibility. Faced with this situation, Tessa has taken on the role of peacemaker, manipulating things behind the scenes to minimise the conflict between her brothers, always afraid that if she doesn't, the family will fall apart.

The first book starts out with a textbook example of that dynamic. Eric has been negotiating a big deal that would mean a great opportunity for the brewery to grow, but it all seems on the verge of collapsing when a break-in at the brewery results in Tessa discovering that Jamie has accidentally scuppered the deal. See, Jamie had been the last to leave the brewery the previous evening, and it turned out he'd left with the daughter of the man Eric had been negotiating with. Even worse, he was seen by the big man himself the next morning, leaving the daughter's place.

When she finds out, Tessa goes into full cover-up mode. Jamie is NOT to tell Eric anything, and no matter how much Jamie protests he'd rather come clean, Tessa insists. She will sort it out with the woman's father herself, negotiate an alternative and somehow sneak it in under Eric's eyes. That way Eric won't get upset with Jamie, they won't fight and the family will stay together.

As this is going on, Tessa is also starting a relationship with Detective Luke Asher. Luke was in university with Jamie, and they went out partying together, so Jamie freaks at the idea of him going after his virginal little sister. It doesn't help that Luke is suffering a bit of a PR problem: his work partner is pregnant and not saying by whom, so everyone in the Boulder Police Department assumes it's by Luke, not to mention the story going round about Luke leaving his ex-wife when she was diagnosed with cancer.

I really, really, really liked this. The family drama that's going on alongside the romance is sort of the overarching theme of the trilogy, developing in each book but not really resolving until the very end, and I just loved it. Dahl creates a real family here: three people who love each other, but who find themselves trapped in a dynamic that's not particularly healthy, and from which none of them comes out blameless. All three are imperfect and, probably because of this, fascinating characters.

Tessa, whose issues come to the forefront in this, her book, is a very flawed heroine. In fact, she's such a manipulator that she verges on unlikeable sometimes (which is probably why I liked her so much). The genius of what Dahl does with her is that even though she's being an idiot (and she kind of knows it, even though she doesn't want to accept it), I completely understood why she felt she had to smooth the waters and prevent conflict. I sympathised completely, even while seeing very clearly that she was going the wrong way about it.

I really enjoyed the romance as well. I had a bit of a panic when I thought Tessa's manouverings had extended to trying to convince her brothers that she was a virgin, but it turned out that their idiotic assumptions were an unintended consequence of her habit of hiding from them anything she thinks might upset them even sligthly. Her relationship with Luke ends up being the first area where she actually makes a stand and risks upsetting them.

Luke is much less flawed than Tess -in fact, he's a complete sweetie, who doesn't deserve any bit whatsoever of his bad reputation. In fact, this reputation has stuck to him because he's such a sweet, stand-up guy, who won't throw other people under the bus. This obviously causes conflict in his developing relationship with Tessa, because finding the right point between her trusting him enough, while not feeling like those other girls she knows who fall for obviously bad guys, while insisting they're misunderstood, is difficult. This is done really well, and I loved how it all unfolded.

MY GRADE: A strong B+.


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