Real Men Will, by Victoria Dahl

>> Saturday, March 17, 2012

TITLE: Real Men Will
AUTHOR: Victoria Dahl

PAGES: 336

SETTING: Contemporary US
TYPE: Romance
SERIES: 3rd in the Donovan Brothers Brewery series

It was meant to be a one-night stand. One night of passion. Scorching-hot. Then Beth Cantrell and Eric Donovan were supposed to go their separate ways. That's the only reason he lied about his name, telling her he was really his wild younger brother. Hiding his identity as the conservative Donovan. The "good one."

But passion has its own logic, and Eric finds he can't forget the sable-haired beauty with whom he shared a night of love. When Beth discovers that Eric has lied, however, she knows he can't be trusted. Her mind tells her to forget the blue-eyed charmer. If only every fiber of her being didn't burn to call him back.
I've been posting my reviews of the 3 books in this series just as I read them, all in one go, and we come to an end with Real Men Will, my favourite out of the whole trilogy. Considering how much I thoroughly enjoyed the first two books (see here and here), that's saying quite a lot!

So, series setup (still being lazy and copying the next two chapters from the earlier posts):

The Donovan Brothers Brewery 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.

In Bad Boys Do, the always conflictive relationship between Jamie and Eric came to a bit of a head. Eric had to recognise that Jamie wasn't a bad boy troublemaker any longer, and that he was ready to take on much more responsibility at the brewery. Their relationship is still tense, though, especially because Eric is finding it very hard to let go of all the responsibilities he's been shouldering for all those years. He feels at a bit of a loss at work, and offers of help keep being taken by Jamie as meaning his brother still doesn't trust him. It doesn't help that Eric sometimes backslides a bit and his first reaction to is to assume Jamie has screwed up.

But the roles are reversed dramatically when a woman comes into the brewery one night and asks for Jamie Donovan, with whom she's recently had a one-night-stand. Eric's initial reaction of "Jamie's screwed up again" gives way to intense embarrassment when he realises the woman is none other than Beth Cantrell, which means that the "Jamie Donovan" with whom she's slept is none other than Eric himself, using his brother's name and ladykiller reputation. And worse: now his brother and sister know he did that.

Oh, this was absolutely fantastic. Eric had been a fascinating character throughout the first two books, and his book delivered even more than I had been hoping. When I say he was fascinating, it's because he inspired such contradictory feelings in me. He clearly loves his brother and sister and has given up a lot for them, but at the same time, he can be an unbending, rigid ass. He's certainly shown that in previous books, and I couldn't blame Jamie, especially, for wanting to strangle him sometimes. Eric is very flawed, and I loved seeing him get a wake-up call.

And what a wake-up call it was, too. He acted completely out of character with Beth and is completely ashamed of his behaviour, but at the same time, it was the hottest thing that has happened to him in a while, if not ever. I liked that Dahl takes him very close to the sleazy line with his behaviour, but I couldn't help but understand the impulse to do what he did, the need to step out of the responsible, steady Eric, if only for one night, and for me, this kept him on the right side of the line.

Beth is obviously none too happy when she finds out about Eric's little deception, so their relationship doesn't start out well. But it does start, slowly, and in a way that I found completely believable. Overcoming this initial violation of trust is a big obstacle for them on the way to becoming a couple, of course (especially because of some things in Beth's past), but the disconnect between Beth's occupation and her natural tendencies ends up being just as big an issue, which made the book even better.

Beth, you see, runs a sex shop. It's a very tasteful, upscale one, devoted to empowering women, but a sex shop, nonetheless, and that creates expectations about her. People make assumptions. In a twist I really enjoyed, Dahl doesn't go with the "people think she's a slut!!" assumption as an issue (well, some people do, but not many). Beth hangs out with some cool people, so the default assumption is that she is some sort of sex goddess, who's done it all and will expect true greatness from any man she takes to her bed. A sex advice column the store publish in a local paper as a promo thing, written mostly by Beth's colleagues, but published under her name, kind of encourages these assumptions.

Problem is, Beth is actually as vanilla as they come in her preferences. She has got absolutely no problem with people around her having more alternative leanings and being wild and adventurous about them, she just doesn't share them, and the whole sex goddess thing is just as intimidating for her as it is for Eric. Dahl strikes the perfect balance with this, I thought. It would have been easy to make Beth or, especially, Eric, sound a bit judgmental about this whole thing, but neither of them was, they were just quite traditional in their tastes, and feeling a bit pressured by the expectations. I loved seeing them work it out.

As in the previous two books, the family drama was just as superior as the romance. There is quite a lot of exploration of why Eric feels he has to do so much, which has turned him into such an unbending older brother, and it all made perfect sense. I felt all choked up quite a few times while I was reading this, as I could really feel Eric's pain. It's not easy for him to change, but by the end of the book, I felt the three siblings were headed in the right direction. There will be plenty of fights in the future, sure, but they'll be ok.



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