>> Saturday, March 15, 2014
Tough to tame, but not too tough to love…
Charlie Allington is supposed to be on the fast track to the top—a small-town girl who was making it big in her career. Instead, she's reeling from a scandal that's pretty much burned all her bridges. Now, out of options, she needs a place to lick her wounds and figure out her future. True, working at a ski resort in rugged Jackson Hole, Wyoming, isn't her dream job. But if there's one perk to coming back, it's a certain sexy hometown boy who knows how to make a girl feel welcome.
Cowboy Walker Pearce never expected a grown-up Charlie to be temptation in tight jeans. She's smart and successful—way out of league for a man like him. But he's not about to let that, or his secrets, get in the way of their blazing-hot attraction. Yet when passion turns to something more, will the truth—about both of them—send her out of his life for good…or into his arms forever?
Victoria Dahl is one of my favourite authors of contemporary romance, but I let myself be put off by the very lukewarm reviews of her latest series (especially the first book in it). Well, I shouldn't have, because her contemps just work for me, even when I see some issues with them.
So Tough To Tame is the third in the series (which also includes a couple of short stories), but stands alone fine. Charlie Allington is used to being respected. She was a studious girl in school and, after leaving the small town of Jackson Hole, she started to build a very successful career in security. She was flying high until she trusted the wrong person and was left holding the bag (if you forgive the mixed metaphor). While the police withdrew criminal charges, her reputation in the business was ruined, as people assumed there must have been something to the accusations.
As the book starts Charlie is back in Jackson Hole, where a former school friend and her husband have given her a job as head of security in the new resort they're about to open. It sounded like a great opportunity, but it's turned out to be a nightmare. The former friend has turned into a complete nutter who disrespects Charlie and makes it clear she suspects her of all sorts of misconduct, including wanting to seduce her husband. At her wits' ends, Charlie decides the only way her sanity will survive is to keep their interactions only to working hours, so she moves out of the provided accomodation in the resort and into an appartment in town.
And immediately, things start to look up. One of the first people she meets there is Walker Pearce, whom she used to tutor when they were in high school. Walker was attractive as a teenager, but he's off the charts now. And he's just as attracted to her. He used to fantasise about her during their tutoring sessions, but he felt clever, good girl Charlie was out of his league.
I really liked both characters, especially Walker. I thought his character was particularly well done. Walker is dyslexic, and this has had a big effect on how he sees himself and what he's capable off. This is not one of those books where dyslexia is ridiculously presented as this huge, horrible, shameful secret. It’s not at all a secret. People know and some mild accommodation was made for Walker when he was in high school, although not really as much as he needed, or as would be made today as a matter of course (at least from what I hear from my friends who have kids). But, combined with the fact that his father saw and treated him as stupid, and that Walker has absorbed those views, this has resulted in a man with a low view of his own intellectual abilities and capabilities.
Walker is a cowboy, and although he enjoys some of the work, Dahl gives us a more realistic and unromantic view of the job than found in most romances. It can be back-breakingly hard work, especially as a man gets older. It's pretty miserable in bad weather and the job security sucks. When Walker is earning money he makes enough to live comfortably, and has managed to set aside a small amount, but he doesn't know what he'll be able to do in a few years, or what would happen if he got injured and had to miss even a couple of months of work. It's heart-breaking, because it becomes quite clear that he's got some outstanding skills, especially with people, and he could get a job that he'd like more and would be better for him, if only he dared go for it.
The relationship between him and Charlie was also affected by this, and in a way that broke my heart as well. Over the years, Walker has become someone who's seen as only good for showing a girl a great time in bed. He's just not someone women will consider as a prospect for a relationship. Walker feels that this is because he's just not good enough for the kind of intelligent woman he feels attracted to. And once he starts a relationship with Charlie, it feels like it's going to follow the script of all other relationships in his life. Charlie thinks so as well, not because she feels he's not good enough, but because he's developed a reputation for loving them and leaving them, so she feels that trying to have something serious with him is setting herself up for a fall. Watching them negotiating all this made for fascinating reading. This sort of plot is also a weakness of mine. I enjoy the role reversal, because it’s so often the hero is all confident and arrogant, and the heroine who’s suffering from self-esteem issues. I love it when it’s the opposite.
And by the way, those love scenes. Dahl is one of the very few authors whose scenes work for me (although there was one in this one where she lost me). Her love scenes are all about the feelings, not so much about what is going on physically. Oh, we get the physical as well, it's just that it’s not the whole point. They are also about developing the relationship. You couldn't just cut them out, because the relationship just wouldn't work without what's being shown in them.
Something else I really appreciated here was that there was none of the 'blood is thicker than water' crap we get in so many romances, where there’s this decree that you MUST forgive and love your relatives, even if they’ve been crap to you. We could have got that with both Walker and Charlie (father and brother, respectively), but we absolutely don’t. In fact, the resolution of a certain threat against Charlie is exactly as it should be (don’t want to add more detail than that), and I cheered her for it.
I had more mixed feelings about another element I usually love in Dahl's books, which is how her books often deliver an explicitly feminist message. This happens here as well, although with mixed success.
The successful part was the characterisation of Charlie, who is completely unconflicted about her sexuality. She knows (and even insists out loud to her slut-shaming boss) that there is absolutely nothing wrong with her enjoying sex and that no one has the right to judge her for it. I loved that.
However, what I didn’t love is that Dahl seems to think that it’s sex-positive and feminist to have women engage in the sort of behaviour that would brand men sexually harassing assholes. I’m talking about Rayleen, who seems to be a recurring character in the series. She is the owner of the apartment complex where Walker and Charlie rent, an old woman who constantly makes crude sexual comments to Walker (and apparently to any other young man who may live in the complex -she insists on only renting to hot “studs”). I get that she’s meant to be funny (Charlie finds her absolutely hilarious), but I didn’t find her so at all. Yeah, call me humourless, but I don’t think the aim of feminism should be to allow women to objectify men in exactly the same hurtful way they have objectified us over the years. Doing so can be a weapon in the fight (‘this is what it feels like, see why I’m saying it’s harmful and awful for us?’), but I didn't feel that was what was going on here. I had similar mixed feelings about the girls’ night Charlie has with her new friends. I'm all for women being frank about sex and about enjoying it, and I’ve had plenty of girls' nights with my own friends,where we bullshit about sex and it’s so much fun. This one, I'm afraid, felt forced and fake and pretty immature, like a bunch of little girls trying hard to be shocking.
This is only a very minor element of the book, though. On the whole, I enjoyed it very much, and will definitely go back and read all the others in the series.
MY GRADE: A B+.