Review: Bad Boys Do, by Victoria Dahl

Bad Boys Do Blurb:

Olivia Bishop is no fun. That’s what her ex-husband said. And that’s what her smart bob and glasses imply. So with her trademark determination, Olivia sets out to remake her life. She’s going to spend time with her girlfriends and not throw it all away for some man. But when an outing with her book club leads her to a brewery taproom, the dark-haired beauty realizes that trouble—in the form of sexy Jamie Donovan—may be too tempting to avoid.

Jamie Donovan doesn’t mean to be bad. Sure, the wild streak in his wicked green eyes has lured the ladies before. Now it’s time to grow up. He’s even ready for a serious romance. But how can that be when Olivia, the only right woman he has ever met, already has him pegged as wrong?

Bad Boys Do (September 2011, HQN) is the second book in the Donovan Brothers trilogy, contemporary romances set in Boulder, Colorado about three siblings who lost their parents in an auto accident some years ago, and are working together to grow the local watering hole established by their dad. Jamie, the youngest at age 29, is the gorgeous blond bartender. He’s trying to put his partying days behind him, but his big sister (Tessa, the heroine of Book 1) can’t see it, and keeps him pegged as the studmuffin in a kilt who can lure the ladies to the bar. (For the record, I had not read Good Girls Won’t, and had no problem jumping in with this book).

Jamie is pretty pessimistic when it comes to convincing his siblings that he’s ready to become a bigger partner in the business. The way his sister treats him — as a sex object — was wince-inducing to read. But he forges ahead, taking a business class at the local community college, where he meets Olivia Bishop. They are at completely different places in their lives, with Olivia just divorcing her overbearing, adulterous professor husband. She’s thirty-five, but because she met her older husband at a young age, her own career has been back-burnered and and is just now trying to figure out who she is and what she wants for herself.

The attraction between Olivia and Jamie is strong, and Dahl definitely knows how to write love scenes. To celebrate Bad Boys Do making the USA Today Bestseller list, yesterday Dahl posted an excerpt from a hot tub scene on her Tumblr. As always with Dahl, these scenes are not gratuitous, but develop the characters and the relationship. It’s wonderful to read about a very self-controlled, taken-for-granted woman loosening up with a man who appreciates her, and about a man who never took sex seriously, recognizing for the first time when a tumble means more than a moment’s pleasure. It’s only in bed that Olivia can really let her true affection show through.

Dahl captures academic life perfectly. Dear Author recently posted about difficulties in appreciating books written about your own professional field. Not only does Dahl get university life down, but she captures the specific experience of teaching and working as an adjunct at a community college, which is not the same at working at State U, or Ivy League U. I usually can’t read romances about professors having relationships with students (in real life, it’s usually a middle aged man throwing over the mother of his children for a younger grad student. Not romantic.), but Dahl finessed this perfectly: it’s a non-credit night class for professionals.

Jamie is pure gold, one of my favorite kind of heroes. He’s the sexy, confident guy with the bad boy rep who is ready to step it up, and has found the woman he wants to do it with. His fun loving spirit brings Olivia out of her shell, and it’s a delight to join them for the ride. His own struggle is really with his siblings. Jamie’s fights with Tessa and Eric are intense and believable. Not every romance family has to be the Bridgertons, and I am glad for it. I’ll be very interested to see how Dahl redeems older brother Eric, because he sure came off as a jerk in this one.

Olivia is guarded. She let her identity be determined by her father-figure of a husband, and it is going to take her a while to get over her self-image as a downer. Some other readers have had a hard time with Olivia’s obsession with the age difference, but to me, that was her character. She was told over and over that her only value was in serving as a helpmeet to her husband. It’s going to take her some time to develop a sense of entitlement to her own happiness, and throwing up ridiculous excuses (like the age difference) is going to be her coping mechanism for a while.

The only real problem I had with the book was Olivia’s ex. He was a bit of a caricature, and the subplot involving his own new relationship was undercooked. The main problem was that he kept showing up, and in such an intense, stalkery way that I viewed him as a potential physical threat to Olivia. By the end, I saw his character differently, but it strikes me that it probably wasn’t Dahl’s intention to make readers waste energy worrying that Olivia was going to be held hostage by her ex, which I did. Perhaps I’ve been so conditioned by reading other romances in which, if the ex is present, he is a violent nutter, that I over-interpreted the ex’s actions in Bad Boys Do. At any rate, I found the tone of that characterization off.

That aside, from the first scene, I was completely hooked on Jamie and Olivia, both as individual characters, and as part of a developing relationship. With Dahl’s characteristic attention to detail, funny and sexy writing, and true-to-life relationships and situations, it’s another winner from one of my favorite romance writers writing today.

11 responses

  1. A book that gets academic life right????? You’ve sold me. I’m off to yoink this one IMMEDIATELY. (And then back to my toils on Mt. Grademore. Is there a lot of time spent slogging through papers in this novel? That’s my hallmark of authenticity.)

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  2. Yeah, I have to admit to being drawn to this one solely because you think it does a good job of portraying academic life. I’ve read some whoppers with outlandish portrayals. I ready for something authentic.

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  3. Wow! Really? I thought getting academia right was an impossible dream. That it’s written by Victoria Dahl is even better.

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  4. I think it makes it a bit easier to understand Eric if you’ve read the novella from The Guy Next Door. I’d describe it are more of a prequel/first few chapters than a novella as there is no HEA in that story. But it is the beginning of Eric and Beth’s story and, from a chronological perspective, it is set before the first book Good Girls Do. (This also means you get to understand why Eric goes red and chokes whenever Beth’s name is mentioned).

    I’ve read Real Men Will also and I think Dahl does a great job of redeeming Eric (because, you’re right, he was a total asshat in this book!). In the end, I liked Jamie better so I rated this book slightly higher but Eric’s book was a close second.

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  5. FD – I’d say this is the best by her I’ve read (though that’s not a whole lot.)

    I didn’t find Olivia’s ex that scary; I enjoyed their interections, because Olivia really gets to shine, being self-aware and strong.

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  6. Jamie is the middle child in his family; Tessa’s the youngest. He’s 29, she’s 27. Their brother Eric is the oldest–by I think 5-6 years, maybe more. Like you I’ve only read this one and not Tessa’s book, Nice Girls Don’t, and I don’t think it actually mentions in this book how much older Eric is than his siblings .

    Overall I enjoyed this book (look a contemporary with no spies, mass murders, or werewolves–just people trying to figure out their lives!). This is my first Dahl and I will definitely try another.

    As for the academic part, I felt a bit more ambivalent about it. My impressions was that this took place at U Colorado (not a community college), and that Olivia was teaching in the summer extension/outreach program for the university. After all her ex was a tenured professor in economics and she attends a going-away party for someone who is heading off to Stanford. And she fixes her friend, Gwen, up with a business law tenure-track prof (Paul I think), who came from Chicago for the job. Just seems more like university than community college stuff.

    I thought Dahl did portray some things about the academic world absolutely correctly –but I did wonder how Olivia could live on her part-timer’s salary. It sounded like she was she was being paid by course and my understanding (and experience) is that being paid by course is pretty awful (especially at non-union places). Most of my experiences are in Canada (and at union shops), but still even teaching 4/4 would not mean great wages. And from what I’ve read in Chronicle US universities and colleges on average pay worse than most of the places I’ve been at. Olivia probably would be at the poverty line wage-wise.

    I was also a bit frustrated with the way Dahl set up the academic culture as this space that is only occupied by people who are phonies and pretentious (e.g., who pretend to love opera and museums, but only because it grants them some kind of superior sense against authentic people who love popular culture stuff like country music). Why must the faculty party itself that Olivia attends be boring and the people there only be interested in boasting about their accomplishments? Why did Olivia even bother to go if she didn’t like the people and thought they were phonies? Why couldn’t the party just be a place where a bunch of people were having a great time, but it wasn’t the type of great time that Olivia wanted. Why can’t someone like opera and country music? Why is “authentic” fun only popular/low culture stuff that most academics can’t participate in? I’m not saying that academics don’t in reality participate in pop culture, but that this book implies this.

    Dahl does by introducing Paul, the business law prof, soften this idea of the tenured academic as the pretentious snob who is only interested in advancing their career and not in having fun–but she doesn’t allow Paul to like both high culture (e.g., operas, museums) and popular/low culture (e.g., horror films, country music). He is authentic because he likes Gwen (a secretary) and only popular/low culture.

    Oh yes–Dahl mentioned several times that Olivia was mentoring other students besides Jamie, but Olivia never, ever had meeting with them. This wouldn’t have been a big issue except that Dahl mentions this at least three times in the book (including during the meeting that Olivia had with her dean about whether she was behaving inappropriately with students), so it began to sound like these students were doing independent studies or graduate work with Olivia. And I did wonder would a contract instructor being doing this and if so, when was she meeting with these students?

    Having said all the above–I also thought that Dahl did do lots right–universities are intensely hierarchical. I mean I was not the least surprised that Gwen was having no luck dating profs or that Victor was such a loser (I’ve known profs who make Victor look like a prince). Instructors, even good ones, never know if their contracts will be renewed or not. The rules around dating students/teaching assistants are different for tenured. And not everyone wants to be an academic (be it instructor or tenured prof) and deciding to leave the academy to do something else is good (although not everyone will look at it that way).

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  7. Haven’t read this one but I did read Tessa’s book recently. I’ll say that after one book Eric most reminds me of Balogh’s Bedwyn patriarch, though less extreme.

    Will have to look into the short story.

    I had the same issues with Dahl’s mystery subplots in all of the Start Me Up/Talk Me Down/Lead Me On batch.

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  8. I apologize for the delay in replying. Thanks for all the comments.

    @Ariel/Sycorax Pine: @Missie:
    @JL:

    Well, I think it was well done, compared to other romances I have read. the heroine is a part time instructor, in the extension program. Her career journey is not an academic one as the novel unfolds. So I don’t want to oversell this aspect. It’s not Wonder Boys!

    @FD: I think it is as good as any. I have not read her historicals. Of her contemps, Start Me Up is perhaps my favorite.

    @willaful: Thanks for that different perspective. I think if I reread it, knowing how it unfolds, it woudl read like that to me as well.

    @Kathryn: Thank you so much for this comment. You’ve obviousl read it very carefully, and I agree with much of what you say here.

    I was also a bit frustrated with the way Dahl set up the academic culture as this space that is only occupied by people who are phonies and pretentious (e.g., who pretend to love opera and museums, but only because it grants them some kind of superior sense against authentic people who love popular culture stuff like country music). Why must the faculty party itself that Olivia attends be boring and the people there only be interested in boasting about their accomplishments? Why did Olivia even bother to go if she didn’t like the people and thought they were phonies? Why couldn’t the party just be a place where a bunch of people were having a great time, but it wasn’t the type of great time that Olivia wanted. Why can’t someone like opera and country music? Why is “authentic” fun only popular/low culture stuff that most academics can’t participate in? I’m not saying that academics don’t in reality participate in pop culture, but that this book implies this.

    I do think this sort of thing is prevalent in contemporary romance. Whether it is academics, or “the wealthy”, there is often a kind of reverse snobbery about the choice to enjoy “high culture”. And I agree with you that little would have been lost in portraying the party in the way you suggest. Maybe the ex wouldn’t have looked so unappealing. I wonder if a lot of this is the felt need to make the difference between the hero/ine and the ex- or the non-chosen partner really strong and compelling.

    Then again, I am not sure how Harlequin Presents fit in here. I have only read a few, but in those, it seems as if the trappings of wealth, attention to fashion, culture, the arts and fine food, etc. usually seem to make the hero more compelling.

    @Nicola O.: I am really not liking Eric after reading this book. Your comparison actually helps me think I may like him in his own book!

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  9. I have to chime in, because I also reviewed this book by saying that Olivia and her situation were depicted very well. Having been the part time instructor married to, and then divorced from, the full-time professor, I though Dahl got the dynamics here spot on. Olivia’s issues of self-esteem and self-identity absolutely resonated with me.

    As for the academic details, I know many adjunct faculty who mentor students; sometimes the students are enrolled in a class, sometimes in an independent study. Mentoring students is part of the job, even if it goes above and beyond what we’re paid for. I’m not sure why we need to read scenes of that, though; we need scenes watching Jamie and Olivia’s relationship develop, not a lot of day-to-day scenes in their lives that don’t advance the plot or the relationship. Obviously there are many hours in Olivia’s days that aren’t depicted in the book, and meeting with other students, teaching classes, other aspects of her job fit into those.

    A full-time adjunct can make a living wage for a single person, too; Olivia has her house, and presumably got a settlement as part of the divorce, too, making the economics a bit easier. But it’s another factor in why she needs to consider getting out of teaching and into consulting, because that’s where she’ll make more money, now that she isn’t constrained to remain in that secondary role to preserve her marriage. I think that’s something used well in this book.

    Also, I’ve BEEN to that party, more than once! If there had been repeated scenes of faculty gatherings and all were negative, that might have been too much, but there weren’t; there was just that one, and it rang true to my experience, although certainly they aren’t all like that. Aside from the ex and some of the pretentious types at that party, other faculty and college employees were friendly and positive characters. I thought that most of the discomfort came from Olivia and Jamie’s perspective as outsiders; he is, and she’s in that weird twilight zone that adjuncts and ex-spouses inhabit.

    The ex-husband character didn’t strike me as stalkery, except in the way that exes are when they haven’t accepted that it’s over and they are still stuck in thought and behavior patterns — especially if they are working towards a reconciliation. It is kind of creepy, but it also makes sense; I never got a violent or dangerous vibe, just a kind of desperation. But I can see how you might read that in, especially based on some of Dahl’s other books.

    I just finished Real Men Will, and the payoff from the story in the anthology was terrific. I waited about six months between the two, so the simmering feelings that Beth and Eric have at the start of the novel felt very real to me. I think knowing Eric from the short story made me put up with him better in the first two books of the trilogy, too.

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