Victoria Dahl’s Flirting with Disaster is my belated March TBR Challenge for Series catch up. I am a fortnight late to the party but I finally made time to sit and read. Though Victoria Dahl’s latest book has not been on my TBR for long, I really wanted to read the second (third when you count the novella) book in her Jackson: Girls Night Out series. I am a total sucker for Victoria Dahl’s books and I have not been shy in reviewing them on my blog over the years. For this particular series, I enjoyed the novella Fanning the Flames with the sexy firie and the “not sad to be an empty nester” librarian. I also mostly enjoyed Looking for Trouble. I LOVED the whole story actually – I just didn’t enjoy 1 tiny aspect of 1 sex scene. That tiny aspect did make me feel a bit ambivalent when I started reading Flirting with Disaster but I should not have worried. Firstly a quick blurb cut and paste:
There’s no hiding from sizzling chemistry…
Artist Isabelle West has good reasons for preferring a solitary life. Tucked away in a cabin in the woods, she has everything she needs…except a red-hot love life. That is, until a hard-bodied US marshal threatens to unearth secrets she’s spent years protecting. But giving in to the sparks flying between them can only lead to one thing…disaster.
Tom Duncan lives by the letter of the law. But no one has tempted him—or confused him—more than free-spirited Isabelle, who arouses his suspicion and his desire. As their connection grows, and their nights get hotter, they find their wild attraction might shake everything he stands for—and expose everything she has to hide.
This book is pure Victoria Dahl goodness. It is funny, it embraces friendships and it also explores relationships and the trust levels with new people in your life when the previous people in your life have destroyed your trust. I love the way Dahl’s characters have to negotiate their relationships that fit their own boundaries of what they want – which is not necessarily what the society they live in wants. At ARRC2015, Victoria Dahl discussed that she wanted her heroine to be 40 but for various reasons wrote her to be 36. I think that had I read this book without knowing that I still would have picked this up as there is a certain acceptance within the character that I would possibly not expected at the slightly younger age. Isabelle West is an medical illustrator living in a cottage hidden away out of town. She has secrets and you realise in the first few pages of the book that she is hiding from the law. Tom Duncan is a US Marshall who is charged with monitoring Isabelle’s neighbour, a judge, while he presided over a contentious case that had brought death threats to him. Tom realises that Isabelle is lying and nervous around him and due to his sensitive case started looking into her background. In the time (several days) that it takes him to uncover her real identity, the two of them heat up the pages and sleep together even though they both internally worry about the ethical implications (for Tom) and the risk of discovery (for Isabelle). Secrets get revealed, problems get heightened but throughout the book Isabelle and Tom have a rapport and conviviality that made them a great couple and had me, the reader, wanting them to get to their happily ever/for after/now with as little angst as possible (hah! Like that would happen in a romance). I liked how at first Isabelle is amused and slightly mocking of Tom’s fear of her medical illustrations but with time comes to understand him and is more sensitive to his needs. I liked the sex scenes, I liked the crime plot that drove the romance but did not dwarf the emotional build in this story. Overall, I liked this book.
An aside: There is a discussion of guns in this story which, as an Australian reader, I struggle with in American fiction. It is a pointed cultural difference between Australians and Americans that it can often throw me out of a story as it did with this book. The discussion wasn’t overtly gun-ho or anything like that. When Tom finds out that Isabelle has a (legal) gun he says (and I read this as flippant with a touch of serious) “don’t shoot any of my people if you see them poking around on girls’ night”. It was quite moderate but still way out of my own cultural understanding. Accidently shooting people seems like such an American news story. It fits the narrative of this book, and it is barely a few lines in the book but coming from a country where gun ownership is relatively low and strictly controlled it stands as a reminder to me that I am reading a book in a cultural setting different to my own.
The most important thing in this book is the heroine’s awareness of herself and her growth as a person before she met the hero. Isabelle reflects back to a time when she was a compliant, quieter woman who passively accepted her lot in life. This passivity “horrified” her. And it is a passivity that many readers would feel familiar with. I think Isabelle’s inner monologue of long ago rejecting her passivity, rejecting the need for a man to reveal her body to herself – which as romance readers we are more than familiar with in romances with younger female protagonists or virginal protagonists – resonated throughout the book and, I think, is one of the primary messages that all of Victoria Dahl’s books carry. Women who are sexually confident and body confident get to be that way as part of their emotional journey.
I really enjoyed this book. So much so that my husband is now reading it. It depicted strong friendships, humour and a courtship dance of mutual respect and lusting. I highly recommend it.
A copy of Flirting with Disaster was given to me (and all the other lunch attendees) by Victoria Dahl as I won a “Lunch with a Keynote author” at the Australian Romance Readers Convention 2015. She autographed it. I will keep it clutched to my bosom forever more. This one is a keeper.