I’ve been a little slow to publish new reviews, in part because I’ve been reading a few egalleys that won’t be published until later this fall, but the real reason is that I’ve fallen into a reader’s rabbit hole filled with books by Victoria Dahl. My love of Taking the Heat was effusive and real and immediately compelled me to go back and read all of Dahl’s contemporaries. I’m working my way through the lot, but thought I’d come up for air and share my thoughts on what is now one of my favorite romance novel collections: The Donovan Brothers Brewery series.
In typical scattered-reader fashion, I read this series completely out of order, which hardly signifies, as any way you read them, these books are amazeballs. The series follows Tessa, Jamie, and Eric Donovan, siblings who run a brew-pub in Boulder, Colorado. My relationship with beer-centered romance (both contemporary and historical) has had its ups and downs, but this series has convinced me that nothing accompanies romantic drama better than a nice Porter.
There’s sort of a Party of Five vibe to the series: Eric has been the head of the Donovan household since his parents were killed in a car accident. In his mid-twenties he set aside his young adulthood to raise teenaged Tessa and Jamie, and take over the family brewery. The series derives as much drama from the sibling dynamics as it does from the actual romance itself. Anyone with brothers or sisters knows how complicated sibling relationships can be, and Dahl is a master at crafting believable, but never over-the-top family tensions. The books are linked together by a break-in at the brewery and its ensuing repercussions, in which long-simmering family issues finally come to head. Here’s a quick summary of each:
- Good Girls Don’t — While trying to manage the aftermath of the brewery break-in, and the increasingly tense relationship between Jamie and Eric, Tessa finds herself drawn to police detective Luke Asher. He’s the kind of guy any good friend would warn you to stay away from (read: TOO COMPLICATED TO BE WORTH IT), but Tessa is tired of being good.
- Bad Boys Do — Jamie kicks off a fun no-strings-attached sexcapade with (slightly older) divorcee Olivia Bishop. But Jamie’s tired of being the irresponsible playboy and is ready to prove to everyone–Eric, Tessa, Olivia–that he’s capable of more.
- Real Men Will — Eric’s one-night-stand with local sex shop manager Beth Cantrell was supposed to be just that. It’s the only reason he lied about his name (letting Beth believe he was really Jamie). The sex is so amazing that neither Eric nor Beth can let it go, and find themselves getting together again and again.
They’re all fantastic reads, folks, but I will give a special plug for Real Men Will, whose heroine is curvy, beautiful, half-Argentinian (Latina bonus points!), and totally vanilla despite her sex-icon status around town. This last book is definitely the steamiest of the three, so proceed accordingly (ahem, read it first).
Jamie’s story is sort of a classic, there’s-more-to-the-bad-boy-than-meets-the-eye tale, but the presence of Olivia gives the story some legs. She’s a little older, wiser, but totally inexperienced in love and relationships. I liked that she was coming from the world of academia with all of its political intrigues and ridiculous drama, and I appreciated that she was in her mid-30s (I like reading romance with heroines around my age). Did I also mention that Jamie wears a kilt? Because he does. A LOT.
Good Girls Don’t is a bit like Tessa–a little bubble gum, a little dirty. Her brothers jokingly refer to her as a Disney character, and yes, she is a perky, blond heroine, but I think Dahl manages to dive deeper into her persona. Tessa has some pretty serious underlying abandonment issues (no surprise there) and she’s as manipulative as she is sweet. It’s a refreshing take on what could have been a bland “good girl” character.
There is so much to love about this series! Read it now, folks!