Friday, August 31, 2012

Review: Close Enough to Touch by Victoria Dahl

I was really excited when my request to Harlequin through NetGalley resulted in an ARC of Close Enough to Touch on my e-reader. Thank you, Harlequin! Victoria Dahl has quite a following, and I was excited to read a book by an author so many of the people on GoodReads seemed to have loved!

I walked away from the book satisfied, but also with a feeling that I could have loved it had it been a bit "tighter." But first, what is it about? It follows the main character Grace Barrett, who reluctantly moves from the hustle and bustle of LA to a small Wyoming town due to a painful past that is a mystery to the reader until later in the novel. There, she is put up by her aunt, who owns an apartment building also known as Stud Farm, due to a number of studly cowboys inhabiting it. The narration shifts between that of Grace and Cole Rawlins, the romantic interest, who is one of the people in the apartment building and who has a painful history of his own. As Grace is adjusting to her new surroundings, she is introduced to a plethora of new friends and starts a new job, all the while negotiating the magnetic pull of Cole and the dilemma of whether she should follow her heart of her head.

The book basically has two protagonists, whose pasts are slowly revealed to us. Their interweaving narratives also provide a glimpse into their psychology - and this is where the story's conflict comes from. I was instantly smitten with Cole - apart from being gorgeous, a cowboy and a sex machine, he is also incredibly sweet and tormented. I thought that his torment came from a very real place that involved his teenage years, his family and his brief time in Hollywood. The mystery of what happened to Cole is mixed with his current problem, which is an injury that prevents him from working on the farm toward his dream of owning it. These were all very real, difficult conflicts and I was with Cole every step of the way.

On the other hand, Grace was challenging for me to root for. While her spunk was initially amusing, it soon became more akin to a personality disorder. Her reluctance to make friends and get involved romantically far eclipsed the necessity of creating an obstacle between Cole and her - it was an abyss which took a while for me to get used to. Due to her own past (much less riveting that Cole's), she fears being "soft," which translates into keeping Cole at a distance - even though he literally keeps her from starving, saves her ass from being fired from her job and doing everything he can for her to feel good. This left me thinking he might just be better off without her. On the other hand, Grace's job problems, coupled with the reason she moves from LA to Jackson, Wyoming, somewhat redeemed the character in my eyes, since this made her relatable.

The secondary characters are really well handled - they are colorful enough to be memorable, but the details of their life are well measured and do not drag down the story. I was particularly fond of Eve, Grace's new boss, as well as of Cole's best friend Shane, as well as the character of Lewis, who appears very briefly. And since I've just learned this to become a series, I am hoping for spin-offs featuring at least some of these characters. Another thing I really appreciated was the blending of the contemporary and western genres (the book cover may be a bit misleading in this respect, but it is really sexy, so I don't care; on the other hand and upon close inspection, what happened to Cole's big toe?), as well as the sex scenes which were scorching hot, but also contributed to the development of the story.

I am definitely not giving up on Victoria Dahl, but I am not all too sure about Close Enough to Touch. There is a definite sense of authorship here, and Dahl handles the pace of the novel masterfully. It never drags, and it balances a spectacular amount of characters flawlessly. However, the somewhat annoying heroine definitely affected my attitude towards the central romance, even though the character of Cole was worth the price of admission himself.


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