Bedtime for Bonsai
When my kids were younger, I’d take them to the bookstore and tell them they could get a book – as long as it wasn’t a “gimmick book.” That meant anything that came with stickers, light-up buttons, figurines, cars, etc. You know, the ones they want because they want the toy, not the book. Some romances seem a little like gimmick books, designed to appeal to a certain subset of readers just because they feature animals, or needlework, or something else. In my head, I’d grouped Elaine Fox’s books in this category, and it seemed fair. After all, like many of her other books, Bedtime for Bonsai has a dog on the cover. On a rumpled bed. With no people. (My husband said it really gave him the creeps.) I decided I’d give it a shot anyway, and I’m glad I did, because it was actually pretty good – much better than the cover or the back cover copy suggested.
Penelope Porter is the divorced owner of a pen/stationery store whose love life is going nowhere. It’s so sad that she actually decides to approach her ex (Glenn) and offer to rekindle their relationship, even though he was a cheating jerk who refused to have children with her, and then got another woman pregnant. At the same time, a new man appears on the scene. Dylan Mersey is opening a pottery store across the street. Their relationship gets off to a rocky start when he locks himself out at night. He approaches Penelope, hoping to use her phone, and she gets scared and calls the police.
Dylan has reason to be a little skittish, because he’s an ex-con. In fact, he is starting the store because he received a grant (specifically geared toward ex-cons). The crime he was imprisoned for wasn’t exactly his fault (he was taking the fall for his flaky, stupid mother), but he’s not exactly a choir boy; many of his dealings were on the shady side. Still, he’d really like to start a new life, away from his checkered past in Baltimore.
Dylan and Penelope keep crossing paths, mostly because of her determined, match-making Havanese puppy (whom she has named Mr. Darcy, but who answers better to Dylan’s chosen name, Bonsai). Somehow Bonsai keeps escaping Penelope’s store and heading straight for Dylan’s. Early in the game, Penelope and Dylan share a kiss – and then share much more than that. But there are significant obstacles to their relationship. They are from completely different worlds. Dylan puts it perfectly when he tells her, “You’re – little Cornish chickens, and I’m Doritos and bean dip.” He’s sure she’s just slumming, and that he’s not relationship material. Penelope, on the other hand, isn’t sure what her feelings are, but she’d like to explore them without being dismissed out of hand.
Penelope’s maybe-relationship with Glenn also poses a threat. She seriously considers getting back together with him, mostly because they look like a great couple with a lot in common – at least on paper. Meanwhile, Dylan’s past may be catching up with him. he has a friend who wants him to do a “favor.” The type of favor that could put his new life and burgeoning relationship with Penelope at risk. He has choices to make, and he’s not sure he’s strong enough to do the right thing.
I’m not generally a huge fan of either ex-cons or animal themed books, so I was a little surprised at how much I liked this one. It was largely due to the writing, which had a humor that worked well for me. There are several well-chosen turns of phrase; in addition to the aforementioned Dorito comment, I also laughed out loud when Penelope realized she had slept with Dylan without even looking at his work. She notes that “…she’d gone straight from bitchy to easy, with no pause for artsy along the way.” Granted, humor is pretty subjective; you either find an author funny or you don’t. I found Fox pretty funny.
I also thought the relationship itself was interesting and different. The obstacles are pretty realistic, and they really do require some thought. It’s not the sort of “I can’t marry you because I am just a big, commitment-phobic jerk for no discernible (or logical) reason” plot I’ve been reading so much lately. Dylan has serious doubts about whether he can fit into Penelope’s world, and she wonders whether she should follow where her heart – and hormones – are leading her, even though it seems like a risk.
My main quibble was that nearly all of the book is about getting the relationship started, so its actual development is a little short-changed. That made the happy ending feel a little rushed. I also wondered where exactly Penelope’s money came from. She doesn’t appear to be dependent on her parents, but she lives in a very nice house and drives an expensive car. It seemed like a nicer life than you’d have if your sole income came from running a little store (Maybe I just know too many frazzled people who own and run little stores).
For all my initial fears, the dog subplot was not too overwhelming. Dogs are apparently the glue that holds the series together; earlier books have featured women in Penelope’s and Bonsai’s doggie playgroup. Granted, I’m never going to relate to the woman who always wears clothes with Great Danes on them. But Bedtime for Bonsai is definitely about Penelope and Dylan. Bonsai is the window dressing, and that’s a good thing. Even if you’re not the biggest dog fan in the world, you might find it worth a shot – especially if you like humorous contemporaries.