Great books often come from an author’s personal experience. Dorien Kelly used to be an attorney, like the heroine of Do-Over, so maybe it shouldn’t be a surprise that the book is as good as it is. But for a short series book, it is a surprise, and quite good. With a distinct point of view and sharp plotting, Kelly covers a lot of ground and does more with the format than many writers could dream of accomplishing.
After six years of slogging away in the trenches as an associate in a Michigan law firm, everything in Cara Adams’s life appears to be heading in the right direction. As the most senior associate, she expects to make partner within the next few months and put a down payment on a new condo. So naturally, her life is about to go straight down the tubes.
On the one morning Cara oversleeps, she arrives at the firm to discover the mentor she hitched her career to left in the middle of the night to join another firm, leaving her nothing more than a voice mail as warning. It’s bad enough when the senior partners take her cases away and ask her to leave her pass card with them so she can’t access the building on the weekend. Her worst nightmare comes true when they hire Mark Morgan to join the firm.
Mark was a former law school classmate and Cara had a serious crush on him, so much so that when they were both up for the editor of law review, she dumbed herself down in the interview so she wouldn’t look smarter than him. Needless to say, big mistake. He went on to a prestigious Wall Street law firm, a job that should have been hers. She has no intention of losing out to him again, especially when she learns he was brought in as an associate with higher seniority than her, with the partnership virtually guaranteed.
Do-Over is a good example of the romance/chick lit hybrid done right. Unlike the other three Flipside books so far, it’s not about a flighty single girl bumbling her way toward love. It’s more about one woman learning to reassess her life, while finding love along the way. Kelly aims for a little more depth and character growth, not to mention a little more realism, than the usual Harlequin.
It’s nicely done, although my reaction was mixed at first. For a while in the middle, it got a little bleak, with Cara slogging away at the firm to all hours of the night while Mark is out on the golf course with the partners, being assured of his partnership. I was annoyed both for her and at her and wondering where the “fun” part of the Flipside “Fun, witty, unexpected” motto was. I also wasn’t all that comfortable with Mark and Cara’s flirting and close encounters in the office, which seemed all too likely to get them both in professional trouble, Cara more so than Mark, as if she didn’t have enough to worry about.
But as the book went on, the sharpness of the writing and the distinctive tone and atmosphere really started to shine. Do-Over may be a short book, but Kelly does manage to give it a longer feel. The story covers several months in the lives of its characters and never comes across as rushed. Cara feels like a different sort of heroine than the usual Harlequin/Silhouette protagonist, a little more modern, more grounded in the real world. It was nice to see her deal with more than just her love life. By the end of the book, she has reevaluated her life and what she wants to do, though thankfully not in the direction I initially feared she was heading. Near the end, this may eclipse the romance somewhat, including a questionable choice on the heroine’s part, although all ends well of course.
The book includes the usual quirky secondary characters. Here they seem less cartoonish than the norm. While the humor isn’t really the laugh-out-loud variety, there is some clever dialogue. Perhaps because this is a world she knows so well, Kelly’s writing is realistic and her story more relatable than many romances. I’m not sure how I felt about the brief glimpses into Mount Olympus (Cara offers a theory about the gods giving “do-overs,” and sure enough, Zeus and Hera are looking on), but the quirky touch never amounts to more than a couple of lines at the end of some of the chapters so was easy to overlook.
I was impressed with how much Kelly was able to do in a brief 216 page series romance. She seems to be aiming higher than most readers have probably come to expect. For the most part, she succeeds. A very good book with an unusual level of characterization and a distinctive voice, I think it’ll surprise you too.