Too Hot to Handle
Victoria Dahl is a real hit-or-miss author for me. Some of her books I absolutely adore. Others I couldn’t even finish, including Close Enough to Touch, the first in her new series. Her latest installment, Too Hot to Handle, probably would have headed down the DNF path, too, except that I had to finish it to review. And I’m glad that I did; despite a rough start, by the end I had warmed up to the story significantly.
Merry Kade, the best friend of previous heroine Grace Barrett, just moved to Jackson, WY. She moved for a couple of reasons: partly to be closer to her friend, and partly for a job as a curator for a ghost town. She’s excited about the opportunity, and quickly falls in love with the decrepit and abandoned little town of Providence. However, she soon learns that she was not hired to actually renovate it and make it a visitable historical site; she was hired as a pawn in a legal battle against the former owner’s grandson. While the land was left to him, the money was put into a trust, and he’s suing for that money.
What Grace doesn’t realize is that the unnamed grandson is her neighbor, Shane Harcourt. When she asks Shane to help with some of the construction and carpentry, he realizes that she doesn’t know who he is. And instead of telling her, he agrees to help her out, maybe do a little espionage while he’s fixing broken floorboards. Of course, their mutual attraction gets in the way, and things get a bit more complicated.
It took a while for me to start liking Merry. She’s the “buddy” type, the slightly nerdy girl that guys like to hang out with but never want to date. She’s struggled to get on her feet, gone from one job to the next without finding a career or even something she’s truly passionate about — until Providence, that is. Still, that drive to establish herself and gain credibility doesn’t excuse some truly dumb professional decisions that she makes early on in the novel. She overreacted to the discovery that the Board of Trustees hired her as a placeholder more than for her professional skills. Yeah, it sucks that she was hired to twiddle her thumbs while the lawsuit played out, but that doesn’t mean that being hired was a direct insult to her capabilities — which is how she takes it. She decides the best way to deal with this is to go behind the Board’s back and hire Shane out of her own pocket (a ploy one of Dahl’s heroines has done in the past, and it makes even less sense now than it did then). That’s not the end to her stupidity, though; later in the novel, she’s lucky she doesn’t get arrested for the antics she pulls.
Shane is a more likable character, despite his deception. Yeah, he screws up, but there’s no malice, or even any real intention of using Merry’s trust against her. When Merry finds out the truth, it’s pretty dramatic. That said, I didn’t think she overreacted (this time). Theirs is one of those situations where you can see both perspectives quite clearly, and I think that Merry and Shane learn a lot about each other in how they deal with the fallout of his lie, and are stronger for it.
When it came to assigning this book a grade, I had a bit of a struggle. In the end, I give Too Hot To Handle a qualified recommendation. Yes, the heroine was a bit TSTL; but despite the initially superficial appearance to Ms. Dahl’s books, there is also a depth to the characters that often surprises me. The author may fall prey to gimmicks (like the painfully awkward “Oops, I dropped my vibrator in view of a boy!” scenario, which I hate), but she can also create real emotion and growth within the characters. If you can make it past the early part of this book, you can find something worth reading.