July 13, 2015

Taking the Heat by Victoria Dahl: A Review

by Kiersten Hallie Krum

Sexy, funny, and inspiring, Victoria Dahl’s third installment in her popular Girl’s Night Out series, Taking the Heat, is for every woman who ever felt herself to be less only to discover all the more that was out there waiting for her.

After an abortive attempt to make it in the big city, Veronica Chandler has returned home to Jackson Hole, Wyoming to pick up where life failed to leave off. Author of the popular “Dear Veronica” advice column, she struggles with feeling like a fraud as she weekly dispenses frank and funny sex and relationship advice when she’s never had any of either one.

Taking the Heat
Click on the image to buy!

From the moment he arrives in Jackson Hole, librarian Gabe Mackenzie feels like he’s finally home. An avid outdoor adventurer and expert rock climber, he takes to Jackson Hole like a carabiner to its anchor. But this bliss can only last one year before he has to return to the confines of New York City to take over the family restaurant business so that his father doesn’t work himself into an early grave. A decision that feels more like a sentence than a service.

Gabe is a freaking unicorn of a romance hero. He’s a bearded male librarian with a great sense of humor and a gold medal in cunnilingus.

Go ahead, read that sentence a second time.

As if that’s not enough, Gabe is a genuine Good Guy–but that’s also his biggest problem. He’s got Good Guy Martyr Syndrome down to a T. Gabe works to handle every conflict he can for his family to keep them happy. He does this out of love, but more and more out of obligation, repeatedly putting aside what makes him happy even though it pisses him off to have to give up what he loves. But he doesn’t do anything about it either because he likes being that good guy.

Gabe’s journey, however, is a bit thin, because Taking the Heat is Veronica’s story. For most of her life, Veronica has been faking it, pretending to be something she’s not, presenting a false front to the world to hide some real emotional damage. She’s always felt unworthy and undesirable, a mindset perpetuated by some pretty shitty treatment from her father and stepbrother. The one time she tried to break out into a new life in New York City, the isolation and disappointment of that reality check sent her running back home. Her biggest fake is her own advice column despite its increasing success. She fears her ongoing adult virgin state means she’s one wrong move away from a humiliating public scandal.

Dahl’s books are super sexy, but it’s the unashamed frankness that most makes them resonate. There’s no couching of terms, no easing of sensibilities, no laughable euphemisms. They’re often raw and earthly, not only to titillate but more to tear away at the taboo that often impedes needed conversation. I often wonder why she doesn’t have her own youtube sex education channel: “Vaginas stretch too! Debunking sex myths with Victoria Dahl.”

When Veronica starts to perform live versions of her advice column at a local bar, the resulting scenes are hilarious and rife with typical bawdy Dahl humor that will have readers crying with laughter. While Gabe and Veronica’s sexcapades are as frank and cheerfully dirty as you’d expect, they’re also filled with humor and a touching sweetness.

unicorn things

But Veronica doesn’t set out on the road to empowerment simply because Gabe finally helps her dispense with that pesky virginity. (That’s not a spoiler alert; it’s a Victoria Dahl novel. There will be sex.) Nor does she change her life through some epiphany fueled by Gabe’s mad oral sex skills (which are, admittedly, prodigious.) She changes because she can’t continue the way she is; she can’t go on faking her way through her own life. I genuinely got chills at one point and Veronica basically rips open an emotional vein to reach out to a troubled reader because so much of what she said hit so close to home.

We talk a lot here at Lady Smut about how romance novels empower women readers to be the heroines of their own lives. Taking the Heat does that in spades. Sure she gets the unicorn cunnilingus champion, Gabe (guys, seriously, treat those scenes as a user’s manual, ‘kay?) but Veronica’s true happily ever after comes when she claims her identity and allows her true nature out into the world to discover a life that fulfills her on every level, professional, personally, and eventually, romantically.

Taking the Heat releases on July 28, 2015, but you can pre-order it now.

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