Susan Donovan’s NOT THAT KIND OF GIRL is a romance between two people who seem to be all wrong for each other, but of course are not. The pair in this case are Roxanne “Roxie” Bloom, a known man-hater and owner of a Web site called “I-Vomit-On-All-Men,” and Elias “Eli” Gallagher, a dog whisperer. The reason Roxie needs a dog whisperer is because her rescue dog, Lilith, hates men as much as Roxie does and has recently bitten someone. Though Lilith was provoked, and was protecting Roxie at the time, this caused Animal Control to come and take Lilith away. So the book starts out with there being only twelve short days between Lilith being released to her owner’s care and proving in “dog court” that Lilith isn’t a vicious dog that needs to be put down. Eli gets involved because he feels there are no bad dogs, only owners who haven’t been shown what to do yet (shades of Cesar Milan), and besides, he’s always loved a challenge.
As if that wasn’t enough to pique the reader’s interest, Roxie has three good girlfriends who’ve all paired off in serious relationships or are about to pair off who are worried about Roxie and how bitter she’s become since her last love affair. Her best friend Bea is a lesbian who’s been looking for her soulmate for years but has never “come out” to anyone, not even Roxie; the other two are pregnant and newly-married. All of the women are above twenty-five (with Bea being the oldest, as she’s in her mid-fifties), have lived their lives and have made their choices, for good or ill.
This is relevant because all of them — every last one — ran across one particular woman, an old-fashioned matchmaker (who seems to do this out of the goodness of her heart rather than for pay), who actually found them the right mates. (Or in one case, put the woman in the right place at the right time to find her mate without any further help being required.) Which is one reason why they’re all so concerned about Roxie, since this same matchmaker has told Roxie to “leave her heart open a crack in order to let the love in,” meaning someone’s on the horizon.
But will Roxie let him love her? (Hint, hint: if she didn’t, there wouldn’t be a book here.)
So, there’s some nice paranormal bits here with the matchmaker, who considers her calling a divine gift and wants to pass it along, and a lot of good stuff about dogs and dog training, but of course the main plot is about this rather unlikely romance between Roxie and Eli. Which begs several questions: why are these two both exciting, young, and attractive people single? Why is it that Roxie’s turned her avocation — hating men — into her vocation? Why is it that Eli doesn’t seem to trust himself enough to let himself go with a woman, or didn’t before he met up with Roxie? And will the sparks ever stop flying long enough between these two to actually re-train Lilith to the point that she’s not frothing at the mouth or straining at her leash whenever someone strange is about so they can all prove in dog court that Lilith doesn’t need to be put down and they can get on with their “happily ever after” already?
This is a romance, and a traditional one in many respects, so the “feel good” ending is de riguer for the genre, and so is not a spoiler. Getting there, though, is half the fun, and there are some genuinely humorous moments here amidst the sturm und drang. Eli’s a guy who maintaines a calm, cool, debonair demeanor, but is hiding a passionate heart, while Roxie’s passion is on the surface, ready to boil over at any time in any direction — that’s where the “star-crossed lovers” aspect comes in, or at least the whole “opposites attract” thing I alluded to in the title — but has inner reserves of peace and serenity in her that Eli senses but doesn’t know how to tap into. But of course he’s going to try, and that’s where the story is that lies between them. (Pun deliberately intended.)
I enjoyed this novel a great deal except for one aspect. The lovemaking here, I just didn’t “get.” That these two would be incendiary in bed, I do understand; how that passion takes shape, I don’t. To be blunt, the way Eli behaves in bed doesn’t seem to flow from his character so much as it seems to be necessary for plot purposes in order to “tame” Roxie so she can “submit” to Eli’s wishes the way he wants. Even though Eli can be playful out of bed, and Roxie responds to it, there’s just none of that in the lovemaking episodes we see — instead, once Roxie surrenders to Eli’s “alpha male” dominance, that’s pretty much it. (He figures she’ll get something out of the deal once she’s done so because that’s just the way it works in his “alpha male” world.) That’s a big weakness.
Further, the parallels to Eli being a dog whisperer and needing to show dogs just who the boss is before they’ll relax and behave, and him being Roxie’s personal “whisperer/lover” and needing to show her just who the boss is so she can relax and enjoy herself in bed is heavy-handed and completely unnecessary.
The way Roxie submits to Eli — to his “alpha male” dominance — is the only sour note in an otherwise realistic, down to Earth story that worked on every other level. That one rather jarring note aside, NOT THAT KIND OF GIRL is a fun summer read with some laugh-out-loud moments that did enough to make me want to read another of Susan Donovan’s books in the future.
Grade — B.
— reviewed by Barb