by M. Ullrich
Publisher: Bold Strokes Books
Publication Date: July 17, 2018
I received an advance review copy of this book from NetGalley. This does not affect my opinion of the book or the content of my review.My rating:
Lauren Daly is fed up with her dead-end job, frustrating roommates, and unhealthy love life. She escapes to The Dollhouse, New Jersey’s hottest lesbian bar, where disappearing in a crowd of gorgeous women is exactly what she needs at the end of the day. But when the owner, Berit Matthews, approaches her for a casual hookup, Lauren pushes her away, knowing better than to put her heart on the line for a playgirl.
Berit loves her bar, her life, and the casual connections she has with the women around her. She can’t help her simmering attraction for Lauren, though, and Lauren’s rejection challenges her to prove she's capable of friendship, kindness, and even matchmaking. Berit’s efforts draw them closer than either expected, but when The Dollhouse is threatened, they’re forced to fight for their sanctuary and their newfound love.
I first read something by M. Ullrich back in the The Boss of Her anthology, and since her story was my favorite of the group, I was eager to check out her next book. Plus, even though I’m not a big drinker – I can’t even tell you the last time I’ve been in a bar – I have a thing for romances about bartenders or wine makers, so this felt like fate. Since this also has the opposites attract trope going on, I was excited to start this one, and, for the most part, it delivered quite nicely.
“Not your type? Honey, she’s everyone’s type. What part of her aren’t you into? Are the dimples too much? Maybe it’s her perfect hair, you know, the way it falls into her gorgeous eyes.” Amber turned back, blatantly checking out their server. “Her tattoos are so unsexy, and the way she moves with such confidence makes me want to gag.”
Lauren shook her head and said, “I’m not saying I don’t think she’s attractive, but she’s a bartender. I’m looking for someone with stability and a grownup job, not someone who flirts for extra money.” Amber’s pinched features startled Lauren. “What?”
“A lot of what you just said was judgey and made you sound shallow.”
Berit runs The Dollhouse, a successful lesbian bar. She’s a very hands-on owner, and on any given night, she’s behind the bar, flirting with customers, getting slipped lots of numbers, and basically living her dream. At the end of the night, every night, she always says that she can’t wait to do it all again tomorrow. Lauren is her polar opposite. I love grumpy heroines, but Lauren verged a bit too much on the doormat side for me to like her much, though she did grow on me. Lauren’s been ground down by a dead-end job with an abusive boss and a living situation with mooching roommates – including her ex-girlfriend, who brings home her new girlfriends and still occasionally sleeps in her bed. She’s an introvert, and part of the only reason she ends up in Berit’s bar is because she can’t stand to be at home with all that craziness. So she’s not exactly in the mood for Berit to flirt with her, which only intrigues Berit more. After a few more trips to the bar – and some alcohol – Lauren opens up to Berit, and they eventually agree to be friends, and then coworkers when Lauren is fired from her paralegal job, with Berit even deciding to play matchmaker for her. But try as they might, they can’t quite ignore the chemistry between them. Can two such different women find true love together?
“What brought you in so early on a Friday?”
Lauren’s sigh didn’t sound like one of annoyance, and Berit’s hopes of getting her to open up shot sky high. “My choices were here or home, and there’s nothing worthwhile at home.”
Berit grinned. “Take me home with you later, and I promise to make it worthwhile.”
Most of Berit’s initial attraction to Lauren seems to be based on the fact that she doesn’t seem interested in her at all, and, like I said previously, Lauren was pretty hard to like at first, but as they spent more time together their chemistry was obvious. Berit’s flirting was hilarious, and once Lauren got her head above all the bad circumstances surrounding her, she was a really great foil for Berit’s outgoing personality and gave as good as she got. I also adored the secondary characters, especially Lou (Berit’s sister) and Hugo (Berit’s dog). One of my favorite parts, though, was just the general day-to-day business of the bar, including all the various special drinks Berit makes for her customers. It was a fun bit that added a lot of authenticity to me, and just underscored how important the bar is in Berit’s life.
As for negatives, there’s also a bit of other-woman-type stuff, with both Lauren and Berit pursuing relationships or hookups with other women after they’ve met each other but before they admitted their feelings. It didn’t particularly bother me – both were handled in line with what each character thought she wanted from a relationship, and just served to highlight how well Berit and Lauren worked together – but I know some readers don’t care for that. While I thought the characterization was overall really excellent, the black moment seemed out of character for Berit – though other characters, including her sister, mention that that’s her normal first reaction to that type of thing, it’s not something I would’ve expected from her, and not something we’d seen hinted at earlier in the book.
Overall, I really enjoyed this book, and I think if you enjoy opposites attract romances – especially ones set in bars – you’ll love this book! I’ll definitely be looking up the rest of the author’s work!