On her thirty-fourth birthday, small-town librarian, Daisy Minor realizes that she's been living a dull, boring life. Her hair is a plain, mousy brown, she never wears makeup, and her fashion sense is trapped in another decade. She also still lives with her mother and aunt and always sticks to her rigid daily routine, never going out anywhere fun. If something doesn't change, and soon, she's never going to fulfill her dream of having a husband and kids. Determined to take her own destiny in hand, she makes arrangements to move into her own place that same day and starts working on making over her entire image.
Tired of the big-city rat race, new Hillsboro Police Chief Jack Russo moved back to the town where he'd spent summers with a great aunt while growing up. It's a nice quiet job, where virtually nothing ever happens beyond a domestic squabble or a drunk and disorderly. Jack takes notice of the prim, proper town librarian and actually enjoys bantering with her and trying to ruffle her feathers. His guess is that there's a passionate woman hiding under her old-fashioned, buttoned-up exterior, and after her makeover, he definitely wants a piece of the action. When the new, but still sweet and naive, Daisy shows up at a nightclub where he's investigating a possible source of a date-rape drug and he sees her dancing with other men, Jack starts to feel very protective of her, especially when Daisy accidentally starts a fight.
As far as Daisy is concerned, Jack Russo isn't her type at all. She's grateful to him for saving her from a bar brawl, but she has no intention of going out with him. That all changes when they keep finding themselves in the same places and also in some very odd and often humorous situations that start making Daisy feel a might hot and bothered whenever he's around. But just as things start heating up between them, Daisy finds herself in mortal danger. On one of her excursions to the nightclub, she accidentally witnesses a man being murdered and doesn't even realize it until she becomes the next target on the killer's hit list. Add in a corrupt politician and human trafficking, and Chief Russo is going to have his hands full catching the bad guys while keeping Daisy safe and alive.
Open Season was my first read by Linda Howard. It's been on my TBR pile for a while, and I'm glad I finally got around to reading it. The story has an interesting mix of flavors. It's part straight-up contemporary romance and part romantic suspense. The contemporary parts lean toward the humorous side with Daisy's transformation having something of a chick-lit vibe to it. While I hesitate to call it a romantic comedy, some of her scenes with Jack do end up being laugh-out-loud funny. The suspense portion is intense but perhaps not in quite the same way as a Karen Rose novel for example. It's a small-town romance with that sense of tight-knit community, where everybody knows everybody else, but then you have Jack who's a big-city transplant. It might seem like all these different elements are too disparate to work together, but somehow they all did, because Open Season ended up being a very good read for me.
I greatly enjoyed Daisy's character. You could transplant me into the story, and I could easily double for Daisy. That's how much she and I are alike, maybe not exact duplicates but very, very close. She considers herself to be plain and boring, and so do I. She thinks she's very average looking, as do I, and the way her pre-makeover physical appearance is described is very similar to my own. She's the head librarian in her small town of Hillsboro, and in another life, that most definitely could have been me. Put me anywhere near books and I'm happy as a clam just like Daisy. Also like me, she's pretty intelligent and well-read, learning a lot of things from the books she loves so much. Daisy is a very good girl, who goes to church on Sundays and never, ever breaks the rules (Yup, ditto. :-)). But on the day of her thirty-fourth birthday, she decides she's never going to get what she wants in life, namely a husband and kids, if she doesn't step out of her comfort zone and do something, live on the edge a little. So she sets about getting a makeover of her physical appearance as well as trying things like going out to a nightclub to meet eligible men. The whole transformation process was pretty humorous. I loved how she was completely inept at putting on makeup, which is totally me too. LOL! I don't necessarily want to say that Daisy is naive, but she does have a very innocent way of looking at life and a certain trustfulness in other people's innate goodness. I liked that in spite of putting herself out there and trying new things, she never really loses that side of her personality. That's not to say that she's a pushover or that she does stupid stuff. She's a really smart girl and I had to laugh when Jack thought that maybe she'd not followed his instructions to stay put for her own safety and she responded by telling him she wasn't an idiot like the characters in movies who do that and get themselves killed. It was really refreshing to see a heroine who wasn't acting the least bit TSTL.
Jack is kind of the opposite of Daisy. He's a big-city cop who's seen the dregs of society and has become somewhat jaded by it. After a failed marriage, he decided a move to the small town where he used to spend summers with his great aunt was in order, and he was lucky enough to get the job as chief of police in Hillsboro. It's a sleepy little town where nothing ever happens except the occasional domestic disturbance or drunk and disorderly, until a couple of dead bodies show up and Daisy thinks she knows one of the people who was murdered. Then it leads to a huge human trafficking conspiracy, involving pillars of the community that no one ever expected. I have to admit, when Jack was first introduced I wasn't sure if he was the intended hero or not. Daisy thinks of him in a pretty unfavorable way that didn't endear me to him at all, but much like he gradually grew on Daisy, he grew on me as well. He could occasionally have his demanding alpha moments, but overall, he wasn't as bad as many alpha heroes I've read. There were several things that I admired him for, such as his protectiveness of Daisy. Much like her, he's sharp as a tack and puts his investigative ability to work, figuring things out. He doesn't take anything for granted and meets everything with a healthy does of skepticism without being a total downer. I love how he's drawn to Daisy's innocence and goodness, how she can sometimes drive him just a little crazy, but that deep down, he enjoys bantering with her. He may have initially thought that he only wanted a short-term affair with the buttoned-up librarian, but she changed his mind in very short order. I also liked that, while Jack could be a little gruff at times, he has a good heart, and that shows not only in his interactions with Daisy but also with her new puppy.
Overall, Open Season was a very enjoyable read. The supporting cast, from the townspeople to the villains, were all very well-crafted with strong individual personalities and motivations. Sometimes, it's the little things that are memorable, such as the mystery behind how Jack's secretary, Eva Fay, always manages to be there before him and have a piping hot cup of coffee ready to hand him as he walks in the door or the gossipy pharmacist's wife who spreads it all over town that Daisy and Jack are seeing each other and purchased a Party Pack of condoms after a hilarious encounter in the store. It's small-town life at it's best. Then there's the suspense that was also well-written. It's not so much a mystery, as we know who the bad guys are early on, as it is about their evil plans unraveling and them getting caught, but it still kept me engaged. Everything somehow worked together to create a fun story that I'd definitely recommend. It may have been my first Linda Howard book, but it certainly won't be my last. I'm now looking forward to exploring more of her backlist soon.
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