Overall Grade: ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️ 1/2
“‘It happens. Even the pretty ones get left behind sometimes.’”
To understand me as a reader and reviewer, there are certain truths about romance stories that you must understand:
- I connect most with stories wherein the hero and/or heroine are fated BECAUSE they “see” the other person in ways that no one else does. This is my “catnip.”
- I prefer stories that are driven by enemies-to-lovers or opposites attracting. The tension that drives those stories kicks me in the gut and sets my soul on fire.
- Prose, style, and storytelling make me swoon more than a swoon-worthy hero or heroine. If goosebumps climb my skin over the prose, or the author of a romance crafts a meta-message on a topic bigger than the simplicity of the romance, I’m done…the perfect medium rare, with a tinge of the combination of emotional depth and intellectual breadth.
All of these truths conspire to enrapture me in the worlds of certain books. At their surface, they are romantic entertainment, but the real gem of them is the gravity of their story. P. Dangelico’s Nothing But Wild embodies these traits.
I read the first book in the Malibu University series, Nothing But Trouble. This is the book that drew me to Paola. In that review, I vomited my love for it because it utilizes an oft-ignored sport, water polo. Even more, the heroine of that book is special in her strength. In that book, we are introduced to the hero and heroine of Nothing But Wild, Dallas and Dora. Dallas is seemingly the aloof, indifferent-to-life roommate and best of Reagan, the hero of that story, while Dora is a dorm mate with the heroine, Alice. Through that story’s progression, Dallas is both mysterious (we recognize that there is more to his story than we receive) and careless. He angers the water polo coach with his lack of work ethic and seriousness for training plus his penchant for putting himself in danger through risk-taking, while Dora is quiet and inept in her fashion/appearance. Her roommates badger her for her fashion choices and silence. Yet, in Nothing But Wild, we quickly realize there is a depth to these characters that drive this romance forward. At first glance, Dallas is still reckless. He’s living life without a care, and it’s destined to hurt him. In contrast, Dora lives a life of caution and comfort. Until she realizes she wants to change, inspired by her attraction to Dallas. As Dora and Dallas journey through the story, they challenge each other. With Dora, Dallas begins to find his self-worth, something underdeveloped due to his upbringing, and Dallas inspires Dora to take more chances in life. Their romance is a slow burn; it begins with a friendship intertwined with an undeniable attraction, and it ends with a soul-deep love. If you asked me to choose my favorite couple between Reagan and Alice and Dallas and Dora, D-squared would win the award. Here’s why:
Dallas is my favorite type of hero. On the outside, he’s gorgeous, the most handsome man in any room. He’s affable, albeit aloof and takes chances to the detriment of his physical health. His family is wealthy, and his life seems good, except that it isn’t. His attraction is a facade, a mask to the hurt that lives deep in his soul. Everyone around him including his best friends fails to “see” him. They believe in his mask. For me, its the complexity of his characterization that is the fruit of Dangelico’s story. He represents those of us whose pasts have left bruises that cause us to develop masks as a means to protect our hearts. For Dallas, commitment is unnatural because it wasn’t a cornerstone of his life. Since it’s unnatural, his reticence with any commitment to Dora becomes the underlying tension of this slow-burn romance. Consequently, this means that Dora is the impetus for his change, for the big realization of his life. As his journey develops, you cannot help but love Dallas because he simply needs a shot of unconditional love and someone to see through his facade. These are my favorite types of characters because they breed big beautiful moments of romance splendor. Make no mistake, Dallas’s characterization is my favorite part of this book. Dangelico uses him to illustrate the power of self-fulfilling prophecies and the influence of the past on the present.
In Dora, we find a warrior. It’s interesting because Dangelico hides her behind a quiet exterior. It’s easy to lose her among her roommates because she’s unassuming. Yet, she’s strong and resilient. If anything, Dora is safe. She’s been the perfect child, the perfect student, and the perfect volunteer. However, she’s curious about her past, and her warrior status is implemented when she begins making choices for herself. Her roommates, along with Dallas, encourage her to take challenges, which she does. It’s here where she becomes all-powerful, which allows her to truly recognize the essence of Dallas. I love that they complete each other, as this makes for the best type of romance.
I think the difficulty with Nothing But Wild lies in telling Dora and Dallas’s story in the midst of the Malibu University world. There were a few story moments that lost momentum, and there’s a scene with Blake, Dora’s roommate, that left me wondering after its resolution. I’m making a big assumption that it will find its revelation in a forthcoming book. However, in telling Dora and Dallas’s story, it seemed as though Dangelico felt compelled to acknowledge Reagan and Alice’s story. She clearly writes this book with her fans in mind. Plus she’s offering nods to the books to come. What happens is they interrupt the Dora and Dallas’s journey at times, and it slows their story down in my opinion. It’s already a slow burn romance between these two. I think Dangelico didn’t need to work to incorporate the other stories, either as a reminder to the first book or as preparation for upcoming stories. However, that is the only limitation of this book.
What Dangelico does well is craft these beautiful emotional moments into her story. Even if there are parts of the story that lose momentum in order to incorporate the other characters of the Malibu University universe, the power of these emotional parts carries the romance to an emotional depth that pulls at the reader’s heartstrings.
Additionally, Dangelico is diligent in magnifying relevant messages, seeking to modernize romance to fit our world: Dora’s parents as two dads, Dora’s realization of the ways in which women, in particular, envy the attributes of others instead of loving everything about themselves, the psychological impact of absentee parenting, and issues of mental health specific to bipolar disorder and self-medicating through alcohol. These heady topics entwine themselves through Dallas and Dora’s journey, creating moments of reflection for D’Angelico’s readers. This is modern-day romance, seeking to challenge our thinking while emotionally attaching us to its characters. P. Dangelico’s Nothing But Wild is a beautifully-wrought tale of boy meets girl and the power of love to heal all things that ail us.
“My parents taught me that the heart is a complicated organ. That in its imperfect beauty it is impetuous and blind, impractical and relentlessly forgiving. It wants who it wants without through to race and class and gender. And it keeps wanting regardless of how many times it’s been mistreated. I don’t question mine. I don’t fear it. I go willingly. I let mine lead me where it wants to go, and it keeps leading me right back to him.”
In love and romance,