Lauren Daly is miserable. She works as a paralegal for middle-aged white men who can’t remember who’s scheduled for what and are more than happy to blame her for everything. She also hates going home, where her roommates take advantage of her and one of them is an ex-girlfriend who shoves her new relationship in Lauren’s face. After another terrible day at the office, Lauren can’t face the idea of staying in, so she calls her best friend, Amber, who talks her into unwinding at The Dollhouse with a drink.

The Dollhouse is the hottest bar for queer women in New Jersey, offering craft beer, inventive cocktails, and a chill place to relax or find love—even if just for the night. It’s been Berit Matthews’s pride and joy for five years now, offering her the perfect outlet to feed her creativity, provide a safe and welcoming space for others, and all the no-strings hookups she could possibly wish for. All Berit has to do is turn on the charm and her plans for the night are secured, which is why she’s intrigued when Lauren not only turns down her come-on, but walks right out the door.

Wanting nothing more than to wallow in her misery while enjoying a drink, Lauren has zero interest in the hot bartender or her smooth lines. When she finds herself avoiding going home after another bad day, however, Lauren heads back to The Dollhouse. She deflects Berit’s come-ons again, but this time she also engages in a little light banter with her. While Lauren may not want to get romantically involved with a player like Berit, she’s ready to make a new friend and is open to the possibility that Berit could be just that friend.

Berit knows she and Lauren could be spectacular together and Lauren’s repeated rejection only drives her interest further (even as she takes each rejection like a true gentlewoman). Lauren stirs something in Berit, and she immediately invests in their fledgling relationship, starting to rethink her tendencies to run far and fast from commitment. Both women learn that friends make the best lovers, but can their relationship stand the test when adversity is thrown their—and The Dollhouse’s—way?

Berit is a consummate player when we meet her at the beginning of Love at Last Call. It’s been years since she’s had a long-term relationship and she has no desire to change that because she’s perfectly happy just the way she is. Players are common in lesbian romance, so it’s a nice surprise to see that Berit isn’t standoffish or selfish, or even holding herself back from love because she feels like she doesn’t deserve it, like so many others in the genre. While she may only be interested in one-off hookups or friends-with-benefits situations, Berit is entirely respectful and fully invested in her partners’ pleasure. It’s also refreshing that she doesn’t have to go through emotional gymnastics to open herself to the possibility of love, instead growing as she gets to know Lauren so that it’s something that makes sense for her and her life.

Lauren has the most character growth in Love at Last Call. She’s in a terrible spot at the beginning of the story, trapped by student loans that mean she can’t afford to quit her job or move out of her house. She also appears to be passive by nature, since she can’t quite bring herself to stand up to her boss or her roommates (including her loathsome ex), making it all the more surprising and interesting when she stands up to Berit for flirting with her. Thanks to their friendship and later romantic relationship, Lauren truly blossoms, building her confidence and a new set of friends that help her see how much more she deserves. By the end of the book, she’s a stronger person and her arc alone makes it worth checking out.

Love at Last Call is M. Ullrich’s fifth full-length novel and it’s truly excellent. Berit and Lauren have chemistry that crackles from their first failed conversation all the way to the epilogue, as their relationship develops from antagonistic acquaintances to friends to lovers. The writing is smooth and engaging, with perfect pacing and a plot that’s sure to please fans of contemporary romance. If you’re looking for a book to sink into, have some fun, and get away from it all, you’ll want to pick this one up.

 

Love at Last Call
By M. Ullrich
Bold Strokes Books
Paperback, 9781635551976, 240 pp.
July 2018



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