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A Family for the Rugged Rancher - CoverThis entry is a minor milestone: First review of a book by an author I’ve previously reviewed. Donna Alward wrote Hired by the Cowboy, her first Harlequin in 2006, and today I’m reviewing A Family for the Rugged Rancher, published in 2011 and one of about 30 books on her backlist.

I like this lady. Prolific, writes sweet romances, has an English Lit degree (same as me), and lives on Canada’s east coast (same as me). She uses Canadian locations and other Canadian references. Check out her site for more about her. She also replies to fans asking questions – more about that later.

Like Hired by the Cowboy, this is from the Harlequin Romance line. No sex, so we are spared endless references to how physically attractive the characters find each other. In the book I read before this one, the hero’s interest in the heroine seemed to be based largely on the shape of her rear. Here physical attractiveness plays a role, but not a central one. I don’t mind a couple of sex scenes, but once the characters have been to bed, it’s sometimes hard to tell how much of their attraction is simple lust and how much is based on appreciating the whole person. This of course can be used as an obstacle to the romance, but there are advantages to just leaving it for later.

The plot is similar to Hired by the Cowboy: Single mom goes to work for eligible bachelor farmer, and one thing leads to another. But the story is more realistic and character driven, even at the climax. This time it’s a job, not a sham marriage to get the trust fund, and our heroine is a much stronger person. Emily is not rescued by the Luke, and she has to fight to get the job he is offering. Later, Luke thinks he can do her a favour by changing the oil in her car, and Emily chews him out for not asking first.

Each of them has needs and fears, and their relationship develops through mutual support. There is recognition and acceptance that partners may not be perfect, and don’t need to be, and that life can be short. The previous owner wrote “wonderful and sad but good” on the inside cover. I’d agree with that concise review.

When I reviewed Hired by the Cowboy, I noted that bringing the couple together under the device of a business arrangement blunted the desire. I’ve changed my mind on that. First, in Romances there is a generic imperative to quickly bring together and isolate the couple, and there are few consensual ways to do that. Employer/employee or landlord/tenant are simple and effective. Second, relationships between people in an employer/employee or landlord/tenant relationship are not supposed to become intimate. The business arrangement thus becomes one of the obstacles to romance, and overcoming that has the thrill of taboo.

There are good reasons why society frowns on relationships between people where one has power over the other, but at the same time it is almost at the point where we are not supposed to date any of the people we spend time with during the day, so who does that leave? As a general rule, the relationships in contemporary romances, at least the ones I like, are consensual, though it seems men usually have financial power. True to form, in this story Emily is short of cash, while Luke seems comfortable, but Emily doesn’t need his money and he doesn’t wave it in front of her. She just needs a job, and that seems fair.

I recently complained about absent fathers in single mother romances, and on checking my old blogs I see that Hired by the Cowboy was the first time I brought that up. As usual, the biological father is out of the picture. At least Emily got a child support order, though she’s been unable to enforce it. I wrote Ms. Alward to ask why Emily couldn’t get the support order enforced. She was kind enough to promptly reply, explained that the ex-husband was a jerk, and she decided to leave him as a jerk in all respects. Notwithstanding this, Emily does occasionally reflect on her past relationship and wonder if she was partly to blame for its end, a nuance I appreciated. Alward also explained that the money was not supposed to be a major concern for the character, and the ex-husband’s abandonment of their son was the larger issue. Finally, Alward noted that it is a challenge considering how much detail to go into regarding the setup and back story, and one has to keep in mind “what’s important to moving the story forward.”

I am guilty of forgetting Writing 101, and hang my head in shame. Why the character is unable to collect child support is not relevant to the story, therefore it is not there. I need to remember things like this as I struggle with my own romance effort. I remain pleased that this heroine at least tried to collect it – that is one of several touches of realism that strengthen this sweet and sentimental story.

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