Saturday, November 25, 2017

Review: Call Me

I've known Alison Kent for about as long as I'm been kicking around online Romancelandia - so when her home was flooded during Hurricane Harvey I wanted to support her in the quickest way possible.  I bought some of her books.  I've read Kent before, but as incredible as this is going to sound - I've never actually read any of her early category romances.

I know, right?!  Me.  Wendy.  Category Queen. 

Call Me was first published by Harlequin Temptation in 1996 and Kent's path to publication is one of the more incredible "first call" stories out there.  She was featured on an episode of the CBS news magazine, 48 hours.  The quality isn't the greatest, but you can watch the clip on YouTube

Harley Golden is on a flight back to Houston when she makes eye contact with a devastatingly handsome man across the aisle.  As they're disembarking from the plane he hands her his business card with the words "Call me" scrawled on the back.  Things like this don't happen to women like Harley.  Her self-confidence all ready at a low ebb thanks to an ex-husband who couldn't keep it in his pants, the idea of calling a perfect stranger?  She's not that brave.

Gardner Barnes is one of those millionaire cowboys that crop up in category romance fairly regularly these days.  He's got a busy working ranch, an 18-year-old brother about to graduate high school, and an uncle who lives with them.  His parents are gone, his love life non-existent.  Gardner eats, sleeps and works the ranch.  He's not the kind of guy to toss around his business card in the vain attempt to pick up women.  It's not his style.  But he takes one look at Harley sitting across from him on the plane and he can't say no.  He doesn't want to say no.  So Gardner Barnes does something totally out of character for the first time in his life.

What happens next is that of course Harley calls and of course they keep on calling each other.  The conflict of the story is essentially the long distance nature of their relationship (they're on opposite sides of the state from each other) and that they both want different things out of life.  Gardner wants to find a wife to squirt out a couple of kids for him because he's concerned about "the legacy" of the ranch.  But he doesn't want to fall in love because he doesn't believe in it because his parents screwed him up.  Because of course they did.

Harley's self-esteem took a hit when she divorced Brad so she has decided that the next time around she wants it all.  The whole shebang.  A man who will be devoted to her, worship her, and love her with every fiber of his being.  Oh, and she's not wild about the idea of having kids because, you guessed it, her parents screwed her up.  Because of course they did.

This story starts out fantastic.  It's hard to explain to readers not entrenched in category, but when an author is firing on all cylinders, the tight, shorter word count really sings.  And it sings here.  Kent hits all her emotional beats.  You can tell this was a story where she had an ample amount of time to polish and hone her craft (no looming deadline) because it's very tight and very sharp.

What didn't work as well for me?  The conflict in the second half.  Frankly Gardner begins thinking of Harley as a potential brood mare and that's just about as sexy as it sounds. 
Harley Golden embodied everything female - from the mystery of innocence, to the madness of seduction, to the arousing potential to carry his child.
I liked the guy well enough in the beginning, but when he's all "give up your business and squirt out a couple of kids for me but I can't love you because I don't believe in it" I was hoping that a West Texas lightning storm would fry his behind back to the Dark Ages. 

The Temptation line was billed as Harlequin's sexiest line (at that time) and the heroines definitely tended to run more modern.  We have that here.  Harley is in her 30s, divorced, and runs her own antique business.  Gardner is a sexy, virile cowboy who helps her find her groove thang.  But then it devolves into more traditional roles.  While Harley says she doesn't want kids, but she really means is "Yes, I want kids but only with a husband who loves me" and Gardner is like the Regency era Duke who simply wants to find a woman to squirt out an heir and a spare without any emotional entanglements getting in the way.  The whole thing felt very 1990s.  One foot in "modern" and one foot in "traditional" roles. 

It's probably unfair for me to ding this story for that reason, but here I am - dinging away.  The further along I read the more annoyed I became.  Great premise, interesting characters, and then it devolves into this baby conflict which...ugh.  The long distance relationship, the fact they both have demanding businesses and screwed up childhoods?  Should have been enough.  So what started out as a solid B read slid downhill the further we descended into Baby Drama-Rama.

Final Grade = C

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