Ranger Daddy

Gabi Rafferty has been more-or-less happily raising her young daughter Ashley alone, until her ex, who had signed away his rights years ago, turned up, and started causing trouble. Gabi flees, and ends up at Yosemite, where a friend she hasn’t seen since high school works.  Ranger Jeff Thompson, married once himself, is still kicking himself over his past with Gabi–until the day she shows up at the park.

Occasionally, I have to hit myself with the “What-were-you-thinking?” bat. I suggested this book as a Tag Team Tuesday, but I have a hunch that Anne really isn’t gonna like it very much.  My hunch is based on the simple fact that I don’t like it very much, and she’s a much fiercer reviewer than I am.

The Harlequin American Romance line is not for everyone. Its’ writing guidelines state that the emphasis should be on “the comforts of home and a sense of place” and be driven by the protagonists’ “desire to be part of a family or community.”  They tend to be pretty low on the explicitness scale, and the conflicts tend to be relatively weak issues to deal with.

This isn’t necessarily a bad thing; I get in the mood for that kind of thing myself, from time to time, so I read these some.  It’d be nice to have someone to come home to, to just be domestic with, to share the everyday hassles of work and rising prices and whatnot…but I digress.

Ranger Daddy is, unfortunately, not the best exemplar of the line that I’ve ever read. For its’ line, it’s actually got a pretty decent tale, though there are some major weaknesses that I’ll talk about here momentarily. At the beginning of the novel, both Jeff and Gabi are pretty believable people–she’s hassling with her ex all of a sudden, and he’s living with the regret of the road-not-taken, surely things that many, if not most, American readers can identify with. But things get out of hand in a big hurry, and the story spirals out of control.

Let’s start with Gabi’s actions; she had seen a photograph of Jeff in the paper, so knew he worked at Yosemite–but that’s all. No clue if he was involved with someone, and they had not spoken in many years, yet when her lawyer calls to tell her to hide, that’s where she goes?  Sure, Yosemite would be a decent place to get away for a few days, but it’s clear in the story that Gabi is expressly keeping her eyes open for Jeff.  When he later questions this behavior, her meandering explanation seems contrived and weak, yet he accepts it at face value.

Jeff, for his part, gets larger-than-life. He’s apparently got a past career as a motorcycle stuntrider, and still does it for charity, and we’re told all this several times, and his explanation of why he got out of it and became a park ranger, too, seems a little contrived, and yet Gabi just takes it in blissfully.

When he discovers Gabi in the park, Jeff confidently just Takes Over–she and Ashley simply must stay with him, and he charges around solving problems and trying to look heroic. Gabi, who presumably used to be pretty independent (she’s been raising Ashley alone, remember?) suddenly turns into Suzi Homemaker, cooking up all of Jeff’s favorite things, reminding him of his mother’s cooking, which we are again reminded about several unnecessary times along the way.  This shift in her behavior just hit me as completely inexplicable.

Okay, okay, to be fair, that’s where things are supposed to end up with this line–the comforts of home and family.  But we’re not told up front that that was Gabi’s goal; she seemed pretty happy with being a single parent.  Then she sees Jeff, and suddenly she wants Ye Olde Fashioned Domestic Life?  Not buying it.  This evolution, while certainly possible, is implausibly depicted in the alloted space; if Winters had another 50-60,000 words to get us to that point, maybe she could have done it more believably.

In other lines, we’re used to seeing conflict–a deep dark secret, someone else’s machinations, criminals doing awful things, something.  In Ranger Daddy, we’re just not given any meaningful conflict. The deep dark secret is that Jeff knows something about Gabi’s foster mother that he thinks will just break her heart, but the reveal on that left me a little nonplussed; she took it like a soldier.  There’s some minor stress over Gabi’s ex, and one very-brief moment where it looks like things might get interesting, but Jeff and his buddies Save The Day implausibly fast.

There are a couple of minor substories that happen, and Jeff’s ex makes a brief appearance, but I just didn’t see anything big enough going on to justify how we got to the ending.  Some of the bad stuff that happened could have been developed into major conflict–we’ve seen crazy exes and natural disasters and hospitals before–but by the time they happened, our protagonists were just so unbelievable, that we’re better off just getting to the end.

Anne’s gonna clobber me for this one.  If you’re into Harlequin American Romance’s basic premise, you can poke around and find better ones than this.


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