Gabi Rafferty’s peaceful vacation with her daughter, Ashley, is interrupted by the news that her violent ex-husband has resurfaced and is suing for visitation. Terrified, Gabi grabs Ashley and starts driving to Yosemite Park. A few months earlier, she’d seen a handsome ranger’s photograph in the newspaper. Now, the only place she can feel safe is under that the protection of that man–the high school sweetheart who’d vanished into thin air so many years ago.
Ranger Daddy, as the series’ titles and the book’s title suggest, concentrates on men as father figures. Thus, it would seem that Yosemite National Park is a haven for perfect wanna-be dads. Many of the characters recur from previous Winters books, each with their precocious offspring and grateful brides. Indeed, much of the impetus for bringing Gabi and Jeff back together comes from Ashley, who wants the ranger to be her daddy.
I’m not sure whether this is a feature of the Harlequin American Romance line, but the protagonists’ relationship is one step away from chaste. Other than a couple kisses and the assurance that they made love all night (and it was really good), we don’t get a peep into their bedroom. Generally, I don’t care about how explicit a romance is (look how many chaste Regencies I review), but I do want to feel the heat between the leads. In Ranger Daddy, I did not.
However, we do know that Jeff is hot.
No, really, he’s hot. And cool–very cool–in every way. He knows everything about parks. He’s gorgeous. The tourists surround him in admiring droves. He loves children and dogs. He wants to be Ashley’s daddy. He paid his way through college by doing motorcycle stunts and was in all the movies, even if you didn’t know it was him. Indeed, he still pulls out that bike to ride for charities. Plus, he’s helped out with bear rescues and had his picture in the national papers.
So, here we are again: like in Colton’s Deep Cover, we have another “Gary Stu.” Maybe the strictures of this line mean that Winters had to build up her hero’s attractiveness in non-explicit ways, but in doing so, she created a cardboard hero. In real life, people are flawed. In good books, those flaws drive the conflict.
A greater flaw in Winters’s book is the writing. The first time Jeff opened his mouth, I thought, “He sounds like a scientific paper.” The problem doesn’t go away.
At the same time, Winters leans heavily on “telling” us what’s going on. For example, when Jeff does his motorcycle stunt charity event, an announcer tells us all about how famous Jeff is, how generous he is, how his photo was in the paper, and how we must have seen him in all the movies without knowing it. (We, as readers, already knew this information). The announcer even describes each stunt that Jeff is going to perform.
Then, Winters describes the stunts as Jeff performs them. Over and over again, Winters’s prose and dialogue are stilted and expository.
A characteristic of a good romance is a believable central conflict, sometimes springing from the protagonists’ basic characters and understanding, other times from an outside source. Though it seems, at the outset, that Jeff and Gabi’s romance is going to be driven by the looming presence of her violent ex-husband, neither he, nor Jeff’s ex make much of an appearance in Ranger Daddy.
Therefore, Jeff and Gabi’s only “big problem” is that Jeff needs to explain why he disappeared so suddenly when he was nineteen, which he does later than I would have thought realistic (because, somehow, he can never find a moment to talk privately with Gabi–not even after Ashley’s bed-time). His news isn’t shocking or hard to get over after so many years. After that, the only thing keeping them apart is the fact that neither character can believe the other could still be interested.
Ultimately, Ranger Daddy revolves around the fact that Gabi and Jeff don’t talk to each other.
Instead, they eat deviled eggs (and a plethora of Jeff’s favorite foods that Gabi whips up), interact with Ashley, watch her play with neighborhood children, and admire another ranger’s dog. Every once and a while, Gabi has to deal with the impending court case with her ex, but–for the most part–the scary man doesn’t intrude.
And now, my personal political agenda comes in. I can’t help it. I am liberal. Ranger Daddy is deeply conservative (even though it isn’t from Harlequin’s Inspiration line). Gabi is vehemently anti-abortion because she was adopted. She and Ashley are always praying. Gabi apparently works, but really her life revolves around her daughter. As soon as she moves into Jeff’s home, she spends her time cooking him delicious meals–his favorite dishes which happen to be perfect duplicates of what his mother used to make.
Then there’s Jeff, who has a savoir-complex. He is going to rescue Gabi, even when it’s against her wishes. Over and over, he takes control, making plans for her. He refuses to let her stay anywhere but his own home. He gets his fellow-rangers to keep an eye on her. He flies to LA to fetch her back when she decides to go meet with her lawyer. He even calls her lawyer without her permission and somehow gets all kinds of confidential information about her case out of him. Is that legal??
Some of this makes sense because of her scary-crazy ex, but Jeff’s behavior–combined with Gabi’s slavish imitation of his mother’s cooking–made him came across as overbearing.
I regret that, since this is a tag-team-Tuesday, and I wanted to like Winters’s book. However, I can’t help but think of all the excellent writers out there whose work is not being published. Why is Ranger Daddy on the shelves? I can write better (and it shows in my fanfiction).
Sorry for the thousand-word pan, Amy. I can’t recommend Ranger Daddy.