I am just so sad. Just so very sad. Why am I sad? A long time ago as a teenager just dipping my virginal toes into the romance pool, I discovered Harlequins, Silhouette Desires, Loveswept and Candlelight Ecstasy category romances. They were cheap, short, and fun to read. These books always had the tall, dark, handsome and somewhat cynical older hero paired with a sweet young ingenue and were chock full of exotic locations. I wasn't much into analyzing why I liked them, I just gobbled them up like an unending supply of M&Ms. Books by Violet Winspear, Ann Mather, Dixie Browning, Heather Graham, Penny Jordan, Charlotte Lamb, Jayne Krentz, and Diana Palmer littered my bookshelves. But of all Diana Palmer was my favorite.
I really loved her stories of high-powered businessmen, cowboys, ranchers, and even a politician or two thrown in. Of course the heroes were all a little TOO alpha and the heroines were a little too naive to be credible, but I didn't reach that realization for many years. I kept buying her books even after she branched out from categories into hardback contemporary romances. It's been a love affair that's lasted longer than most anything else in my life. But there's an old saying - what's seen cannot be unseen, and a few years ago, my eyes and heart were opened and though I kept going through the motions because it's comforting and comfortable I can't unsee this.
My beloved DP books are not what they used to be. They all seem stuck in a time warp of 20 years ago. The heroines and the heroes feel like they've been kept in a bubble without any of the modern sensibilities or influences. Fashions are dated, women seem to be stuck doing the "feminine" things like cooking and caring for children, the men are sexually experienced but expect the heroine to be as pure as Ivory soap. The dialogue seems recycled, stilted and definitely outmoded. Worse, especially in the last few years, the author has begun to insert her personal views on abortion, the plight of Native Americans, the trials and tribulations of cattle ranching, raising organic beef, and other societal issues in the midst of her stories at the expense of moving the story forward. It's not that I don't appreciate differing opinions, but I resent the "preachy" tone taken to get a point across and the books are blatantly being used to put forward her opinions without regard to differing points of views. It's become so bad that at these points in her books, I have a mental image of a character taking out a box to stand on, tapping the microphone and then letting loose on various topics. In my mind I think, "And .... here's the soapbox", and find myself skipping more than I read. Isn't that sad?
And this brings me to Wyoming Bold, set in the West and featuring a former border patrol agent who is still recuperating from an ambush in which he suffered grave injuries and memory loss. Meet Dalton "Tank" Kirk. Yes. Tank. Why "Tank"? Because he took out a tank in the Gulf War and saved lots of men's lives. He's paired up with Merissa Baker, an eccentric, shy, elfin-like heroine. She is a bit different in that she has "visions", and her psychic abilities have left her isolated and bullied. Bullied to the point that she withdraws from high school, is homeschooled and manages to graduate with grades "that shamed" her heckling classmates. She couldn't find a traditional job due to "conservative businesses" feeling "unsettled" about her visions. So she stays in a cabin with her mother, whose abilities to "talk out fire and talk off warts" aren't as magnified as Merissa's, and assists her mother with a little "fortune-telling" in addition to her own side venture into online website design.
There's just so much wrong with this set-up that I don't know where to start. How about that moralistic theme in which the mean boys and girls who victimized Merissa were eventually "shamed" by her excellent grades? Or the narrow-minded businesses who eschewed offering Merissa employment and get their comeuppance because now she has a very successful web design business? The "fortune-telling" is even more problematic. She and her mother live in a very isolated area, are deemed "peculiar" by the locals yet they apparently tramp up into the woods to find out who they'll marry or if a spouse is cheating or if that investment is going to triple. And apparently this fortune-telling is lucrative enough to care for the needs of two women.
Merissa's visions are problematic also. They read mostly like a rather desperate hook to bring Merissa and Tank together. She tramps more than a mile in a blowing snow storm with a foot of snow on the ground to tell Tank that he's in "terrible danger." Her vision is not only prescient but is detailed enough to discern motives and frame of mind of the villain. But wait that only comes and goes. Other "visions" are not so clear and are, in fact, rather vague. In fact, there are two occasions in which her abilities failed her completely resulting in lots of melodrama and forcing Tank to realize how much he loves her.
There was the also too ridiculous to be believed incident of reviving an electrocuted squirrel including making a trip to a special wild life vet. And the fact that Merissa picked up an injured timber rattler in her arms, put a bandaid on its cut, and then, worried the bandaid wouldn't stay put, takes the snake to a vet. But the piece de resistance in this book is the attempted murder by Malathion plot. I'm not sure this pesticide has ever featured as a poison of choice in novels I've read. I have heard of arsenic, belladonna, hemlock, mercury, wolfsbane, and cyanide but not Malathion. The villain uses it not once but twice -first by tampering with her migraine medication and then commercial strength laced in the roast beef at the hospital - in an effort to take Merissa out because she's helping Tank to remember the rogue Federal agent who's responsible for ambushing him. It's so unusual that at least two characters question it. Merissa's doctor acknowledges the rarity of this kind of poisoning, and another character wonders why the villain chose Malathion over poisons undetectable by taste or smell. I am not kidding. This was so far OTT that I had a fit of uncontrollable snort-laughing.
Do you remember how Jack tells Ennis in Brokeback Mountain that he wished he knew how to quit him? That's what I've been muttering for the last few years when reading a Diana Palmer book. Who knew all it would take is a murder by Malathion plot to push me over the top. So now I'm sad. Sad that a long-term author-reader relationship has ended and ended badly. Sad that I'll no longer be able to open one of these books and feel that warm, snuggly comfortable feeling I used to have while reading Diana Palmer books. Sad that that part of my teenage years feels diminished now and much further away than it did just last year. Oh I know I can pull an old DP book out and get a very close facsimile of that feeling, but it still makes me feel I've lost something I treasured for so long.