Tuesday, November 30, 2021

Elizabeth Lowell - Too Hot to Handle

When a career-threatening injury forces Tory Wells off the diving platform, she relocates to Arizona for a promised job while she recovers. Ethan Reever takes one look at the "girl" who turns up at his ranch and sends her packing. She's too slender, too city—and far too attractive to work on his ranch. But Tory isn't the type to give up on her dreams, and for the first time in her life those dreams include love.

Comment: One of the elements I like in romance novels is when heroines are trying to make ends' meet and by trying to have a better life, they improve their skills, they become better people, they realize they are worthy of their own self esteem. If, in the process, they fall in love, the better. The fact the heroine in this book was at a difficult moment at first is certainly the reason why it was in my TBR...

Tory is part of a swimming team but she's out of the competition period after an injury and operation. While she's out of work, she needs money and decides to accept a job proposal as cook at a ranch. The problem is that, when she arrives, the person who told her about it isn't there and his brother Ethan, the owner, definitely doesn't want her there and believes she won't do a good job, being so young and apparently not strong enough for had labor. Tory leaves defeated and despite her leg injury, since she doesn't have money, she walks until some teenagers decide to prank her. Of course, Ethan sees this and decides to help her, and that is how they get to realize first impressions aren't always trustworthy.

This book was published in 1986 and it follows the pattern of many other books from those times in terms of plot and language and dynamics. In this case: opposite - almost enemy couple doesn't see eye to eye despite sexual attraction, alpha hero and innocent heroine, purple prose and a strong lack of balance in the relationship. Now, all these things wouldn't matter if the story was balanced but sadly, it was an extreme case of lack of romance and power dynamics.

Saying this, it would seem most tropes would be out dated but it's interesting how some books, despite a sign of their times, still hold on the passage of time. How many books by Nora Roberts and Sandra Brown which, sure, could have some changes to fit nowadays expectations, are still readable and enjoyable even if one can dislike some detail. Overall, many of their stories still work out well in terms of romance. I don't think it was the case here, the differences between the protagonists and the unfairness of their lack of equality are too obvious to ignore.

I think the most glaring element that put me off was how the hero treated the heroine. Ok, perhaps still following body ripper trends and the idea alpha heroes always behave this way but the love of the heroine wins him over could be appealing to many, but honestly, Ethan treated Tory as an object, as if it was her fault he was physically attracted to her. He thinks she too young, too silly, too innocent, too weak, too much of a temptation and proceeds to treat her so. Tory is a classical heroine needing "rescue" in the sense she is alone, she has very little connections and support and he is ready to be a mentor/lover for her.

Their scenes together are filled with purple prose and it can get a bit nauseous to read about how they think of one another, especially the power Tory has on Ethan and that he is just a man, he can't control his reactions, although she isn't doing anything to seduce him. Juts by breathing, she is a temptress.... it really makes their relationship border on the experienced lover faulting the heroine for being who she is, making her believe he "can't help it" while blaming her and this results in a dynamic that feels very slimy. It's incredible how much of his thoughts are only about sex when it concerns Tory, although he is a "man of the world" and knows what he wants.

It's too bad because I truly wanted to read about this couple. I would love to read about Tory falling in love with the ranch, of finding her cooking skills something to be proud of, something to make her feel worthy of a life in the countryside, of being able to evolve from just someone under appreciated at the swimming team, with no possibility to come back because of her leg, but then she finds a new path. That journey would also have a strong man who might feel he wasn't good for her or that would feel she wouldn't be able to preserve but reality and life would prove otherwise. This is what I would have wanted to read and it was sad the author (perhaps) preferred the trend of the time.

I wonder if she wrote this with willingness, or if she felt this wasn't something she liked writing... I think the saddest part is that it was a wasted opportunity. It was hard not to feel berated in the place of the heroine while reading this but to be fair, the whole story feels a bit weak, lacking solid structure, proper development, a more organized and stronger plot... a little like old fashioned bodice rippers and books from Mills and Boon where there was a page limit. Anyway, what can I say... one less in the pile. Next.
Grade: 2/10

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