Harte's Gold by Jane Toombs
(Scarket $3.99, PG) ISBN 1-85487-860-3
Although this is the first romance from British publisher Scarlet that I have read, I am familiar with the author, Jane Toombs, who also writes as Diana Stuart and Olivia Sumner. Harte's Gold feels like an old-fashioned, elongated category-style romance. It reminds me of the Harlequins I used to read when I was a teenager but now rarely read because, even though they are decent escapist fare, they usually provide a simplistic plot and aren't quite as emotionally engrossing as I like.

Truly, that's just my longwinded way of saying, actually rationalizing, that I want more in my romance books; more emotional depth, more plot twists and, yes, more sex. However, for those who prefer very sweet and very simple fare, Ms. Toombs has served up all the old romance standards and she does it with a familiar, but capable hand. And even though I thought there were some problems with the story, I must admit that I smiled at the sweet and simple ending.

Twenty-four-year-old Carole Harte runs her grandmother's ranch, Harte's Way, in California's San Joaquin Valley. A former Hollywood starlet of the mid-forties, Theda Harte has never had much interest in the ranching; she generally allows her beloved granddaughter to make all decisions concerning the ranch. However, when Theda is offered a bit part in a movie in return for the use of Harte's Way, she readily accepts without informing Carole.

Carole's first clue as to what is going on is when a very fancy and unfamiliar white Jaguar, driven by the film's star, Jerrold Telford, arrives at the ranch. Telford is followed by a caravan of trucks and trailers that proceed to set up camp on Harte's Way. Carole is dismayed at the interruption filming will present to working her ranch Theda is unaware that Harte's Way is experiencing serious financial difficulties and Carole is determined not to burden her grandmother with the news.

At first, Carole believes that Jerrold is conning her grandmother into allowing the film company to use the ranch as the location for its movie, but Theda makes it clear that she knows what she's doing and that Carole should mind her own business. Which Carole does, until Jerrold's father, Calvin, appears on the scene and even Jerrold is upset about the possibility that his father maybe taking advantage of Theda.

I liked the relationship between Carole and her grandmother; maybe I should say I liked Theda, a lot. She reminded me of my own grandmother, a very spunky would-be actress. Then again, maybe it's just the fact that I am very much in favor of the notion that older people can experience life and love, and retain their dignity. And I very much appreciated that the author devoted a fair amount of time to her minor characters, giving them all a bit of dignity and no little charm.

Actually, I think they were given more dignity than Carole and Jerrold, at least at first. During the first couple of chapters the author provides all the familiar, and at times annoying, old romance standards. The heroine is determined to dislike and ignore the hero but she can't ignore the attraction between the two and finds herself, unwillingly, drawn to him. The hero wants the heroine, but has vowed never to marry again.

It's all pretty familiar and predictable stuff; however, the author saves the story by never lingering on any of these phases and because of her likeable cast of minor characters. There's also a diverting little subplot about hidden gold on the ranch hence the title, Harte's Gold and Native American beliefs and superstitions. This subplot adds a bit of relief to the, sometimes, trite romance and its ending wasn't what I expected.

Although I understand that this romance is supposed to be light and simplistic, I was troubled by the author's treatment of Jerrold's father's lifetime addiction to gambling. Love does many wonderful things, but it does not cure a lifetime addiction overnight. That kind of thinking is not merely sweet and simple, it's hurtful to the many women who have loved, and been loved by, men with addictions and who have suffered through the pain that comes with watching a loved one battle an addiction.

Finally, I have to say that, while it did not affect my review, I do judge a romance by its cover and this cover is terrible. It looks cheap; Scarlet's signature red-lipped kiss is enough to make me run not walk to the nearest exit of the bookstore. Granted, the price of this book, $3.99, is much less than the average romance so the reader is saving money, however, I still think Scarlet could have, and should have, provided a better cover. In addition, the publisher's summary on back cover is a real disservice to this book. Harte's Gold is a sweet and simple story but it's not sweet, simple and completely silly, which is what the publisher's summary incorrectly suggests.

--Judith Flavell

@ Please tell us what you think! back Back Home