The Rancher And The Rock Star
by Lizbeth Selvig, contemporary (2012)
Avon Impulse, $7.99, ISBN 978-0062134655


How authentic or realistic do you like your contemporary romances? If you prefer fantasy with at least one foot on the ground, then steel yourself before you open this book. Let me get into the synopsis so that you will see what I mean.

Gray Covey is a "rock superstar", although he's described pretty much as a carbon copy of Jon Bon Jovi, and that guy's music hasn't been in fashion since the early 1990s. Then again, we all know that white romance authors only know one kind of music, and they do say that authors should write about what they know. Although in this case, I am not sure how much Ms Selvig knows about rock and roll stars because Gray doesn't drink, have sex with groupies, do drugs, anything. He doesn't curse, he says "Darn!" instead, and his band mates - who, aside for the token bad guy, are happy to let him hog all the credit for the music - act like protective mother hens instead of, you know, band mates.

In other words, this story has a "rock superstar" in name only. The "rock superstar" here is just like all those Earls and Dukes in old England that have no problems doing anything and everything without being encumbered by the responsibilities that come with those titles, or those billionaires in Harlequin Presents books that don't seem to work at all despite having ten companies to run.

Well, Gray is MIA from his concert tour because his teenage son Dawson flew the coop, running away from his boarding school in England to meet his online BFF in Minnesota. Now, we have a sixteen year old kid who manages to fly halfway across the world without anyone realizing who he is. Is this even possible? In this story, any resemblance to reality is either a coincidence or a happy accident. So, when the story opens, Gray personally tracks down his son to Jabberwicki Ranch, owned by our heroine Abby Stadtler, whose daughter is Dawson's BFF. Gray wants Dawson back now but that doesn't stop him from pawing and checking up her tonsils up close and personal.

The rest of the story is a familiar "big star, small town heroine" fare, littered with tired tropes and scenes. Of course, we need a scene where our heroine decides to show the hero that she's not enamored of his attitude by pretending not to recognize him (don't ask), and after making out with her, Gray realizes that she knows who he is and, predictably enough, accuses her of being "selfish" and wanting to be with him only for his fame. Given that he started the ball rolling by giving her a fake name before wagging his tongue at her, I don't know how he can come to this bizarre conclusion. But every romance novel of this sort has such a scene, so Ms Selvig puts one here too. There are so many other scenes here that seem to be inserted because the author is following the tropes rather than because those scenes are organic results of the developing romance or plot.

The most egregious "pay no heed to logic, because romance novels are supposed to be like this" example is the fundamental premise. Gray could have just left Dawson with Abby, as Dawson is off to a church retreat with Abby's daughter (and no, this is not an euphemism for a countryside orgy). He could have just had a background check done on Abby and, if all is clear, just let that kid spend a month or two at the ranch while he continues to pretend to be Jon Bon Jovi. But no, he wants Dawson back, so that Dawson will follow him while he goes back to his tour. The author knows how stupid this whole thing is, because she has Abby asking Gray why having that kid along with the band is somehow a better parenting option than letting the kid stay in the farm and do wholesome things approved by Jesus, the biggest rock superstar of them all. But the story goes ahead down that road anyway, maybe because, as Freddie Mercury insisted, that the show must go on, even if it makes Gray look like a blooming idiot.

I've already mentioned that Gray is as much a rock star as Tinky Winky is a gangster rapper. And yet, Abby and some secondary characters treat him as if he needed saving from himself in the name of God. I can't help suspecting that this story was initially written as an inspirational romance with Disney movie versions of rock stars in the spotlight, only with some window dressing changes made to ensure that readers outside the inspirational romance scene will pick this one up too. Certainly, there are characters here that babble (or respectfully evangelize, depending on your stance on Christianity) about God at the most bizarre of moments and context. Also, despite the author admitting now and then that perhaps Bon Jovi isn't the most current kind of music, this one has pop culture references such as the Beatles - so current! - and the whole thing culminates with people ecstatically enjoying a rock concert in a farm - a wholesome kind of enjoyment, of course, with no drugs, no sex, and, who knows, people leaving to go to bed before 10 because this book has so much excitement, my heart just can't stand it.

As for Abby, she doesn't feel like a realistic character as much as a collection of tropes strung together with minimal effort. She cries and weeps when it comes to anything related to children, and she has no boundaries where Gray and his son is concerned. From the get go, she becomes disturbingly invested in Gray's relationship with his son, judging Gray harshly without any reason to back up her assumptions and poking her nose where it doesn't belong. Abby spends the bulk of this story nagging Gray and judging his worth as a human being in an obnoxious patronizing manner. Who died and made her the judge of everyone, I can only wonder. I don't know why Gray can love this cardboard box of clichés. Maybe it's because she can look like a supermodel despite spending all the time under the sun playing with hay? Or that she cooks, cleans, and mothers tirelessly with full joy that she makes Martha Stewart look like a lazy slattern?

And of course Abby just has to be that heroine who gets irritatingly shrill and obnoxious about being helped even a bit by Gray, a man she claims to love, because she will never be his charity chase and she will scream into his ears about it. Seriously, Gray often goes all out to help her when he's not jumping to weird conclusions and initiating tedious little conflicts, and she bites his head off in response.

The Rancher And The Rock Star isn't a story as much as it is scenes after scenes of a tired clichéd nature strung together without much regards paid to context or logic. It isn't an authentic love affair with a rock star as much as it is a ridiculous fantasy of what the author wishes rock and roll to be. The icing on the cake is Abby being an unlikable shrew and Gray being as real as the ten billion dollars stashed in my Swiss bank account. Since this story won the Golden Heart contest in 2010, and I can only speculate that perhaps the quality of the other entries must be abysmal or the judges happened to be fans of Cliff Richards who believe that their idol is the epitome of rock and roll.

Rating: 49


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