by Kate Douglas, contemporary (2001)
Hard Shell Word Factory, $10.95, ISBN 0-7599-1026-0
Category romance author Michelle Garrison is on the verge of being dropped by her publisher. Her last few books aren't selling despite her taking all the "suggestions" from her editor to put in her books. Since the latest fad are single father cowboys and marriages of conveniences, she has taken the pains to submit the most faithfully formulaic work she can write to her editor Mark, only to be told that the book isn't "fresh" enough. Mark suggests that Michelle attend the Columbine Camp in Colorado, which is a cowboy retreat for bored tourists thing, so that her story will be more "authentic". Despite having written forty bestselling series novels for her publisher, she is in danger of being dropped, and money is tight at the moment. What can she do?
(Memo to Colorado: we need a similar camp for romantic suspense thingies. Maybe one of Suzanne Brockmann's SEAL buddies can volunteer to run it.)
Meanwhile, like all romance novels, our cowboy hero Taggart Martin is in need of a fake wife. His grandmother has decreed that if he's not married by his fortieth birthday, his ranch will be gone. He has a great plan - he and his casual sleepover friend Betty Mae Twigg will put on a show and then quickly get divorced once Granny has better things to do. Unfortunately, Betsy Mae decides to elope with a clown at the last minute. Tag has to make do with Betsy Mae's friend who will play the fake wife for a price. So now he is waiting for this friend to show up. Where is that woman?
Meanwhile, like a typical city girl in cowboy honkytonky town, Michelle is undergoing the Rite of Non-Stop Calamities from car troubles to shoe troubles, culminating in her getting amnesia. Tag assumes that she's his fake wife-to-be, she doesn't know what to assume, and next thing you know, these two are married. Because she is working on a cowboy romance, Michelle gets her real self mixed up with the heroine of her romance novel. Oh dear.
The plot sounds horrible, doesn't it? Cowboy In My Pocket is however a parody of a series novel and all it is missing is a Navy SEAL. There is everything here: matchmaking old ladies, amnesia, the unreasonable will, marriage of convenience, star-crossed secondary romance, secret identities, and probably the kitchen sink taken from the Harlequin office washroom. Kudos to the author for actually succeeding in keeping the story together from whirling out of control. Even better, characterization never suffers. The Annoying Matchmaking Granny is made to realize the consequences of her meddlings, although this only motivates her to matchmake Tag and "Lee Stetson" (the name the amnesiac Michelle believes to be hers) harder. Tag is no stereotypical cowboy - his baggages are typical (don't trust love, et cetera) but he displays enough depths to stand out as a character in his own right. Michelle starts out like a klutzy city girl in cowboy town, but she soon displays some brainpower. It is particularly commendable that as the story progresses, she and Tag actually confront issues like where they will live and how each person will fit into each other's lives.
So in a way, what starts out as a parody soon evolves into a romance novel that, with its above average characterization and its willingness to let its characters confront real issues regarding their relationship, shows how a story utilizing all these clichés should be done. The transition from parody to actually hard-hitting romance is handled with surprising ease.
Kate Douglas has spent some time trying to get published with Harlequin. This book is a tongue-in-cheek exorcism for her as she starts again in the world of independent publishing, with her dedicating this book to her fellow authors everywhere that are told by their editors to write "the book of your heart (as long as it has this and that and this and that in it)". Cowboy In My Pocket worth a look if only for the novelty value - the good writing is a very nice bonus thrown into the mix.
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