Pandora's Box

The Hart Brothers: Simon and Callaghan

Diana Palmer
2005 reissue of 1999 release, Contemporary Romance
HQN, $4.99, 365 pages, Amazon ASIN 037377088X
Part of a series

Grade: N/A
Sensuality: N/A

(This two-in-one volume features two series romance titles originally released in 1999 by Silhouette.)

When we noticed that some of Diana Palmer's backlist was being reissued this month, we thought it would be the perfect opportunity for Linda to introduce her favorite "guilty pleasure" author to Blythe, who'd never experienced the author. After looking at the various titles available, Linda settled on The Hart Brothers: Simon & Callaghan. The entire Hart Brothers series is comprised of a novella and four series romances published by Silhouette (Silhouette Romance and Silhouette Desire) between 1997 and 2002. The series is part of a much larger series entitled Long Tall Texans. Simon is the second oldest of the five brothers - his story was originally published as Beloved by Silhouette Desire (#1189). Callaghan's Bride was first published by Silhouette Romance (#1355).

When Tira's husband John dies, she is tempted to turn to Simon Hart for comfort. She has loved him from afar forever. But Simon always seems to keep her at an arm's length, and she is devastated to discover that he blames her for her husband's death (who was his best friend). Tira resigns herself to life as a spinster, and tries to forget about Simon. But she keeps running into him around town. Meanwhile, Simon discovers that he was wrong about Tira, and wonders if he might be able to make amends for his judgmental behavior.

Callaghan Hart is a tough rancher who has spurned women and love for most of his life. Tess Brady is an innocent young woman hired as housekeeper (and biscuit baker) for the notorious Hart brothers. Cag is determined not to let Tess's gentle ways get to him because Tess is too young and inexperienced for him, but her sweetness and love tempts Cag and he fights the attraction like the finest of fighting fish. Will Tess be able to reel him in?

Linda:   Blythe, I have been giggling all month thinking about your "getting your feet wet"' with these two Palmer biooks. They are actually "hardcore" Palmer with two real jack-asses for heroes, so don't keep me in suspense - tell me how you liked them?

Blythe: Jackasses is sort of a kind word for them. I pretty much thought all five brothers were complete asses. They are not men; they are testosterone crazed baboons! <g>

Linda:   But, boy do they love their biscuits! I actually like them, with the possible exception of Simon - it's hard to believe that this jack-ass is supposed to be Attorney General of Texas - he's complete moron.

Blythe: Okay, have these guys not heard of Red Lobster, or KFC? You can actually buy biscuits sometimes. It is not necessary to marry someone just to get them. And the subject just keeps popping up. I personally suggest that they get some sixty-year-old woman who is a great cook. They can't be trusted around anyone younger!

Linda:   LOL, at the end of Rey's book, Leo actually tries to kidnap a male baker to cook for him! Remember that this is a small town in Texas - no fast food joints except for burgers. In fact, Jacobsville, Texas is a unique place - half the town are Long, Tall Texans married to much younger women (who often are somehow related to them) - and the other half are retired or semi-retired Mercenaries!!

Blythe: Okay, well that's a really good reason not to live in Jacobsville. I had a good laugh at much of how society is depicted in these books. It's worse in Beloved, Simon's story, where there are repeated mentions of "all the finest families." I also liked how Simon, who was married at the time but lusting after Tira, set her up with his best friend John for the sole reason that they were both wealthy. That seemed like enough to have in common. I guess the good thing about Jacobsville is that even though there is only one bar and one department store, everyone has plenty of money. You think someone would open up a restaurant there...perhaps where they could serve all biscuits, all the time. BTW, you used to live in Texas. Are there any short, chubby Texans, or are they all long and tall?

Linda:   It is against the law in Texas to be short and stubby - the penalty is deportation to Oklahoma. There are poor people in Jacobsville - usually young women whose downtrodden lives are of course remedied by marriage to members of the "finest" families. <G> Tess from Callaghan's Bride is a case in point, she and her father were down on their luck and his death left her destitute. The boys hiring here was a kindness although her being a great biscuit maker was certainly a plus. I actually think Callaghan and Tess's romance is rather sweet and filled with fun Palmer touches - like when Cag has the frilly sock stuck on his boot. But, the scene where he throws the birthday cake she baked him and then tells a terrified Tess why he hates birthdays always brings a tear to my eye. You realize that there is a very hurt small boy lurking in that big hulk of a man. A hurt only someone as soft as Tess can heal.

Blythe: Well, I have to admit, after I read Simon's book I really wondered if Callaghan would be able to top him in the jerkiness department. I think Simon is the winner, but only by a nose. I don't think there's any excuse for a 38-year-old man to throw a birthday cake. I'm as sorry as the next person that his mom was the bitch from hell, but he's an adult now, and he's expected to act accordingly. Oh, and what was the "I am mean and sarcastic to you because I don't want you to know that I like you"? That's so junior high.

Linda:   LOL, yes these men do seem to be emotionally stuck in adolescence - but in fairness to Cag he had told her he didn't want a cake and Tess made him one anyway. I don't think there was any thinking involved - Cag saw the cake and flashed back to when he was six!

As for Simon, there are one or two other jerkier guys in Palmerdom - but Simon is the dumbest. First, he doesn't know his lifetime best friend is gay and then even after proof that Tira was a virgin - he still jumps to the conclusion that she is sleeping with Charles. A true moron. BTW, many of the characters are a bit more violent in Palmer books than would be permitted in real life - remember when Tira introduced the woman she thought was her rival to "Miss Cup?"

Blythe: See, I thought it made Tira seem childish when she threw that cup of coffee, although still not in Simon's league. Simon is a true idiot. I love how he's described as smart and wily, but didn't even notice that his best friend was gay. And then all the crap about Charles! He sleeps with her, finds out she's a virgin, and then decides she must be sleeping with Charles? WTF?!? In fairness to him, however, Tira clearly belongs to the Whitney, My Love school of stupid note writing. Let me set the scene: she and Simon had finally "gotten together" - then Charles shows up saying he's got something urgent to discuss. The next morning Simon's housekeeper finds her note that simply says that she's gone home with Charles. If she had time to write a note, didn't she also have time to write: "I am going to spend the night at Charles's house because his brother died...and I need to stay with his widow"? Duh.

Linda:   True, but where would the drama be in that? I loved Tira throwing the coffee. Come on, isn't there a girl somewhere whom you would have loved to introduce to Miss Cup? Men in Palmerdom punch people out too, which in real life would get them arrested for assault - but hey this is fantasy fiction with mythical fantasy Texans. I loved the scene where a drunken Tira imitated a classic scene from the movie Rooster Cogburn, where Rooster shot at a mouse. Of course, poor Tira passed out holding her gun, which got her admitted to the hospital as an attempted suicide. This is the kind of humor that makes Palmer a favorite of mine.

Blythe: Now, I did find the mouse thing funny, although since I never saw Rooster Cogburn, I missed the reference. Actually, I found both books hilarious. They were bad, but they were funny bad. They almost seemed like parodies of romance novels, like what someone who doesn't read romance thinks they are all like. It was surprising to me that they were written in 1999. They read like 1982. And I have another confession: I giggled like a schoolgirl every time Palmer mentioned how huge Simon's d_ck was (which was often). It just added to the whole hyper-masculine ambiance.

Linda:   Yes, you've hit the nail on the head - these are old-fashioned romances where men use phrases like : "I'm only going to suckle you" or "Not at all the sort of girl who'd permit liberties..." I think it is the unabashed old-fashioned thrust of Palmer's romances that makes them the most wonderful of guilty pleasures. These are books one can pick up again whenever one is in the mood for a good read with an alpha jack-ass who is not only going to get his comeuppance, but will grovel very nicely for at least a third of the book.

Blythe: Linda, based on things you'd said in the past, I expected more groveling than I got. There's some in Simon's story, but not enough to suit me. Cag's book has even less. I really wanted to see them crawl on their hands and knees and beg for forgiveness. In Simon's case, I don't think he should have even gotten any. Also, both men treat their women like children. The sex scenes creeped me out a little, probably because the women were sooooo over-the-top innocent and weirdly old-fashioned, particularly Tess and how she talked about other women her age.

Linda:   It's true that neither of these guys grovel quite as much as some of her other heroes, but Simon does have to go through a lot of contortions to get Tira to see him again after he informed her he held her responsible for her hubby's death. I think he should have groveled a bit more at the end - but I did love her throwing the milkshake at him! Also, I think we should mention Simon's having lost his arm and being very self-consious about it (which is dealt with more in the series' first entry, the novella entitled Christmas Cowboy). I thought the scene where he made love to Tira without the prosthetic was beautiful.

Blythe: Okay, now this is going to make me sound bad, but I don't know how to dance around it. The fact that Simon was lacking an arm almost seemed comical to me, I think because he was like a waking 1980s romance cliche. I feel some measure of liberal guilt about it, but the whole situation usually struck me funny, like it would if he were a western hero with a pet wolf. Simon, the crazed one-armed lunatic who can't keep his big mouth shut. Now granted, he more or less fits in with his other brothers, and none of them really came across as realistic to me. And just to state my credentails here, I know from brothers. I grew up with six brothers. I've heard my share of fart jokes, and I know they do really stupid things. Three of my brothers once thought it would be really hilarious to pick up an old couch sitting by the side of the road, drive to another secluded road at 3:00 am, and repeatedly throw the couch off the back of their moving pick-up. Ha ha ha. But I thought the Hart brothers were way more immature.

Linda:   Yes, they are definitely all emotionally immature. They were all damaged by their mother's abuse in different ways and it's kept them from forming healthy relationships with women. Add on to that what Simon's wife did during their marriage, which eventually caused the accident that required the prosthesis, and you have a man with a hide like a hermit crab to keep both love and pain away. Sometimes I do wonder how any woman could love these walking pain machines so much - they do nothing to deserve it. But love is blind and the men do change by the end of the book. I consider them educable alphas, for instance, Cag's realization of how important Tess is to him - and how dumb he has been - are the heart of what makes a Palmer work for me. I do love all the machinations she goes through to keep her heroine's virgins - often makes me giggle. In Regan's Pride (also being rereleased) the heroine is married for two years to a man who is impotent!!

Blythe: I don't mind virgin heroines, or even older virgin heroines, if there is a plausibe reason for their virginity (like maybe they are very religious). These too women were sooooo over-the-top innocent and weirdly old-fashioned. Tess being a virgin made some sense as she's younger, but she was terribly uninformed about sex for someone raised in the 20th century.

I thought Tira's virginity - and her self-sacrifice - were ridiculously out of place. She and Charles should have done it, just for fun. I wonder if he ever got really drunk one night and propositioned her. Wouldn't you love to be a fly on the wall? "No Charles, I am saving myself for that asshole, Simon. I know he hates me, but I would rather die a virgin than sleep with anyone but him."

I also liked the line at the beginning when she revealed that she was far to wealthy too take a paying job. My first thought was that she should take up romance reviewing. Or basket weaving. Happily, she sculpts.

Linda:   Tess was a young girl who had been abandoned by her mother. She was sheltered by her father and they were rather an itinerant pair, so she never really had a chance to form connections with people her own age. So, I thought her innocence natural - she reflected her father's generation mores more then her own. BTW, Palmer also has a couple of very charming heroes who are virgins and 'read up' on how to pleasure their new wives.

As for Charles and Tira, he was in love with his sister-in-law, so a relationship between them wasn't in the cards. In fact, what tied them together was that they were both in unrequited love with an unattainable person. But, why Tira loved Simon so dearly was certainly a mystery to me <G>.

Blythe: Okay, so they were both in love with other people. I'd believe this in high school, but I have a hard time believeing Charles went for so many years without getting any. And I had an equally hard time believeing Tira would pine away for this unbelievable jerk. She's young, rich, and attractive. She has no reaon to think her life is over, even if she was married to a gay man who subsequently died on an oil rig. Okay, and that's hilarious to me too. I couldn't make up this crap if I tried, so I can certainly see the guilty pleasure appeal.

Linda:   Yes, Palmer is my guiltiest of guilty pleasures. BTW, when I met Diana Palmer, I told her she was a guilty pleasure and she seemed to think that hilarious! I truly love these books, even if I don't always love the hero much - but Palmer always delivers a story that I enjoy and one starts knowing that the bigger jack-asses these guys are, the harder they will eventually fall. I don't think there is any other contemporary author who writes the same types of heroes who act like a lion with a thorn in their paw or a dog with a bone now. Some older books by Krentz have the same type of hero, but she hasn't written a jack-ass since the early 1980s, even if her heroes are sometimes very old-fashioned men.

Blythe: Well, I wouldn't entirely rule out reading another one, just because I found this so hilarious. But to be honest, these are not my kind of men. They are just too emotionally immature, and their behavior is so caveman like that it just doesn't seem to be coming from present day. If I try Palmer again, what would you suggest?

Linda:   I think you would enjoy Lady Love, which has a Wuthering Heights undertone and is absolutely hilarious. When the hero hires the Atlanta Symphony to back up his violin seranade, I was rolling on the floor with laughter. That scene still makes me giggle. Of her recently reissued books, Regan's Pride and Coltrain's Proposal are both great.

I would also like to mention how seamlessly Palmer sets up future books and characters in her Jacobsville milieux. In CB when Tess runs away from Cag, she hopes he finds joy with 'the non-cooking Miss Brewster". Janie Brewster is again discussed in Rey's book as having a crush on Leo and cooking biscuits they use for target practice. Janie is the heroine of Leo's book, where she finally gets her man.

Palmer also makes good use of past couples, both attending weddings and parties but often as an important part of the stories - the Coltrains play significant roles in several other stories. This great use of past characters and foreshadowing of new ones, is a Palmer hallmark that most of her fans really enjoy...they are wonderful little Easter Eggs. I think she does it well without leaving first time readers lost, in fact some of the references make long time fans feel that they are in on a "secret" - for instance, a reference to a rock band from Montana playing at a wedding. Long time readers know that this is Desperado from Sutton's Way (and the novella Red Bird) and are happy to be in "in the know." Palmer's foreshadowing of characters also creates interest in future books without hurting current ones.

But tell me, Blythe, which of these two did you like best...or dislike least?

Blythe: On some level, I found myself disappointed that Cag was not as much of a jerk as Simon was. You know the scene where Tess has Cag's snake wrapped around her? I really expected Cag to come in and yell at her about the snake. Something along the lines of, "Why did you take the snake out! You knew he was dangerous!" I felt absurdly disappointed whenever he behaved rationally. I think I slightly prefered Simon's story because it was so ridiculous, and because Cag's repeated comments about Tess being "green as grass" were more annoying than funny.

So, Linda, where do these stories fit in the pantheon of Palmer's backlist?

Linda:   Beloved is actually one of my less favorite Palmer's - Simon is just too much - but I would rate Cag's book near the top. I really liked this guy a lot. My favorite Palmer? Probably a toss up between Maggie's Dad and King's Ransom. Maggie's Dad is quintessential Palmer - it has an emotional scene between the dad and his nine-year-old daughter that would reduce the hardest of people to tears and brings the hero to his senses when he realizes he's been a jack-ass who hurt both his new wife and his daughter. King's Ransom is the middle book in a loosely linked trilogy and features an incognito Christian king of an Arabic country and his love affair with a mousy secretary - -just a wonderful, if illogical, romance.

BTW, Blythe did you think it hilarious that Tira was having pregnancy symptoms within a week?

Blythe: I almost found Simon's story to be "so bad that it was good." As for Tira's immediate pregnancy symptoms, I've felt nauseated before missing a period, so I could almost buy it. But I didn't get why Tira had her period but apparently was pregnant. Was it just light spotting or something?

Linda:   I assumed it was spotting, but it seemed funny that she didn't distinguish it from a normal period. That said, I don't think much of Palmeriana withstands heavy scrutinizing - these books are pure entertainment. I know that Laurie wondered about the age thing with Cag, whose previous fiancee told him she couldn't marry him because he was too old...he'd have been in his early to mid-thirties at the time and probably just five to eight years older than she was. My answer is that Palmer's men often have hilarious reasons for staying away from the heroines. For example, in the next book in the series, Man Without Mean's (Rey's book), it turns out that he was once engaged to a prostitute but didn't know it until brother Leo propositioned her in front of him. Of course when he meets the heroine, she is dressed as a hooker and out late at night - so of course he jumps to erroneous conclusions. Talk about hilarious!

Blythe, you and I are going to trade off PB selections for a while. It's your turn next...what's up for July?

Blythe:   Next month we're going Chick Lit with A Little Change of Face by Lauren Baratz-Logsted - the heroine pretends to be unattractive to find a man who will love her for herself, not her looks (or her boobs).

Linda:   Sounds interesting! Happy reading.

Blythe:   Happy reading, and see you next month.

--Blythe Barnhill and Linda Hurst, for

-- Pandora's Box

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