Only By Your Touch, by Catherine Anderson

Romance novels don’t frequent this blog very often. But sometimes, when I walk past my family’s bookshelf, I see the same books that pique my interest, and I have to finally give them a read. Catherine Anderson’s Only By Your Touch was one such book. I established in a previous entry that I was beginning to see the appeal of romance, and it seems I have an opportunity to continue that meditation here.

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Chloe Evans moves to the small resort town of Jack Pines, Oregon with her six-year-old son, Jeremy, trying to escape a broken past. When Jeremy’s new puppy falls deathly ill, the only possibility of curing it comes from Ben Longtree, the reclusive town scapegoat who lives up the road. Chloe has been warned of Ben’s past—that he killed a man, that he is a lunatic Indian sorcerer—but his extraordinary skills with animals, as well as his profound sensitivity, keep drawing Chloe and Jeremy to him. Naturally, Ben has been subject to past traumas as well, and both he and Chloe have sworn they will never love again. Little do they know that love has other plans for them…

I may have bemoaned tropes—particularly romance tropes—in the past, but this book includes one that I enjoy so much. I don’t know the official name, but I can illustrate it best with Gaston from Disney’s Beauty and the Beast; he wants Belle, but Belle is in love with the Beast, so when Belle rejects Gaston, he goes after the Beast—basically, the “If I can’t have you, no one can” drama. Chloe finds herself in such drama with her jealous co-worker, Deputy Bobby Lee Schuck, and it is deliciously tense. It’s kind of over-the-top too, but it bleeds into my loving the cheesy, though still heavy, melodrama of the genre.  YA fiction may have nearly killed the trope of two men fighting over the same woman, but, on rare occasions, it actually works.

This book also has a lot of sincerity to it, between Chloe, Jeremy, and Ben’s scenes together. I usually read this book when I was tucked in a mountain of pillows, with a candle beside the bed, and it was rare that I went to sleep not feeling the warm-and-fuzzies.

Not to mention how cathartic the climax is. Without giving too much away, the drama builds and builds, until finally, Chloe has had enough of the nonsense surrounding her. So much crap happens to her that when she’s had enough, so have we.

Which, I suppose, is a good indication of the characters in this book.

An easy way to create sympathy is a character wanting to protect a child, and Jeremy definitely drives many of Chloe’s decisions. But an earnest character being helpless in a dangerous situation works just as well. Chloe finds her and Jeremy’s life threatened many times, and she fights her way out of each and every one. Long story short, Chloe is a compelling protagonist who I genuinely feared for.

Now how about the other half of the romantic equation, Ben Longtree? I did grimace a little when I realized he was part Native American—only because that is a sensitive, sensitive topic to tackle. Every race is partial to stereotypes, but pop culture has painted such a romanticized picture of Native Americans that to even consider representing them is dangerous territory—especially by a white woman. When a writer draws attention to a character’s ethnic background, they walk a slippery line between perpetuating stereotypes and inviting diversity. But Ms. Anderson walks that line pretty well, using Ben’s Native blood as a reason to explore—to celebrate—Native traditions and customs. And as long as Ben feels like any regular person you could meet on the street—which he does—that matters just as well.

As for the romance itself, it’s pretty tame. Honestly, I think the satisfaction of a romance story comes from the buildup to the confession of love or to the naughty business—whichever comes first. Even if it does come with some laughable lines here or there (“He was attractive enough to be illegal”).

Surprisingly, between this and Fantasy Lover, the other official romance novel I’ve reviewed, I prefer this one. I think that’s because there are fewer plot holes and the main couple is better written. It’s important for a romance to have a substantial story and a compelling couple, but sometimes, a simple contemporary story with contemporary troubles is a nice change.

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