I really wanted to like Dorothy Garlock's WITH HEART more, and it's probably one of my better and readable 1-star romances. I liked both our lead characters here, I thought the hero was slightly different from the historical-romance archetype, and I enjoyed their sparse moments of romance together. Not to mention the late 1930s Oklahoma backdrop constituted a new setting for me. Unfortunately, the bungling plot and pace of this 433-page paperback disappointed big time. The characters and passion in most romances usually supersedes any plot or more often, the romantic tension is the plot. Here, Garlock attempts to balance the plot having to do with surreptitious dealings in Rawlings, Oklahoma, with Kathleen & Johnny's burgeoning love. But since the passion and love was rather on the light side, the blundering plot really exacerbated the entire reading experience in this romance novel.
Heroes and heroines from past novels crowding the plotting never sits well with me, and there's just too much of Keith and Ruth McCabe in this novel, a hero and heroine from one of Garlock's prior novels, I presume. It seemed like this novel's hero Johnny Henry constantly deferred to Keith McCabe for help and building Johnny's characterization. For instance, light-hearted banter between Keith, his wife and Johnny molded Johnny's characterization from our heroine Kathleen's eyes during a dinner after the rodeo. Barker Fleming attempts to bond with his long-lost son Johnny after the rodeo as well while helping Keith ride his flock back to his ranch. Johnny mentions connections through Keith McCabe which could succor a dangerous situation our protagonists create from uncovering the surreptitious conspiracy in Rawlings, OK. And Johnny turns to Keith McCabe when he wishes to entrap a murderer as well. Too much Keith McCabe, enough already!
I thought an episodic bookkeeping characterizes much of the plotting. There were too many times in the novel where Garlock painstakingly notes to include all the characters in the room before allowing someone to divulge pertinent information. For example, Kathleen makes Barker Fleming wait until Paul and Adelaide are in the room together before sharing what happened at the clinic with Doc Herman. Or in a gossiping way, Kathleen asks Johnny whether he heard about the young girl in town (Judy) looking for her real parents. It all amounts to amateurish bookkeeping if you ask me. Worse, for over 3 pages, we're treated to a confrontation between a local merchant Leroy and our newspaper owners Kathleen and Adelaide when Leroy threatens to withdraw all local advertising. Kathleen fumes at Leroy for being spineless, and the entire altercation seemed pointless since we knew Doc Herman was pulling the strings and naive of Kathleen to prolong and provoke an altercation with an intimidated hireling. I think that dumb and pointless argument accelerated the book's decline while the melodramatic ending hammered the final nail in this book's coffin. Finally, it's funny and I'm probably bad for saying it, but I really didn't find our villain Doc Herman's clandestine activity all that condemning. I'm skeptical a profitable market would exist for his service: a pseudo adoption agency, providing homes for unwanted children of unwed mothers. Are there really that many affluent couples not able to have children of their own?
WITH HEART mostly belongs to Kathleen although I thought our hero Johnny managed to make an impact as well. The passion is PG-13 though their connection wasn't any less resounding for it; in fact, I find more explicitly sensual romance novels involving a notorious libertine scientifically igniting a virgin's passion empty by comparison.
On her own, our feisty, sassy 26 year-old redhead Kathleen Dolan travels to Rawlings, Oklahoma, to accept part ownership of the local newspaper there, the Gazette. When a couple of hooligans attempt to hijack her and her car on the road, All-Around-Cowboy, 25 year-old Johnny Henry rides to her rescue. By the time Johnny arrives at the scene of the crime however, Kathleen has things well in hand. Johnny represents a slightly different mold on the romance hero: he's isn't rich or prominent, and he believes himself unworthy of Kathleen. Ever since he's little, Johnny faces slurs from being the by-blow of a whore and a drunk Indian. I liked Kathleen, she does have that sass which is so appealing to romance readers.
The backdrop is late 1930s Oklahoma, after the Great Depression and before World War II. We're afforded the opportunity to learn a little bit about the production of newspapers back then. After arriving in Rawlings, Oklahoma, Kathleen quickly learns of the inimical Doc Herman and how he has over half the town under his thumb. There's an amateur plot dealing with an astounding number of pregnancies in Rawlings from out-of-town mothers, and I'm not convinced of its iniquity to be honest. The supposedly evil conspiracy wasn't handled in a very interesting way either. There's a rodeo where Johnny earns the All Around Cowboy title, there's a murder later, and Johnny's father appears to make amends. Kathleen and Johnny share a sparkling romance, and I enjoyed that part of it. Just wish there was more of it.
The conclusion to the novel was too easy and gratuitously melodramatic with a villain's one last gasp. Kathleen and Johnny's ongoing story continues in a subsequent novel AFTER THE PARADE which takes place following World War II. The premise was intriguing, we have husband and wife estranged for 5 years after the loss of a child...