Review: Calhoun by Diana Palmer (1988)

Long, Tall Texans, Book #1

Heat Factor: There’s a little topless fooling around but no (extremely euphemistic) orgasms until wedding bands are exchanged

Character Chemistry: If I’m using my lizard brain, it’s awesome, but if I’m using my emotionally mature brain I have concerns

Plot: “How best can I manufacture drama to ensure that my hopeless, loveless vision for the future will actually come to pass?”

Overall: OMG this book is SO 80s and I love it

I read a thread about age gap romance (maybe?) on the bird app, and Calhoun came up as, like, the age gap romance. So obviously I had to read it. The rest of my TBR can wait! My ebook was a repub of the 1988 Silhouette category romance publication, and holy wow is this book full of delightful nonsense.

The baseline we’re starting with is: Abby’s mother was all set to marry Justin and Calhoun’s father, but both parents were killed in a crash when she was sixteen, so Justin and Calhoun made her their ward. When the book opens, Abby’s on the verge of turning 21 and has been in love with Calhoun for years, but Calhoun (who is obviously a ladies man) will never think of her as anything other than a child! WAH! But of course also Calhoun is ridiculously overprotective, so Abby can’t ever grow up because he never lets her do anything! UGH! She is so innocent I almost snorted several times. 

Then one night Abby gets drunk off < one gin and tonic (Like, loopy going on unconscious drunk? The way it was written, I thought she’s been roofied but no, she just has no tolerance at all.), can’t button up her nightie, passes out, and when Calhoun goes to check on her he’s like, “BREASTS?! WHAT?! WHAT ARE THESE FEELINGS?!?!?!?!?” Which is at once awesome (oh, 80s romance…) and totally bonkers. 

Thus begins (really continues, if I’m honest) the angsty “s/he obviously doesn’t return my feelings and I’m a wounded animal” back and forth of pining-but-not-communicating romance. The conclusions these two come to as they continue to misdirect or misunderstand each other are truly impressive leaps. 

Calhoun is not marriage minded on account of obviously he doesn’t want to be trapped and one woman has never been enough for him. I always find it interesting that heroes hold on to these feelings while also feeling completely uninterested in other women and thinking that nothing has ever been better than the sweetest little kiss from the virgin with the magic vagina. And by interesting I mean I want to yell at them to put it together. Get there faster, bro!

Not gonna deny it, I absolutely still got all the little thrills I used to get reading category romance twenty years ago as I read this book. Are there hugely problematic elements? Um, yes, this book was written in the 80s. The number of times it was implied that Abby was asking for it is cringeworthy. As was the fact that the reason she struggled so much was because she had never been given the tools to understand sex or her own sexuality. (Yiiiiiiikes) Let’s not even get into the power dynamics of a romance between an extremely sheltered, very young woman who is engaging in a relationship with a man who is twelve (12) years her senior (though honestly he reads even older than that), her guardian with whom she lives, and her employer.

What surprised me was the second-guessing and back-talk that happened in the book. Calhoun, in his jealousy, is obviously the perpetrator of most of the appallingly sexist comments, but both Abby and his brother Justin are constantly turning Calhoun’s comments around and asking if the reverse would be true, with the woman talking about or thinking about a man. I also totally appreciated that, while Calhoun was portrayed as a pretty stock “marriage is a ball and chain” emotionally constipated macho hero, Justin both supported Abby in her independence and also readily acknowledged that he’d been celibate for seven years because he was in love with one woman for all those years. So it’s not all just what you might expect from an 80s category romance. 

And you know what? I liked that Calhoun had serious chest hair. The last romance I read where the man was seriously hairy was Katrina Jackson’s The Hitman, and I really liked that, too. I’m totally tired of all the heroes having a sprinkling of hair on their chest or, more often, not even chest hair, just a treasure trail.

more chest hair, please

So anyway, I had a great time reading this book, and I’m working hard to tell myself not to just go on a Diana Palmer (slash) 1980s category romance binge. Wish me luck!

Buy Now: Amazon

Looking for something similar?

Category Romance

The 80s


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