I really enjoy historical romances set on the U.S. frontier; Jo Goodman, in particular, writes some wonderful American western historicals. They make me think of my father, dead just over a year now, whose specialty as a historian was theatre on the American frontier.
I’m less likely, however, to read contemporary western romances. Sure, I’ve read a few, but for the most part I find the bronc-busting, bull-riding cowboy hero more palatable in a century other than my own. Fortunately I had one in my TBR pile from RomCon 2010 for this month’s challenge.
Linda Lael Miller’s The McKettricks of Texas: Tate is a reunion story, which normally would be a hit with me. But this particular reunion bugged me for a number of reasons. First, there’s the reason the main characters aren’t together in the beginning of the novel: he cheated on her, got another woman pregnant, so did “the right thing” and married the mother of his twin daughters. Cheating isn’t the deal-breaker for me that it is for some romance readers, but cheating without a condom whacks my stupid-meter. So does marrying a woman whom you know you don’t love — this is a real issue for me in a contemporary setting. Capping off the set-up are a few more clichés that bug me. The ex-wife is a manipulative bitch (of course) and not a very good mother; she uses the children to try to get her ex back (for the money? the sex? that’s not clear, really, but of course it isn’t for love). The hero is filthy rich, while the heroine is barely scraping by running a coffee shop (this could almost be a Presents). The heroine, Libby, hasn’t had a good relationship since being cheated on and dumped (after she had to drop out of college to care for her sick father), and she has never gotten over the hero. Oh, and she has two sisters, while the hero has two brothers; I kept thinking that there should be four more in each family so we could have Seven Brides for Seven Brothers.
Libby, the heroine, didn’t make sense to me. She’s kind of a victim, kind of a fighter, but then she’s a victim again. She occasionally stands up for herself, but not in a way that really makes a difference. She seems resigned to being alone because Tate dumped her; she will always love him, but she feels that he could hurt her and she couldn’t take that again — that and she doesn’t seem to think she’s good enough for him, and the plot devices used to give her self-esteem (too spoilery to list here) seemed contrived to me.
Tate, of course, doesn’t think he deserves another chance with Libby — at least he understands that! He has been avoiding her, so as not to make things awkward for her; the early events of the book run roughshod over that, which also seemed contrived, so that almost immediately they are interacting regularly after several years of no contact.
Even once they have acknowledged their mutual attraction, they don’t act like mature adults — they have (SPOILER!) unprotected sex, and they don’t really talk to each other about their feelings, or whether they might have a future. They both care about the welfare of his daughters, which would seem a powerful motivation to just talk things out — but they don’t, and the only real reason I saw for it was to keep the book from ending too soon. The individual incidents in the books just didn’t hang together for me as a strong story, nor did the individual actions and choices of the characters come together to make sense. Certain events in the book made a pattern that ended up with them together, but there wasn’t enough connection for me between the big external events and the characters’ internal lives and feelings.
As a Western, this book works well enough. Each of the brothers has some interaction with ranching that seems to be part of necessary personal growth (heavily foreshadowed for the two whose books follow this), and the ranch setting is depicted well, with elements of it being integral to the story (if somewhat predictably). There’s a definite sense of the importance of family legacy that probably connects these books to Miller’s others, for her regular readers; I would be interested in reading another, if anyone has a recommendation. PASS