Always Dakota is the final book in Deb Macomber’s contemporary trilogy about Buffalo Valley, North Dakota and deals with various couples involved in the rejuvenation of the town. I have not read the other books in the series and perhaps it would have helped in understanding all of the quick shifts in this book. But I have always thought that books should stand alone, even if part of a series.
I find it rather odd to fault an author for attempting too much in a book, but that is the basic problem here. Since it is the last book in the trilogy, Macomber is wrapping up a number of stories and frankly, even though individually a couple of the stories are wonderful, there are just too many of them. Too many characters to try to keep track of, and too many abrupt switches from one story to another.
But, the success or lack thereof, necessarily hinges on the primary couple: Matt Eilers and Margaret Clemens. Their story was one of the least appealing in the book. Matt got off on the wrong foot with me and I couldn’t understand Margaret’s love for him throughout most of the book.
Matt is renting a ranch, with hopes of buying it, that borders Margeret’s. For reasons that remained completely unclear to me, Margaret is in love with Matt and after the death of her father, proposes to him. Matt is secretly involved with Sheryl, who suggests he marry Margaret for her money and then divorce her after a year. Sheryl assures Matt she will be waiting for him and hints that she has something that will keep him from deserting her. Matt never agrees to this plan, but like almost everything else he has done in his life, he falls into marriage with Margaret. To his surprise, he also falls in love with her – but his past behavior casts long shadows onto the relationship.
Margaret is an appealing heroine, but so much is going on in this book that characterization is lacking – I just never really understood what made her tick and why she fell so quickly into love with Matt, other then the fact he was gorgeous.
But, the real problem is Matt, he starts out the book as a weak, promiscous, boozing jerk and it’s a long time before that image is dispelled. Matt misses Margaret’s father’s funeral because he drunk and in bed with another woman. He hadn’t intended to miss the funeral, but could not resist Sheryl. Though he is disgusted with himself, the image of a very weak man was so firmly implanted in my head that it never left.
Sheryl is the villainess of the piece and a splendid villainess she is, but Matt is ultimately culpable for the pain Sheryl causes the couple. His own weakness and irresponsibility enabled Sheryl and encouraged her to think that she could ultimately win him, and have Margaret’s money to boot. In fact, this is a case of a TSTL hero and it’s hard for me to like a book with an unlikable hero. One wonders through a good portion of the book if Margaret wouldn’t be better off without him – not very promising for a romance couple.
The secondary stories were by far the better ones. The best story was of Buffalo Bob, Merrily, and their “son” Axle. Merrily took Axle from a bad family situation where he was about to be sold by his abusive parents. They’ve been hiding in Buffalo Valley trying to protect him, but Axle is recognized and they begin an expensive odyssy through the legal system in their attempt to adopt him. This story is poignant, Macomber’s choices bold and if this had been the focus of the book, it would have been a keeper. Another of the strong secondary stories is that of runaway teenager Calla and her estranged mother. Calla is an angry, hurt, and having trouble adjusting to her mother’s second marriage and pregnancy. Calla is depicted very realistically and the ultimate reconciliation is very satisfying. Unfortunately, Bob and Merrily’s and Calla’s stories are interspersed with the tales of many other secondary characters, some of which were interesting and some not.
Perhaps Macomber managed to wrap up all the stories begun in the first two books of this trilogy, but for one who has not read the previous books, it is difficult if not impossible to keep track. As a stand alone book, this one falls short for me, particularly in that the main story is not nearly as compelling as some of the secondary story lines.