Montana Born and Bred
Sometimes it’s hard to put your finger on what it is about a book that didn’t grab you, but I will try to do so in this case because it’s my job as a reviewer to do so. Although there were a few areas that engaged my interest, there were major flaws as well, which means I can’t really recommend Montana Born and Bred.
Sarah Kincade is a single mother who is trying to escape from the man who deliberately seduced her, then tried to force her to relinquish the resultant child so he and his wife could raise it as their own. Zach Garrett is hired to find Sarah and the child and bring them back to Helena, Montana where the Pembrokes (the villains of the piece) are waiting to adopt the boy.
Zach is the product of an impoverished and neglected childhood, and is only too willing at first to do whatever jobs he is given. But once Zach finds Sarah in Lame Horse, Montana and spends the next several weeks traveling back with her across the territory, he inevitably becomes drawn to her and they begin to fall in love. Unfortunately, Ethan Pembroke holds Zach’s land and future in his hands, so Zach can’t simply walk away from the job without losing everything himself. Will Zach listen to his conscience and find a way to confront Pembroke and prevent him from stealing Sarah’s child, or will his love for the land win out?
Well, there’s not much suspense there. More or less every plot point in this book falls into place exactly the way you would expect it would. With the possible exception of Zach, the characters in this book are all either completely evil or completely good and even Zach is not as conflicted as he appears to be at first. The bad people in this book are all obviously bad. Ethan Pembroke’s wife was even in on the plan to seduce Sarah, and everything we know about her says she’ll be a rotten mother. This just seemed too pat for me. Wouldn’t it have been more interesting to have had two sympathetic women who desperately wanted the child? Instead of having Sarah coerced into giving up her child, this could have been a story about a woman who at first willingly decided upon adoption to a deserving couple and then later changed her mind. It would be nice to have seen the characters deal with truly hard and difficult choices, instead of the easy ones. Deciding what was right and what was wrong in this case was a no-brainer.
Such stark use of black and white doesn’t necessarily make a book bad, but I felt very conscious the whole time I was reading of the author trying to manipulate my emotions. Like, here’s the place where the reader is supposed to cry, and here’s where the reader is supposed to be terrified for the character’s lives, and here at the end is where we’re supposed to feel all misty-eyed at the great love that has developed between Sarah and Zach. The final chapter was so sickeningly sweet that I nearly fell into a diabetic coma. Although the author was somewhat successful at getting me to feel the proper emotions at the right places, it ultimately felt forced and unnatural and made me resentful of the manipulation.
While for the most part all of the characters stayed in character and acted as sensibly as could be expected, there was one annoying exception. Sarah originally tried to keep her respectability by moving to another town and passing herself off as the child’s aunt instead of its mother. In order to do this, she had had to wean the baby and buy a goat to keep milk on hand. How sensible was that? There was no earthly reason she couldn’t have masqueraded as a widow instead and continued to nurse the baby herself. The goat was just a hindrance to her mobility that the author used as a way to make her travels with Zach take longer and give her something else to worry about if the Pembrokes were to get their hands on the baby (they don’t know he’s allergic to cow’s milk!). This heroine was supposed to have been a very smart schoolteacher and this out of character premise was there solely to advance the plot. Not a good idea.
If you like books with clear definitions of good and evil and even clearer indications of what emotions you’re supposed to feel when, then you might like Montana Born and Bred. If you prefer characters and plots with more nuance and subtlety, then I’d give this a pass.