I know some of you have been waiting for me to get to the Harlequin Historicals during my current Harlequin binge. Unfortunately the book I pulled out of the TBR didn't work for me and I'm calling it quits after page 138. I rarely have DNFs (Do Not Finish), but I never force myself to finish a book unless I promised a review. No promise, so no finish.
McKinnon's Bride by Sharon Harlow opens with Jessie Monroe traveling across Texas with her two small children in a ramshackle wagon and a horse close to death. Her worthless, abusive husband finally had the decency to get himself shot and killed (the mayor didn't take kindly to finding him in bed with his wife) so Jessie's traveling to the McKinnon Ranch, where her brother works, hoping for a fresh start. She arrives to discover her normally dependable brother got himself fired. But Cade McKinnon takes one look at Jessie and falls hopelessly in love. He hires her on as his housekeeper and cook.
Jessie's brother didn't really get fired. Quint and Cade staged the whole thing, with help from the local sheriff, so Quint could go undercover with a band of rustlers who nearly killed a friend. Since this is "undercover" work, Cade naturally has to keep it secret - which means he doesn't tell Jessie - which means she throws a damn hissy fit when she finds out he "lied to her."
I understand that Jessie has trust issues, and normally I sympathize with any heroine whose jackass husband beat the tar out of them, but Jessie just comes off as shrill. This "lie" isn't without probable cause. Cade has a valid point - what if the children had overheard them talking about their uncle's secret mission? Jessie's daughter would have told the whole town, plus some of the neighboring counties about it within the span of an hour. Hello, dead uncle. No, that doesn't matter - Jessie's worried about security - but dang, Cade has already given her a job, room & board, and a very healthy salary. Plus, oh yeah, the guy wants to marry her! The whole thing feels like a weak attempt to drum up conflict to me. And don't you know (OK, I skimmed ahead a bit) that Jessie then moves into town and almost gets accosted by the bad guy when she goes to him looking for another housekeeping job.
It also doesn't help that I'm not a fan of love at first sight stories. I know women were scarce out in the Old West, but Cade's thinking love and marriage before page 30. Sorry, not buying. Final Grade = DNF
Honestly, I didn't plan it this way, but this is the third book I've read this week featuring a heroine abused by her asshole husband. I mean, what are the odds that I pulled all three out of the TBR during the same week?
Anyway, A Ready-Made Family by Carrie Alexander is the fourth book in her North Country Stories series, all of which take place in Michigan's Upper Peninsula. Lia Howard has packed up her three kids with little money and a car near death to get away from an emotionally abusive ex-husband. She got a restraining order against him, but he has visitation rights with the kids and is using them to get to her. Which basically means our girl has a really crappy lawyer, but what do I know? Lia is friends with Rose Robbin (see previous book in series, A Family Christmas) which is why she's traveling north. When they get there they find Rose is on her honeymoon and her surly, former Army Ranger brother, Jake Robbin, is the only one in residence at the family homestead.
Jake sees trouble. Lia's car is barely running, she has no money and her body language screams desperation. So Jake takes her in. She is a friend of Rose's, and he figures he owes his little sister.
This is a nice story, although I felt more attention could have been paid to developing the romance. Lia has a lot of problems - most of which stem from her surly 14-year-old daughter, Sam. Seriously, this kid is like the best birth control ever - which I guess is a compliment to the author. I could hear this girl's whining in my head as I was reading the book. Accurate, certainly - but it didn't make me want to strangle her any less.
Jake soon gets it into his head that marriage would solve all of their problems. He wants to settle down, preferably with a ready made family, and Lia certainly needs the help. It's not terribly romantic, and I never really felt like Jake gets past this "marriage of convenience" idea. We get declarations of love at the end, but a lot of stuff happens in that last chapter and it seems a little abrupt. However, it's well-written, fits the series well, and I zipped through it in a day. If anything, most of my quibbles would have been resolved by either 1) Lia having fewer kids or 2) a little bit of a higher word count.
I hope Alexander keeps writing this series, as I've enjoyed all the books. The Robbins clan in particular is fascinating, with oodles of emotional baggage, and one wonders if the jail-bird brother, Gary, is going to get paroled for the next book. And neither here nor there, but Jake is a former Army Ranger with muscles and several tattoos. The guy Harlequin threw on the cover looks like a CPA. Final Grade = B-