Thursday, March 01, 2007

The McKettricks by Linda Lael Miller

The McKettrick series is kind of like the Coulter series (Catherine Anderson) in that some of the books are western historicals and some are contemps, but they are all about the same family. However, I must say that Miller and Anderson's writing styles are totally different. Anderson's style is much softer, more laid back, albeit thoroughly enjoyable. Miller's books, especially the historicals, have somehow sparked a different type of interest in me. I'm thoroughly loving the historicals - I have found them exciting, well written, romantic and fun. The two (and a half) I've read have drawn me in immediately and kept me there. The contemps read more like your everyday HQN contemps, which is a shame, but I'm enjoying them anyway. Just in a less intense, less "must have now" mode.

The Historicals:

McKettrick's ChoiceMcKettrick's Choice
When news came that there was trouble back in Texas, Holt McKettrick left a mail-order bride and his family on the spot! And he never looked back. He just prayed he'd be in time to save the man who raised him as a son and to keep his best friend from the gallows. He knew he'd encounter rustlers, scoundrels and thieves. But he'd never expected to find a woman like Lorelei Fellows.
Setting fire to her wedding dress in the town square probably wasn't the best way to stand her ground. But Lorelei had had enough. She was sick of men and their schemes. All she wanted was to stake her claim on her own little piece of Texas. And with Holt McKettrick as a neighbor, things were beginning to look up. The man was a straight shooter with a strong will, a steady aim and a hungry heart.

Holt know what it is to be abandoned. His father, the patriarch of the McKettricks, left him with relatives following the death of his wife. He was unwanted and ran away young, finding a loving home with a black man and his daughter on their ranch. Interesting premise in the 1860s. Having gone by the name Holt Cavanagh for years, he has returned to the McKettrick fold where he has 3 younger brothers (all already married - I read this out of order *g*) and all the ego and competetiveness that goes along with 4 very alpha males in the same family.

The book opens with Holt's wedding to one of his brother's "leftover" mail-order brides. However, word comes from far away of trouble for his foster father and that his good friend has been accused of murder. He feels the urge to leave immediately to help them. Although he offers to marry his bride (and then leave her high and dry), she opts out.

When we first see Lorelei, she is burning her wedding dress after having caught her fiance in bed with the maid the week before the wedding. She's not buying the "boys will be boys" story. Her father, the local judge, basically disowns her for it.

The rest of the book revolves around Holt's attempts to prove his friend's innocence, help his "father", and Lorelei's drive to prove her worth as a grown woman. I enjoyed the interaction between all the McKettrick men, as Holt continues to find his way in a family he never knew and feel comfortable there. I liked Lorelei - she is a strong woman, almost anachronistic in her desire to make it on her own, but she did in some parts feel harsh and a bit abrasive.

All in all, a terrific western, incorporating a cattle drive, where much of the connection between Holt and Lorelei occurs. If there is any flaw in this book, I would have liked to have felt even more of an emotional connection between Holt and Lorelei. I felt it between him and everyone else, but I felt it was a smidge lacking between our H&H.

There is some suspense, as we wonder if Holt will be able to prove Gabe's innocence in time. A wonderful, albeit very secondary romance, between Gabe and his already pregnant lady-love, and a truly remarkable story of acceptance surrounding Holt's adoptive family round out this wonderful book.

Secondhand BrideSecondhand Bride
The youngest McKettrick brother, Jeb, is the wild one who never could stay out of trouble. And trouble is what he gets when heproposes to Chloe Wakefield. No sooner had he and the pretty schoolteacher tied the knot than Jeb discovers she's already married! After a major dustup with Chloe, Jeb hightails it back to the Triple M Ranch, certain that his chances of winning the spread in a marriage race with his brothers are dashed.

Now Chloe has come to Indian Rock, hoping to find her beloved uncle John and a much-needed teaching post. But when she unexpectedly crosses paths with Jeb, her rage - and passion - flare even stronger than back in Tombstone. Chloe never intended to mislead Jeb about her previous marriage to a scoundrel of a man, but when she finds out Jeb needs a bride and a baby in order to inherit the Triple M, she is livid.

Learning to trust will be the hardest part of this mixed-up marriage- until a stagecoach robbery and the return of a dangerous stranger prove to Jeb and Chloe that they need each other to love and honor as long as they both shall live.

This is Jeb's story. I got a kick out of this one. The characterization here is great. I immediately had a picture in my head of Jeb, the youngest McKettrick brother. Fun-loving, impulsive, handsome, yet also takes things to heart. He has always wanted to go his own way, yet like all the brothers, feels tied to the Triple M ranch.

I liked Chloe. She was strong, but not harsh. Emotional, but not a clinging wreck. She looked at her life and tried to make it better. She felt hurt and betrayed when Jeb left her on their wedding night. Chloe bonds with the other McKettrick wives, but is afraid to get too close. Her fear of this emotional commitment to the other women is heartwrenching, epecially when they so desire to bring her into the fold.

The connectedness that was missing from McKettrick's Choice is definitely here, as Jeb and Chloe spend an inordinate amount of time together, and Jeb begins to realize the depth of his feelings for her. I loved the scene where Jeb serenades Chloe in the middle of the night, drunk. It really captured Jeb.

Miller also, once again, does an excellent job of portraying the connectedness of the McKettrick family, as they all join together to fight off an unseen enemy. At the same time, she shows how Holt is still uncomfortable in his role as oldest son and brother (this is the book before Holt's). At the same time that he is dealing with the feelings of trying to belong, and wondering if he even wants to belong, he discovers that he has a daughter - one whose mother has died and has just witnessed the murder of her "aunt", a close family friend. Lizzy immediately feels a familial bond to the McKettricks, making Holt's decision to stay or go even more difficult. As he tries to deal with his feelings of betrayal and abandonment brought on by his father leaving him, he struggles to make those same types of decisions in dealing with his own child.

The bond that truly ties the whole family back together is the one that forms between Lizzy, Chloe, and to some extent, Holt. The raw emotions shared between Lizzy and Chloe were beautifully written, and Holt's growing feelings for Chloe, and Jeb's jealousy, were also wonderfully written. Humorous, yet poignant. (Note: had I not read Holt's book first, this book would have left me heartbroken and clamoring for Holt's story)

This was a terrific book, filled with fun, laughter, heartbreak, forgiveness, alpha ego, female bonding, and strong family ties.

Straddling - historical and contemp:
Sierra's HomecomingSierra's Homecoming
When she moved to her family’s ancestral ranch, single mom Sierra McKettrick was disconcerted by the Triple M’s handsome caretaker, ex-rodeo star Travis Reid. But when her son claimed to see a mysterious boy in the house and an heirloom teapot started popping up in unexpected places, Sierra wondered if the attraction between herself and Travis might be the least of her worries.
In 1919, widowed Hannah McKettrick lived at the ranch with her son and her brother-in-law, Doss. Her confused feelings for Doss and her son’s health problems occupied all her thoughts…until the family teapot started disappearing.
Could Sierra and her ancestor, Hannah, be living parallel lives?

This book left me with mixed feelings. I didn't care all that much for Sierra. I found her to be an overprotective mother, and not all that sympathetic a character. I felt sorry for her son, Liam. As an asthmatic myself, it would have totally stunk if I hadn't been allowed to do so many things. However, Sierra has led a difficult life, and her actions were all explained in a believable and realistic (if dramatic) way. In a strange twist, she is a descendent of Holt's, and she was also torn from the McKettrick family as a small child. She has now come back to the Triple M as an adult, much like her ancestor.

I did like Travis. I liked the way that he immediately bonded with Liam, and encouraged both him and Sierra to allow a few more freedoms.

The parallel storyline, taking place between Hannah and Doss, Holt and Lorelei's son, is where this book shined. Doss is about as alpha as they come. Gruff exterior, hiding the marshmallow interior that has been in love with his dead brother's wife for years.

As Hannah and Doss fight an attraction for one another, they soon give in and I must say, I was surprised at the love scene that ensued, given that this book is as SSE. They are usually pretty tame. Be that as it may, I really enjoyed the historical side of this book more than the contemp.

In a twist on the time-travel, somehow Sierra and Hannah, and their sons, connect. Sierra and Hannah through a diary where they each make entries, and the boys simply by sharing the same room - they see each other. They each learn about the other, and Sierra learns more about her family.

This connection, this bond, serves to soften Sierra toward the McKettricks, and to soften her attitude toward Liam as well. I did enjoy this book - in fact, it was this one that got me started on the McKettrick kick. I picked it up because the time-travel aspect back to the early 1900s appealed to me. And got hooked into the McKettrick dynasty.

The Contemps:
McKettricks LuckMcKettrick's Luck
Like his celebrated ancestors who tamed the wilds of Arizona, Jesse McKettrick's Indian Rock ties run deep. The Triple M Ranch is in his blood, along with the thrill of risk. But with his land at stake, Jesse won't get involved in Cheyenne Bridges' scheme-despite the temptation she brings.
Cheyenne grew up in Indian Rock and left its painful memories behind to become a self-made woman. Now her job is to convince Jesse to sell his property. Jesse's not the kind of man Cheyenne could ever forget, but he's too wild and dangerous for a woman committed to playing it safe. Yet sparks of attraction fly, tempting Cheyenne to lay it all on the line for the passion she sees in Jesse's eyes and the tenderness she discovers in his heart.

This is the first of another McKettrick Men trilogy, this one a contemp trilogy. Jesse is a descendent of Jeb and Chloe, and very like Jeb in nature. He is the fun-loving one, at loose ends. Thanks to a great business deal that made him a fortune, he basically is at loose ends, and plays poker and drinks when the mood strikes him. This doesn't sit well with Cheyenne, whose father was an alcoholic.

Cheyenne has carried the responsibility of her family on her shoulders for many years. Her brother was injured in a car accident, and her mother works at low paying jobs. Cheyenne feels the weight of the financial and emotional burden with which she has saddled herself - her mother and brother truly do not expect her to carry the burden of the responsibility - they want to share in it.

This book reads like your typical HQN (is there such a thing as a typical HQN?). By that I mean, it felt a little formulaic to me, and this was a disappointment after the interesting and innovative books in the series I had read before this. There was a certain sense of individuality in the other books that was lacking in this book - I felt as though it struggled to find its identity along with the H&H's struggle to find their own. Yet I never got the impression that this was intentional at all.

I did enjoy the love that Jesse obviously feels for his land, but I didn't feel that same McKettrick connectedness that was present in the historicals, and I truly missed that. Perhaps because this book is about cousins rather than brothers, it lends itself to a certain distance. Additionally, the attempt to tie Jesse and Cheyenne back into Jeb and Chloe by taking us into their schoolhouse felt a little forced. I was disappointed to see some cliched romance novel tactics - Cheyenne walking in to find Jesse's ex-wife (although she is an unconventional ex) in his shirt and nothing else, only to misconstrue the situation... Cheyenne and Jesse on opposite sides of a business deal...

All in all, I was disappointed after 3 terrific reads, but I will persevere. I still need to buy High Country Bride (Rafe's story) and Shotgun Bride (Kade's story). My library diesn't have them, so it's off to Amazon I go to pick up the other two brothers' stories. McKettrick's Pride, the next contemp is due out in March sometime.

1 comment:

  1. I've had McKettrick's Choice in my TBR pile for ages and ages, but haven't ever been able to get into it. I might try again, though.

    Great reviews!


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