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Montana Untamed is the first book in Ramona Flightner’s new historical romance series, Bear Grass Springs. I’m always excited to read a new release from her, and this new installment wasn’t any different. I wasn’t surprised to find a great setting and lovely characters, even with some hiccups that frustrated me equally till the end.
I’m a huge fan of Ramona’s Banished Saga series. It’s still ongoing but already has around 8 installments. While reading, I felt that Bear Grass Springs is (or will be) different than Banished Saga. In the Saga, H and h don’t get their HEA in the same book they’re featured it. TBH, Banished Saga has no specific H and h because it revolves around quite a few families; where we met quite a few couples and their ever evolving relationship over the years with new generations welcoming new era. It has always reminded me of Downton Abbey. I read some complaints about the earlier installments where people weren’t too happy not seeing any HEA. Bear Grass Springs is more traditional in that sense because it does mainly focus on one couple and their HEA. I think traditional Romance readers will not be disappointed on that regard.
Set in 1884, the story opens up when we find Annabelle, who moved from Maine in search of her long lost elder sister Fidelia, has just arrived in Bear Grass Springs Montana. Fidelia left home years ago after a spat with their uptight father. Known as the beauty between the sisters, Fidelia had a beau and ran away with him. Annabelle, who is quire reserved and not counted as the beauty with her plump figure, has silently been in support of their father. Even then, she working and making a name as the best baker in her town. The background, throughout the story, was a bit vague since it’s mostly revealed from the sparse mention between Fidelia and Annabelle. All I could garner that after their father died, Annabelle finally felt free enough to search for Fedelia whom he’d much abandoned to her fate. Annabelle has had enough time to ponder and regret her decision. She wanted to make amends badly. A while ago Fidelia had written that she married, or was going to marry, someone in Bear Grass Springs. Annabelle didn’t have a whole lot of info but still, decided to leave her hometown permanently so she could come live with Fidelia. She did however know the name person Fidelia was going to marry.
The day she arrived, Annabelle became the butt of a cruel joke when she discovered a bitter truth. The man who is supposed to be married to, or at the least engaged to Fidelia, the town livery owner Cailean MacKinnon straight-out denies any relationship with Fidelia. On further investigation, Annabelle found that Fidelia has never been engaged to anyone since her beau Aaron died some years ago. A woman without anyone to help her, she’d turn to the oldest most profession out there to survive; prostitution. Now she works at the only bordello of the town and with her beauty, she’s rather known among the folks here. A distraught Annabelle tries to figure out what to do since she broke all ties with her past in hopes of settling down where her sister was. She even tries to see Fidelia, whose contempt towards her sister was very palpable. Since Annabelle withheld any support in the past, Fidelia blamed her quite a bit for her own ordeal. She also refuses any help or any plea from Annabelle to leave her current profession completely shutting her out.
In the meantime, Annabelle had to think of a way to survive too. She came here to settle down and no one is budging her from it. Not until she could figure out how to convince Fidelia to leave with her. But the money she brought will not last long if she isn’t earning any. To make a living, Annabelle turned to the only skill she was a master at; baking. With the convenient lack of a good baker in town, Annabelle soon finds a way to support herself by setting up a shop. And her bakery is a hit almost from the get go, the deprived townspeople swarming in for a taste of her baked goods. As demands for her delicious goods grew, Annabelle soon had enough on her plate. But her sister was never far from her mind. How can she make Fidelia believe that her that this is not the end of her life; that there’s salvation for her if she’d only let Annabelle help?
While trying to sort her life out, Annabelle meets new people and begins making friends, maybe a few enemies too along the way because of her ties to Fidelia. However she was only able to develop a love-hate relationship with Cailean because of their initial standoff the day she arrived, that was also because of Fidelia. She also makes acquaintance with Cailean’s younger brothers Alistair and Ewan, who seemed to be lot nicer than their eldest brother. Alistair was serous but he didn’t take life as seriously as Cailean did, neither was he grumpy all the time. And Ewan, being the youngest brother, was the most carefree one. Also the family joker. :D Yet despite their ambivalent feelings towards each-other, Annabelle and Cailean were aware of a spark of attraction whenever they met that simply couldn’t be denied.
I found Cailean’s background to be rather vague as well. Maybe more will be revealed about him and Annabelle as we read more books in the series. It seemed that Cailean’s family was forced to leave their home in Scotland in search of a new life. First he and Alistair left after their father died, settling in the new territory of Bear Grass Springs. Soon, Ewan joined them too. Their only sister, the youngest Sorcha remained with their mother until her death a few months ago. Since then Sorcha had also travelled to be with her brothers, though she’s quite unhappy about her new life and abode. She’s a terrible cook and the brothers were desperately looking for help in that department; without offending their little sister’s feelings of course. :P After experiencing the bliss, that is Annabelle’s cooking and baking, all the brothers—well I won’t count Cailean who was more of a grumpy bear— Alistair and Ewan convince Annabelle to come and give Sorcha some lesson. To say that the first meeting between the girls didn’t go well would be an understatement. Sorcha, young and foolish, was too rash to judge Annabelle in the lines of ‘a whore’s sister who must be of the same nature’. She’s rude to Annabelle to a point that she leaves the first day without any lesson at all. But after a scolding and apologies from Alistair, Annabelle soon returns to give Sorcha some tips and tricks in cooking and baking.
While all these were going on, one day something unthinkable happens. It seems fate had other plans for Annabelle and Cailean who had no intentions of marrying anyone, let alone each-other. Cailean, because he was married once and lost his wife to childbirth. He deemed her his one true love and the experience of losing her to such a tragedy left him terrified. He promised never to go through it ever again. On the other hand, we can only imagine why Annabelle didn’t want anything to do with men. She was not fond of her father, and witnessing her sister’s ordeal, she felt it’s better to be independent and be the master of her own destiny. She’s already earning good and someday she may even be able to buy a house of her own and retire. What if she feels the stirring of that something for a cranky livery owner? It’ll have to stay where it is now. If only life was always that easily planned. So, on a nice day full of dance and celebration, one thing led to another and they found themselves kissing each-other’s faces off, only to be caught by the town’s biggest gossip; a mean widow whom everybody liked avoiding much as possible. After that Annabelle had no other choice to save whatever was left of her reputation. She didn’t agree to Cailean’s rather ho-hum proposal at first. However, after a few kisses it seemed that practical minded Annabelle couldn’t think of anything else either.
Soon after they marry though, things started going downhill. A few weeks passed by in bliss but then, it was becoming painfully obvious that Annabelle and Cailean married too early, too soon. That they didn’t really know each-other all that well. The misunderstandings between them were growing, with each not wanting to communicate with the other properly. The first part of the ‘big mis’ was Cailean’s doing. When Annabelle, with much joy and hopes of finally having her own family, announced her pregnancy, Cailean seemed to fall back into that enormous black-hole of fear and despair that consumed him after Maggie’s death. Old memories rushed back and he found himself ignoring Annabelle, and equally cursing himself for letting it happen again. Annabelle was at first hurt, then shocked, then in despair... finally angry enough to leave him to return to her small room inside the bakery. Moreover, in a feat of rage, Cailean may have been an a$$ by saying something in the lines of Annabelle never being able to measure up to, let alone replace, ‘his Maggie’. Or whatever he said, Annabelle interpreted it that way. Talk about me shaking my head and being frustrated about the whole thing! What a mess!!
The next part was Annabelle’s own stubbornness. When after months of neglect to herself, she loses the baby, she starts blaming Cailean for every bad thing that happened to her so far. From a routined life where she was settling down well, now her life has turned upside down. She had no peace of mind, let alone any happiness and TBH, I could see where it was coming from. I couldn’t blame her when FINALLY Cailean came to his senses and tries to convince her to return to him and she outright refuses. Kept refusing him over and over again. By then I thought that the poor guy has had enough of his own medicine. Sigh. After all, he had apologized and tried to show her he cared, despite his callous behavior.
Let’s just say that for a good bit in the middle of the story until the last chapters, our H and h weren’t happy. They were miserable and so was I. I wish that wasn’t the case, that they knew each-other to some extent before getting married. There were times when it felt like they weren’t really meant for one another; Annabelle a bit too awkward and stilted where men were concerned and Cailean a bit too hot-headed to curb his big mouth. There were times I had wished it wasn’t a clean romance because there were precious few moments where I felt any chemistry between them. TBH they were more apart than together.
Saying all that, I know this is just the beginning of a new series. I met some amazing characters like Cailean’s brothers Alistair and Ewan, Alistair’s fiancée Leticia too. They will have their story in book 2, Montana Grit. I’m also eagerly waiting for Ewan and Fidelia’s stories. Sorcha too! I You will meet some great secondary characters as well. The storytelling was light in most part, even if the whole story wasn’t exactly light-hearted because of the ongoing issues in Annabelle and Cailean’s fragile relationship. Even though they finally conquered their personal fears and understood that they’re way happier together than apart, frankly I’m still in doubt of them ever having a stable relationship.
But don’t let my review be in the way of your enjoying the story. I just had to mention what was bugging me in the story but that may not be the case for you at all. Apart from that, I loved the setting, the overall vibe of a growing town of the Wild West era. Enjoyed knowing the people in it, good or bad. Ramona has an easy way of promenading you through their day to day lives, as you’ll not only find in this new series, but also in Banished Saga which I recommend wholeheartedly. 4 stars for Montana Untamed, and I hope to read more in this series soon.
Review copy received from the author, thanks Ramona. x