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Montana Maverick is the book 3 of Ramona Flightner’s historical romance series, Bear Grass Springs. A huge fan of her debut series Banished Saga, I didn’t hesitate picking it up when I heard she’s coming up with a new HR set in a slightly different era. Regrettably, have to say that so far I haven’t felt the connection with the stories as well as I thought I would.
Whereas Banished Saga is set in the early 20th century America, Bear Grass Springs is set in the 1880s Montana. It’s also quite different that Banished Saga in the sense that each story ends in your traditional HEA. Yes, it’s still a clean romance and yes, we still get to know about a family and see them find love one after another but you get your traditional HEA, rather than a Saga where it spans years and includes new characters of new generations. I love both styles and appreciate the author exploring both routes. Initially, many readers complained about the first book of Banished Saga not having a traditional HEA. But that won’t be an issue with the Bear Grass Springs novels.
Book 1, Montana Untamed, introduces us to the MacKinnon brothers Cailean, Alistair and Ewan and their younger sister, Sorcha. They came to America from Scotland to settle down after they were forced from their lands. The eldest two arrived first. Eventually, Ewan and Sorcha joined them. Cailean and Alistair are very successful livery owners, the only one in the small town of Bear Grass Springs. Ewan’s skills lie with carpentry, which the people of the town appreciated, so he’s been doing good as well. Both well-liked and respected among the people and, alongside Ewan, they’re also well sought after bachelors. Cailean the eldest is what I’d call a grumpy bear. Very serious and moody. Alistair, the middle brother, seemed like the one with a sound head on his shoulders. Cool and calm as they say. Ewan is the happy go lucky charmer who can be impetuous at times. His gambling habit is one of those things that his brothers do not approve of. Sorcha is still young and brash, she has her own burdens to bear too as you will read, but her brothers love her all the same.
Cailean had lost his wife to childbirth and swore never to go through that pain ever again. So when he met Annabelle Evans of St. Louis, coming to Bear Grass Springs in search of her long lost sister, Fidelia, marriage was the last thing on his mind. In fact, marriage wasn’t on his mind at all since Annabelle was claiming Fidelia said she was to be married to Cailean... which wasn’t really true. The sad truth was, when Fidelia fell on hard times she had no one to turn to. And the only path open to her was the bordello of the town. She had been estranged from her family for many years and lost a husband or a fiancé, the reason why she left home to begin with because her father wasn’t amenable to the match. We still don’t know the entire story, which I can only imagine, would be revealed in her own book. Whereas Fidelia was the beautiful sister, Annabelle was the plump, reclusive one. She liked baking and eked out a living off of that. After their father died, however, is when she felt she can seek her sister out and try to amend the rift. But it wasn’t to be. Fidelia, who still held grudge that Annabelle didn’t help her when she needed it the most, refused any help now, ignoring her sister’s plea of leaving the bordello. Annabelle promises to work on it until she understood that she has a family to turn to now.
While she was on her mission to save Fidelia, Annabelle also opens the first bakery of the town. Soon, one thing led to another and she found herself married to the grumpy livery owner. Their path to HEA was anything but smooth, their relationship quite fragile. Too many misunderstandings and each pushing other away (Cailean could be an a$$ when he’s of a mind to it) left its negative mark on my enjoyment. BUT I liked the idea of the story, the introduction to a new setting and new characters.
Book 2, Montana Grit, talks about already paired Alistair and Leticia. They had been engaged for a few years, ever since Leticia arrived in Bear Grass Springs with her little daughter Hortence in toe. She claimed to be a widow and her attraction to Alistair was instant. They have been courting ever since but she had put the marriage on hold until now. Every gossipy biddy on the town has been wagering on their match, and to put a stop to it, they decide to marry after Cailean and Annabelle’s wedding. Unfortunately, on her wedding day, very conveniently, Leticia’s long estranged husband decides to show his ugly mug and destroys any chance at happiness.
After this unfortunate incident, the wedding is ruined and Alistair spends the night at the town’s bordello to ‘feel like a man again after such a betrayal’. Uh, okay... Personally, for me, that was strike one against him. After that, instead of confronting Leticia as to why she hid such a massive secret from him, he begins to ignore her. He remains in denial of anything other than his own ‘I’m-the-victim’ state. If I had any sympathy for him in the beginning, I lost it as well as any respect I may have had thinking he was the brother with a level head. So much for that! Instead, my sympathies through the entire story lay with Leticia after reading about her past, and what she went through in the hands of that nasty man she refuses to consider her husband even if they’re still married. She ran away and created a new identity not only to save herself but also to save her daughter whom the man refused to acknowledge as his own, which Hortence undoubtedly is. Leticia thought Alistair would give her a chance to explain the whys of it all (basically in fear of the exact same reason why Alistair was ignoring her now -_-), but Alistair didn’t give her the chance until it was too late. By then she was forced to leave town, and to leave behind Hortence behind for her own safety.
I’ll give it to Alistair that he later acknowledges his a$$holly behavior and asks for forgiveness to Leticia. But the amount of distrust he’s shown for her throughout the story begs the question whether he could keep on trusting her, or lose his sh!t when the next trouble heads their way.
Montana Maverick is the story of the happy-go-lucky younger brother Ewan. We didn’t see him with anyone throughout the story until the end of book 2, when the town’s new reporter arrives; who, to everyone’s utter shock, was a woman! His introduction with the newspaper woman didn’t go well and I was already dreading what kinda trouble that’s gonna bring.
Jessamine was recruited by town lawyer Warren Clark as a part of gussying up Bear Grass Springs, to showcase it as a growing town with improvements and amenities, planning to lure in more families and settlers. The town needed a newspaper office and Jessamine had the dubious honor to become the first editor/publisher of it. However her intro to the town didn’t go well and it was nobody’s fault but her own. She had self-confidence issues due to a bad childhood and an abusive father, and to hide her sorry state, she showed overconfidence that bordered on the verge of ridiculousness. She presumed too many things and leaped way beyond what was appropriate. All in all, a recipe for disaster.
It started with Ewan as her first target. She’d publish anything that happened to him, doesn’t matter whether it was humiliating or plain ridiculous. The more gossipy it was the better for her, as long as it sold her newspaper. He became her primary target of ridicule (which Ewan later translates as her way of ‘courting him’ – uh, really?). IMO, some of those things she published on him directly besmirched his name. She then went on to target Helen Jamieson, who had the bad luck of having a horrible mother that no one in the town liked. If you’ve read the series you already know who and what I mean. Poor girl wanted to escape her mother’s clutches and marriage was her only solution. She’d tried to get herself one of the MacKinnon brothers, though sadly, because of her mother’s nasty reputation no one cared to be associated with her family. Not even the MacKinnons. Helen thought now Ewan was her last hope, and even though I found it pitiful the way she threw herself a few times at him, I couldn’t begin to imagine her miserable living condition with the woman she called ‘mother’ and her equally nasty elder brother. I have nothing but sympathies for her. Helen and Ewan next became Jessamine’s targets when Helen was seen around Ewan’s workshop a few times. After that, she went on to target Bears, a mixed raced (part Native American, part White) man who became a partner with Cailean and Alistair. The brothers respected Bears and always treated him equal rather than a ‘low born half-breed’; the way most others in the town would treat Bears or anyone with Native American blood. Even though she later apologized to him, she’d already made the whole situation volatile for everyone concerned.
Even when she was warned first by Ewan, then Cailean... and later even by Warren, Jessamine then planned to target Alistair’s wife Felicia, by wanting to publish a sensational story about her ‘past’. A past she’d tried her utmost best to forget and move on. And every time anyone tried to reason with her, Jessamine was determined to cling on to her misguided ideas about what’s right and what’s wrong. It was as if she didn’t care, or didn’t want to consider or care about the people she’s hurting with her crap. She even, at one point, acknowledges that when she previously worked in a big city newspaper, she didn’t meet anyone she was publishing about so she was blissfully unaware of the havoc she may have wrecked in their lives. Now, in a small town like Bear Grass Springs, where everyone knew everyone else, Jessamine was finding it difficult to do what she’d always done. Because in the end, all that she’d published came back to haunt her; where she must confront the after affects of her deeds.
I’ll be brutally honest that I didn’t like Jessamine from the get go, the moment I found her intentionally targeting Ewan just for the sake of it. At least, that’s how it seemed to me. I tried to give her a chance, but after reading chapters and chapters of her doing the same sh!t all over again I got tired and fed up. She never learned a lesson, very staunchly defied any warning coming her way, sometimes with lawsuit, as if she almost didn’t care what happens to her. She found a way to ‘justify’ her latest news or stood defiant, in denial even when she has done something wrong. Yes, after a while, she began understanding the kind of havoc she was wrecking but she didn’t acknowledge her blunders until after she was cornered by someone in her office. That too, most of the times only to herself.
But for me, the craziest thing was Ewan’s sudden attraction and protective feelings towards Jessamine. Like........ I don’t even know what happened. When he first paid her a visit about one of those humiliating stories she’d published about him, he didn’t sound amused. And he wasn’t amused for a while…. until suddenly he began caring for her? Uhm...? :/ I still don’t know what happened cause I find it baffling, unbelievably so. After a night spend together because Jessamine was ill, with him looking after her (yes she basically had no friends in the town), Ewan proposed to her. Though at first it was because he thought of her reputation, meager as it was and wanted to protect her from the censure, Ewan soon realized he cared more for her than he let on (don’t ask me why, I’m still baffled). Jessamine refuses... Then they sleep together. Ewan proposes again...she refuses because everybody has affairs, why does she need to marry Ewan just for one night, right? Let me tell you that she was the instigator of it when Ewan wanted to wait. Okay, fine, good for her even if she hurt Ewan. Then when she fooled Ewan into thinking she cared, he proposed again. She refused again... Yes, she turned him down over and over again! Was she was trying to prove something because of how her father treated her? But instead of learning something from it, she treated other people like sh!t. If she hated men that much, she should’ve never encouraged Ewan to begin with! Am I supposed to feel bad for her? Sorry, not sorry that I don’t. She made her bed yet I’d say, instead of lying in it, she got off easily with Ewan and his family’s help. They didn’t like her but had to take her in when they knew the depth of Ewan’s feelings for her (again, baffled!) cause that’s what families do.
To me, it felt like Jessamine wanted to escape her father cause that man finally tracked her down in Bear Grass Springs. Ewan was her easy way out and she took advantage of it before it slipped away. I had hard time believing she really cared for the poor guy. She may have had a change of mind in the end, may have learned some lessons from what happened so far but by then, I simply didn’t care.
Right now I’m looking forward to Helen and Warren’s book, Montana Renegade, which is coming up next. Didn’t mention on my review earlier but Ewan was successful in freeing Fidelia from the clutches of the Madame of the brothel. Even though it should’ve been a cause for celebration, seeing how ardently Annabelle wanted her sister freed, it really wasn’t. Fidelia isn’t doing well and I’m certain she’s got a long way ahead to the road to recovery. I’m also looking forward to Sorcha’s story, as well as Bears’s which I’m sure will follow soon.
For Montana Maverick, 3 stars but barely made it. I know the other readers may not have the same issues with the h as I had so I’ll leave it for them to decide. I love Ramona’s writing and will read her books in future, but this one just went over my head.
Review copy received from the author, thanks Ramona. x