Pros: Believable romance and characters, suspenseful plot, realistic narration
Romance novels have never held much intrigue for me, because almost always, I've figured out the ending with the first two chapters of the story. Sometimes this is ok with me if the characters remain interesting. But for the most part, I have resorted to chick lit instead of true romance, because at least that offers up comedy in the midst of predictability. But I was given the Montana Sky audiobook by Nora Roberts as a hand-me-down from my mom, and I promised her that I'd give it a try. Once again, my most unfavorite but true ringing lesson as a teenager: mom knows best!
Montana Sky is set at Mercy Ranch in Montana, the home and business of the late Jack Mercy, who, in death, still lives up to his reputation as a son-of-a-b*tch. During life, Jack fathered 3 daughters by 3 different wives, but only the youngest daughter, Willa, lived with him on Mercy Ranch, and that was only because her mother died before Jack could send them both away as he did with the older two. Willa worked the ranch side-by-side with her father's men, and when he passed, she took over the entire operation. So she was shocked and dismayed at the reading of his will when she learned that, in order to keep Mercy Ranch, she was going to have to live on it with her 2 half-sisters for a minimum of one year. And even then, she would only own 1/3 of the estimated $20 million ranch. But Willa has never known the world outside of ranch life on Mercy, and having inherited her father's stubbornness, she won't think of giving it up, even if it means having to share it with two ignorant "city-folk."
Lily, Jack's middle daughter, is nothing short of thrilled to learn of the condition placed upon their inheritance. She is, after all, on the run from her abusive ex-husband Jesse, who doesn't seem to comprehend the meaning of ex. But Tess, the eldest of the 3 women, is even less excited than Willa. She's a screenwriter who has been living the glamorous Hollywood life, and she has no intention of settling down for a year on a dirty, boring and stinky Montana ranch...that is, until she realizes exactly the amount of money she has to inherit. Then, the same determination that drives Tess to succeed in her career gives her the willpower to stick the year out in an effort to earn her rightful 1/3 of the estate.
If Jack's 3 daughters cannot live together for the full year, the ranch will be given to charity. So the 3 women set out to complete their year together on the ranch. And almost immediately after that year begins, tragedies begin to occur. It seems someone, or something, is even unhappier about the arrangement at Mercy Ranch than the 3 women, and they will really be put to the test of working together to get through their year-long sentence.
Rounding out the cast of characters in this book are Bess, Jack Mercy's old housekeeper and the typical sage old woman-type often found in Roberts' novels. Then there is Ham, the ranch hand who essentially raised Willa as his own when Jack wanted nothing to do with her. Pickles, Billy, Wood, and various others form a likable bunch of ranch hands, or "men" as Willa refers to them.
As is no secret for fans of Nora Roberts books, each female lead has a romantic interest. Ben McKinnon, the owner of an adjacent ranch and Willa's childhood nemesis, is all grown up and now interested in more than just pulling her hair. Tess sets her greedy eyes on Nate Torrance, Jack Mercy's lawyer and a horse trainer, and the two of them waste no time in getting to know each other better. Lily, who is sweet and withdrawn, is immediately drawn to Willa's half-brother Adam (they shared an Indian mother), who takes on the task of making her feel at home on the ranch by letting her help him tend to the horses.
This audiobook consists of 13 CDs with approximately 15 hours of listening time. If I had read the traditional version of this story, there is no doubt in my mind it would've been a page-turner. On audio CD, there were several times I kept driving around for no apparent reason just to finish out a chapter or two before having to turn it off. The story is an intriguing mass of emotional ups and downs; the turmoil occurring at the ranch coincides with the turmoil happening inside each of the 3 women.
Roberts does an amazing job developing each and every character introduced in this story without overdoing it. The story is told from alternating points-of-view of the 3 women, including hilarious excerpts from Tess' diary, the 3 men, and even bits and parts of the thoughts of the supporting characters. This way, the reader/listener gets to really understand the big picture as taken from the thoughts of all the people taking part in it, as opposed to just one protagonist. The women are the primary focus, especially tomboy Willa, but the men and the ranch hands are equally well-drawn. Even Lily's good-for-nothing ex-husband Jesse is placed front and center a few times.
In this story, I had a hard time siding or commiserating with any one character, because all of them were realistic in their feelings about the situation Jack Mercy placed them in on the ranch. At one point, I would be angry with Tess over her lack of compassion for Willa's situation, and then the next, I would be equally angry with Willa for not taking the time to get to know and understand her sisters.
Erika Leigh does a terrific job narrating this story through the eyes of the characters. I especially liked the fact that her voices for the male characters didn't come out sounding just like a female with a stuffed up nose. She did an excellent job created a husky "male" voice and was equally superb in voicing sweet & charming Lily, tough & bullheaded Willa, and annoyed & nonchalant Tess.
One thing I didn't like was that there are few quite candid and gory scenes that might be par for the course for people who have experienced ranch life, but I haven't, and I didn't expect it in a romance novel, nor am I sure I liked it. But it was a small part of the story, and I didn't have any nightmares, although the scenes are described down to every last detail.
I enjoyed this book especially for the fact that I had no idea how it was going to end until the last chapter. This has never happened to me with a "romance" novel before, including other books by Roberts. I'm a planner, but when I'm reading fiction, it's much more enjoyable not to be able to anticipate the ending 40 chapters before I get there.