The MacKenzies:Cleve

The Mackenzies:David

The MacKenzies Josh

The MacKenzies: Luke

The MacKenzies: Peter

The MacKenzies: Zach

The MacKenzies: Jared by Ana Leigh
(Avon, $5.99, PG) ISBN 0-380-82007-2
This latest book in Ana Leigh’s Mackenzies series is chock-full of folks from the author’s previous books, so readers who appreciated those may well feel they hit the jackpot with Jared. However, readers new to the series may well feel that they are strangers at a family reunion.

In 1895, Kathleen Mackenzie Drummond, or “Kitty”, is a young widow in search of a new life and purpose. She has always been ensconced at her family’s large Texas ranch, the Triple M, where several members of the extended Mackenzie family live, love and thrive. Kitty feels her deceased husband, Ted, was never really suited to life on the Triple M in the midst of her family. Now two years after his death, Kitty still feels a remorse which prompts her decision to move on, leave the fold, and make her own way…somehow.

On an extended visit to Dallas, (and even more relatives) Kitty makes the acquaintance of Jonathan Fraser. Jonathan is a pleasant, older gentleman with whom Kitty immediately feels a bond of friendship. He offers her a temporary position as nanny to his eight-year-old, twin grand daughters, who live nearby with Jonathan and their father, Captain Jared Fraser. She accepts the post.

Very recently returned from his Army assignment in India, Jared is wounded in body and soul. Kitty encounters him on a train in advance of their formal introduction, and she is not favorably impressed. When they meet again in his home in Dallas, they already have less than good opinions of one another.

Jared and his girls, Becky and Jenny, had been deserted four years earlier by his faithless wife, Diane. While Jared was away in India, the girls have been given free rein by Grandfather Jonathan. They barely know their father and he can’t tell them apart! Kitty attempts to gain some control of Becky and Jenny, who subject her to a series of pranks designed to scare her off.

Ultimately Kitty succeeds in winning Becky and Jenny over, and they begin a campaign encouraging Jared to marry Kitty, making her their new mother. Jared and Kitty develop strong feelings for each other, but complications ensue.

I was intrigued by the premise of this story, and I did enjoy some nice scenes in which Jared and Kitty are first alone together. I was engaged by the little girls and their developing relationship with Kitty. I also enjoyed Jared’s introspection and the glimpses into his feelings. I am a sucker for knowing what a guy is really thinking, ya know?

The many characters are introduced in volleys that had me re-reading whole sections to get them straight. Then these people made conversational references to more characters, some of whom never actually turned up anywhere in the book. To be fair, I haven’t read the other books in this series. I often hesitate to read a series out of order, fearing that I’ll be confused by fleeting references to the other stories. But a worse muddle is created when too much information is given about characters in the other books. (Do we really care that much about this family tree?)

In addition to being a story somewhat confounded by “extras” the author’s language is sometimes distracting. This story could have easily been told as a contemporary without changing any of the dialogue, particularly in the later chapters. But the story really began to lose its romantic feel around the time that Jared and Kitty confront their strong sexual attraction for one another.

One scene is reminiscent of the late 70’s style romance, when “no” meant “yes” and bodices were made to be ripped. Jared behaves badly and Kitty likes it. Then in another scene he talks so much that the romance was squelched. He even makes mention of her “milky mounds”. Please!

Jared seems also to obsess about Kitty’s dead husband in a very unattractive way, by quizzing her about Ted’s sexual prowess and asking her cousins for comparisons between Ted and himself. Jared simply is not my idea of a romantic guy.

A lot of story territory is covered in a very short time, and things seem rushed toward the ultimate conclusion. I wasn’t always sure what the conflict was that impeded the progress of this relationship, and the problem that seemed most obvious to me wasn’t even mentioned until the very end of the story!

I enjoyed the beginning of Jared, despite the language snafu and the cast confusion, but it didn’t hold my interest over the long haul. One last thing that puzzled me a little - why not name this book after the Mackenzie character and call it Kitty?

--Deann Carpenter

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