Well, I guess there's no point in pussyfooting around about it, this struck me as a very silly book. The author lost me on page one of the prologue where the 21-year-old heroine, purportedly studying art in 1880 St. Louis, is drooling over the naked male model she is supposed to be drawing. From there she takes herself off to perform aboard a riverboat, "…shucking her boring existence for an exciting life on the stage."
Even though it soon becomes apparent that the riverboat job is vulgar and demeaning, our plucky heroine consoles herself by engaging in an affair with an aging actor who has worked his way through all the other women in the cast. She is completely oblivious to his deception and is stunned to find that, upon learning of her pregnancy, he absconds with another actress.
By the end of chapter one I'm thinking, Too Stupid to Live. By the beginning of chapter five, even the heroine is castigating herself as "Dumb! Dumb! Dumb!" and this reader could only agree.
The MacKenzies: Peter is the fifth in a series about the MacKenzie family. I wish the author had included one of those genealogy charts that are often found in the front of family sagas, because the cast of players is confusing. The heroine of this book, Angeleen MacKenzie, is the youngest daughter of deceased patriarch Matthew MacKenzie who is referred to as "the Chief." The "Peter" of the title is actually called "Giff" throughout the story. He is the foreman of the MacKenzie ranch, Pete Gifford, who is a de facto member of the family.
Pete, or Giff, is ten years older than Angeleen, (or Angel, or Pumpkin, or Angie – really, a chart would have helped…). He has loved her for years but believes that she thinks of him as a brother so he can't tell her how he feels. When word drifts back to Denver that Angie is performing on a riverboat, Giff sets out to bring her home.
Part of the silliness of this story is that the characters demonstrate no consistent moral perspective: their values are confused. The family doesn't want Angie displaying herself on the riverboat, but no one is terribly concerned when they discover she had an affair with a man old enough to be her father. Throughout the story, the characters' moral sensibilities seem to be determined more by the requirements of the plot than by the demands of their personalities.
And what a silly plot it is. Rather than concentrating on the emotional development of characters who are forced by circumstances into unexpected intimacy, the author saddles the newlywed couple with the ex-lover and his paramour as houseguests, introduces a band of feebleminded outlaws, and finally contrives a family reunion that re-introduces all the characters from previous books. I just wish she had scheduled the family reunion for the beginning of the story…
After I read this one, I looked up the reviews of the other books. Although some of the other reviewers had more patience than I had, it's clear from their reviews that this author is at least consistent – even if her characters aren't. The previous books in this series also suffered from unfocussed plots, anachronous behaviors, and a multitude of characters. I guess it boils down to this: if you've read this author before and liked her, you're in for a treat because this book is more of the same. If you're not familiar with this author, read the reviews carefully. There may be things here you will like, but only if you're
willing to put up with a lot of sillies…