Montana by Debbie Macomber
(Mira, $6.99, PG) ISBN 1-55166-434-8
Reading a book by Debbie Macomber is like putting on a warm, fuzzy pair of slippers: it's comfortable. But even though this book contains many of the author's fine trademarks, including the usual complement of warmth and charm, it lacks originality. The storyline for Montana is a familiar one a single mother trying to raise her children and save the family ranch and a solitary man with a past, looking for a future. Good stuff, but to be honest I had to read several chapters before I felt certain that I hadn't read this particular story before.

Thirty-four-year-old Molly Cogan can barely make ends meet. Her ex-husband not only cheated her; he cheated his place of business and is currently in prison serving a twenty-year sentence for fraud. For the past year, Molly has received no child support and has had to move her two sons from their comfortable home into a cramped two-bedroom apartment in San Francisco. Her oldest son has started getting into trouble at school and Molly is just about at her wit's end when she receives a call from her grandfather's foreman, Sam Dakota, informing her that her beloved grandfather is dying.

Molly packs up her two boys and moves to her grandfather's ranch in Sweetgrass, Montana. When she discovers that her grandfather is in bad shape, but never told her because he didn't want her to worry, she is distraught and filled with guilt. Also, the beautiful home Molly remembers from her childhood is falling apart and the ranch itself is just barely financially solvent, thanks to the hard work of Sam Dakota.

When a lawyer approaches her about selling the ranch to an anonymous buyer, Molly declines. Although she believes she is willing to do whatever it takes to save the family ranch, Molly refuses to consider her grandfather's suggestion that she marry Sam. Molly simply doesn't trust herself when it comes to judging men; her first husband taught her how wrong she can be. Also, the town's sheriff has told Molly that she should be wary of Sam. So even though her grandfather and her sons like Sam and even though she finds him physically attractive, Molly is determined to keep her distance.

Besides experiencing a strong feeling of deja vu while reading this book, I also experienced the feeling that I was reading an elongated, category romance. It seemed that toward the end of Montana the author was really stretching what is basically a minimal plot in order to make this story longer. It's a testament to Ms. Macomber's writing ability that she can do this without ruining the book. Because her characters are so likeable, it's not a hardship to spend additional time with them even if there isn't much going on with the story line.

Picking up this book and reading a few chapters was an easy thing to do; then again, putting this book down and walking away to do something else was also an easy thing to do. And, with the exception of a truly hilarious shower scene, this story lacks the humor usually found in Ms. Macomber's tales. Then again, I could almost have recommended Montana just on the strength of that shower scene almost. The problem with this pair of slippers is that even though they are comfortable, they feel just a little too worn-out for me to recommend.

--Judith Flavell

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