>> Tuesday, March 15, 2005
The MacKades was a series Nora Roberts wrote for Silhouette in the mid-90s, about four brothers living in the fictional town of Antietam, in Maryland. I hadn't reread it in some time, and this time I did it as I've started to do with all my Noras, and I read the entire series all in a row.
The first book is The Return of Rafe MacKade, about "the baddest of the bad MacKades", as the author herself calls him. Rafe had left Antietam years before, leaving behind a town convinced that he'd end up behind bars before long. Since he was a kid, he has been fascinated with the old Barlow place, a run-down old house reputed to be haunted since the Civil War, and he promised before he left that he'd own the place.
The book starts as he returns home, a successful businessman who runs a construction company and the new owner of the Barlow house, which he intends to restore and set up as an inn. As soon as he comes back he meets newcomer Regan Bishop, who owns the new antique store in town and who he hires to help him furnish his inn.
This was a pleasant, comfortable read, but nothing earth-shattering, really. Both Rafe and Regan are very likeable characters, but there just isn't that much conflict to keep things interesting. A B-
The Pride of Jared MacKade comes next, and it was much more exciting. Jared is the eldest of the MacKades, and the more serious and bookish one. He's a lawyer and of the four, he's the one who's built a more refined, sophisticated life, complete with a boring, refined ex-wife and a boring, refined law office.
As always in romance novels, conservative Jared gets paired with a very definitely not conservative heroine, illustrator Savannah Morningstar, who happens to be a single mom and former stripper, street artist and myriad other things.
I really, really liked Savannah. She was a much more interesting character than Regan, much livelier and more colourful. I loved that she made no apologies for her past, and simply refused to play the victim, the poor little woman, seduced, impregnated and abandoned when she was 16. Jared I felt was a bit of a jerk in the end, but at least his difficulties in accepting Savannah's past were interesting. And really, I don't think it was so much a sexist, double-standard thing, as much as frustration at not being able to go back in time and make things easier for Savannah. The scenes in which he tortures himself when he hears just how difficult some things in her life were pretty powerful. A B+.
The book about the third brother, The Heart of Devin MacKade used to be my favourite in the series, but I liked it a bit less this time.
Devin has been in love with Cassie Connor (now Dolin) pretty much forever. He had a thing for her even when they were in high school, but he dragged his feet a little too much and the disgusting Joe Dolin beat him to it and married her as soon as she got out from high-school... and proceeded to make the following 10 years or so of her life a living hell. Devin, who became sheriff of Antietam, was perfectly aware of the fact that Cassie has been suffering Joe's physical and mental abuse, but he couldn't do much more than make Cassie aware of her options, which in turn, made Devin's life pretty hellish as well.
This book starts a couple of years after Cassie finally decides to leave her husband (an event which happens in book # 1). Ever since this happened, Devin has been biding his time, waiting for the moment to be right for him to make his move. When Cassie gives him a chaste little kiss, Devin finally explodes and let's it all out, and their romance gets moving.
Devin is a lovely, wonderful hero, and I just adore stories about guys who have been madly in love with the heroine for years and years. So why didn't I love, love, love this story? The answer is Cassie. Unlike many readers, it's the heroine who makes or breaks a romance for me, and I just wasn't all that crazy about Cassie. The problem was basically that I couldn't really understand her, and I feel like a bitch for saying this. I know intellectually that she's probably a perfectly accurate character, but I simply couldn't get her emotionally.
Why didn't she leave Joe much earlier? Everyone in town knows he's been beating her up, so it can't be shame at confessing what has been happening, what she has been "letting" him do. And she has the explicit support of pretty much everyone except her zealot mother, so it can't be that she has no other options. Also, there's no evidence of Cassie ever being convinced that Joe loves her in spite of what he does to her... she seems to have accepted from the beginning that she's nothing more than a punching bag for him. As for her kids, I know she isn't aware of the fact that Joe has been physically abusing their son, but how can anyone really believe that the kids are better off with both parents, in an environment where they obviously know their mother is getting beat up every week, than there would be only with a single, caring parent? Of course I'm oversimplifying, and I know that the psychological issues that can make an abused woman stay with her abuser are much more complicated than this, but for all the theoretical knowledge I can have, I just can't completely understand Cassie, and this lowers a bit my enjoyment of the book.
Still, I did like this quite a bit. The love story between Devin and Cassie is lovely and sweet, and I loved the way Devin wins over Connor, Cassie's son. A B.
The last book of the series is The Fall of Shane MacKade, about the younger brother and ladies' man extraordinaire. Nora is spot-on when she differentiates between a womanizer (who would be a user, basically) and someone like Shane, who simply adores and is fascinated by women, every single kind of woman.
Shane's fall begins immediately after he meets Rebecca, Regan's brilliant, brainy former roommate in college. Rebecca is quite simply, a nerd, and it's always fun to see a suave, experienced hero become fascinated by someone like Rebecca. Some of the scenes were pretty much telegraphed from the beginning... I mean, I knew right from page 1 that this would end with Rebecca saying some variety of "Well, bye-bye, so long, it's been fun" and Shane freaking out because this time it's he who wants more, but this didn't make this scene any less effective, and it alone raised the grade from a B to a B+.
This series has a nice paranormal thread going through it, about the ghosts from an episode of the battle of Antietam haunting both Rafe and Regan's inn, the MacKade farm and the woods around it. It's an interesting element, and doesn't overwhelm the stories, it simply adds an extra interest to them.
As always in Nora's series, one of my favourite things was the way the family interacted. I was totally convinced that these four men obviously love and support each other, even if I did feel that they were a bit too fond of pounding on each other ;-) And I loved the way their wives were successively integrated to the group, quickly becoming part of the whole family.