Wednesday, 30 March 2011

Book Review: A Creed in Stone Creek by Linda Lael Miller

A Creed in Stone Creek (Hqn)
Title: A Creed in Stone Creek
Author: Linda Lael Miller
Number of pages: 384 pages 
Publisher: Harlequin Books
Release Date: 22 February 2011
Source: review copy received from publisher (and through NetGalley too)
Series: Montana Creed series
Purchasing Info: Goodreads, Author's Website, Amazon, Kindle store, Book Depository


Grade: 2 stars

Novellus malus!
Goodreads appetizer: When single attorney Steven Creed becomes guardian of an orphaned five-year-old boy, he trades his big-city law firm for a ranch near his McKettrick kin in the close-knit community of Stone Creek, Arizona. Taking care of little Matt and fixing up his run-down ranch house with its old barn loosens something tightly wound inside him. But when Steven takes on the pro bono defense of a local teen, he meets his match in the opposing counsel—beautiful, by-the-book county prosecutor Melissa O'Ballivan.

It'll take one grieving little boy, a sweet adopted dog and a woman who never expected to win any man's heart to make this Creed in Stone Creek know he's truly found home.

My Thoughts: I'm not an expert when it comes to Western romances, so far I have only read about half a dozen of this genre, but I enjoyed those a lot, so I was looking forward to A Creed in Stone Creek, especially given its single-dad-raising-an-orphaned-little-boy premise and that as a junior lawyer I like reading novels where the hero and heroines are law practioners. Unfortunately A Creed in Stone Creek left me lukewarm.

A Creed in Stone Creek takes place in nowadays' Arizona, but it feels dated, as if the reader is back in the '50s and that made me lose my grip on the story and its reality a couple of times.

Though there is a blatant black and white categorization: happy women living in Stone Creek are married, pregnant, great cooks and happy housewives, it wasn't even this that I took offense with. It was the fact that Linda Lael Miller tries hard to portray Melissa, our heroine as feminist and independent, but it rings hollow as Melissa is like a Stepford housewife from the '50s in mentality (except for the cooking) (which don't get me wrong I don't have a problem with, if it isn't stated every chapter how modern and independent she is). Melissa, after completing years of law studies, exams and having worked hard to be a prosecutor is having some sort of crisis not being happy with her work and personal life. I can understand her needing a change from law but at the end of the novel she takes a 180° turn and it's as if she becomes just one of the many streotypical small town women, shedding her personality and individuality.

Though I like my heroine and hero to discover each other and for their affection and love to grow gradually and develop realistically, I can understand that sometimes love can be more instinctive and overwhelming. However the romance between Steven and Melissa was completely unrealistic: two intelligent grown up people always experiencing the Earth moving, tilting on its axis every time the other is around? The very first time they glimpse each other only the lightning is missing, because it sure is described as if they have been struck with such a powerful attraction and blossoming love (without knowing anything about the other..).

Her smile nearly knocked Steven over. [...] Holy crap. Steven thought, because the ground shook under his feet and the sky tilted at such a strange angle that his equilibrum was skewed.

Their romance was instantenous and unfounded, and the hot and cold hesitation of Melissa felt very naive and immature. One minute she is:

Steven Creed. The man was a sin sundae, and she was so tempted to dig in.
Then the next she is acting all timid and virginal. I couldn't really know what to do of her hot and cold behaviour, which didn't fit the bill of her pantsuit, independent persona which was projected.

The love conflict/difficulties between the hero/heroine were forced and artificial; and Melissa despite being a mature 30 year old adult threw such irrational, stubborn hissy fits that Steven wasn't the only one not understanding what the hell was up.

The highlight of the novel were definitely the scenes about Steven's parenting and Matt's cute one liners:

"Is she anybody's mommy?" Matt wanted to know.
Steven swallowed. Just when he thought he has a handle on the single-dad thing, the kid would throw him a curve. "I don't know, Tex," he answered. "Why do you ask?"
"I like her," Matt said. Simple as that. I like her. "I like the way she smiles, and the way she smells."
Me too, Steven thought. "She seems nice enough."
"So if she's not already somebody's mommy, she might want to be mine," Matt speculated.
Steven's eyes burned. How was he supposed to answer that one?
"And she's going to make a parade," Matt enthused.

"I want Dad to marry Melissa," Matt said with so much enthusiasm that more people than just his grandparents heard the statement and turned to grin as they registered it. "But I'm not getting anywhere with it."

Matt mumbled something as Steven set him in the car seat and began buckling him in but, true to form, he didn't wake up.
"He's terrific," she said softly.
"I agree," Steven told her, after Matt was secured. They stood facing each other now, on that darkened sidewalk. "Of course it would be a real plus if he'd stop proposing to women." 

My other main problem despite the romance lacking credibility and gradual progress was that although A Creed in Stone Creek is the first book in Linda Lael Miller's new Creed Cowboys contemporary western romance trilogy, it is too interwoven with her previous novels. I had a hard time reading and following the plot as a standalone. This I bet is something longtime fans might enjoy, but as a newbie Linda Lael Miller reader I was lost with the constant name dropping of dozens of secondary characters who were mostly just props in this story. Those who have read Linda Lael Miller's previous novels might have been familiar characters, but I just felt like the new kid at school exluded from the happenings because the characters just kept to themselves and closed their ranks.

Besides my feeling left out I also felt confused a couple of times when some characters were first mentioned this way, then a couple of sentences later differently, see for yourself:
"Looks like Tanner and Olivia are here," Tessa said, with obvious relief.
Melissa had gotten out of Steven's rig to speak to them. The two women were embracing, while Tanner took the stairs two at a time.
Steven nodded to him and stepped back and Quinn pulled Tessa in for a quick brotherly hug.
It took me two re-reads to realize that Quinn and Tanner were the very same person since there was noone else on the porch besides Tessa and Steven... But don't ask me why he has two names, it is never mentioned in the novel whether one of them is his surname or what.

Despite dozens of supporting characters being mentioned I seriously missed being introduced in more details to a few secondary characters, they seemed to act merely as props, which knowing that they had their own novel in the past I can understand, but greatly affected my enjoyment of the novel, since (again) as a new reader I couldn't place these characters.

There is a suspense subplot which in my opinion was completely unnecessary to the story.

Verdict: All in all A Creed in Stone Creek is not a novel I will re-read, but it might be enjoyed more by those who have read Linda Lael Miller's previous series and know already some of the characters.

Plot: 5/10
Characters: 5/10
Ending: 2/10
Writing: 5/10
Cover: 9/10

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