Thursday, October 22, 2015

Healing Montana Sky by Debra Holland

Rating: ★ ★ ☆ ☆ ☆
Obtained from: Netgalley
Read: October 21, 2015

After a grizzly bear kills Antonia Valleau’s trapper husband, she packs her few worldly possessions, leaves her home in the mountains of Montana, and treks to nearby Sweetwater Springs, seeking work to provide for her two young sons. Reeling from the loss of his wife during childbirth, Erik Muth must find a nursing mother for his newborn daughter to survive. For their children’s sake, Erik and Antonia wed, starting a new life together on his farm on the prairie. But it’s no easy union. Antonia misunderstands Erik’s quiet personality. He finds her independence disconcerting. Both hide secrets that challenge their growing intimacy. When Indians steal livestock from farms around Sweetwater Springs to feed their starving tribe, the outraged townsfolk demand retaliation. Erik and Antonia must work together to prevent a massacre. Will a marriage forged in loss blossom into love?

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I'll be the first to admit Debra Holland's Healing Montana Sky isn't my usual fare. Light fiction is well and good, but I personally find it difficult to sink my teeth into. Make of that what you will and take my comments however you see fit.

As far as leading ladies go, Antonia Valleau had a lot going for her. She's a little rough around the edges, but I thought her position and perspective intriguing. Unfortunately, the character's dialogue drove me up the wall.

"I won’t be breakin’ down. For the sake of my children, I must be strong."

"Should I be takin’ the boys and leave? Head for Sweetwater Springs?"

"No! I won’t be leavin’ Jean-Claude. Cain’t leave my home."

I get what Holland was doing and I appreciate the idea, but as a reader, I found the speech patterns the Holland employed to illustrate Antonia's lack of education both cumbersome and distracting. I groaned in annoyance on more than one occasion and that frustration definitely colored my impressions of the novel. 

Moving on, I found very little to appreciate in Erik Muth. Forgive me, but the man lacked both charm and intensity. I couldn't picture him managing a Montana homestead with ease, but I'll get back to that in a minute. The point I'm trying to make is he didn't feel authentic and that made the relationship he shared with Antonia difficult to substantiate and his lifestyle impossible to believe.

Atmospherically, this novel does no justice to Montana. It's a romance and I didn't expect much, but the story could take place almost anywhere and it wouldn't change a thing. It's a shame really, my home state has a lot to offer and in the right hands could be a breathtaking backdrop, but Holland dropped the ball. She utterly ignores the natural beauty of the state and the character of its inhabitants.

Healing Montana Sky is clean literature and slow paced. The themes are a little too soft for my tastes, the story too predictable and the structure too simplistic. There's nothing inherently wrong with the book, but it didn't speak to my interests and I'd have a tough time recommending it forward. 

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Seeing Erik’s obvious care for them—his need to reassure himself of each family member’s well-being—touched something inside Antonia, melting the edges of the ice she’d carried in her chest since Jean-Claude’s death. We be formin’ a connection—a blessin’ blown in on the winds of a storm.
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