Kimani, $6.50, ISBN 978-0-373-86353-2
Contemporary Romance, 2014
Dara Girard’s Engaging Brooke is the second book in the multi-author series The Browards of Montana. This one can stand alone, though – just know that the series all revolve around the lives of the Broward siblings as they try very hard to cram every series romance cliché into their kitchen sinks.
Jameson Broward is not pleased with his brother Wes after the events towards the end of the previous book, Jacquelin Thomas’s Wrangling Wes. He always feels that he’s the one with the biggest affinity to the land, and therefore, he’s pretty annoyed with Wes at that moment.
Oh, and ten years ago, his girlfriend Meredith went to college and called back to say that she’d found someone else. Overhearing another girlfriend talking about how she wanted Wes but was willing to settle for Jameson because of the Broward family fortune was the last straw. Now Jameson claims that “women weren’t for him”. Not that he’s now into cattle and this story is about his love story with Bessie the cow – according to my search on Google, bestiality is legal in Montana, so don’t snicker – he’s into another kind of cow: the heroine Brooke Palmer, Meredith’s younger sister.
Brooke has always loved Jameson and she doesn’t understand why Meredith is so heartless and selfish and dumb as to want to leave the town instead of staying in and becoming a full time baby maker for Jameson. I never like stories that pit one sister against another, and here, there is a very unfortunate implication in how Meredith is portrayed as self-absorbed, greedy, and morally deficient just because she wanted to leave the town while Jameson stubbornly refused to move an inch. It’s like a guy is entitled to have his affections reciprocated and the woman must push all her own wants and ambitions aside to make him happy – any woman who disagrees is selfish and horrible like Meredith. Perhaps it’s a good thing, then, that Brooke doesn’t seem to have any wants and ambitions other than to be Mrs Jameson Broward.
She gets her chance when her late father’s will insists that she marries within the month or she’d lose her share of the family ranch. Worse, her sister, Meredith, who is now with husband number two, automatically gets half the ranch due to her marital status, while Brooke’s share of the ranch would go to the supervisor who would then sell the share to Meredith. Meredith would then get the whole ranch and sell it to the very person who is on Jameson’s black list at the moment. Jameson is initially reluctant to marry Brooke, but he’d be damned if he lets that person buy over the whole place. (The Browards are very hostile at the idea of people selling out to newcomers, which I find odd considering that they are the ones who still continue to draw the moneyed tourists in to stay at their famous inn and show those moneyed people how wonderful life can be in this fantasy version of Montana.) So okay, they will get married.
Only, soon Jameson realizes that every time, Brooke makes his trumpets go pom-pom-pom. Oh, but can he learn to trust a woman after that traumatic experience of being jilted only once, ten years ago? Can Brooke prove to him that she’s not like all the other women in this world – her only desire in life is to be his wife, prized cow, and love slave all at once?
Engaging Brooke starts out awful. It’s like following the author as she lifelessly ticks off items on the “Why Kimani is Just Like Harlequin Presents, Only with Black People” checklist: horrible portrayal of women who aren’t the cheerleaders of the heroine, blatant double standards where the very things portrayed as a severe negative in women are celebrated as part of a man’s virility, flat one-dimensional characters stuck in a horribly contrived plot. To give the author credit, she is pretty open about the will being an awful and manipulative thing that Brooke’s father pulled off, and nobody is happy about it even if it’s a plot device to get Jameson to get together with Brooke. So why even come up with such a plot? May as well have Jameson buys Brooke during a cattle show or something, considering how this story considers Brooke less than a whole person until she gets married to a man.
However, something strange then happens: the story becomes very readable once Brooke and Jameson get married, and the trumpets really go pom-pom-pom all over the place. These two start talking and interacting in ways that suggest that they may just happen to be a little bit human after all that cliché overload in the first half of the book. The characters are still a bit flat by then, but the awkwardly inserted double standards and misogyny mostly disappear, leaving behind a story that is more readable than I’d have expected at first. By the last page, I actually think these two would be alright. If Dara Girard would just tell a story naturally, instead of forcing it to go through unnatural contortions to meet the misogyny and double standard quota of the Kimani line, she may end up serving something nice one day.
I would give the later half of Engaging Brooke four oogies, but the awful first half would earn only two oogies from. Round that up, and Engaging Brooke ends up being an average book with a very average rating of three oogies.