Published in the early nineties, the book’s narration has an old-school feel since Ms. Bittner refrains from using third person limited, and does a wee bit of telling instead of showing. Still, her writing holds up, along with the story and characters, otherwise I wouldn’t recommend this novel, or bother re-reading it for the bazillionth time. As a matter of fact, I love this story so much that I purchased two copies (my dog ate the first one and the second I bought right from the author, which she kindly autographed).
The widow Marybeth MacKinder has no choice but to travel from New York to Oregon with her in-laws. A single mother, she has nobody to look after her child if she decides to stay behind, because she’ll have to work in order to support herself and baby Danny. Plus, there isn’t a chance in hell her abusive in-laws will allow a mere woman to dare leave their family.
Warning: There be spoilers below.
MacKinder law rules with an iron fist—literally—in this household. Women have two sole purposes in life: make the bed and make it in the bed, according to Murray, the patriarch of the family. Murray has passed on, since their births, his philosophy to his sons, John and the deceased Dan. Big, burly men with meaty fists, nobody dares to challenge a MacKinder.
With Ella (matriarch) and a family friend called Bill Stone, the family begins their trek to St. Louis to hook up with a wagon train that will take them to Oregon. A skittish Marybeth is in awe of the land, having only known her beloved Ireland and New York.
When the family stops in Independence, Marybeth encounters Joshua Rivers for the first time by accidently bumping into him. Used to the MacKinder tongue-lashing over the past five years when daring to make a mistake, Marybeth is flustered and waiting for Joshua to tear her ear off, but he doesn’t. He’s kind and curious, asking about her baby. This confuses Marybeth even more. Don’t all men view women as sexual slaves and maids?
Ms. Bittner does a wonderful job with character growth. She delves deep into the portrayal of an abused woman who spent her first fifteen years working hard, but knowing love and security through her parents’ gentle hands. After their deaths, she is left without a choice but to marry Dan MacKinder or starve. The dramatic change in Marybeth’s life is well fleshed out in the first chapter. You see a woman longing for something better, but has no idea how to get away. There’s also confusion. A fifteen-year-old bride, the only men she’s known are the MacKinders. Ella doesn’t help matters by telling Marybeth all men are the same.
GMC is well executed. Marybeth longs to be free of the MacKinders, but the MacKinders—especially John—are adamant that she stay in the family and marry the cruel and bullying John who is obsessed with her. As Murray says, “My grandchild is all I got left of my deceased son. Where we go, he goes.”
On the trail, these brute men intimidate everyone, except Joshua Rivers, who has allies in Cap, the leader of the train, and Devon, a guide. Two families rally around Marybeth, offering support, but the men folk are leery of the MacKinders making trouble.
Even though their attraction is ten-fold, Joshua’s goal is to help Marybeth break free from her in-laws, whether she wants to be his bride or not. John suspects the two have feelings for each other, and tells a wary Marybeth he’ll kill Joshua if he has to in order to call her his wife.
The tragedies that the group encounters along the way are realistic and heartbreaking. Ms. Bittner’s use of setting and historical accuracy blends seamlessly into the tale.
Each character, besides the MCs are three dimensional and likeable. Cap’s been guiding wagon trains west for a long time. He’s a simple man, but firm with his hand when addressing the group he leads, for he knows one moment of laxation could spell trouble. Keeping law and order in a wild land is a must.
Devon’s presence is so strong that he deserves a romance novel. Ms. Bittner gives us mystery, strength, physical attractiveness, skill, and courage in this man.
The Gentrys and Svenssons, who befriend Marybeth, are kind, helpful people who are also struck by many tragedies on the trail.
Then there are the three MacKinders. One of my favourites in this book is Ella. What a sad life for a woman who started out with such promise, only to lose it all when being handed over to Murray by her family. As a reader, I felt for her, could understand her bitterness, and wished a happy ending for her, maybe living with Marybeth and Joshua in Oregon, helping her daughter-in-law look after the kids, and then meeting a kind gentleman at church. But this doesn’t happen. Her death is as tragic as the life she lived under Murray’s thumb. Disappointed? Yes. But I did admire the author’s plot for Ella because not everybody has a happy ending in life. Quite realistic. Another reason why I love Bittner romances so much.
As for Murray and John, they are true products of learned behaviour. While Murray and Dan are just big bullies, John is ten times worse. Some might find him over the top, but I didn’t. Everything he did was in character. Goodness, even Bill Stone turned against him.
When I look back at what I wrote, I’m surprised something didn’t get lost in the shuffle with so much going on. But Ms. Bittner pulls it off, using external and internal conflict, secondary characters who complement the story without overshadowing the hero and heroine, character growth, and unforeseen tragedies that force the MCs to make hasty but smart decisions.
Even if you aren’t a historical fan, you’ll still be sucked into the novel. What are you waiting for? Head to an online bookstore and purchase Oregon Bride for yourself. Or do as I did and ask Ms. Bittner if she has a copy on hand you can buy.