|Set in Alouette in the Upper Peninsula of Michigan, A Ready-Made Family is a heartwarming tale that borders on the sentimental but ultimately is an enjoyable story of second chances.
Lia Howard Pogue is on the run with her kids. She has a mentally abusive ex-husband who keeps threatening to sue her for full custody. She is just starting to get on her feet and is almost out of money from fighting him for everything in their divorce. She takes 14-year-old Samantha, 10-year-old Howie and 4-year-old Kirsten and heads for the U.P. where she has a friend, Rose Robbin. Liaís goal is to re-establish herself and provide her kids with some stability rather than fear of their father. She has a car about ready to die and less than $20 to her name, but she is determined.
Upon arrival, Lia realizes she missed Roseís wedding by one day and finds herself stranded at the small hotel Roseís family owns with Jake, Roseís ex-Ranger brother. Jake takes her in and they agree to let her rent a cottage in exchange for cleaning services. Lia spends the first day hunting for a job and ends up at the local ice cream shack. It isnít a lot, but it is a paycheck. Lia is scared because she knows once Larry, her ex, knows she is gone, he will hunt her down and may even report her to the police. But her life needs to change and she knows her kids need to be away and have time to grow up without the fear of the belittling and game playing that Larry uses to control everyone around him.
Jake, meanwhile is retired from the Rangers and is just trying to figure out what he is going to do with his life. His father, who was big, blustery and an alcoholic, left his mark on Jake. His mother is ill and demands a lot of attention. He is deciding if he wants to take over the motel and fix it up for tourists. When Lia comes into his life, he starts to see a future, including how good it might feel to have a ready-made family.
The story moves on the characters. There is always Liaís fear of being discovered. She and Jake form an alliance, albeit a reserved one. Samantha provides the majority of the conflict with her rebellious teenage ways. The other two kids seemed starved for attention and love, even though Lia lavishes it on them. Jake and Lia tiptoe around each other. There are moments when they connect, but it is not really sexual tension, it is more like just establishing a relationship. This is romantic at times, but it is hard to say it is fully engaging. It just feels tepid.
Lia works to build up her self-esteem and her willingness to see herself and what she needs to do is heartening. Jake is macho yet has a sweet side. Both have potential to be larger than life. The author leaves that reality to the readerís imagination rather than fully develop them as the hero and heroine.
This lack of fulfillment leaves the story as an enjoyable one overall but not as a novel one can sink your teeth into. The final confrontation is less than one might expect and almost seems contrived followed by a rather sentimental ending. This doesnít exactly lesson the enjoyment; it just puts a period to the story rather than an exclamation point.