Saturday, November 10, 2007

Take Me Home, Country Roads...

One of my least favorite romance storylines is the one where the city girl ends up in the country, learns the value of hard work and country ways, and gives end her materialistic life to be a rancher's wife or something. I often find it heavy handed and hokey, which is weird because I love it on tv, and I often entertain fantasies of moving to the middle of nowhere. But Robyn Carr's Virgin River trilogy had been given high marks by some bloggers I respect, and I had picked up the books at the library for $1.50. Needing a change of pace I decided to give it a go.

Melinda Monroe, an L.A. nurse practioner/certified nurse midwife, impulsively accepts a job in the small town of Virgin River, California. She is looking for an escape after suffering the tragic loss of her husband. Virgin River begins with some stuff right out of Northern Exposure: Mel drives off the muddy road, and gets rescued by an crotchety old man who turns out to be the doctor she was hired to assist. He takes her to her disgusting cabin, where she promptly falls through the porch and back into the mud. Quickly realizing that this was a colossal mistake, she ends up at the local bar and grill, owned by a gorgeous ex-Marine, and finds out that the old Doc didn't want her around, anyway. The next morning, planning to make a quick exit, Mel literally stumbles over a newborn baby girl on the doctor's doorstep. Her calling won't allow her to leave an abandoned child. And thus, Mel's plans slowly start to change as she finds a new beginning in Virgin River.

This book started off well enough. I knew what was going to happen: Mel would fall in love with the eccentric residents of the town, with country medicine and with the ex-Marine, Jack Sheridan. I liked everything, but my attention started to flag, as it has been lately. I even put it down for a couple of days. Yesterday I decided to give it one more chance while waiting in the OT office for my son. And I became completely engrossed and polished off the book in a matter of hours. When I finished, I sighed, popped a cold one in honor of the bar setting, and opened up the next book, Shelter Mountain. I read Shelter Mountain into the wee hours of the night, so engrossed with these characters was I, and finishing it earlier this afternoon. Later this evening I will probably begin Whispering Rock. I need the closure!

I really fell in love with the characters in Virgin River. The characterization was very strong in this book, the setting very vivid. But what really stood out to me was the way Carr focused on the internal conflicts of the heroine and hero. Mel fears that she will never get past her grief and love again. As her relationship with Jack develops, she feels almost as though she is betraying her husband, as well as fearing losing someone again. Jack was a lovely hero, a strong and steady type. He had always been married to the Marines, so when he falls like a ton of bricks for Mel, it takes him by surprise. But he fears he will always come second in her heart. It was sexy, romantic, moving and emotional and no big misunderstandings or contrivances. Just a troubled soul finding home and love again. A B+.

I was intrigued by Jack's Marine buddy and bar cook, Preacher, so I dove into his story, Shelter Mountain, right away. Preacher is a big, scary looking guy who keeps to himself. Late one rainy night as Preacher is closing up, Paige Lassiter comes into the bar with her son Christopher. Right away, he can tell she's in trouble (the split lip and black eye being a clue), and he feels driven to help. Preacher is a really shy guy, who has always hung back because people find his looks intimidating. But as he gets involved with Paige and Christopher, and falls in love, it gives him a new confidence and purpose. In Virgin River, Paige finally begins to feel safe from her abusive husband. She gets back her confidence as well, and can't help but fall in love with Preacher, who loves and accepts her in a way she has never experienced. Unfortunately, abusive men are not easy to get rid of.

AAAAAAA!! I liked this one even better than Virgin River. It deals unflinchingly with domestic abuse, and it put me through the wringer. I have to admit I cried several times, not only with the main plot, but with subplots as well (Ricky and Liz, Mel and Jack). I am definitely emotionally involved with these characters :) Preacher was great, and I really loved seeing these two people, so isolated for very different reasons, bring each other to life.

I'm looking forward to Whispering Rock, although I'm not enamored of Mike Valenzuela (the hero), because I want to find out what happens next. There are a couple of characters who keep recurring, and I'm curious to see if they get some closure (the pot dealer guy, and Cheryl the drunk). These books have taken me out of my reading slump, and I would definitely recommend them to anybody interested in a character driven contemporary. Not a vampire, demon or secret agent in sight.


lisabea said...

I can't believe you said "popped open a cold one". I just put up that post with "crack open a cold one, ladies".

Spooky. Scary.

I wonder if my little library has these? I desperately need a change of pace.

Chantal said...

I have this series in my TBR. I'm going to start the first book shortly.

Great review!

Anonymous said...

I tend to agree that this kind of thing isn't normally my favorite. But the way you described these books, particularly the second, they seem like fun, and hopefully free from tons of wacky hijinks?

Devon said...

lisabea--It's eerie. Between that the Men of August, Max & Gina, Colin Ames-Beaumont and Vishous, I'm starting to think we have a book psychic connection.

Shannon C. and Chantal--I hope you guys enjoy. Very different from what I usually go for, but a satisfying and refreshing change from increasingly mediocre paranormals and "erotic" romance.

lisabea said...

Yea. Time for you to let me into your library cuz, DAMN,I got nothin to read.


Kate Diamond said...

Devon said: "One of my least favorite romance storylines is the one where the city girl ends up in the country, learns the value of hard work and country ways, and gives end her materialistic life to be a rancher's wife or something."

To add to that: the storylines where the small-town girl makes good in the big city but finds absolutely no fulfillment. Oh, if only she'd ignored the siren song of book learnin' and just stayed at home with that beloved boy from high school!

Don't get me wrong. I love coming home/second chance novels, but there's a fine line. You know what I mean?

Devon said...

Ha, Kate D, exactly! I do enjoy these types of stories as a guilty pleasure/fantasy type thing, but so often that message seems to be at heart. City=bad news. Country,home, and hearth=path to happiness. Like I said, I entertain moving to the country fantasies, but this storyline is an eyeroller.

Ann Aguirre said...

I bought all three of these. I haven't been able to bring myself to read the third one. I liked the second one better than the first, but I just don't think I can read the third. See, I'm actually married to a Mexican man, and the way Robyn Carr writes in Miquel "Mike"'s POV works my last nerve.

"They had to shave some of his thick black Mexican-American hair..."

Uhm, hello, to a person who's Mexican, he doesn't go around thinking about his "Mexican" hair or his powerful Latino charm. It just doesn't work that way, no more than I look in the mirror and think, "Wow, I have such fine, straight Caucasian tresses!"

So I just don't think I can read book three, not when Mike is the hero. I'll tear out my Caucasian hair.

Devon said...

To be honest I haven't been able to bring myself to read it either. She did go overboard with the Latino turned me off of him. I'll read it at some point when the mood hits, I'm sure.

I liked the Second the best too!

Ann Aguirre said...

True story: I was sitting on the couch with my husband, Andres, while he watched some Kung Fu movie, subtitled in Spanish. I was reading Robyn Carr. I didn't realize it, but I was huffing and sighing, and tapping the book in my agitation.

Finally Andres asks, "What's wrong?"

I wordlessly hand him the book and let him read the bit about how Miguel ruined his marriage in typical Latino fashion or something like that, and he asks, "Is this satire?"

I had to say, "I'm afraid not."

Devon said...

I was kind of turned off by a hero who seems to be a serial cheater. Chalking it up to being Latino makes me squirm.

I remember at one point he was like, playing flamenco guitar, and thinking about his enormous Mexican family coming to visit him in the hospital, and (horrible but true), I thought "Did they all pile into a brokendown Chevy Impala to come visit?" It brought to mind "Mind of Mencia."

I'm hoping it's good, though.

Ann Aguirre said...

This reminds me of the time that I had a book rejected by a publisher because the heroine wasn't "Latina" enough. By which I can only assume they meant, she didn't embody enough stereotypes. The whole "let's use race to define a character" thing irks me because it says that people of varying races enjoy no variety.

You can't have a black stockbroker. You can't have a white gangster (because they're all respectable, right?) You can't have a Mexican chef in a five star restaurant. It's lazy and it's lame. People are so much more than the sum of their ethnic genome. They are a product of nurture and environment as well.

Devon said...

Sigh, not "Latina" enough. I hate that kind of stuff. It's narrow and lazy.