Come Sundown by Nora Roberts (2017)

As I have mentioned many, many times on this blog, I have been a fan of Nora Roberts ever since I discovered her as a teenager and I have read (although it seems unbelievable) every book — more than 200 — she has every written. It is safe to say I am a super-fan. However, in the past two years, I have been disappointed by Roberts’ books. They have lacked energy, felt recycled, and I have had to work hard to finish some of them.

I am so happy to report that Come Sundown feels like a return to Robert’s best style of writing. This book contains all of the elements that make her works best-sellers: in Come Sundown readers find a missing person story, a murder mystery, and a series of steamy romances, all of which unfold against the stunning back-drop of rural Montana. Altogether, these elements make for a story that is equal parts exciting and terrifying…and altogether enjoyable.

In this novel, our main character is Bodine Longbow, the sexy and ultra-competent CEO of a luxury resort and ranch in Montana, which is run by her extended family. Her family is tight-knit and fiercely loving, but scarred by the disappearance of Bodine’s aunt Alice almost 25 years prior.

All at once, Bodine’s world is rocked when girlhood crush, Callen, returns to work on the ranch at the same time an employee of the ranch is found murdered. Shocked at the brutal crime, the community at the ranch tries to pull together but mistrust and suspicions run wild. Bodine’s family finds that the murder of the employee, and then the second murder of a local girl a few weeks later, stirs up their sadness and anger over her aunt Alice’s disappearance all those years ago.

Soon, Bodine is managing the ranch, a hot romance with Callen, and the growing unease that the killer has not been caught. She is a smart woman, more than up for the challenges that life throws at her, even when they grow more and more deadly.

Overall, a return to Nora Roberts at her best; perfect for a pool-side read.

Echoes In Death JD Robb (2017)

For an introduction to the In Death series, see this post https://ivejustfinishedreading.wordpress.com/2015/10/18/in-death/

For a review of the In Death book that proceeded Echoes in Death in the series, view this post https://ivejustfinishedreading.wordpress.com/2016/10/14/apprentice-in-death-by-jd-robb-2016/

echoes in death cover

Echoes in Death, the 44th book in JD Robb’s prolific futuristic, science-fiction murder mystery series, opens with Lt. Eve Dallas and her husband, Roarke, discovering a naked and battered woman wandering the frozen New York City streets. After racing her to the hospital they learn that she is the young wife of a prominent surgeon. Once the hospital staff confirm her identity and concur that the young woman has been the victim of a brutal physical and sexual attack; Dallas and her partner, Peabody, arrive at her home to find her husband has been murdered, presumably by the same attacker as his wife.

On the surface the attacks appear to be a rape/murder perpetrated in the course of a home invasion. All evidence points to that conclusion: the home of a wealthy couple invaded, the couple attacked, and the attacker had left only after stealing artwork, cash, and jewelry. As the wife begins to regain her memories of the evening, and Dallas and Peabody interview friends of the couple, information that suggests that the husband abused his wife (and possibly a previous wife) comes to light and the cops have to work out whether she killed in self-defense or if someone else was involved in an elaborate escape plan.

Two fellow NYPD detectives approach Dallas and Peabody with evidence that links two of their cold cases with her murder investigation and all four detectives agree that the three cases are similar enough that the attacker most likely is a serial rapist who has escalated into murder.

Tracing the intricate relationships between the three cases, the team begin to uncover a pattern: the murderer is targeting prominent, wealthy couples in which the wife is extraordinarily beautiful. Dr. Mira, the department psychiatrist and recurrent character in the series, creates a chilling profile that suggests the killer is attacking “surrogates” who reminds him of someone he has long known and long wanted to harm.

Although this series can be formulaic and repetitive, this book felt reinvigorated and the plot and details kept it feeling fresh and fast paced. A dark series, too dark for those sensitive to graphic murder mysteries, but one that has fought to remain vital after forty+ books.

Thankless in Death by JD Robb (2013)

I was startled to learn that I had missed a book in JD Robb’s In Death series, a series which I have been reading for years. Even though the series is loosing a bit of its appeal after more than 40 books, for loyalty sake, I checked out the missed book, Thankless in Death, and read it yesterday.

An introduction to the series, and a commentary on the series and its author, was written by me and published on this site in 2015.

Devoted in Death is the forty-first book in the Eve Dallas “…in Death” series by prolific writer JD Robb (nom de plume for Nora Roberts, who has written hundreds of additional books under her real name). I have read all of the books in the series, many of them more than once, and always find they are well worth the read. The books are science-fiction murder mysteries set in the 2060’s, following the life and work of NYPD detective Eve Dallas. Despite the futuristic settings and high-tech gadgetry, the books are largely told in the traditional police-procedural style. The stories portray, in graphic detail, the murders committed (often in very dramatic ways) and the minutiae of police work required to solve them.

A moment of commentary here seems in order. I know that serialized books in general are dismissed as overly simplistic and often formulaic. Some readers would say that murder-mystery serials sensationalize crime and gore and sentimentalize the work of the police. Novels such as the In Death series may not be “literature,” but the author never sets out to write a Pulitzer, she sets out to entertain readers. I suggest that there can easily be room in any reader’s book list for novels such as these. It can be tiresome and confining to only read books at the high-end of the literature spectrum. While there is much value in books that demand a lot of their readers, there is also value in books that ask just a little. Books such as the In Death series demand only two things: that we come willing to be entertained (even if we have to suspend disbelief at times) and that, especially when we read serials, we are looking to form deeper connections to story’s main characters.

We meet Eve Dallas in In Death Book One as she is both becoming a NYPD detective and forming relationships with a slew of characters who will appear in most of the following books including: her billionaire lover-turned-husband, her hippy police partner, a savvy news reporter, an orphan turned rock-star, the police department shrink, and many more. My continued love of the series is largely tied up in these relationships, more so than the detective stories (although those are compelling as well). An abused former foster child, Dallas must open her life to welcome in more and more friends and loved ones, something that does not come easy. She must also deal with her unexpected celebrity resulting from both her sensational police work and her marriage. These caring relationships, and the steamy love life she shares with her husband, Roarke, are a nice counterpoint to the otherwise dark material of the books. (Another comment: the fact that her books include romance — and not just sex — is often cited as evidence of their inferiority to similar books written by men.) — Originally posted October 18, 2015

Thankless in Death finds Eve Dallas and her partner Peabody working to solve a double homicide in the days before Thanksgiving 2060. A husband and wife were murdered in what appeared, initially, a home invasion. Discrepancies on the scene do not sit right with Dallas, and she soon suspects that the couple’s adult son is their murderer. Once it becomes clear that her hunch is correct, Dallas and Peabody begin begin to work the case assuming that the son has gone into hiding. They are both shocked and angered when they learn that this was not a one-time crime of passion and the man has not run, but rather he has decided to use his new found “skills” to hunt down and kill everyone against who he has a grudge. Knowing that they are now dealing with a unstable serial killer, Dallas and Peabody are racing the clock to catch him while the try to puzzle out whom he plans to target and in what order.

Thankless in Death also finds Dallas and her husband preparing to host a large family Thanksgiving in their New York home — an event that makes our main character feel panicked and claustrophobic.  After spending most of her adult life dedicating herself to her police work, she still finds it a shock that she has a family that she has married into, and a family of friends and loved ones she has grown. While she feels fiercely protective of her extended family, she still finds it a tremendous challenge to have to welcome them — and their opinions, their drama, their chaos — into her life.  Despite her inclination to cut herself off from others, something she can easily justify since her work as a police detective is all-consuming, it is her husbands insistence that she make time for family and holiday celebrations that, in the end, fill Eve’s heart of love and gratitude.

The Bride Quartet by Nora Roberts

The Bride Quartet books: Vision in White, Bed of Roses, Savor the Moment, and Happy Ever After

After reading and enjoying Maybe Next Time ( http://wp.me/p6N6mT-1Rd ) on Valentine’s Day, I was inspired to re-read four of my favorite romance novels of all time, Nora Robert’s Bride Quartet. I love this series of books: they are fresh, modern, full of humor and friendship, as well as love. At the center of the series are four women: Mackenzie, Emma, Laurel, and Parker, best friends since childhood and present-day business partners, who run the wedding planning company Vows. The books tell the story of the women’s lives through the framework of the weddings they plan and execute; while the partners work to make their clients dreams of love and romance come true on their wedding days; they also work together as friends, supporting one another as each follows her own path toward love and marriage. While the books are full of romance, it is the love and friendship these women share that is the foundation of the series and what makes it so enduring.

Vision in Whitev

In the first book of the series, we meet Mackensie Elliot wedding photographer and one-fourth of the wedding planning company Vows. Mac is a fiery personality who approaches life with gusto, energy, and humor. Devoted to her work and her friends, Mac is happy to record images of romance and love for her clients, but she has no patience for either in her personal life. Love and marriage, she believes, do not last forever and only always end in heartbreak. When she meets the klutzy, nerdy English professor, Dr. Carter Maguire she agrees to a causal relationship. Unsure of himself but desperately in love, Carter sets out (with the help of his bumbling co-worker) to help Mac get over her fears and let him win her heart.

Bed of Roses bed-of-roses

Book two in the series centers of Emma Grant, the florist for Vows, and the most unabashedly romantic of the quartet. When she envisions her future, Emma dreams of love, marriage, babies, and endless years of romance and passion. As a result, she is always dating a string of men, reasoning that she won’t ever meet Mr. Right if she is not out there searching.  Love finds her in a most unexpected place, the arms of her long-time friend Jack Cooke. Jack, dazzled by Emma’s beauty and sweetness, is happy to have some fun, but he bristles at commitment and works hard to keep Emma at an emotional distance. Jack reasons this will protect Emma’s heart when he moves on, in reality all it does is drive Emma away and force him to confront what he wants for his future…and whether it includes Emma.

Savor the Moment savor-the-moment

Laurel McBane is the master pastry chef at Vows and considers herself the most low-key and relaxed of the group. While she is happy that two of her best friends have recently found love, she does not see wedding bells in her future. Men, she reasons, are simply too much trouble. When her life-long crush on her business partner Parker’s older brother, Del, resurfaces Laurel feels she must keep her feelings secret to protect her friendship and the business she and her friends have worked so hard to build. Nothing can come of out of a relationship with a man like Del, too out of her league she believes, but it turns out that Del might have other ideas about the two of them getting together.

Happy Ever Afterhappy-ever-after

Parker Brown is the steely, determined, and powerful leader of the Vows team. A wedding planner extraordinaire, Parker is perfect down to the very last detail…in her work and in her life. Impossible to ruffle and deadly to cross, she makes sure that every wedding at Vows comes off flawless and that “her” brides have their every wish come true, without ever revealing how much work goes on behind the scenes to make those wishes come true. Her life is planned to down to the tiniest detail and nothing, she reasons, will get in the way of her successes. Known as icy, emotionless, and too focused for something as trivial as love, everyone is shocked when an edgy outsider, Mal, becomes part of her inner circle, and his rule-breaking and passion breathe new life into Parker’s orderly existence.

Island of Glass by Nora Roberts (2016)

Book #3 in The Guardians trilogy. A review of Book #1 of The Guardians trilogy can be found here: http://wp.me/p6N6mT-2K  (Note: Although I read it, I did not post a review of Book 2.)

cliffs-of-moher-county-clare-ireland

Cliffs of Moher, County Clare, Ireland

 

 

Readers who follow this blog are well aware that I love Nora Roberts. After first discovering her as a teenager, I have been an unabashed fan of her work since then and I have read — although people often doubt me! — every single one of her more than two hundred and seventy-five books. Nora Roberts consistently delivers exactly what I want in a romance novel (or, in the case of her JD Robb books: a science-fiction murder-mystery) and always ties up every single storyline, just in time, with a happy ending.

All that praise aside, I have to admit that I do not like this most recent trilogy. The books have some of the elements of her books that I do love: a steamy romance between two sexy consenting adults; a great supporting cast of characters; an enviously luxurious setting; and a larger story of being on a quest — in this case, to save the world. Somehow, though, the story feels lacking in some indefinable element. After some thought, I have decided that she has written past stories that are similar to these but also better than these and, by comparison, I find The Guardians lacking. Not terrible, not unreadable…but somehow less than her supernatural-fantasy-romance best.

SPOILER ALERT: If you continue to read this post, I might spoil some secrets that are revealed in books one and two. As always, I strongly suggest that you read every book series in order! (Side note: some of this material appeared in my blog review of book #1 http://wp.me/p6N6mT-2K )

Officially classified as a romance, the book actually belongs in the sub-genre of supernatural romance, of which Roberts has written more than a few novels. The story of Stars of Fortune follows six gifted young people — Bran, Sasha, Riley, Sawyer, Doyle, and Annika — who come together to complete an epic quest searching for three priceless jewels, the Stars of Fortune, that have been hidden on earth by three goddesses from a distant world. They must learn to live, search, and fight as a team in the hopes of finding the jewels and of defeating the evil sorceress who is searching for them herself.  All six of the characters are all supernaturally gifted: Riley is a bright archaeologist and a Lycan; Sawyer is a time-traveler; Doyle is a weapons-wielding immortal; Sasha is a seer; Bran is a wizard; and Annika is a mermaid brought to the surface for a short time to help the others.

In Island of Glass, we find our heroes newly arrived at the final destination on their quest: a mansion on the coast of Ireland. Here, surrounded by sumptuous furnishings and gorgeous scenery, they begin the work of locating the last Star of Fortune. Using a combination of ancient texts, excursions to remote parts of Ireland, and magic, the team grows closer and closer to finding the Star. Along the way, they learn that a much deeper magic than simple friendship has linked them together and — of course — the final two characters, Doyle and Riley, fall in love.

Even though I do not always love supernatural and fantasy romance novels, I still have loved some of Robert’s previous books in that genre (see two suggestions below.) This time, however, things just seem super-supernatural, to the point of being silly: distant planets, hidden parallel worlds, everyone a supernatural being, everyone on a life and death quest to save the world; and there is still time for a lot of steamy sex!  Oddly, even with all that going on, there is still quite a bit of the novel dedicated to domesticity. Every time the action slows, there are discussions of who’s doing the dishes and whose turn it is to do the laundry. While I applaud Roberts’s attempt to address the issue of shared work between the men and women, at times it gets to be too much of the plot.

Those criticisms aside: Roberts’s book is populated with likable characters and her signature romantic story-arc is, as always, nice to read. The simple fact is this: she has written similar stories before that make Stars of Fortune seem less than her best.

Among the similar books that Roberts has written, there are several I would recommend in place of Stars of Fortune. If you are in search of supernatural romance, try Three Sisters Island trilogy which follows three witches who must use their powers to stop an dark, menacing presence haunting their beloved island. If you like the idea of a story about six people fated to fight evil together, a better read is the Signs of Seven trilogy which finds a group of six living and working together to defeat the ghost that infects the residents of their town every summer.  If you prefer traditional romances rather than supernatural stories, try The Reef (a stand alone novel) and The Chesapeake Bay Saga (four books told by four male narrators). Reviews of many, many of her books can be found by clicking the Tag “Nora Roberts,” on the right hand side of the main page of this website.

Find a list of all her series, including the ones I mentioned, here http://noraroberts.com/trilogies-and-series/

 

Apprentice in Death by JD Robb (2016)

In Death series, Book #43

Lt. Eve Dallas and her team of cops are back for their forty-third case in Apprentice in Death, this time working to stop a serial killer sniper who shoots the — seemingly random — victims from miles away. Using a combination of police work and a whole lot of hi-tech software and gear, Eve Dallas and her cohort quickly find a link between some of the victims and, from there, begin to narrow in on two possible suspects. Complicating the search, however, is the apparent involvement of a teenager in the crimes. The cops must question whether or not such a young person could be a willing participant in so many killings…or worse, be the primary perpetrator.

This novel, like the forty-two that proceed it in the In Death series, blends futuristic science fiction elements with those of the classic police procedural. Dallas and her team collect evidence at a break-neck pace and in record time have a suspect and a motive. All that is left is for the team to find the perpetrators and bring them to justice.

Although I am a fan of Nora Roberts and JD Robb books, I cannot help but feel that this series is growing just a tiny bit stale. While the cases the author has dreamed up continue to be thought-provoking and exciting, the formulaic way in which the cases are pursued and solved seem very, very familiar. Just as in all her  previous cases, Dallas is able to solve the case and bring it to a close in record time and with little effort. While I understand that part of the charm of book series is their repetitive nature, I cannot help but wish that Robb would bring in some fresh characters, a new locale, or even a harder case for the team to crack.

Whiskey Beach by Nora Roberts (2013)

During the hot, hectic days at the end of summer, when my whole family is transitioning from summer camp and pool days into shopping for school supplies and finishing up summer homework, my life goes into temporary overdrive (A feeling I am sure mothers everywhere knows well. Author Gretchen Rubin calls Back to School time one of the “primary events in the Mommy Olympics.”)

While I am rushing around getting us ready for school, I need to briefly set aside deeply engrossing and heavy novels in lieu of light and easy re-reads. Not unlike the weeks before Christmas, at the end of summer I need books that are easily assimilated into days where I am rushed, exhausted, and constantly interrupted. Enter Whiskey Beach, a well-worn paperback that I have read at least three times and I happily just finished once again. Not unlike a favorite movie, books like Whiskey Beach are an important part of my reading arsenal because they can be started from any page, ended at any point, picked up and put down infinitely, and even fallen asleep in the middle of with nothing missed. Just what the doctor ordered when the temperature is over 100 degrees and the chores and errands seem endless.

In this novel, the best of Robert’s most recent novels (stand alone or otherwise) readers get all of the elements of a great beach read: suspense, murder, scandal, sex and — as a bonus — a search for a lost treasure. Eli Landon is a gorgeous bachelor who has retreated to his family’s beachfront mansion to ride out the scandal associated with his late wife’s murder. While there, he begins a friendship with a sexy neighbor who soon becomes more and together the two of them are drawn into a murder mystery that may or may not center on a centuries-old family legend about a missing treasure.

Sit back, relax, and enjoy the perfect end of summer read, courtesy of one of the best romance writers ever.