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.

On Turpentine Lane by Elinor Lipman (2017)

On Turpentine Lane was a sweet, quirky novel with a bit of a “chick-lit” air about it, that I enjoyed on a lazy weekend afternoon. The novel follows Faith Frankel through several months of her unconventional, and at times very funny, life. A former New York City urbanite, Faith has recently moved back to her home town and taken a job at her old high school. Her boyfriend’s selfishness and free-loading nature comes to light after he borrows money and sets of on a cross-country trip to “find himself.” Feeling unsettled in a cramped apartment with a boyfriend gone for an indefinite period, Faith buys a crumbling, ancient cottage in town on a whim.

Almost immediately the house’s past begins to haunt Faith, when rumors of multiple suspicious deaths come to light causing her great unease. When an album with pictures of dead infants in it is found in the attic, Faith asks Nick, a male colleague, to move in so she has a roommate to keep her fears at bay. Soon a romance blossoms between Faith and Nick and the two team up with her wacky family to play amateur detective and learn what really happened in the house and who was to blame.

In the end, a house that had been very, very unlucky for its previous tenants proves to be filled with only good luck for Faith, Nick, and her entire family.

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.

Attachments by Rainbow Rowell (2011)

I spent a windy, icy Sunday afternoon re-reading Attachments by Rainbow Rowell. Upon finishing, I decided that this book is one of my favorite love stories: funny, touching, and romantic in equal measure. I dare you not to fall in love with Beth and Lincoln!

Attachments Cover

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Originally posted on May 14, 2016:

This is the fifth Rainbow Rowell book I have finished in less than two weeks. I think it is possible that I have moved from a fan of her work to a super-fan; a title I will proudly embrace. Since I have reviewed all of her books on this blog, I am giving her her own tag “Rainbow Rowell” so that other fans of her work can find all of my posts in one place. (Note: I purposely decided not to separate out her adult novels from her young adult novels since — speaking as the mother of a teenager — I believe them to be mild enough for teen audiences.)

Attachments is the story told from the point of view of Lincoln, a twenty-something man in Nebraska living in 1999, who is deeply lonely and unable to find a path to happiness. After weathering a staggering heartbreak in college, Lincoln largely closed off from socializing, choosing to focus on school and work. After finishing grad school, he moved home to live with his mother (a delightfully funny hippie) and slowly let go of the things in life that gave him happiness: friends, dating, sports…in short, fun.

It is only after taking a job at a newspaper office that has just upgraded its staff to computers that Lincoln’s life slowly starts to open up. Night after night, Lincoln comes to work well after the reporters are gone in order to read all of their email and report to the boss who is misusing their work-site internet access. Without having to build relationships with his actual colleagues, Lincoln is able to build fictional ones with them; coming to know them through their emails and web searches.

It is the close relationship between two female employees at the paper that most intrigues Lincoln and, even well past the point of propriety, he finds himself drawn to their email conversations. Lincoln comes to “know” Jennifer and Beth as funny, loving, kind women and he comes to learn of their most intimate moments: loves, losses, and heartbreaks while never once even seeing their faces. He longs to meet them, but feels trapped. Getting to know them after reading their emails for almost a year, he argues to  himself, would be starting out their friendship with a huge lie: like making money “off insider trading tips.” So he witnesses their friendship from afar and soon realizes that he is in love with Beth. And then, the magic starts!

What follows are a beautiful, if nontraditional, love story where the universe (or at least, the Internet) brings two people together who might have otherwise worked side-by-side without ever knowing one another.

Attachments is classified as a romance novel, but I feel that perhaps it is better categorized as a rom-com. Although the book is undoubtedly a love story, one of its most charming characteristics is its delightful sense of humor; and its quirky male narrator, Lincoln. In addition to being distinguished by its humor, the friendship/love story between Beth and Jennifer, which is central to the book, also lends more heartwarming appeal to what is already a unique and lovely novel.

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.

Maybe Next Time by Jennifer Crusie (2010)

I picked up this romance novel at the library thinking, based on its cover, that it was Valentine’s Day themed. While it was a delightfully lively and romantic story, I had the wrong holiday…this novel takes place in a haunted house near Halloween and has almost as many characters who are ghosts as who are human. Whatever the holiday, it was a fun, fast read for those who love a good “finally ever after” story.

maybe-next-time-cover

Andromeda “Andie” Miller walks into her workaholic ex-husband’s office one afternoon to return his alimony checks and make a clean break from him so she can marry her fiance with no baggage. To her shock her ex-husband, North Archer, offers her a $10,000 a month job helping to care for two children who recently were made his guardians. The children live in a remote village in a derelict house cared for only by an aging housekeeper. Reasoning that she can use the money to pay off her debts and pay for her new wedding she accepts.

Andie arrives to find the situation is far worse that she could have imagined. The house is close to uninhabitable; the housekeeper is a scary saboteur; and the the two children, Alice and Carter, neglected to the point of illness and resistant to any changes. The biggest shock to Andie, however, is not finding out that the house is haunted by malevolent ghosts who the children believe are violent… but finding out that she believes the children.

The situation with the children requires that Andie and her ex-husband must become closer than they have been in ten years in order to best care for the kids, which stirs up strong emotions for them both. Soon the stress of caring for the kids and the terror the haunted house begin to wear on her, and every night she dreams of North and the love they lost.

Alice and Carter, despite their resistance to Andie’s changes, begin to mean more to Andie than she could ever has imagined and she becomes frantic to get them out of the house where ghosts threaten their mental and physical well-being. The ghosts, however, begin to put up a fight to keep the children and Andie must call on not just her ex-husband, but her extended family and cast of goofy ghost-hunters.

The result is a heart-warming story about love — between Andie and North, but also between Andie and the children she comes to think of as her own — with a good dose of humor and a bit of a spooky ghost story mixed in for good measure.

Landline by Rainbow Rowell (2014)

I just spent the most delicious afternoon curled up on the couch re-reading Landline by Rainbow Rowell. I loved this book the first time I read it and I think I loved it even more the second time around. Touching, funny, honest, and unique…it is filled with all the elements that make a great story, all brought to life by a truly wonderful writer.

Enjoy!

Originally posted May 5, 2016+++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++

“Things did not go bad for Georgie and Neal. Things were always bad and good. Their marriage was like a set of scales constantly balancing itself. And then, at some point, when neither of them was paying attention, they’d tipped so far over into bad they’d settled there. If Georgie could talk to herself in the past, before the scales had tipped, what would she say? Love him more.”

Landline is the story of a marriage between Georgie and Neal from its first, heady moments upon meeting in college (“Neal didn’t take Georgie’s breath away, but the opposite, he filled her lungs with air”) until the moments right before Christmas 2013 when their marriage appears to be ending.

Georgie is a headstrong, outspoken comedian and writer who wholeheartedly pursues Neal from the very first, “she had added Neal to this list of things she wanted and needed and was bound to have someday. Georgie had decided, cocksure, that Neal was what she needed to be happy.” Neal is a soft-spoken, Midwestern boy, unclear of what the future had in store for him, a boy in love with Georgie and willing to make her dreams his own without any thought to what that would mean in the future.

And so their life begins, Georgie charging forward toward the life that she wants — working and writing for television in LA — and Neal, aimless and in love, along for whatever ride Georgie took him on. “Georgie had tied Neal to her so tight…because she wanted him, because he was perfect for her, even if she was not perfect for him. Because she wanted him more than she wanted him to be happy.” As the years pass, Georgie needs more from Neal (to care for the house, to raise their daughters, to smooth out her sadness and failures) and needs Neal, as a partner, less and less. She has ignored his growing unhappiness, his sadness at always having to take a backseat to her goals and dreams, and hoped that his love for her would be enough to keep the marriage together.

Finally, Neal has had enough and tells Georgie that this time she will have to choose Christmas with the family or work, that he will not cancel the holiday and disappoint loved ones to accommodate her work schedule. Georgie choose work, Neal goes. Only hours later does she begin to realize that Neal might have left forever. Frantic at their miscommunication, she tries repeatedly to get in touch with Neal on his cell but no calls or texts will go through. Only when she calls on her mother’s landline to his mother’s landline can she reach him…and when she does it is not the Neal of 2013 that she reaches, but Neal circa 1998, the Christmas before they married.

Fearing a nervous breakdown Georgie ends the call and tries to ignore the rising terror she feels at not being to get in touch with Neal. These fears force her to really look at the past fifteen years — really look, no rose colored glasses, no “I’ll deal with this another day” — to see if she can find what went wrong. As the days pass, the only version of Neal she can reach on the phone is the one from 1998, so she engages him as best she can in a dialogue about their marriage. A marriage she is desperate not to let go of, and one he does not know yet exists. In Georgie’s darkest moments, she has to admit to 1998 Neal that choosing to marry her will make him happy at times but also very, very unhappy at others. Present day “Neal was not happy or unhappy…he never pushed or pulled, but he was pissed, resentful, tired, bitter and lost.” Georgie had allowed him to be so, “because she had come to need Neal, he had become like air to her” and she would not let him go, even if it was best for him.

What follows is an amazingly unique and magical story of one woman’s attempt to examine the past and present of her marriage to determine whether or not clinging to Neal, circa 2013, is what is best for him. She must confront her own selfishness, her demons about whether she worthy of love, her fear of abandonment, and what is means to be in marriage that is truly a partnership. Georgie realizes that she has allowed the everyday to obscure the magical parts of her marriage; she has allowed Neal’s unhappiness to stretch too far, allowed too many to go unsaid…and now she must face the truth, have they strayed too far from loving one another to recover?

Georgie comes to realize that her marriage is not a place she and her husband reside, but a connection they have forged to one another through seventeen years of love and commitment. “You can’t know what it means, really, to crawl into someone’s else’s life and stay there. You can’t see all the ways you’re going to get tangled, how you’re going to bond skin to skin. When Georgie thought of divorcing Neal, she imagined them on two operating tables with a team of doctors trying to unthread their vascular systems.”

Astonishingly touching and so, so tender, this is a novel that I felt deeply moved by…not only for Rowell’s wonderful characters, not only for the magic she weaves into the book with skill and humor, but also for the wonderful examination of love and marriage. As a woman who met her husband in college in 1998, I cannot but feel drawn to her story  because Georgie and I share the same cultural frame of reference. In fact, she specifically mentions the first movie my husband and I ever watched together, Life is Beautiful….not to mention umpteen CD’s I also had and shows I watched and loved. Far more importantly, this story touches me because it reminds of what a beautiful, amazing gift a marriage filled with love is and how important it is for us to nurture and care for it so it can thrive.

swatch-phone

My first ever landline phone — and perhaps my favorite! — my Swatch Watch Double Talk phone!