Bonnie Marson, “Sleeping with Schubert”

Book design, Casey Hampton; http://www.randomhouse.com/book/108099/sleeping-with-schubert-by-bonnie-marsonLiza Durbin is an otherwise normal woman: she’s an attorney at a competitive, if unimaginative firm; her best friend, Fred, lives close by and is always available for support and laughter; and though her boyfriend, Patrick, is abroad in Italy, Liza feels relatively secure in their relationship. When she’s shopping in the Nordstrom’s shoe section around Christmas, however, Liza’s mild life becomes painfully vibrant when she is possessed by the spirit of 19th century composer and pianist Franz Schubert.

Plot Overview: Possession, Obsession and Music

Although both are aware, Liza and Franz’s comprehension of the situation – two minds, one body, shared talent – is tenuous, and Liza’s mental stability takes a dive. She decides to take a leave of absence from her firm, and she and Franz devote their time to piano. Word of Liza’s playing begins to spread, and she soon finds herself under the tutelage of Juilliard piano professor Greta Pretsky.

With Pretsky’s help, and her sister, Cassie’s, PR skill, Liza is reinvented into a sexy “Nouvelle Classique” performer. Her new identity, and her slipping grasp on reality, predictably twists her relationships with Fred, her family and Patrick. Liza, however, bonds with Franz. Despite her celebrity, she decides to help him complete one of his most famous pieces, the Unfinished Symphony, even if it means saying goodbye to the weakening composer forever.

Criticisms and Compliments

The premise of Sleeping with Schubert is bizarre: the spirit of a Romantic era composer landing in the body of a thirtysomething Brooklynite lawyer? It sounds worthy of an eye roll and a pass. But for those readers willing to look past the dust jacket, Sleeping with Schubert is not typical rom-com, chick-lit fluff with clumsy women and bumbling men. Rather, Liza’s journey with Franz is surprisingly affective; the piano prodigy essentially turns her life upside down, and the psychological upheaval is shocking and, in some instances, a little sad. It’s not unlike Jennifer Weiner’s novels (arguably chick-lit, but not necessarily chick-lit lite).

Although Liza’s complicated relationships are the real focus of the novel (her relationship with her sister is a particular standout), Marson should be recognized for her ability to write about pianists and the classical music world. Personal sidenote: I have a degree in classical piano, and I can say that Marson describes the physical aspects of playing the piano – and the frequent criticisms and need for perfection – accurately. What’s admirable about Marson is that she is a visual artist and a writer, but not a musician. For her to depict the world as realistically as she does (especially the egos) makes for great entertainment.

Sleeping with Schubert, a fast, engaging story and worth a read.

Source:

  • Marson, Bonnie. Sleeping with Schubert. Ballantine Books, 2005 ISBN 9780812968392

Nora Roberts, “Whiskey Beach”

Book design, Meighan Cavanaugh; http://www.us.penguingroup.com/nf/Book/BookDisplay/0,,9780399159893,00.html?Whiskey_Beach_Nora_RobertsIt’s the nature of an accusation: once tossed out, the stain remains. It’s unfair. It’s infuriating. And it’s human nature to judge, and judge easily. Eli Landon, a man deemed guilty in the court of public opinion, knows he is innocent of any crime other than plain foolishness. But proving it and wiping free the ugly smudge of guilt? It’s next to impossible.

Plot Overview: Family, Suspicion and Faith

Eli, a blue-blooded Boston criminal attorney, was preparing for a bitter divorce with his cheating wife, Lindsay; the battle he got, however, was entirely unexpected. Coming home hours after a vicious confrontation, Eli found Lindsay murdered, her head bashed in with a fireplace poker. He quickly became the prime suspect, and though the circumstantial evidence was strong, Eli was never charged.

One year later, he slinks back to the family home, battered and wounded, a soldier returning from a war he never wanted to fight. Bluff House is a balm on his wounds, as is the housekeeper, Abra. Despite his best efforts, Eli continues to fight for his innocence, even as he struggles to reconstruct his shattered life. No one, it seems, is safe around him, at least until he and Abra come up with a plan to snare the man determined to take Eli down.

Criticisms and Compliments

At first glance, Whiskey Beach doesn’t seem that interesting; a scarred man escapes to the beautiful family home on the beach to lick his wounds and recover. Naturally, he falls in love with the dusky, exotic and vulnerable housekeeper. The end. Judging a book by its cover, however, is absolutely the wrong way to go with Whiskey Beach. Yes, it has the typical and expected elements of a romance novel, but such is the nature of the genre. Eli Landon is also surprisingly complex, and while it’s not the first time Roberts has created a character who is a writer (just check out Grayson Thane in Born in Ice), Eli’s emotional journey is reflected in his own novel’s development. It’s a nice parallel.

The only disappointing part of Whiskey Beach is that Roberts doesn’t hold back the identity of private investigator Duncan’s murderer, though Lindsay’s murderer is left to be exposed at the end. The problem, aside from the killer(s) being predictable, is that Roberts is so skilled at surprising the reader with the antagonist (Montana Sky is a great example) that the reader can’t help but feel a little let down that she didn’t wait to reveal the whodunit in spectacular, shocking fashion.

Whiskey Beach is a good read, but it could have been better. Still, the pacing and writing is excellent, and Eli and Abra make for a believable couple.

Source:

  • Roberts, Nora. Whiskey Beach. Putnam Adult, 2013 ISBN 9780399159893

Nora Roberts, “Midnight Bayou”

Cover design, Honi Werner; http://www.us.penguingroup.com/nf/Book/BookDisplay/0,,9780515133974,00.html?Midnight_Bayou_Nora_RobertsSweat equity can serve many purposes, the least of which is scrubbing, sanding and building. For Declan Fitzgerald, his rehabbing of Manet Hall is perfect therapy while the Harvard-educated lawyer moves on not only from the law, but also from his ex-fiancee and his neatly crafted, upper-crust, insular Boston world. What Declan finds as he digs into the Hall, however, is a store of memories, histories and ghosts – both real and imagined – that knock the otherwise confident bachelor off-kilter.

Plot Overview: Ghosts, History and Romance

New Orleans, with its dripping trees, hints of mysticisms and Cajun culture, would not, at first glance, be the ideal settling spot for a blue blood Boston boy. Declan, however, finds himself at home, especially in his dream house, but his life is far from peaceful. He rips up board after board in the decaying, if gothically beautiful mansion, but the detritus, seen and unseen, of former owners piles up around him. Declan begins to hear a baby’s cry echoing throughout the crumbling rooms, and he hears voices, one of which he deduces to be the baby’s mother, Abigail.

Abigail Manet, a woman whose tragic fate stained the walls of Manet Hall, lived and died in the early twentieth century. Her spirit, however, stayed behind, and Declan is hopelessly linked with her; the grief and pain he experiences is overwhelming. His only escape? A budding relationship with Cajun bar owner Lena Simone.

Lena, however, has secrets and her own link to Manet Hall. As the couple’s relationship grows deeper, Declan struggles to find his balance and regain the sanity that, in his mind, is slowly seeping away. It’s only when the two both discover the truth of Abigail’s and lay bare their feelings that they can fully restore Manet Hall and their romance.

Criticisms and Compliments

Like the In the Garden Trilogy, Midnight Bayou is a quintessential Southern ghost story with a little extra something; Stephen King advises in On Writing  that a writer should take a typical plot (girl falls in love with boy, boy resists, girl pursues, boy resists, girl flees, boy realizes girl’s value) and turn it on its head, and Roberts does exactly that – plus she includes reincarnation and past scandal to take her plot to the next level. The result is one of her more creative stories, though it is, like all romance plots, predictable (happy endings for all!). Midnight Bayou is also equally as spooky as the In the Garden Trilogy (the Harper Bride, however, probably takes the cake with mental instability), but the flashbacks and secondary period plot line are similar and fascinating, almost more so than the present-day plot.

Lena is an atypical romantic heroine, much in the same vein as Phoebe MacNamara in High Noon. She is neither needy nor overemotional, and she is resistant to commitment, a surprise given women (both in and out of literature) are more often painted as wanting a committed, exclusive relationship followed by marriage, stat. The fact that Lena is not concerned with defining a relationship within certain boundaries – and Declan is – is a welcome role reversal.

While more intellectual, thought-provoking and heavy books and movies can be nice, sometimes a light-hearted, entertaining and fluffy read is just the solution to life’s many stressors. It would be easy to look down on romance novels, but Nora Roberts can spin a good story that can be a much-needed escape. Read Midnight Bayou (or watch the Lifetime movie) when the time is right.

Source:

  • Roberts, Marie. Midnight Bayou. Jove, 2004 ISBN 9780515133974

Nora Roberts, “Sanctuary”

Berkley Trade; http://www.us.penguingroup.com/nf/Book/BookDisplay/0,,9780425215371,00.html?Sanctuary_Nora_Roberts#

It seems our childhood could have a greater effect on us that we realize. Those years are formative, after all, and perhaps the human psyche, especially when it’s in its relative infancy, is especially vulnerable. Those who experience unhappy childhoods are not destined to be unhappy people, but life may have more challenges; likewise, those with happy childhoods – those lucky, desired, loved children – are not guaranteed a successful future, though challenges may seem less daunting, depending on the circumstances. So maybe the lesson is not that childhood maps out the future, but that memories and feelings can remain with us forever, whether we like it or not. It’s a theory with which Jo Ellen Hathaway is only too familiar.

Plot Overview: Brothers, Identity and Romance

Jo Ellen is a talented, successful photographer, a dream for many. But when a piece of her beloved art shows up featuring her mother, Annabelle, Jo Ellen breaks down. Annabelle was long believed to have run away with another man, but this particular photo shows the woman from twenty years ago, beautiful and dead. Shocked, Jo Ellen checks into a hospital for treatments.

After she’s released, Jo Ellen feels compelled to return to her home, a place she abandoned several years before, much like she thought her mother had. Instead, she finds her estranged siblings, Lexy and Brian, working at the family’s B&B. Her homecoming is lukewarm at best.

While Jo Ellen tries to mend the estrangement with her siblings and her father, she reunites with Nathan Delaney, a man Jo Ellen associates with the summer her mother went missing. The two strike up a friendship, then a romance. But the person who sent Jo Ellen the traumatic photo has tracked her to Sanctuary, the family’s home in Georgia. The stalker will stop at nothing to punish her. It’s only as she gets closer to the truth that Jo Ellen begins to piece her childhood together.

Criticisms and Compliments

It wouldn’t be a stretch to say that most (if not all) readers of romantic fiction are women. So when a writer like Roberts (i.e. one who grew up with brothers) tells a tale of strife between two sons, each following a different path with unpredictable consequences, it’s fascinating. (Note: This particular relationship is not included in the plot synopsis; better read the book!) Women certainly understand the complex relationships women have with one another; men, however, can seem overly simplistic in comparison, but Roberts makes her male relationships deeper and more complicated. Like some of her other novels (Carnal Innocence, Divine Evil, The Chesapeake Bay Saga), Roberts also does not limit herself to just one sibling relationship, but immerses the reader in an entire generation of a family, guaranteeing that the siblings – usually a total of three – all find their happily ever afters. Some readers might find such devotion to the characters irritating or feel that it detracts from the plot or the story itself, but some readers (including this reviewer) don’t mind the exploration of one family’s innerworkings.

Sanctuary also has the dubious honor of the being the first Nora Roberts novel to be turned into a Lifetime movie. The movie isn’t bad, though, obviously, the book is better. Roberts’ writing is clean and persuasive, and her murder plot is intriguing. Although this aspect of plotting might be overdone, for some there is nothing more interesting than reading about a dysfunctional family’s long-hidden secret. Add in a dose of true love and a mysterious madman, and it’s a winner. Check this one out (it’s a perfect snowy day read).

Source:

  • Roberts, Nora. Sanctuary. Jove, 2004 ISBN 9780515122732

Suzanne Brockmann, “Flashpoint”

Ballantine Books; http://www.randomhouse.com/book/18609/flashpoint-by-suzanne-brockmann

For many women, there comes a choice: the Bad Boy or Mr. Nice Guy?  Who is the best in the long term, who in the short term (hint: it’s probably not the same person)? Is the taste of either something that every woman craves in order to learn what she needs, wants or absolutely hates? For Tess Bailey, the two men within her immediate circle – Jimmy Nash and Lawrence Decker – represent the dark and the light, the adventurous and the steady, the passionate and the sweet. So, tapping into stereotypes, whom does she choose: the man on the motorcycle who roars off into the night or the man waiting at home with a nice dinner and a glass of wine?

Plot Overview: Partners, Appearances and Romance

Tess Bailey doesn’t look the part of a computer-savvy geek. Her plump face and ruddy cheeks are a testament to her Midwest upbringing, as is her openness, friendliness and overall warm demeanor. As the girl next door, she’s typical; as an operative working undercover for Troubleshooters, Inc., she’s perfect – the last person anyone would ever suspect.

Jimmy Nash and Lawrence Decker are also the last to ever suspect they would run into her. Both men, former spies with a hush-hush government black ops unit, have feelings for the farm girl, though on the “like or like like” scale, they’re poles apart. Nash had a desperate one-night stand with Tess months before. Deck, on the other hand, views her as honest-to-goodness relationship material. So when the three, all now working for the aforementioned Troubleshooters, Inc., are sent to earthquake-ravaged Kazbekistan, their love triangle ignites.

The trio’s mission, as they have accepted it, is to retrieve the missing laptop computer of Ma’awiya Talal Sayid, a known terrorist. Authorities believe the computer could contain vital information about upcoming attacks. Armed and ready, Tess, Nash and Deck assume their new identities to begin the search, facing tragedy and danger – and each other’s roiling, intense emotions in the high-pressure terror zone.

Criticisms and Compliments

Although Flashpoint doesn’t quite live up to Brockmann’s established steamy, action-filled military adventures, it does play an important role in her overall collection. Unlike previous books that focused almost exclusively on Navy Seal Team Sixteen, Flashpoint works as a transition novel, moving the reader away from Team Sixteen to Troubleshooters, Inc. Brockmann carries over many of her characters, including original Tom Paoletti, but Flashpoint also introduces readers to a host of new characters: Nash, Deck, Tess and the damaged and beautiful Sophia Ghaffari. Some readers might balk at Brockmann’s retiring some of her more beloved characters, but it’s always refreshing to see a writer recognize that certain personalities and situations can get stale, so it’s necessary to introduce something or someone new and exciting.

Despite Flashpoint’s pivotal role in Brockmann’s series, it’s not one of her best novels. Kazbekistan, which appears to be loosely based on Afghanistan, could certainly fuel some anti-Arab sentiment in readers, and the romance is somewhat lacking, perhaps because of the way Brockmann seems to sensitively treat her more fragile characters (i.e. Sophia). Flashpoint is a good, decent read; it just doesn’t have the bite and smoldering intensity of Brockmann’s earlier work. Still, check it out. It’s important to get to know the new characters in order to enjoy Brockmann’s later (better) books.

Source:

  • Brockmann, Suzanne. Flashpoint. Ballantine Books, 2004 ISBN 9780345456946

Nora Roberts, “Private Scandals”

Jove; http://www.us.penguingroup.com/nf/Book/BookDisplay/0,,9780515152975,00.html?Private_Scandals_Nora_Roberts#Ambition is a greedy monster: it can claw up mountains; it can crush smaller creatures and leave destruction in its wake; and it can push itself to the top, leaving the bottom far beneath the clouds. It can also be nasty, mean, insensitive — and powerful. Midwestern journalist Deanna Reynolds has a healthy, teething, baby ambition that allows her to climb from news lackey to anchor. For megalomaniac Angela Perkins, however, ambition is a dirty beast that whispers the sweet nothings of revenge in her ear.

Plot Overview: Ambition, Talk and Satisfaction

Deanna Reynolds is young, beautiful and talented. Hailing from Kansas, she’s also down-to-earth with home-grown values that can’t be marred by fame. She starts her career off as many young journalists do, fetching coffee for the higher ups. But with her good looks and earnestness, she moves up the ladder, even interning for daytime queen Angela Perkins before embarking on her own talk show.

Adding the cherry on top to Dee’s career fudgy sundae is international news reporter Finn Riley. The foreign correspondent is brave, ethical and thrives in hard-news, war-torn environments. To his viewers, he’s the “Desert Hunk.” To Deanna, he’s the new love of her life.

Angela Perkins, maniacal despot of New York City’s talk-show scene, has been keeping an eye on Dee. The younger woman is becoming lovelier and more successful, and her viewership is beginning to chip away at Angela’s. It doesn’t help matters that Finn, who seems to have fallen head over heels for the beauty, is Angela’s former lover. Incensed, betrayed, the high-functioning addict stares down at the Chicago-based Deanna, waiting to strike her down.

Someone else is watching Deanna, too. A crazed fan, a stalker, a viewer who wants Deanna all for himself. And he’ll have her, Angela be damned.

Criticisms and Compliments

With some authors, their earlier books are their best. John Grisham, for example, did his best work with A Time to Kill; although it was published after The Firm, it was written first, and it is arguably the popular auteur’s greatest novel. Likewise, W.E.B. Griffin and Clive Cussler’s earlier novels are their strongest. Nora Roberts, it seems, also falls into this category. Private Scandals has its weaknesses – as one of Roberts’s first murder mysteries, it has some of the hallmarks of an early attempt – but it is also one of her finest. It falls in with consuming, absorbing reads like Public Secrets, River’s End and Sweet Revenge, books that are devoted to character development.

Deanna makes for an endearing protagonist, but Angela Perkins, evil queen of daytime journalism, is the real thrill of Private Scandals. Her manipulations, machinations and steady self-destruction are oddly fascinating; she’s the veritable car crash that’s impossible to ignore. Plus, there is something so fascinating, so satisfying about watching (or reading about) a larger-than-life character with an even bigger ego who gets her just desserts, her karmic retribution. Perhaps it’s just nice knowing that what goes around comes around.

The characters – Dee, Angela, Finn – dominate Private Scandals, which is heavy on development, light on plot. The stalker fan is easy to pick out of the suspect bunch, and the glitz and glamour of journalism is both unrealistic and superficial. Deanna and Finn’s relationship is also sketchily plotted, though they do have their requisite happy-ever-after. Still, as far as the writing goes, Private Scandals is one of Roberts’s best, and Angela is one of Roberts’s most deliciously evil characters. A satisfying read.

Source:

  • Roberts, Nora. Private Scandals. Jove (Reprint edition), 2012 ISBN 9780515152875

Nora Roberts, “Northern Lights”

Jove; http://www.us.penguingroup.com/nf/Book/BookDisplay/0,,9780515139747,00.html?Northern_Lights_Nora_RobertsThe Alaskan wilderness is, despite its beauty, raw, basic and primitive. There is a mercilessness that tinges the chilly air, an unspoken understanding that the food chain is alive and well, and man may not be at the top. But man is in a unique position: not only is he victim to nature, to the unpredictable and unrelenting forces that manipulate survival, but he is also vulnerable to other men. Perhaps it’s something in nature, something violent and wild that draws out murderous compulsions or a primal fight-or-flight instinct. It shouldn’t be a surprise, then, for residents of Lunacy, Alaska, to learn one of their own has been murdered, left to freeze in a cave for years. No, not surprising at all.

Plot Overview: Alaska, Nature and Raw Violence

Nate Burke, newly appointed sheriff of Lunacy, Alaska, is, appropriately, a fish out of water when he arrives in Alaska from Baltimore. Still scarred from his former partner’s death, Nate is hoping that his new position will afford him less danger and a little peace of mind. The “Lunatics,” as they call themselves, however, are an inscrutable bunch, an inclusive group of people who are reluctant to let in a newcomer. They also have their fair share of petty dramas, tragedies and troublemakers.

As Nate gets his feet wet, he encounters Meg, the daughter of his seductive, cougar-like landlord, Charlene. Meg and Charlene have an unstable relationship and a complicated history, but Nate is intrigued by the strongly independent Meg. After a few brief meetings and a few revealing conversations, Meg proposes they consummate the relationship, an offer to which Nate agrees.

While Meg and Nate strengthen their bond, Nate’s job as local lawman becomes exponentially more complicated when a dead body is discovered frozen in a cave on No-Name Mountain. The body is identified as Pat Galloway, Meg’s father, a man Meg and Charlene believed abandoned them years ago. His murder is the catalyst to a wrenching reconciliation between the two women. Unfortunately for the Lunatics, Pat’s murder also sets off a string of other murders and crimes. Nate, baffled, curious, determined, will do everything in his (limited) power to ferret out the lunatic Lunatic and make him pay – for the murders, for the corruption of the town’s innocence and for Meg.

Criticisms and Compliments

Several reviews of Nora Roberts’s books have appeared on The Book She Read, most complimentary, a few critical. But Northern Lights, one of Roberts’s latest forays into close-knit communities and emotionally wrought relationships, is an exceptional story, a romance that’s not a romance, a thriller that’s not a thriller. What it is, rather, is an examination of two classic conflicts: man vs. man and man vs. nature. Although Roberts is the queen of romance, Northern Lights launches her into the realm of classic adventure novelists Jack London and Jon Krakauer. Still, Roberts doesn’t completely abandon her genre-literary roots. Simultaneously complex and basic, a mixture of simple feelings and complicated situations set against the backdrop of a formidable Alaskan winter, Northern Lights is a book of  romantic connections and of  the destructive and constructive elements between people (and between those people and Mother Nature).

In a place like Lunacy, Alaska, where Lunatics know every other person’s business, where secrets are few and far between, it’s chilling to realize that a killer is within their midst. Whatever the motive, someone is methodically and systematically killing off those who may know his or her identity. The situation brings up a difficult question: how well do we really know those around us? Those we consider neighbors, friends, even family? Or, more frighteningly, how can a killer wear the mask of normality so effortlessly? Who can be trusted? (The answer: no one.)

Northern Lights, and its Lifetime movie adaption, are excellent. The residents of the Lower 48 would be remiss not to immerse themselves in the brutality of killer and of Alaska, and of the easy love that forms between two vulnerable, independent and somewhat lonely people, Meg and Nate. Indulge in this one.

Source:

  • Roberts, Nora. Northern Lights. Jove, 2005 ISN 9780515139747

Sandra Brown, “Hello, Darkness”

Cover design, Lisa Litwack; front cover photo, Duncan McNicol/Getty Images; http://books.simonandschuster.com/Hello-Darkness/Sandra-Brown/9781416537779It’s hard to imagine life without one of the senses: touch, taste, see, hear, smell. Would life somehow be less brilliant, less satisfying? Or would the loss of one those essential senses heighten the others, as medicine hints? Could life be better and more beautiful if one lived it more vulnerably? Could that physical vulnerability also translate to emotional vulnerability? And, perhaps, that vulnerability could to lead to even greater growth and understanding. Nothing would be out of reach – success, family, adventures. Love.

Plot Overview: Blindness, Strength and Vulnerability

A steamy Austin, Texas, summer is ripe for the riskiest, most thrilling escapades: parties, drugs, sex, rock ‘n roll. Paris Gibson, a peripheral player during the wild summer, spends the hot evenings holed up in her cool, dark station booth, sending out tunes and love advice over the radio waves. When Paris advises one caller to dump her abusive boyfriend, however, she finds herself in the middle of a dramatic and terrifying match against a faceless predator.

“Valentino,” the caller’s dumped boyfriend, announces to Paris that he has kidnapped his girlfriend, Janey Kemp, the 17-year-old daughter of a judge, and will kill her in 72 hours. Terrified, Paris calls the police. The police psychologist assigned to the case, Dean Malloy, just happens to be Paris’ former lover and her deceased fiancé’s best friend. The two reluctantly bond over the case, though Valentino – and the various suspects Paris and Dean believe him to be – begins to hit closer to home.

Janey, it turns out, is the creator of a sex club website that anonymous users troll to find potential partners. Dean’s son, Gavin, is not only an acquaintance of Janey’s but also a member of the club. Dismayed, Dean grapples with his relationship with his son and his growing attraction to Paris, an attractive, intuitive woman who is fighting her own battle against damaged vision.

As the summer reaches the height of its heat, so do Valentino’s antics reach a fever pitch. Within this energy-sapping, damp, wet-blanket warmth, Paris comes face to face with Valentino, the truth – and her feelings for and about Dean.

Criticisms and Compliments

Sandra Brown, in her prolific career, has created a variety of characters. Her female protagonists have ranged from weak and susceptible to emotionally needy men to self-possessed and independent professionals looking for a mate equal in power. Paris, however, is a mixture of these two extremes. She’s brilliant and successful and outwardly confident, and either despite or because of her blindness, she’s also, on many levels, helpless. With the addition of a stalker to her already cocooned life, Paris could easily add victim to her list of former and current identities. What’s interesting, though, is that in spite of her circumstances, Paris appears strong and capable; those two polar extremes – a (physical) weakness and a (mental) strength – complement each other, making her one of those most distinctive of Brown’s protagonists.

On another level, Hello, Darkness is a cautionary tale for those reckless enough to engage in quick and anonymous sex with strangers. With the advent of the media’s coverage on stalking, unstable men and women can be serious threats (just try watching Investigation Discovery’s “Stalked: Someone’s Watching”). If nothing else, be warned: in the world of love and dating, there could always be a dangerous personality. Be careful.

Source:

  • Brown, Sandra. Hello, Darkness. Pocket Star (Reprint edition), 2006 ISBN 9781416537779

Nora Roberts, “Carnal Innocence”

Cover design, Yook Louie; hand lettering, Ron Zinn;  http://www.randomhouse.com/book/155743/carnal-innocence-by-nora-robertsA summer in the South is special. The air smells sweeter, the grass grows greener, the wind is soft and gentle. Sweet tea, porch swings, twilight. It’s soothing, a soft salve on wounds carried over from winter. For Caroline Waverly, burned-out violin prodigy, a summer in Innocence, Mississippi, is exactly what she needs. But something ugly lies beneath the bubbling streams and ticking cicadas. Something deadly.

Plot Overview: Classical Music, the Country and Compromise

Caroline Waverly’s life – both her childhood and adulthood – have revolved around her instrument. When she’s not practicing, she’s performing. When she’s not performing, she’s traveling between stops on a tour. She is pushed and pushed and pushed, by her “momager,” by her conductor-slash-boyfriend and by herself. After a breakdown and a breakup, Caroline finally allows herself the chance to breathe.

On hiatus, she escapes to her grandparents’ home in Innocence, a quiet, unassuming little town. The house is warm and inviting and holds some of Caroline’s happiest memories. On a quiet walk near the stream of her old/new home, however, Caroline discovers a body. The warmth of home quickly dissipates to a bone-chilling cold that even Mississippi’s humidity can’t touch.

The body lying face-down in the water belongs to Edda Lou Hatinger, town floozy. Only days before, she’d been heard spouting off about Tucker Longstreet, man about town and happy bachelor. Tucker becomes a prime suspect in her murder, as well as in the murders that follow, but too busy to fight off suspicion. He’s hoping to woo Caroline, hoping to sneak past her hard shell to find the soft woman inside, the amazing woman he can glimpse. And the woman with whom he’s falling in love.

Criticisms and Compliments

As mentioned in the Carolina Moon review, Carnal Innocence bears a striking resemblance to Nora Roberts’s other Southern-based romantic thriller. Both feature a slick, smooth-talking, reckless wealthy man – the king of his small town – and a fragile, vulnerable woman who has a gift. In Carolina Moon, Tory Bodeen is psychic; in Carnal Innocence, Caroline Waverly is a musical prodigy. Both novels also strongly emphasize Southern manners and values and glorify the down-home culture. The difference between the two, however, is the depiction of the sometimes rotten underbelly of the hot and sultry South.

Although it focuses primarily on Caroline’s struggle to grow past her mother’s ambition and her former lover’s arrogant abuse while maintaining her love of music, Carnal Innocence introduces some diverse characters. Toby, Caroline’s handyman whom she hired to fix up her grandmother’s house, is African-American, and he, unfortunately, is frequently targeted for his race. It’s an ugly element of the story, but it gives the novel a little more depth. Toby and his grandson are also endearing personalities in an otherwise lily-white story.

Finally, the one standout of Carnal Innocence is the murderer. When Roberts pulls off the mask of her depraved, seriously twisted and disturbed antagonist, the result is so surprising that it takes at least one reread to process. There truly is nothing better for the reader than to be shocked at a murderer’s identity – and in Carnal Innocence, Roberts definitely shocks. Or at least surprises (some readers may be better able to determine the killer’s identity, but even the guessing game is a great fun). Carnal Innocence is one book to check out.

Source:

  • Roberts, Nora. Carnal Innocence. Bantam (Reprint edition), 2012 ISBN 9780345529091

Nora Roberts, “Angels Fall”

Book design, Amanda Dewey; http://www.us.penguingroup.com/nf/Book/BookDisplay/0,,9780515143171,00.html?Angels_Fall_Nora_Roberts#Reece was at the top of her game before it happened. Before she heard the shots punching out of the muzzle of the sleek black pistol. Before she saw her coworkers, her friends slide to the floor, red liquid oozing onto the tile of the industrial kitchen. Before she huddled in the frozen confines of the walk-in freezer, her limbs pulled tight to her body, her chilled skin pimpled with goosebumps. And before the door was yanked open and two bullets were pumped into her body, sinking into the skin and muscle tissue. Now she’s at the bottom in the deep dark abyss of pure grief and trauma.

Plot Overview: Trauma, Paranoia and Redemption

After the shooting at the restaurant, Reece, the sole survivor, struggled to hold onto her sanity. She endured a stint in a mental hospital then returned to real life, though she has yet to do any living. She only drives back and forth across the country, from the sea to the plains to the mountains. Outside of Jackson Hole, Wyoming, the Bostonian’s car breaks down, and Reece finds herself, temporarily at least, a resident of Angel’s Fist, a sleepy little town at the base of the Grand Tetons.

Shortly after her car chooses its final destination, Reece finds another decision taken out of her hands. The local diner, eponymously named Joanie’s, has a “cook wanted” sign hanging in its window. Reece, a classically trained and talented chef, talks herself into the job and quickly proves herself to be an efficient plater.

One local resident and a frequent patron of Joanie’s catches Reece’s eye, though she is nowhere near ready for a close relationship. But like her, Brody is an outsider to the community and has quietly ingrained himself with the residents. Also like the skittish chef, Brody tends to keep to himself, a natural hazard of the job for a fiction writer. The two circle each other, wary yet intrigued, until they finally surrender to the need for intimacy and comfort.

Reece’s journey with trauma, however, is far from over. While hiking one afternoon, she witnesses a murder. She sees the victim’s face, but not the murderer’s, only his brightly colored baseball cap. She streaks down the mountain to report the crime, but when she returns to the murder site, there’s no body. Reece is sure of what she saw, but not sure enough of her mental and emotional strength, and only Brody believes her. Curiously, her mind also seems to be playing tricks on her: items are moved from place to place in her apartment; her wall is covered in scribbled pieces of paper; and her front door is left unlocked and open. Is someone – the murderer – trying to gaslight the vulnerable cook? Or is she truly losing her mind?

Criticisms and Compliments

Roberts may not win fans with every book she churns out, but no one can deny the prolific author’s ability to turn a tale. Angels Fall is a strong, solid novel from a woman who seems to have untapped stores of creativity, characters and settings. Roberts has focused on communities of practically every shape and size: small island towns (the Chesapeake Bay Saga, the Three Sisters Island Trilogy), small Southern towns (Carolina Moon, Midnight Bayou), Maryland-based towns (the Sign of Seven Trilogy, Divine Evil, Blue Smoke, Birthright), Los Angeles (Public Secrets, Private Scandals), the Pacific Northwest (River’s End, The Search), Alaska (Northern Lights), Montana (Montana Sky, Chasing Fire) and European cities (Three Fates, the Irish Trilogy, the Born In Trilogy). Angels Fall, however, is one of Roberts’s rarer novels that encompasses both the tragedy of a cosmopolitan, bustling city (Boston) and the raw corruption of a hole-in-the-wall place (Angel’s Fist). As the only one who experiences both ends of the urban-rural spectrum, Reece makes for one of Roberts’s most vulnerable protagonists, and it is easy for the reader to sympathize with her struggles.

Despite its violence, Angels Fall is oddly comforting. When Roberts writes a story, especially about a place like Angel’s Fist where everyone knows everyone, and everyone certainly knows everyone else’s business, it’s almost like coming home – or going to a place where everybody knows your name . Roberts creates the “Cheers” of the romance genre, and her style also evokes a sense of contentment in the reader (though in this case “Norm” would be the somewhat repetitive seduction scenes). Still, it’s satisfying to know that Roberts is consistent: when a reader picks up one of her books, they are guaranteed a warm, well-researched story with happily-ever-after that rarely borders on saccharine.

Source:

  • Roberts, Nora. Angels Fall. Jove, 2007 ISBN 9780515143171