Hank Cooper has never settled in one place for very long, so once he hears that his old friend, Ben, has died under mysterious circumstances, Cooper h...moreHank Cooper has never settled in one place for very long, so once he hears that his old friend, Ben, has died under mysterious circumstances, Cooper heads off to Thunder Point, Oregon to figure out what happened. Cooper quickly settles into the small coastal town, making friends with several of the locals in an attempt to learn more about the events prior to Ben’s death. Cooper doesn’t plan to stay long, but soon he’s being dragged into local activities—everything from attending football games to chaperoning a high school dance—and he can’t help but get involved when he notices a teenage boy being bullied on Ben’s beach property. The boy in question, Landon, turns out to be the younger brother and ward of the beautiful woman Cooper has spotted walking on the beach, and she is more than a little suspicious of Cooper’s friendship with Landon. Cooper is determined to prove himself to Sarah, but he doesn’t plan for their relationship to get too close. Neither of them is looking for a long term commitment; Sarah has been burned badly in the past, and Cooper has never been able to commit to a relationship, or a place, for more than a couple of years. But as Ben’s affairs become more complex and Cooper’s visit to Thunder Point lengthens, the two of them find themselves wondering if they might be in it for the long haul.
I'm a Robyn Carr newbie, having only discovered her Virgin River series last year, but I couldn't resist requesting this book when I spotted it became available to review. I’ve fallen in love with the Virgin River characters and was a little worried that the Thunder Point series might not live up to its predecessor. Thankfully, it appears that Virgin River wasn't a one-hit wonder and The Wanderer introduces another relatable cast of characters in a setting that’s a little bit more appealing to me, the girl who has spent the last few years living in a small coastal town. I’m sure I’m not the only reader who finds herself torn between the country and the coast in these small-town stories.
Looking back on some of the early reviews of The Wanderer, I’ve found myself agreeing with some of the complaints about the way that Robyn introduces this new series. As excited as I am about this new setting and cast of characters, Robyn spends a little too long describing the town and introducing the secondary characters. As a result, the hero and heroine don't meet until a third of the way into the book and the ending feels a bit rushed. Don't get me wrong—I love the setting, and I can’t wait to delve deeper into the lives of the residents of Thunder Point, but I never felt like I truly got to know Sarah since she barely appeared in the first third of the novel. If you feel like the romance is being neglected when you start this novel, hang in there—this is a romance novel, even if it takes a while to get started.
As it happens, Cooper was the character that I related to the most in The Wanderer, which isn’t typical of my experience with contemporary romances. The mystery that brought him to Thunder Point—the death of an old friend—brought out some interesting aspects of his character, and wound its way around all the other events in the story. The way that Cooper cared about Ben and the respectful manner in which he wanted to handle his affairs definitely endeared me to him, as did his relationship with Sarah's younger brother, Landon. And as for the mystery, I definitely didn’t expect the final revelation about Ben’s death. I don’t want to give too much away, but I will say that life isn’t as simple as it might seem in Thunder Point.
Landon’s character was also a pleasant surprise. I'm not always a big fan of teenage characters playing a role in romance novels, but Landon and his girlfriend, Eve, never felt stereotyped. Some contemporary novels fall into the trap of portraying all teenagers as sex-crazed kids riddled with angst and controlled by their hormones. Having not long escaped my teenage years, this presentation can feel lazy and overdone. Landon and Eve felt far more realistic, and their issues were normal ones that I can imagine any young reader relating to. Landon struggles with fitting into a new town and being bullied, and Eve has to deal with an overprotective father who might just be starting to date again. Perhaps not the most exciting issues, but they definitely felt real. This realism is definitely one of my favourite elements in Robyn’s novels.
For a while, I worried that Cooper and Sarah's issues weren't major enough or interesting enough to make me care about their relationship. But then I realised how refreshing it was to come across a hero and heroine who just had to work through internal issues to be together. No natural disaster or medical issue or evil ex got in the way of their relationship; it was just their preconceptions and expectations that they had to deal with. Perhaps some readers will find this uninteresting, but I appreciated reading about a heroine who had to deal with past hurt and a hero who had to let go of his fear of commitment. It made them feel far more real than some of the characters I've come across in contemporary romance novels. Who hasn’t struggled with letting go of the past and placing unrealistic expectations on a relationship?
But as most readers will know, Robyn Carr's novels aren't just romances. There are always subplots about other residents woven around the main storyline. In this novel, we're introduced to local cop, Mac, who is a single father to three children, and worried that dating might adversely affect his kids. As a result, he won't admit his attraction to his friend, Gina, who has raised her daughter on her own since she got knocked up at fifteen, and is managing to balance a job at the local diner while getting a degree in social work. Mac's aunt, Lou, has her own romance going on, and Gina's mother, Carrie, also appears in the novel. Throw in a real-estate agent who dresses far too provocatively and a newly widowed doctor with children and au pair in tow, it appears that we're set up for a fair few more books set in Thunder Point.
Although I did feel that the conclusion to The Wanderer was a little rushed, it definitely made me want to pick up the next in the series—which sadly doesn't release until June—and find out what happens next. Although Cooper and Sarah do get a happy ending in The Wanderer, I'm sure this won't be the last we hear of them. If you're a fan of continuity series and small town stories, the Thunder Point series is definitely one to check out. And if you've never come across one of Robyn Carr's novels before, this new series is the perfect place to start, with a fresh cast of characters just waiting to be explored.
Alisa Machak’s life revolves around helping her mom run her diner and raising her son, Greg. She doesn’t have time for men, especially not those who a...moreAlisa Machak’s life revolves around helping her mom run her diner and raising her son, Greg. She doesn’t have time for men, especially not those who are drifting aimlessly through the small town of Bear Lake, Montana, like Greg’s father. Having her heart broken once was enough to make Alisa swear off dating, but even she can’t help but be intrigued when Nick Carbini, an old classmate, returns to Bear Lake for a spell. No one knows what happened to Nick after his mom died and his father took him away from Bear Lake. Alisa doesn’t want to get involved with a man who looks like he might up and leave at any moment, but when an accident occurs that prevents her mother from working in the kitchen, Nick steps in to help. Nick slowly opens up to Alisa, revealing that he worked as an army chef in Afghanistan. Greg is excited to be in the presence of a real war hero, especially one who can take him fishing and play football with him. Alisa is worried that her son might get too attached to Nick, especially since he has no plans to stay in Bear Lake long-term. But Nick is battling his own problems—namely, the PTSD that has stuck with him since his time in Afghanistan. Nick doesn’t like to talk about his experience, and no one seems to be able to stop the nightmares from plaguing him. As soon as they return, he starts to run again—but Alisa and Greg make him consider staying and fighting his demons. Can he face his past and start a new life in Bear Lake with Alisa?
I’ve wanted to read one of Charlotte Carter’s novels for a while now, simply because she’s an active member of a writing forum that I frequent, and I really appreciate the advice she gives to aspiring writers. When Home to Montana became available to review, I jumped at the chance, and I’m only sorry that I wasn’t able to fit it into my reading schedule until now. On the whole, I really enjoyed this romance. It was a light, easy read, which is what you’d expect from a Love Inspired romance. But despite the sheer number of romances that Love Inspired publish every year, Home to Montana didn’t feel predictable.
One of the unconventional aspects of this novel was Nick’s character. Plenty of contemporary romances feature war heroes, but Nick isn’t your standard soldier—he served in the army as a chef. I feel like men like Nick often get overlooked or are less appreciated because they aren’t serving their country in the conventional way, but as shown by this storyline, sometimes the after-effects of their experience are just as serious as those who saw combat. The exploration of Nick’s PTSD seemed pretty realistic from what I know of the subject, and it was particularly heart-breaking to read about Nick’s difficulty with talking about his experience. It’s so easy to acknowledge someone’s sacrifice when they’re missing a limb or have lost their sight, since these are immediately recognisable signs, but you don’t automatically notice if someone’s suffering from PTSD. I think this works for any mental illness or “invisible” condition. For men who are heralded as “war heroes”, it can be difficult to admit that you’re struggling mentally and emotionally because these troubles don’t fit the typical mould of a “hero”. I wished we'd had more time to see how Nick overcame his difficulties, but there was only so much that could fit into such a short novel.
The setting of Bear Lake, Montana and Mama’s diner immediately drew me into this novel, and I could see how Nick was drawn back to the place. Charlotte has written several other novels set in Bear Lake, and I’m definitely going to have to go back and learn the backstories of all the secondary characters who appeared in this novel. Although it’s hard to introduce background characters into such a short novel, each of the characters that Alisa or Nick ran into at the diner or in town enriched the story in their own way. And as for the diner—the descriptions of Mama’s Czech food made me incredibly hungry! I could smell the lingering scents of garlic and paprika whenever Alisa or Nick visited the kitchen. I’ll definitely be looking up some Czech recipes and attempting to recreate some of Mama’s specialities. Perhaps a recipe at the back of this book would be a great addition? Especially considering how all the customers raved about Mama’s chicken and dumplings.
Alisa's son, Greg, was really cute, but then again I love romances about single parents. I’m not sure what it is that draws me to romances that include children as secondary characters, but this one definitely hit the spot. I did wish that we could have learned a little more about Alisa's ex-boyfriend, the drifter who left her on her own with Greg. This backstory was continually alluded to but never explained in detail, except to say that Alisa had been very hurt by the experience.
Rags, the dog, also became a pretty important character in the story—I'm not usually a dog fan, even in novels, but this one won me over. I feel like this book ticked all the right boxes—Cute kid? Check. Cute dog? Check. Tasty descriptions of food? Double check!
As for the romance, I liked the slow-moving nature of Nick and Alisa’s relationship. Their cautious hesitance felt realistic considering both their pasts, but the way in which they were thrown together and forced to work alongside each other at the diner allowed for the relationship to develop at a believable pace. However, I wasn’t a big fan of the ending—considering that they had only known each other for a couple of weeks and still had a lot of issues to work through, it didn’t feel terribly realistic for them to be talking about marriage already! This is the second Love Inspired romance I've come across that's ended this way and I'm not a big fan of proposals occurring quite so soon. I'd much rather have an open ending where it's suggested that the characters will get married in the future, but they need more time getting to know each other. Or a more stretched-out romance set over a longer period of time where a proposal would feel more believable. But I’m afraid that a two-week romance followed by a proposal and a wedding epilogue isn’t my ideal romance. Especially considering Nick's struggles with his PTSD, this felt really rushed. I still really enjoyed this romance, but the ending felt a unnecessarily rushed.
Although the ending wasn’t entirely to my taste, the only thing I feel that the novel could have improved on was the length, so that I could have learned more about Alisa and Nick’s backstories and problems! Considering that this book is a mere 224 pages, Charlotte Carter managed to pack in a great romance with an appealing setting and cast of characters. Home to Montana was uplifting and made me smile, which is just what I'm looking for with a Love Inspired novel. I'll definitely be checking out more of Charlotte Carter's Montana novels.
Review title provided by Love Inspired Books.(less)
Note added 17/04/13: When I wrote my initial rough draft of this review, I mistakenly talked about an incident between Amelia and Edward where he was...moreNote added 17/04/13: When I wrote my initial rough draft of this review, I mistakenly talked about an incident between Amelia and Edward where he was drunk, when actually I meant William. Hopefully this review makes more sense!
When her close friend dies shortly after giving birth to a daughter, Amelia Barrett vows that she will raise the child and care for her until her father returns from the sea. It is nearly a year before Captain Graham Sterling comes to claim his child, and Amelia has grown to love Lucy as if she were her own daughter. But in order to continue to raise Lucy, Amelia must marry and claim her fortune. Amelia had planned to wed Edward Littleton, but his dislike of Lucy makes her wonder if marrying Edward is the best plan for the child. When Edward demands that Lucy be removed from Winterwood as soon as they wed, Amelia determines to find another way to protect both Lucy and her fortune.
Graham is shocked when his daughter’s temporary guardian proposes marriage to him, but the more he thinks about the plan, the more he begins to wonder if it might be the solution to all their troubles. If he were to return to the sea, he would want someone like Amelia caring for his child, rather than his irresponsible older brother. As Graham spends more time in the company of Amelia and her friends and family, he becomes increasingly aware of how self-centred and arrogant Amelia’s betrothed is. In marrying Amelia, Graham would be protecting both Lucy and Amelia.
Unfortunately, someone is conspiring to keep Amelia and Graham apart. Shortly after announcing their plans to wed, Lucy goes missing, along with her nurse. Who is the culprit? Is it Amelia’s spurned fiancé, her disgruntled uncle, or Graham’s jealous brother? Will their search for Lucy bring Amelia and Graham closer together, or pull the boundaries of their relationship too far?
Although it was the beautiful cover on the front of this book that initially attracted me to The Heiress of Winterwood, the idea of a marriage of convenience proposed by a young heiress definitely piqued my interest. This novel lived up to the suspense suggested in the synopsis, and was for the most part an easy, enjoyable read. Although I don’t go out of my way to pick up romantic suspense novels, I do appreciate it when a good historical romance has some mystery and suspense skilfully woven into the plot. That sad, I did find myself wishing for more romance. Amidst all the suspense and confusion in this novel, Amelia and Graham don't actually spend a lot of time together. There was a wonderfully romantic scene in the final chapter, but I wished that we could have had some glimpses of this passion scattered throughout the book to make their final declarations of love feel more real.
One aspect of this novel that I did thoroughly appreciate was that the author showed just how hard it was to be a woman in this time period. As carefree as early nineteenth century life might appear from a BBC Regency drama or the pages of an Austen novel, women had very little rights in this period, even if they were heiresses. Amelia must marry in order to keep her estate and her fortune, but when she marries this money will simply be passed from her uncle to her husband. And if neither of these men have her best interests at heart—as illustrated in the novel—Amelia’s situation is rendered even more dire. Naturally, Amelia’s life is far different from those women who do not have male guardians and fortunes, but I was pleased to see this sort of realism illustrated on the pages of a historical romance.
Sarah E. Ladd managed to create a realistic family for Amelia without rendering any of the members overly villainous. Amelia’s uncle and aunt want to see her married off, but they also want to improve their own situation, as I’m sure was true for many guardians of young heiresses at this time. Although Amelia is eventually reconciled with her cousin, Helena, it seemed fitting that everything wasn’t tied up neatly with her uncle and aunt.
The setting of Winterwood and Graham’s neighbouring Manor was rendered fairly well, but at times it felt like the novel was set in a bubble. Until the characters travel to Liverpool, the majority of the novel takes place either at one of the two manors or the neighbouring minister’s home, with a limited group of characters. Since this is the first novel in the Whispers on the Moors series, I suppose that you could argue that novels like Jane Eyre and Wuthering Heights also felt like they were set in a bubble, but I did wish there had been more details about the setting.
One thing I did find myself wishing was that the issue between Amelia and Graham’s brother, William, would be dealt with. We learn early on in the novel that he once tried to kiss Amelia when he was drunk, and although this is eventually revealed to Graham, I wished he had called Edward out on the inappropriateness of his actions, or at least acknowledged how wrong it was for him to take such liberties. He seemed to reconcile too easily with his brother considering this knowledge.
Given the revelation about Helena towards the end of the story, there seemed to be too much time spent dwelling on whether certain incidents would damage a woman's reputation. Very few characters acknowledged how unfair it was that women were saddled with all the blame for an indiscretion, even at those times (such as the incident between Amelia and William) in which the woman was forced to comply. I feel like I’m getting on my soap box a little here, but this is the second Christian historical romance that I’ve read this month where Christian characters spent an inordinate amount of time worrying about a woman’s reputation. I’m not saying that, as Christians, we shouldn’t be concerned about how we appear to others, but that society (particularly in historical novels) treats reputation as something that, once lost, can never be recovered. And this isn’t how God views us. I feel like there’s something somewhat problematic about Christian characters dwelling over whether a friend or relative’s reputation is ruined in the eyes of society without feeling uncomfortable with how this attitude goes against God’s loving grace and forgiveness. Yes, characters in historical novels are often bound by the laws of society, but those who claim to live by God’s laws should surely want to live above the rules of reputation and extend God’s grace to those who have made mistakes. This might not be a part of the novel that all readers take issue with, but since I’ve spent a lot of time studying novels written in this part of the nineteenth century this semester at university, I’ve become acutely aware of how unfair the rules of society were on women at this time.
Although there were some parts of this novel that I thought could have been dealt with differently, the positive aspects of The Heiress of Winterwood definitely outweigh the negative. I’m sure I’m not the only reader who is intrigued to see if Sarah E. Ladd decides to continue where Amelia’s cousin, Helena’s, story left off at the end of this novel. And if not, it’ll still be interesting to see where this series goes. The Heiress of Winterwood is a great debut novel and will be sure to please many fans of historical romance. The setting and time period mean that it will definitely appeal to lovers of Regency novels, and those who prefer a little more realism in their historical fiction will not be disappointed.