Gabriel’s Angel (CBR5 #9)

Gabriel's Angel

I’ve returned once more to the land of Nora Roberts. I’m working my way through an intense non-fiction piece about art in World War II at the moment and I needed a break to something fun and fluffy. So while making what has become my weekly trip to the library I picked up Gabriel’s Angel, a new to me Nora Roberts for a much needed palate cleanser. I’m happy to report that this is not as painful as my previous forays into early Roberts fare this year. While this story is simplistic and lacking in the details that mark Roberts later work it is a serviceable story with well drawn leads and an interesting meet cute.

We meet our protagonists, the titular Gabriel, and Laura on a mountainside road in Colorado during a snowstorm. Gabriel is driving up the mountain to his cabin with supplies for what is turning into a blizzard while Laura is driving down the mountain on her way into town on her way to Denver. Laura looses control and narrowly avoids hitting Gabriel, but wrecks her car. With not other choice Gabe offers to provide Laura with a place to stay since there is no chance of getting back down the mountain. The twist is that Laura is secretive about her past, her plans, and is pregnant. Snowed in, Gabe and Laura form a bond and it changes the course of both their lives (of course it does).

I’m not really sure how to rate Gabriel’s Angel. It’s not bad, but I found myself just waiting for the end to arrive. It’s a good, sweet story and although it was a bit cliché, it wasn’t too predictable. And I think that’s what’s keeping the book at good, is that I enjoyed the characters, I enjoyed the twists and turns in the plot and wished that we got a better insight into why these characters make the decisions they do. Side note – this is not really a holiday read, don’t let the cover fool you.

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Secret Star (CBR5 #3)

Secret Star was published 15 years ago and, in some ways, it shows. It’s astounding to me the things which were the cutting edge of technology or  which were the extent of what was known in scientific communities are today simply not. Sometimes the lack of technology – no cell phones in every bag and pocket – pulled me out of the narrative, and while certainly a detractor, not something to be overly concerned with.

What those of you considering reading this book should be concerned with is the fact that this is the third book in a trilogy. I had not read the first two and that kept me from truly loosing myself in the narrative more than the technology gaps. If the basic plot sounds interesting, I would suggest starting at the beginning with Hidden Star.

The plot is pretty typical of the Nora Roberts oeuvre. There are three blue diamonds, known collectively as the Stars of Mithra. There is a string of murders which take place in the search for these priceless diamonds, before they enter the Smithsonian Institute. In pursuit of the perpetrators of these crimes Detective Seth Buchanan finds himself charged with solving the murder of Grace Fontaine. Who shows up very much alive and becomes something Seth cannot keep a professional distance from.

This good book had the job of finishing the series, and honestly it could have stretched the story some, used a little more action, and waited a little longer to reveal the big bad.  Perhaps my biggest complaint (yes I know I already discussed my complaints) was how short a time the action of all three novels was intended to take place, and how quickly the various couples fall in love, in bed, and then engaged.  Not a great Nora Roberts novel but a quick, pleasing read.

The Witness (CBR4 #50)

Last Nora Roberts of CBR4! Well, for me J

Before the gargantuan task of the Cannonball had been set before me (by me, for a fantastic cause) I had stayed away from romance novels, and specifically Nora Roberts books for several years. My graduate program simply ate all the time I had, and a smaller part of me was ashamed at the sheer amount of romance novels I consumed to that point in my life. So, I took a break. Then I realized that if I was going to attempt a real go at this thing I needed books that I could sail through in a matter of hours to help offset the books which would take weeks to read. And also the weeks which would not permit much free time to read at all. This is when I fell back into love with Nora Roberts.

The Witness is perhaps a return to Roberts at her best. Earlier this year I reviewed The Search which along with Black Hills show Roberts not at her thriller best.  The Search and Black Hills each had their strong aspects and their weak moments, but The Witness is strong throughout. The Witness is the story of Elizabeth, a teenage genius who acts out against her controlling mother and finds herself caught in the middle of a mob execution. The book is broken up into four sections, each chronicling a different segment of Elizabeth’s life and named for a different person. The first section introduces the reader to the 16 year old Elizabeth as she experiences that fateful night and the subsequent weeks in protective custody. Later sections delve into her life on the run, her current identity, the local sheriff determined to learn all about her, and her eventual plan to put things right.

I’ve intentionally left much of the detail out of this review, purely for laziness’ sake. I will mention that Roberts’ excellent job outlining her locations, from Chicago’s tony neighborhoods to Arkansas’ Ozark mountains. This one also features a male protagonist straight from Roberts’ own central casting – Brooks Gleason, police chief in a small town after time in a big city police force, quirky parents, and two older sisters, one of whom is married with kids and they all live nearby. A truly fun read, possibly less for its thriller concepts and more so for intricate storytelling.

Black Hills (CBR4 #33)

I was prepared to give Black Hills a relatively glowing review as I was working my way through the 472 page book. And then I came to the last 15 pages and I had some big problems with the handling of the narrative. So here I am, questioning things which I had previously been quite happy with. But let’s start at the beginning.

 

Nora Robert’s Black Hills is the story of Cooper Sullivan and Lillian Chance. The book begins when they are 11 and 9 years of age respectively. Lil is a native of the titular Black Hills and Coop has been sent to his grandparents’ South Dakota ranch by his battling parents for the summer. Over time Coop and Lil form a deep and lasting friendship. As chapters progress we jump ahead with the characters as they grow up and Coop returns to the Black Hills from his turbulent home in New York for summer vacations.

 

Relationships change as Lil gets ready to head off to college. She knows two things for sure – what she wants for her future, a wildlife refuge on her family’s land, and Coop. The conflict is Coop knows that he cannot stay with Lil as their relationship progresses in the next 18 months because he will hold her back from her goals and he must make a way for himself. Fast forward 12 years and our leads have a new set of problems to deal with, including each other.

 

This is all pretty standard fare, especially for a Roberts novel. Where I began to have some unease was with the story’s big bad. Roberts has a set way of introducing the type of big bad which appears in this one, The Search, and Montana Sky. The reader is given a chance to see the world through their point of view before they are introduced to the protagonists, and then their nefarious deeds and plans are told to the reader through the character’s own first person planning. Other than the familiarity of the type of big bad (someone out to hunt our female protagonist) I had no real problems. Until it was time to resolve the conflicts.

 

There are two major conflicts in the book: first, the standard ‘will they or won’t they?’ and the second ‘will the big bad be able to enact his plan?’ The novel is well paced throughout, the reader has time to invest in who Lil and Coop were as children, how their relationship evolved, her parents, his grandparents, their friends, the preserve, and the looming danger. And then it seems Roberts looked down and realized she had written over 400 pages and hadn’t resolved either major conflict. There is a major sea change with at page 427 and then it’s a downhill run to the conclusion some 45 pages later. This reader was left wanting for more, since so many storylines had been given a quick, glossed over ending as the protagonists dealt with the big bad.

 

As for the conclusion, big bad is dispatched and two pages later the book was over. Roberts doesn’t tend to write epilogues for her novels, but isn’t unheard of. This one was in definite need of an epilogue that firmly wrapped up some storylines after the final conflict resolution to give at least this reader a sense of completion. Am I saying don’t read it? No, but I am saying that you should know what you’re getting in to with this one.

The Search (CBR4 #22)

The Search

So I’m back to Nora Roberts. She’s my weakness, like ice cream and caramel. But I’ve decided to pursue the full cannonball since I’m doing pretty well on the half-cannonball. And Roberts books help keep the pace.

The Search is the story of Fiona Bristow. Fiona lives on Orcas Island off the coast of Washington state and runs a dog training facility from her home. She has a quiet life filled with her three dogs, her stepmother, friends, and her Search and Rescue group. All in all things are looking pretty good, but there isn’t a man in her life and she’d like for there to be.

Enter Simon Doyle, a reasonably well known wood artist who has just relocated to Orcas from Seattle following the dissolution of a relationship which was covered in the gossip papers. Simon is also the owner of a brand new puppy who he has aptly named Jaws. This leads to the meet cute between Fiona and Simon, when he brings Jaws in for puppy training class. The relationship starts as friendship with a little bit of heat and then grows into a no strings attached but physical relationship.

Well, until Fiona’s past rears its ugly head. Nine years ago Fiona was the sole survivor of the Red Scarf Killer, who as retribution kills Fiona’s fiancé and his search and rescue dog. This murder and Fiona’s testimony put the original killer in jail, now there is a new killer who is copycatting and has made threats against Fiona. This ups the stakes in all aspects of Fiona’s relationships.

This was a good thriller, which Roberts has shown considerable skill at. A good summer read.

 

 

Happy Ever After (CBR4 #17)

I know I covered my hate of the title of the books in this Nora Roberts series while reviewing Savor the Moment but come on – I’m pretty sure this one isn’t even grammatically correct. Shouldn’t it be Happily Ever After? And it’s uttered by a Yale educated character in the book! Admittedly while joking about what she’d get as a tattoo, but still. Not okay.

Book four of Nora Roberts’ Bride Quartet, Happy Ever After, focuses on no-nonsense Parker. Parker is the younger daughter of the Browns, sister of Delaney who is newly engaged, and she is the coordinator of the Vows wedding business which she shares with her three best friends from childhood. Business couldn’t be better; she’s landing bookings left, right and center, including a major society bash for the following spring. Everything is looking good as she heads into the autumn. Except for her personal life.

As an author Roberts’ is great at sneaking in future protagonists as secondary characters in early books in her various series. In this case that would be one Malcolm Kavanaugh who appears quietly in Vision in White when Mac acts out against her mom, again in Bed of Roses at Emma’s parent’s Cinco de Mayo party, and then even more during Savor the Moment culminating in the characters being away at the beach house.  Each time Malcolm shows up we get to see more and more of his personality and his friendships with the males associated with the Quartet. By the beginning of Happy Ever After the reader is almost as equally invested in Malcolm as they are in Parker.

I like the character of Malcolm, or Mal, quite a bit. While Parker is your typical type-A driven entrepreneur who puts her business before most other things Mal has taken a slightly different route to be a small business owner and is much more relaxed in the running of both his business and his life. Mal owns an auto repair shop and rebuilds classics as a sideline. He earned the money to purchase this business, as well as a home for his mother, by being in an accident while working as a stuntman in Hollywood  caused by the cost-cutting of others. I appreciate that Roberts’ doesn’t just assume that her characters have the requisite wealth to accomplish her authorial whims, but instead puts together plausible explanations of income. Laurel worked in a restaurant kitchen before and during the early years of Vows; Emma worked in a florist shop, etc.

Another aspect of this story I appreciate is how Mal is perfectly comfortable with Parker’s businesswoman side. He is attracted to that part of her as he is to everything else and never judges or blames as she is working to pursue her dream – even when that means taking 5 am phone calls from nervous brides while he is trying to sleep. That is never the problem in their relationship. Trusting emotional intimacy is the problem. A relatable one at that.

So yep, go ahead and read this set of stories; I quite liked them – this one and Bed of Roses in particular.

Savor the Moment (CBR4 #16)

There’s something about the Bride Quartet books (of which this is the third) that both irritates and entertains. I admittedly gave several hours of my time to reading each book, quite enjoyed them as I sped through them but the moment I closed them after reading the happy ending I was just a little ‘bleh’. I think part of the problem is the titles. The four titles are: Vision in White, Bed of Roses, Savor the Moment, and Happy Ever After. Yep, those are definitely a part of my disappointment.

On face value these books do have an interesting setting. The quartet of friends, Mackensie, Emmaline, Laurel, and Parker, has known each other from childhood. There was a terrible car crash and Parker lost her parents and inherited their massive estate. She convinced her friends to pursue their individual dreams jointly and create a full service wedding venue on said family estate. They do, and the three remaining members of the quartet, one photographer, one florist, and one pastry chef move onto the estate and pursue this new shared dream.

Savor the Moment is about the pastry chef, Laurel. Laurel is perhaps the closest to Parker both emotionally and physically. They each live in a separate wing of the Brown estate’s main house. They have been friends since their youngest years and in many cases Parker’s parents and Mrs. Grady, the housekeeper and resident mother hen, served the function of parent for Laurel when her own parents did not do the job. All of this works to make Laurel’s relationship with Parker’s brother Delaney very complicated.

Delaney has always viewed Laurel, as well as Emma and Mac, as his sisters. The problem is that no matter how hard Laurel tries to keep herself in the sister box, she is in love with Del. In the first two books there are hints of this, but now in book three we are receiving the story from Laurel’s point of view and it is very clear, very early on, that she can no longer live under the pretense and proceeds to change the status quo for herself and Del.

Perhaps I struggle with enjoying this one because I too chose to date someone whose relationship to my family was similar to the one Laurel and the Browns have and in my case it turned out to be a giant failure. But, in this one it isn’t (I refuse to think of that as a spoiler, it’s a romance novel for goodness sake). Perhaps my favorite scene in this book was when the quartet and appropriate male counterparts spend a rainy day at Parker and Del’s new beach house having a games tournament. (Pinball!) I’d say it’s worth a read, but my favorite books in this series are two and four.