I will admit to being a pretty big fan of the author Nora Roberts. And by “pretty big fan,” you can take that to mean that I may have joined her bulletin boards back in the day, and I may be able to quote scenes from some of my favorite books, and there may be an awful lot of ‘R’ related shelves in my library. At one point – back when said board, ADWOFF, was in full swing, I probably didn’t go a day or two without reading or writing or talking about something Nora-related. She’s still one of my go-to comfort reads: I’m not saying there isn’t a formula (because isn’t there a formula for MOST book-types?), I’m saying that knowing the formula, expecting and appreciating it are things my brain craves when it can make sense of very little else.
Still, it’s been a while since I’ve read any newer Roberts books, since I tend to turn to old favorites (or old favorite series) when I’m in search of brain candy, but two of her more recent books happened to fall into my lap in the past little while, so I’ve got them here to review.
The first, Whiskey Beach, was published just last year, so I’m not even that far behind! Whiskey Beach tells the story of Boston attorney Eli Landon, who – accused but never charged with the murder of his wife – has come to his grandmother’s stately home on the North Shore of Massachusetts while she’s in rehab, recuperating from a fall down the stairs. He intends to do some recuperating of his own up there, hopefully away from gossips and prying eyes, in the comfort of the familial and familiar – his marriage had been a disaster, particularly near the end, but he was still grieving the loss of both his wife and his previous life, and attempting to move forward on a new goal (becoming an author). While he’s up there, mysteries unfold (because: of course they do), and the charming, loveable caretaker his grandmother has befriended also sets out to befriend him (because: why not? Looking past a persons obvious murder suspect background is something that women in romance/mystery novels seem able to do with some regularity, even if, in real life, I know some women who can’t look past the fact that a man parts his hair ‘weirdly’, but what are you going to do?) This caretaker, Abra Walsh, is one of those all around awesome ladies that has a terrible backstory of her very own, and between figuring out Eli’s whodunit and Abra’s past, there’s plenty of plot to enjoy here.
I liked Whiskey Beach well enough, even if Abra seemed a little too perfect to me, and Eli a little too imperfect. But the second book, The Witness, which is a year older, was the one I preferred.
It hit all of my favorite, old-school Nora buttons – There’s a lady in danger, for a semi-realistic reason – Elizabeth Fitch had one weekend of rebelling against her uber-strict mother, but she wound up almost paying for it with her life – some other people actually did, and Elizabeth wound up on the run from the time she was 17. Eventually, she winds up in the small town of Bickford, Arkansas, with a sheriff (Brooks Gleason) who used to be a big city cop and now has a lot of suspicious about the lady who lives bolted into a house on the edge of town, security cameras everywhere, huge dog by her side and huge arsenal in her closet.
What I liked the most is that this story could, technically, in the rules of Romancelandia, have played out entirely a different way – with all his valid suspicions, the Alpha Male cop could got all protective-instinct on the Obviously-in-Danger-or-Completely-Paranoid-New-Hot-Lady and force her to tell her secrets. Run all sorts of ridiculous checks and break all sorts of laws and boundaries while he was doing so. I’m not saying that sort of stuff doesn’t cross Brook’s mind every once in a while, particularly as the obvious danger towards Elizabeth (alias Abigail) increases, but he just doesn’t do the asshole stuff.
He recognizes that her fears are REAL TO HER, even when she’s having a panic attack about potato salad or meeting his friends at a barbeque, and he understands that TO HER, her resulting actions are logical (based on these real fears that he has yet to understand), and he gets that he doesn’t yet have all the pieces he needs to help her, so he just… trusts her. He pushes her some, sure, and he tries to get her to open up, probably sooner than she is ready, but he’s gentle about it and backs of when she says she can’t. And, in the meantime, he trusts that she has reasons and that her reactions will, at some point, make more sense to him, once he knows the whole story. He doesn’t take on the whole “Regardless of consequences, I must know” trope, and he doesn’t make her take on the “just being stubborn, when she knows that telling me is for her own good” one either – sharing her background may not, in fact be the smartest move for her, and he GETS THAT, and GIVES HER SPACE to come around to it on her own (or, as much on her own as you can manage in the timeline of a story, where you can’t give the characters an infinite number of years to face the music). Completely the opposite of too-stupid-too-live, on either side, and that’s nice to see.
My only quibble with The Witness is that it’s not the most realistic of endings, but I put up with a lot of things that make a lot less sense for a little Happily Ever After, so that’s not a huge deal for me*. Of the two, The Witness gets more stars from me (probably 4 out 5), while Whiskey Beach hit a ‘Just Okay’ on my reading levels. (If you’re a fan of Nora Roberts & wonder who the hero/ine remind me most of, or you’re new to NR, and just enjoyed these books and are looking for similar book choices, I’d compare The Witness with Dance on Air, the first of the Three Sisters Island trilogy (which is my all-time favorite couple), and Whiskey Island with Sanctuary or Montana Sky, which I personally enjoyed better, since it has more sisters-who-kick-butt action happening in it.)
*For evidence, I could present you with my recent forays into reading fanfiction, but alas!, fanfictions do not count towards my ultimate CBR goal. Plus, also, you would probably cry a lot.