The Next Always?

I think I’ve made it pretty clear that I’m a fan of Nora Roberts as an author, both of her work and her support of romance genre fiction. A fair number of authors who got their start in romance, using it as a stepping stone to “bigger” and “better” careers in mainstream fictions or in genres that get more respect, essentially burying their romance roots or disavowing them. While Roberts has written and sold in the police procedural/mystery/suspense arena, she did so under another name and first and had continued to publish romance, which I appreciate. Having said that, her single titles have been my favorites moreso than the connected mass market releases, although I can’t exactly articulate why. Still, her new releases are generally autobuys.

Title: The Next Always

Release Date: November 1, 2011
Format: trade paperback
Publisher: Berkeley

The historic hotel in Boonsboro has endured war and peace, the changing of hands, and even rumored hauntings. Now ti’s getting a major face-lift from the Montgomery brothers and their eccentricmother. As the architect in the family, Beckett’s social life consists mostly of talking shop over pizza dn beer. But there’s another project he’s got his eye on: the girl he’s been waiting to kiss since he was sixteen.

After losing her husband and returning to her hometown, Clare Brewster soon settles in to her life as the mother of three young sons while running the town’s bookstore. Though busy and with little time for romance, Clare is drawn across the street by Beckett’s transformation of the old inn, wanting to take a closer look . . . at both the building and the man behind it.

As an object, the book is beautiful…and I say that as someone who is reluctant to buy trade paperbacks generally. The cover art, the title font, the paper quality and cut, even the author photo. (And may I say that Nora Roberts looks better in her author photos now than she did 20 years ago? Not too many people can say that.)

Things I liked

  • The interaction of the Montgomery brothers — they liked each other and complemented each other in their business, but also got on each others’ nerves and heckled each other, just like all the brothers and cousins I know.
  • Surprisingly, I liked Clare’s kids, despite the fact that I’m not a huge fan of kids in romance. They felt real without being treacly sweet, but also pains at times. It was lovely to read about Beckett falling in love with them as much as their mother.
  • The core of the love story between Clare and Beckett was good.

Things I could’ve done without

  • Clare’s stalker — this plot point was both underdeveloped and exaggerated, and ending up feeling wedged into the story. It didn’t really contribute much other than an exaggerated opportunity for Beckett to be a hero. Meh.
  • The subtext that small towns are the only places with vibrant communities, and that small towns are better than big cities (see Hope and Ryder’s dislike of her).

Read on its own, this is a fairly good romance novel. A reader unfamiliar with Roberts’ extensive backlist might give it an A grade. But as I read, I kept picking out themes or bits that have been used earlier by Roberts to better effect. Brothers renovating an inn in Western Maryland? The MacKades. A house haunted by a female ghost? The MacKades again, and also Midnight Bayou. Single mother struggling to raise small children after losing her husband? Too many to name. As a result, some of The Next Always felt stale so I would probably grade it as a C+/B-.

When I turned off the reader part of me and let in the pop culture aware part of me, I was somewhat squicked. It’s pretty well known (written about in USAToday) that Roberts owns an inn in Boonsboro that she and her family renovated, which sounds quite like this one, down even to the rooms. Her family also owns the local bookshop, named Turn the Page, just like the one in the book. I’m guessing that someone in the family also owns/runs a pizza place named Vesta in Boonsboro as well. To the extent that the book read like an infomercial or travel guide, I was somewhat irritated. But not enough to stop reading or set the book aside. So, C grade from me. Not sorry to read the book or pay 50% of the cover price, but perhaps not enthused about the next book of the series.

On the other hand, one of my doctors loved the book. When she came into my room and saw me reading it, she said, “Oh, I loved that book! It’s awesome!” So other readers’ mileage will vary. (Also, romance readers are everywhere. Resistance is futile.)

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5 Comments

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5 responses to “The Next Always?

  1. I’m not too keen on her writing style anymore. Otherwise, she rocks as a storyteller. I haven’t read a single title by her in years and I was a big fan. Loved Montana Sky and Hidden Riches (my first book by her) and of course the first three In Death books are my favorites. Heard about the infomercial stuff in this book and would be irritated too.

  2. Naked in Death is one of my favorite books of all time, as are Montana Sky and Midnight Bayou, but I think I’ve just reached saturation point.

    I’m feeling that way about a lot of genre romance things lately, from the online dramas to debates about the future of publishing, etc., and wonder if I need to take a break from it entirely.

    • I know what you mean. Sometimes you just have to give yourself a breather and read something different on occasion. Even though I read mysteries more now than ever and loving it, I still miss my romance.

  3. Thank goodness I am not the only one left wondering about using the inn and the town as a setting. I couldn’t decide if it was smart to use what she knows, or just kind of phoning it in as she wouldn’t have to do some more research or if it is basically just one gigantic episode of product planning.

    • I didn’t think she was phoning it in, but I did feel sort of creeped out by the use of real business names. Yes, they are her family’s, but it just felt weird, kind of like the book version of that Jim Carrey movie, The Truman Show.

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