I have posted a few times in Sunday Salon about reading series, but today I thought I would talk about the things I don't do when reading a series, and then I am going to tell you about the Virgin River series by Robyn Carr. I have actually been thinking about writing this post for months, but finally, today is the day!
So let's start with the things I don't do.
No. 1 - I don't read contemporary romance, or at least not very often. The only exceptions to this rule were Jennifer Crusie and Nora Roberts.
No. 2 - I never read series books back to back. This means there can often be a break of a month or two between each book when reading which means with long series it will take me years to catch up, and quite a long time to read through long series
No. 3. If my library has a book, I don't get impatient and buy the ebook version so I can read it right now.
And now, let me tell you about reading the Virgin River series by Robyn Carr. This is a contemporary romance set in a fictional small town in the mountains of Northern California. The town revolves around Jack's Bar, the meeting place for food, company and conversation in good times and bad. It is owned by former marine Jack Sheridan, who just may end up on my list of favourite romance heroes, ably assisted by Preacher, who does all the cooking. Jack's former marine buddies come and go from the town, but an amazing number of them end up staying in the town as they meet the women that they will fall in love with.
I would like to stress though that this is probably a bit more to the women's fiction side of contemporary romance, so even if you don't read a lot of romance, these may be novels that you can read an enjoy. There is a happy ever after in every book, there are strong romantic themes, but Carr also takes the time to discuss lots of other issues - loss, infertility, the effect of war on servicemen, abuse, drugs, alcoholism, danger and so much more. One thing that has surprised me a little is that Robyn Carr isn't afraid to kill of some of the peripheral characters in the interest of moving the narrative along.
My no. 2 rule is that I don't read books in a series one after another. There are only a very few times where I have had to ignore this rule and read consecutively, and that is when I absolutely cannot get enough of the books, like the early Outlander books, and the first two Bronze Horseman books by Paullina Simons, and now this one.
I read the first book in this series, Virgin River, back in January 2010, and absolutely loved it. I immediately requested the next book in the series from the library who had Shelter Mountain on order. I waited, and waited, and waited for the book to come in, but when I bought my ereader one of the first things I bought was an bundle of the first four books (as an aside, this book is still on order at my library! I am so glad I bought the bundle). I read Shelter Mountain in October 2010. I picked up the third book at the beginning of December 2010, and then proceeded to read the next 11 books in the next month and just recently read the latest release. I have never, ever read 11 books in a series that closely together. I stayed up late at night, started books at 11 o'clock at night knowing that I wouldn't put it down until I was finished and therefore wouldn't have enough sleep. You could say that I more than read this series - I inhaled it!
So here's a little bit about each of the books. I will try not to give any spoilers away from previous books, but the hero and heroine will have to be named.
Mel Monroe needs a new start. After her husband is murdered in a robbery gone wrong, and burning out in her busy job as a nurse in a big city hospital, the idea of starting again in a small town as a midwife/nurse practitioner sounds very attractive, especially when you throw in a rent free log cabin as part of the bargain.
When she arrives in Virgin River she finds that the cabin is a dump, the doctor doesn't want help, and when a baby is left on her doorstep life is even more complicated. It gets even more so when she starts having feelings for Jack Sheridan, the handsome ex marine who owns the bar in town.
When Paige Lassister arrives in Virgin River late at night with her three year old son in tow, she is looking for somewhere to hide from her abusive husband. John "Preacher" Middleton is immediately determined to protect Paige, no matter the cost.
The man can seriously cook, and when he fell for Paige, he fell completely. It was fun to watch a man who is so uncomfortable with women struggle with how to approach Paige as his feelings developed.
Mike Valenzuela isn't the kind of man that you would trust your sister with. Married twice, but with a long history of broken hearts behind him, Mike comes to Virgin River to recover after he was invalided out of the LA police department after being shot in the line of duty.
Also new to town, Brie Sheridan, Jack's baby sister. Jack knows that Mike is a player, after all he was present for many of Mike's adventures. But Brie is struggling after a brutal crime was committed against her, and she needs a friend more than anything, and Mike is that friend.
Former marine Ian Buchanan lives in a remote cabin on a mountain away from civilisation, and away from people, and that's the way he likes it. At least, until Marcie Sullivan turns up on his doorstep. Marcie is the widow of Ian Buchanan, a man that Ian rescued when he was injured in battle. Marcie has spent the last three years looking after her badly injured husband, and now that he has passed on, it is time to find the man who saved him and say thank you. Ian has however chosen not to respond to her, and once she finds out where he is, she is determined once and for all to find him, so that she can move on with her life. It could be though that through her actions, Ian is going to be forced to face both his past and his future.
Like all Christmas novels, there is a chance of being too sickly sweet, and there were elements of that, but for the most part Carr manages to avoid that.
Paul Haggerty promised his best friend and fellow marine Matt Rutledge that if anything ever happened, he would look after Matt's wife Vanessa and their unborn child, never dreaming that he would be called on to honour that promise. The problem is that he has had feeling for Vanessa for a long time.
Vanessa is both rejoicing at the birth of her child, but grieving for the loss of her husband, but after a while it is time to move on. When she starts to show interest in the new doctor in town, Paul is going to have to either walk away from Vanessa once and for all, or tell her how he feels about her.
This book introduced some great characters that we then follow through the next few books, especially Vanessa's father! The biggest weakness in the book though for me was Vanessa, who I really didn't warm up to that much.
Shelby McIntyre is a young woman who has carried a heavy burden for many years, caring for her terminally ill mother. Now that her mother has passed away, she is determined that she is going to take the chance to live - to travel, to study. First stop, Virgin River. She is coming to town for a short visit with her Uncle Walt and her cousin Vanessa. Virgin River is however just the first stop for her, until she meets Luke Riordan, former helicopter pilot and now co-owner of some cabins along Virgin River that he is renovating with a view to renting out to tourists. Luke is jaded after many years in the military, a checkered romantic historic, and now he is all for a good time. Just don't ask him for a commitment.
Luke and his family, including a whole bunch of very yummy brothers, all start to feature in Virgin River books now. I really loved his mother's storyline too!
We met Rick Sudder in the first Virgin River series. Rick was a young man that Jack and his friends had taken under their wing. He found himself in trouble early on and dealt with issues that many older people never had to deal with. Jack was proud when Rick chose to join the Marines and he served with distinction. However, when he comes home a shattered man, having lost part of his leg, the man who returns is nothing like the boy that went away. He is damaged both physically and emotionally, and he is taking it out on everyone around him, especially his girl who has been waiting at home patiently for him.
When a box of puppies are found under the town Christmas tree, Annie McCarty is determined to look after them, with or without the help of the new town vet, Nathaniel Jensen.
Annie is a local girl, and Nathaniel is returning to Virgin River to take over the local veterinary practice after many years away.
This Christmas story was a little more treacly than A Virgin River Christmas but I did like Nathaniel and Annie together, and could have done with seeing more of them as a couple in future books. They do appear a bit in one, but not as much as I would like.
Reverend Noah Kincaid has no idea what he is let himself in for when he buys an abandoned church off of eBay in a small town called Virgin River.
He has even less idea of the upheaval it will cause in his life when he hires Ellie Baldwin as his assistance.
Ellie is a former pole dancer who is desperate for work. She needs to prove that she is a responsible mother so that she has some chance of getting custody of her kids from her creepy ex husband.
When Sean Riordan comes to Virgin River to visit his brother Luke, the last thing he expects is to run into his ex. It seems that Franci Duncan has well and truly moved on, but it does appear that she may have chosen to not tell him something very important.
Franci and Sean still have really strong chemistry. Can they move through the issues that drove them apart in the first place, can Sean forgive Franci for her deception, and can they find a way to be together in the future knowing full well that Sean is due to go back to his job in the Air Force soon, and could be posted anywhere in the world?
Another delicious Riordan brother.
Erin Foley is the sister of Marcie who we met in Virgin River Christmas. She has been the rock for her brother and sisters for many years, all the while studying towards a career in law. She is a very successful lawyer, but she needs a break, and so she heads to the cabin in Virgin River that belonged to Ian Buchanan, after a significant upgrade of course. Erin is not the kind of girl who enjoys roughing it. She meets Aiden Riordan when he scares her due to his shaggy, mountain man appearance, but once they learn to trust each other there is definitely a strong attraction.
There are a few things that could stand in their way though. They are very different people, and Aiden comes with a history in the form of his crazy ex wife.
Jack is throwing his first ever New Year's Bash at Jack's Bar. Amongst the crowd are two lonely hearts. Drew (brother of Erin and Marcie) has come to Virgin River to study in the peace and quiet of the cabin. Sunny has come to visit her uncle Nate, still nursing the humiliation of being jilted at the alter a year before.
This story didn't work for me as well as a lot of the others as there was too much baggage to really be explored without sounding maudlin, and too many other characters showing up in the narrative. The novella felt crowded and rushed.
I was very excited when I read the set up for this novel. Both the hero and heroine are Native American and I was interested to see where Carr would take their storyline. Unfortunately it didn't live up to my expectations.
Clay Tahoma is a well known horse whisperer type. He has spent the last few years with his now ex wife in LA, but he is ready to get back to his roots with a much less glamourous and stressful lifestyle by working as an assistant to the town vet. Everyone in town has made him feel very welcome, except for Lily Yahzi who has sworn off good looking native men after having been burned when she was a very young woman.
Yay, another Riordan brother.
Colin has come to Virgin River to recuperate from horrific injuries sustained in a helicopter crash. He loves his family, but he feels suffocated by them. What brings him joy is his art. The area around Virgin River provides him with lots of inspiration, and the solitude is refreshing.
When he meets Jillian Matlock, he knows he is attracted but he does not want to be tied to anyone or any place. Jillian has just bought an old house with a view to renovating. Other than that she doesn't know what she wants. She was a high flying PR exec who got burned as a result of an unwise affair, and she now really needs to find out what it is that she wants to do with her life.
Phew! Made it to the end.
Kelly Matlock is a chef in a famous restaurant. She is driven and passionate, but when she collapses at work she knows she needs to make some changes. She comes to Virgin River to stay with her sister, and to work out what to do next, knowing that she can't go back to the restaurant she left.
She meets Leif Holbrook in town and is interested, but Leif is dealing with his rebellious young stepdaughter. She has been acting out for a while now, after the death of her mother and rejection by her real father, but Lief is losing hope that he will ever be able to break through the rebelliousness to find the daughter that he used to know.
If Lief lets Kelly into his life, will Courtney find even more reason to break away from him?
The books aren't without their issues in terms of quality - some are definitely better than others, and there are characters who miss out on page time, sometimes even in their own books. There were a few books when I was a bit over Mel, but even those books were still incredibly readable. Even with all I have written I haven't commented on the secondary story lines featuring among others Dan Brady, a mysterious man who shows up several times, or the mature age relationships that develop, or so much more.
Now of course, things are very idealistic - all the men are handsome, some with more emotional baggage than others, some with the physical injuries that come from being active service men. All the women are beautiful and do killer things in a pair of jeans because they all look so good. I can't help but think that I do killer things to a pair of jeans to, but not quite in the same way as the women of Virgin River. Once the series starts, there are babies popping out everywhere, but no matter that there is this level of triteness, these books are just oh so satisfying to read, and I can't wait for the next books in the series, which I assume will come out early next year. It's probably a good thing that I do have to wait though, otherwise I would be in danger of overdosing on Virgin River books.
Even just having written what feels like the longest blog post ever, I am inspired to go and have a look at the VR books that I own and maybe do a bit of rereading - another thing I don't normally do!
What series have you overdosed on?