Monday, January 02, 2012

The Next Always by Nora Roberts

The historic hotel in BoonsBoro, Maryland, has endured war and peace, changing hands, even rumored hauntings. Now it’s getting a major facelift from the Montgomery brothers and their eccentric mother. As the architect of the family, Beckett’s social life consists mostly of talking shop over pizza and beer. But there’s another project he’s got his eye on: the girl he’s been waiting to kiss since he was fifteen…

After losing her husband and returning to her hometown, Clare Brewster soon settles into her life as the mother of three young sons while running the town's bookstore. But Clare is drawn across the street by Beckett's transformation of the old inn, wanting to take a closer look ... at the building and the man behind it. These stolen moments are the beginning of something new - and open the door to the extraordinary adventure of what comes next.
Once upon a time, the cover gods used to look down at Nora Roberts books and they figured that she would sell a gazillion books regardless of the terrible covers. Thankfully those days appear to be gone as both her previous series and this book have gorgeous covers that I would have stopped and looked at even if I didn't already count myself as a fan of her books.

For me, a Nora Roberts contemporary romance is a comfort read. It is a book that you can start late on a Friday night and just keep on reading into the early hours of the morning all the way through to the end of the book, which is exactly what I did with this one.

The basic premise of the book revolves around the restoration of an old inn in the town of Boonsboro. Beckett Montgomery and his brothers Ryder and Owen are working together on a project to lovingly bring the dilapidated old inn back to life. Beckett is the architect and the spaces that he imagines are slowly being crafted into fruition. Each of the rooms in the small inn are unique and reflect a literary couple - Eve and Roarke being the inspiration for one of the rooms.

Beckett has been had a serious crush on Clare Brewster for many years, but she only had eyes for another man. She ended up marrying him and having three boisterous boys, but is now a widow and has moved back to her hometown where she has bought the local bookstore.

She is intrigued by the changes that are being made to the inn, and also by the changes that start to occur in her relationship with Beckett.

There are certain things that I think Nora Roberts excels at. One example is the way that she is able to write friendships whether they be between girlfriends or as in this case between brothers. She captures the dynamics between the three brothers - the teasing, the bickering, the underlying affection they feel for each other - perfectly. It is hard not to like the characters and the relationships.

I enjoyed that the characters were real. Clare couldn't drop everything to go out on dates and the like because her kids were sick or she didn't have a babysitter. I love that Beckett was understanding of this and that he also respected the fact that it might be difficult for the boys to be comfortable with having him in their lives. He took the time to get to know them and to bond with them and that relationship development felt very organic.

There were other things that didn't work for me as well. I was underwhelmed by the suspense subplot. I would much rather have seen more of the development of the relationship between Clare and Beckett, especially taking into consideration her three kids. There was some of that in the book, but I do get a bit bored by suspense subplots that really seem to be there for no real reason.

There is also a paranormal element in the book with the very moody ghost that inhabits the inn. It isn't a new plot device in the author's books, and whilst it was fun at times, and I suspect we will see her again in future books in the series, I am not 100% sold on it, particularly given a key scene towards the end of the book which almost seemed a little bit too easy as a plot device.

By far my biggest concern about the book though was the setting of the book in the inn. I finished this book a few days ago now and I still can't make my mind up about it. Writers are often told to write what you know, and this is very much what Nora Roberts knows after spending a number of recent years renovating an old inn in Boonsboro. It felt like we were treated to every planning decision, every detail of the restoration, although I suspect that there might be enough left over for it to prominently feature in the next two books as well. Sometimes, it was too much and I found myself skimming through these details.

In addition, Nora Robert's husband owns the bookstore in the actual town which has the same name as the bookstore in the book, and the pizza place in town which is owned by one of the future heroines in the trilogy has the same name as the actual pizza parlour in the real town also owned by one of her family members. I couldn't decide if the book was written using the inn as the backdrop because it was interesting and fun and romantic or if it was one huge example of product placement!

In summary, this was the customary comfortable Nora Roberts read for me, but definitely not her best. Having said that, I will be lining up to get the second book in the trilogy when it comes out.

Rating 3/5

This review was originally posted at the Australian Romance Readers Association blog


  1. I read my first Nora Roberts last year, but I'd certainly be happy to read more. I agree with you when you say that she's a solid comfort read.

    I love the premise of this one (I'm a sucker for hotels, inns and B&Bs as settings), but I'm intrigued by your comments regarding product placement. It certainly goes beyond the characters wearing certain brands or drinking certain soft drinks!

  2. The product placement in the book made me uncomfortable, although I guess if I paid less attention to the industry I probably would not have known about the hotel, bookstore, etc. Agree that it works as a comfort read though.

  3. Jmc, I guess it is a case of knowing too much

    Stephanie, it definitely went way beyond that!