If you haven't read the Virgin River books, you are in for a treat. I credit this series with converting me to a contemporary romance reader. Before I inhaled this series, I never really used to read much contemporary romance, but since then I have gone on to read numerous other fabulous authors like Shannon Stacey, Jill Shalvis, Sarah Mayberry, Kelly Hunter and so many more! Carr has her pet issues which make an appearance in lots of her books which makes these an interesting mix of pure contemporary romance and women's fiction which I think is part of makes this still a really strong series even after this many books.
The thing that I find the most about reading this series is that it is just so comfortable to read and they are of a pretty consistent standard. Of course, some are better than others, but I mainly rate them as either a 3.5 or 4 out of 5 read every time. I can easily start one of these books late at night and just keep reading until I am finished. Even though I might be tired the next morning, I am unlikely to regret that because the reading experience is one that leaves me feeling happy. I have read a few of the author's other books, including the more clearly defined women's fiction titles, and I don't necessarily find myself falling into the writing in the same way I do when it is a VR book.
The other thing that tends to happen is that I find myself wanting to reread the series even though I am not much of a rereader at the best of times. Given how long the series is (there are currently 20 books in the series) I am not sure that is a great idea, but it is seriously tempting.
So I will start with Bring Me Home for Christmas which is the 16th book in the series. If you are interested in finding out about the beginning of the series, check out my original post here.
When Denny Cutler shipped out for his second tour of duty, he left behind an ex girlfriend that he had broken up with more as a reaction to a number of emotional factors rather than the fact that he didn't love her anymore. Becca Fitzpatrick had tried to move on to a new relationship with a much more socially suitable man (in her mother's eyes at least) but she couldn't get Denny out of her head.
Denny is still friends with Becca's brother Rich, so she invites herself along on a boy's weekend to Virgin River in the hope that she could get some closure in relation to Denny, which obviously doesn't necessarily work! When she injures herself she is forced to spend an extended period of time in the town, and in close proximity to Denny.
I liked this one a lot, but it did take a long time to work through the back story their original relationship (how they met, how in love they were and why exactly they broke up).
Connor Danson witnessed a shocking crime and as a result is in a kind of witness protection program. He has been placed in small town Virgin River where he gets a job with Haggerty Construction. He is happy to work hard, keep a low profile until the trial is over and then he can be reunited with his sister, Katie, and her kids who he misses desperately.
Leslie Petrusco is also new to town having transferred to Virgin River to becomes the office manager at Haggerty Construction's Virgin River branch. She is after a new start too, and a life away from her sleaze ball ex-husband who is now parading his pregnant new wife in their home town.
Connor and Leslie have both been hurt by love in the past, so they are happy to keep things casual, but sometimes life has other plans.
Aside from a few small issues, like the fact that Connor's new identity is to merely change his name around (his real name being Danson Connor), this was another satisfying entry in the series. It was great to see Brie Valenzuela gets some page time too!
Katie Malone has a lot to deal with over the years. Her husband was killed in combat, her brother Connor witnessed a violent crime and as a result moved Virgin River and she moved as far away from Sacramento as she could to ensure that both her two boys and herself were safe. But the move to Vermont hadn't quite worked out as planned and after a brief and unfulfilling romance, she is heading to Virgin River to see her big brother and his new love Leslie.
When she breaks down on the mountain side roads, she is at the end of her tether. The kids are tired and hungry, she is tired and hungry and she can't change the flat tire. When a group of bikers stop on the way to help her she is initially scared but then very grateful.
Dylan Childress and his buddies are on the biker holiday of his dreams. Good company, riding their motorbikes and the open road are all he has in mind, but when he meets Katie he is immediately attracted to her, and she to him. It is difficult not be for her. After all, he is a former teenage TV heartthrob but he has been out of the limelight for a while now. Now he runs a charter plane business but the economic downturn is really biting and he is looking at what his next options might be.
Both Katie and Dylan are up for a fling, but for different reasons. For Dylan, his past is a litany of broken relationships. His parents have both been married numerous times and there are half siblings and step siblings, some of whom are only interested in what Dylan can do for them. He also knows what it was like to have various men floating in and out of his life when he was a kid and he is determined not to do that to Katie and her kids.
Nora Crane has always had to fight hard just to survive. A tough childhood, a romance with a drug addicted loser who dumps Nora and her two kids in a dump of a house in Virgin River before he skips town. What Nora needs is a chance - a chance to hold down a job and to prove that she can support herself and her children and do a great job of it.
When she applies for a job at Tom Cavanaugh's orchard, he is extremely doubtful at her ability to do the physically taxing work, and really is only convinced to take her on by his grandmother who recognises her situation. Nora is determined to take this chance and prove him wrong even if that means having to work to each day and leave her kids in the hands of her new found friends and neighbours.
Tom is a former serviceman who has returned home to Virgin River after a long time away and has taken over the orchards that his grandmother has capably run for years. He knows that in order to keep a family run business in the family you need ... well... family so he has decided that it is time for him to marry. He has a woman in mind, and it most certainly isn't a single mother with a bad past like Nora Crane. Now if only he could get her out of his head.
Nora was a really good Virgin River heroine. Yes, she had a past, but she was trying her best to put her past behind her and to make a good future for herself and her kids in a town that she is beginning to love. Tom was a bit of an idiot at first, particularly in relation to the woman who he was dating and some of his reactions to Nora but he came round in the end.
After some time away from the main families in Virgin River, the focus swings firmly back on them in this book.
Jack Sheridan was the first Virgin River hero and there has not been a book since where he hasn't made an appearance, usually as a pillar of the small community that he is at the heart at. When his niece Angie LeCroix comes to stay for the holidays, she just wants a chance to decide what she wants to do with her life. Everything has always been very clear to her - study hard and become a doctor - but after being involved in a serious car accident which nearly killed her things are not quite as clear cut as they used to be. However her overbearing mother can't accept that just because Angie is less driven than she used to be that it doesn't mean that she is not still suffering mentally from the trauma of the accident.
Patrick Riordan (the last remaining single yummy Riordan brother) is also in Virgin River trying to clear his head. He is on an extended period of leave from the Navy after his best friend Jake was killed in combat and he needs to decide if he is happy to go back to the Navy of if it is time for him to move on. He is also very much conscious of a responsibility to his friend's widow, Marie and her small child. He has promised that he will visit them for Christmas and so he is only in Virgin River for a short time and then, well let's just say he has a very odd idea of what it means to look after his friend's widow.
When Patrick and Angie meet and it becomes obvious that there is something between them, Jack does his best to warn her away from him. He is too rough around the edges, he is too much a warrior, too old for her....too everything really. For Angie though, he is someone who seems to see her for who she is and is accepting of the questions that she is asking of herself. Part of the charm of these books is the humour and depth that Carr manages to inject around serious subjects. For example, at one stage Jack tries to warn Angie away from Patrick by saying he has PTSD and Angie looks at him and basically say 'so do I. Did you think only vets could have it?' (paraphrasing of course!)
With both the whole Sheridan clan sticking their noses in and the Riordan brothers as well, there are plenty of people to tell Patrick and Angie what they should and shouldn't be doing, but when it comes down to it these two need to decide what it is that they want out of life, and whether they can do that together. And their strong family groups are there to interfere and support them every step of the way.
One thing I did like is that whilst there are definitely patterns of behaviour for her characters throughout the series (like the fact that there are so many ex servicemen, so many people who are just in town for a short time, people only making it so far out of town before they have to come back to declare their true and forever lasting love etc) Carr recognises that and even at one point in this book even has the other characters placing bets on one of these aspects.
I have been looking for information to see what is coming next in the Virgin River series in 2013 but I haven't been able to find much at all. I did find an interview which seemed to indicate that the author is starting a spinoff series that will be set along the nearby coast. Close enough so that a few VR characters might drop by but mostly new characters to go with the new location. In some ways I am looking forward to that but in other ways I will miss the old friends that we have come to know and love who now call Virgin River home. I am certainly not tired of visiting with them just yet.
*Sunrise Point and Down by the River were both read for the What's in a Name Challenge for 2012
The Case of the Missing Servant by Tarquin Hall and Caressed by Ice by Nalini Singh and still listening to A Breath of Snow and Ashes by Diana Gabaldon (up to disc 14 of 49).
Through Splintered Walls by Kaaron Warren and I Shall Not Want by Julia Spencer-Fleming