Sunday, June 7, 2009

Virgin River by Robyn Carr *****

I first read this book November 8, 2008 and reviewed it then. Now I have it on audio as well.


This is an author I'd been hearing about on the forums, and truthfully I don't recall what made me add this book to my PBS wish list, but I am so glad I did! I loved it!

Author Carr managed to create a whole boatload of lovable, 3 dimensional characters, in a way that made me want to get out my flannel shirt and drive to California and live with them all. I didn't just love the hero and heroine, I loved every single character she created. (well, ok, there was a villain or 2.)

I also wanted to experience reading a book where the heroine had my name (Melinda) - however, since everyone called her Mel, and hardly anyone calls ME that, it wasn't exactly the experience I thought it might be.

Mel was a young widow, a city slicker who worked as a midwife and nurse practitioner in Los Angeles. Her husband was killed in a convenience store robbery. In an attempt to completely change her life, she answered an ad soliciting a nurse/midwife to a small, rural town in the mountains of northern California. She was promised a rent-free cabin, and lured by photogenic shots of a quaint little town. She gave up everything - her house, her things, her career, and drove to northern California for this job. Her experience wasn't quite what she expected. She arrived in a rainstorm, and managed to get her BMW convertible stuck in the mud. The cabin was filthy and falling apart, and the doctor she was being hired to help didn't want any help. Her first reaction was to plan a fast getaway.

Jack Sheridan was a former Marine who had moved to Virgin River a few years back, looking for someplace to call home. He runs the local bar with the help of Preacher, a Marine buddy who is the hero in a future book in the series. He's got a little thing going on with a woman in the next town - a sort of friends-with-benefits arrangement. He's never had a serious relationship, although Carr did manage to write him as a true fantasy lover/hero - he only dallies with one woman at at time, whether that's 1 night or a few months. He gets one look at Mel and heads to the next town to break it off with Ms Benefits to free him up for Mel. Well, ok, he slips up and does her one more time - jeez, you didn't expect him to be perfect, did ya?

That's his only slip in the entire book, and since there was no relationship with Mel at that point, I guess we can all forgive him (and wish we had been the one he fell off the wagon with... sigh!). After he decides Mel is The One, he's a man on a mission.

I'm telling you, I was in love with Jack, with Mel, with Doc - shoot, I even liked Hope a whole lot - from about page 2 1/2 on. I went into their world and felt cozy and loved and accepted as if I'd been there in the back room of the store watching soap operas with Connie and Joy. It's a true gift when an author can surround you with her world and make you feel as though you were there. And, sappy as it may seem, I never felt like it was sappy - it all felt real. Yeah, all those women in Grace Valley pregnant and having a passel of kids - that is so far removed from my reality, I'm surprised I didn't just close the book and walk away. But I couldn't because I was there, I was in Virgin River, I was at the bar, I was in the Hummer driving to town.

The conceit that keeps Mel from leaving town is an abandoned baby - left on Doc's doorstep the day Mel decides to leave. This is in all the blurbs, but truthfully is only a very minor plot point in the story. We learn that Mel and her husband had tried everything for years and couldn't get pregnant, so it had me thinking the baby would be more a focal point. The baby does make Mel feel obliged to stay long enough to find foster care, but doesn't become a major issue. The longer she stays, the more she is drawn into the town and the spell it weaves around her and around me the reader.

There were even more than just a few heart-pounding moments - danger, intrigue, suspense, near death experiences - but somehow the entire story just felt like someone in flannel and jeans was sitting there picking at a guitar, singing a song and making me feel warm and cozy. It was a wonderful feeling and this one is going on the keeper shelf.

5 stars.

Audio notes: the narrator is Therese Plummer, a narrator I heard read some of Susan Mallery's Buchanan series. She's a good narrator, maybe above average but not wonderful like Barbara Rosenblat or Anna Fields. I tried to find whether "midwifery" had 2 pronunciations, since I thought the pronunciation was "mid WHIFF ery" not "mid-WIFE-ery" the way she said it. Her male voices were just ok, and since Jack is one of my all-time favorite heroes, I was hoping for something a little better.

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