Tuesday, January 20, 2009

Just Over The Mountain by Robyn Carr ****

This is the 2nd in the Grace Valley trilogy, and maybe because I'm already familiar with the town and its inhabitants, I liked this one a little better than the first one, so I went with 4 stars.

We already know June, the 2nd doctor Hudson, and her widowed doctor dad Elmer - we're familiar with newcomer John Stone, the new doc at the clinic, as well as his wife Susan. The shadowy DEA agent Jim makes a couple of clandestine appearances and phone calls. The regulars are all there - Aunt Myrna, George at the cafe, the poker playing buddies, the quilting circle.

There's a very strong theme in this book that was also in the first book, although not as prominent - women being treated as less than first class citizens. Women being treated with disrespect and taken advantage of by their spouses. Women struggling - well, maybe struggling is too strong a word - attempting to take back their dignity and to establish their own ways in life. Women who've had enough and aren't going to take it anymore. In fact, a lot of the women in the story are still worked up about incidents from the first story - and they are establishing the New Ground Rules for the men.

There's Susan and Julianna - Susan (the new doc's wife) was a nurse before they had a child, and is now in the position of stay at home mom. Julianna is a long-time resident and Susan's new BFF; she and Mike have 5 kids and she is also a stay at home mom, by choice. The two of them were the ones who organized the boycott to get the womanizing preacher in story 1 to pack up and leave. After the town's nurse, Charlotte, has a major heart attack, Susan steps in to help out at the clinic - and she's even better than Charlotte! June wants to ask her to stay, but John makes it clear Susan has no career ambitions.

Too bad John didn't ask Susan about that first - Susan approaches June about the job, and now June is caught in the cross-fire. Seems Susan isn't as fulfilled taking care of John and their daughter as John hoped... When their argument comes up in front of their buddies, Julianna and Mike, Mike and John dig their own graves with an attempt at humor and end up insulting both women and their choices. The men are both facing sleeping on the couch for the foreseeable future!

Another couple in town is having trouble too - long-time residents Blythe and Daniel. It seems Daniel has decided to move in with another woman - and apparently he and the other woman have been seeing each other for 2 years. But there's more to their story, and it takes a while to straighten out the details. When Daniel also has a heart attack (lots of heart attacks in the story), the town is forced to recognize there's a situation, and nobody is exactly sure how to help.

The backwoods couple from book 1, Clarence and Jurea, also have some issues. Clarence was fine after being treated for PTSD in book 1, and Jurea got plastic surgery to fix a childhood scar that had horribly disfigured her. But Clarence, believing his family no longer needs him after the surgery, goes off his meds and leaves Jurea and the kids, going back to his paranoia, thinking the Viet Cong are invading.

Aunt Myrna has some men troubles of her own. Her husband disappeared twenty years before, and since she's a murder mystery writer, her books have often contained a plot where the wife kills the husband and buries him in the back yard - but is that what happened to him? A mysterious man shows up in town and discovers proof that there's a body buried in the bushes...

To top it all off, June's first love comes home to live with mom and dad for a while - divorced from his wife, 2 teenage sons in tow - and he's reinforcing the rumors that he's hoping to strike up the old sparks with June. June isn't really receptive though ... at least, she thinks she's not. But is he playing her just like he did 20 years ago when he dumped her?

What are women to do with all these men treating them so badly? Well, it's a multi-pronged approach, and the book chronicles all the prongs. Carr has a way of writing about the residents that's homey and fun and also warm and even sad sometimes. I cried when a resident died of cancer after making some hard, and maybe unwise choices about health care; I was jubilant for Jessica getting her GED and wanting to start college. And of course, there's a romantic moment or two, and a sweet ending, when the mystery guy comes in from the cold.

I guess my feeling that she had known him from before was wrong - he seems to have been a stranger when they met. What a great fantasy that is, huh? Mystery guy sneaks into your house for a handful of clandestine midnight rendezvous, and you can't tell anyone you even have a sex life??

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