September 2012, Contemporary Romance
Forever, $7.99, 400 pages Part of a series
Ah, small town America. Will we ever grow tired of it? It doesn't look like that is happening anytime soon as far as romance novels go. This story offers up something different by giving us a unique island culture and African American characters. Those subtle changes set this book a bit ahead of the rest of the pack.
Kara Newell is thisclose to burning out. As a big-city social worker she knows all about the toughest aspects of life. She also knows about too many cases, too few hours, and the stress of being surrounded by abusive strangers. She's ready to take a vacation and head home to visit her folks when she gets invited to the reading of the will of someone she doesn't remember knowing. Kara heads to South Carolina rather than going straight to Arkansas and receives quite the surprise. She is stunned to learn that not only is she not the biological daughter of the man she calls father, she is now an heiress with a large estate, lots of money - and a second family who are none too pleased to see her.
Ex-marine Jeffrey Hamilton has traded in the life of a rough and ready warrior to come home to idyllic Cavanaugh Island and take care of the grandmother who raised him. He takes his job as sheriff very seriously and is determined to protect those under his jurisdiction. He is the perfect person to look out for the beautiful newcomer to his Island. It is clear this lovely lady has been quite the shock to the folks who planned to cash in on the sale of Angel's Landing, the estate she just inherited. He plans to stand between her and any danger, but who can protect him from the danger she presents to his heart?
Kara quickly falls in love with Angel's Landing. Even though she'd never known her biological father, she feels as at home in his house as if she had grown up there. Her first order of business after she moves in is to call her mother and ask exactly why she had to be sitting in a room full of strangers when she found out that her daddy wasn't her biological father. Her mom comes out to explain things, but is concerned to see that Kara is being less than warmly welcomed into the community. It is clear that those who felt entitled to Kara's inheritance feel equally entitled to try to intimidate her out of her home. Kara hangs tough and assures her mother that with Jeff's protection she doesn't feel any need to leave.
Jeff's protection turns personal, with meals out, dates to the movies, meeting the family, and phenomenal sex. But a chance remark overheard by Kara has her wondering if he is really serious about their relationship. It doesn't help that she is feeling more and more pressure to leave as the "pranks" being pulled to push her from her home grow more serious. Can she commit to Cavanaugh Island and its sexy sheriff? Or should she protect herself from both dangers of the body and dangers of the heart and get out of town while she still can?
This is a sweet, slow love story that emphasizes what it takes to be a family. Kara's paternal biological family was destroyed by jealousy and quests for power. Her own little family is dealt a blow when secrets are revealed. Kara's practical good sense, her social worker desire to fix things, and her warm heart help her as she navigates the choppy waters of the mess made by her parents and grandparents. Jeff, who had had no plans to settle down at this time, realizes that when you find the one, you don't worry about whether it is the perfect time or not.
I liked both Jeff and Kara. One reason was simply that they are both such adults. Kara is practical, kind, and hard working. Life throws her lemons and she may not head out right away to make the lemonade but she doesn't cry about it either. She knows how to dust herself off and regroup. Jeff is the same, a basically decent guy who knows himself, what he wants, and how to get it. Both are ready for a relationship and handle it like grown ups once they start one. That simple factor had me really loving this love story.
The concentration on family extends to the secondary characters as well. Corrine, Jeff's grandmother, and Jeannette, Kara's mom, shine as the matriarchs of their respective clans. Both characters are developed strictly in the sense of the mom role but we do get to know them a bit as people and not just parents since their pasts contains important information for Kara. We only get mild, intriguing glimpses of Theodora, Kara's paternal grandma. We know that it is Theodora who created all the stresses that are in her extended family today, but I would have appreciated a deeper look into how and why. Still, the emphasis on the moms stresses the ongoing theme of family that appears throughout the novel. The book also emphasizes the importance of women appreciating themselves and demanding more from the men around them. A story line involving Jeff's cousin David serves to underline this aspect of the tale.
This is a finding your place in the world style story that is so common in small town romance. Kara has a best friend in New York, whom we get to know, but she starts bonding with several people in Cavanaugh pretty quickly as well. It is obvious almost from the beginning that this is where she is meant to be. Not only does she immediately become enmeshed in the life of Angel's Landing but she rapidly becomes a protector for the whole way of life on the Island as well. If you are a fan of that sort of story, than you will find much to love in this one.
I just finished a Virgin River novel before reading this one and found the two books to be very similar. Both were all about the advantages of small town living and the joy of finding your tribe. While Ms. Carr has a slightly more sophisticated writing style than this author, I think fans of that series might just find themselves enjoying this one as well.
-- Maggie Boyd
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