Tuesday, 17 April 2012

Sunrise Point - Robyn Carr (Virgin River #19)


PROS: Strong heroine who cares about her children; endearing secondary characters

CONS: Relatively predictable romance; inconclusive sub-plot; includes an awkwardly-phrased sex scene

Nora Crane is desperate for a full-time job that will support her and her two small children. Abandoned by her drug-addicted boyfriend, who was eventually imprisoned, she’s stranded in Virgin River and is thankful to at least have a roof over her head. She’s being relying on the kindness of the residents of the town, and as much as she appreciates the help from the local minister and her neighbours, she wants to make it on her own. But convincing Tom Cavanaugh to take her on as one of his seasonal apple-pickers isn’t easy. He doesn’t believe that the slight, single-mother can do the hard work, and only offers her the job at the insistence of his grandmother, Maxie, who sees a lot of herself in Nora. Soon Nora is spending every day at the orchard, and soon feels like she’s part of Tom’s family. Tom can’t help noticing Nora’s unfortunate situation, and while he doesn’t want to get involved with a woman so young yet so worldly-experienced as Nora, he can’t help but lend a hand every now and then. He has his eye on a woman far more sophisticated than Nora, but when secrets from his apple-picker’s past begin to surface he finds himself becoming more involved in her life. Can he truly stay away?

A friend recommended the Virgin River series to me sometime last year, but I hadn’t been able to find the first book in my local library and was daunted by the long list of books already released. Ultimately I became impatient as I received more recommendations for this series, so I did what any insane reader would do – started at #19.  While frequent readers of this series may be going into a full-blown panic attack right now, I can confirm that I didn’t have any major difficulties jumping into the series at Sunrise Point and that while there are references to characters from previous books, these didn’t alienate me or distract me from my reading experience. However, since I’ve only read Sunrise Point so far, I can’t guarantee that every book in the series can be read as a standalone, but I would hope that this is the case.

I’m a sucker for romances about single mums and dads, and the kids in this story weren’t simply there for “Aww!” factor as they are in some novels. Nora was such a strong character, in both her mothering instinct and her desire to make something of her life and to stop relying on the charity of others. While sometimes this made her quite stubborn, her commitment to finding a job that would support her two children made her an incredibly endearing character. Nora is a woman who made plenty of mistakes in her past and is likely to challenge readers’ assumptions about single parents and how they end up in these sorts of situations, just as she challenges Tom’s judgements when she initially interviews for a job at his orchard. Both Nora and Tom have a lot of personal issues to work through before they can reconcile their differences. In Nora’s case, she has to deal with some ghosts from her past that are holding her back in the present, while Tom has to decide whether he’s ready to settle down on his grandmother’s orchard, and whether his aspirations for his future are truly realistic.

While I enjoyed Nora and Tom’s romance, it is ultimately rather predictable, but the secondary characters were what made it stand out for me. Tom’s grandmother, Maxie is one of my favourite characters in Sunrise Point, and I can only hope that when I’m a grandmother I’ll be just as considerate and loving as she is. I initially thought that she’d turn out to be your typical old-fashioned grandmother, but her interactions with Tom’s potential girlfriend, Darla, proved otherwise. Darla is slightly caricatured, but I do know some women who would think spending over a thousand pounds on a pair of designer boots is reasonable, and plenty who miss out on the joy of good food because they’re too concerned about their weight. Maxie’s witty remarks about Darla’s laziness and eating habits made me laugh out loud in several places, particularly when she suggested to Tom that she should mow the lawn and give Darla the grass cuttings for lunch. Darla’s attitude in general provided plenty of amusing moments in the story, and while I never believed that she was a true rival for Tom’s affection, she created a couple of bumps in the road for Tom and Nora, as well as some light entertainment.

Sunrise Point is a gentle, light romance, and I was surprised by how slow moving it truly was. I don’t read a lot of contemporary romance, mainly because I prefer the old-fashioned values of historical or Amish novels, but the structure of this novel allowed time for both Tom and Nora to develop personally as they got to know each other better, long before they decided to embark on a relationship. The best way to describe their relationship is “sweet”, and it brought many a smile to my face.

To readers who typically read Christian fiction, I must warn that there is one sex scene in this novel, and a couple of references to sexual urges. I read a fair amount of general market fiction and some of my favourite authors include sex scenes in their novels, although most of them tend to focus on the emotions of the characters during the act, not the physical act itself. Sunrise Point’s sex scene was definitely more physical, and some of the descriptions were pretty cringe-worthy, including the awkward reference to the female character becoming “as limp as a noodle”. Generally, I skim-read sex scenes just in case there is some crucial dialogue or internal thoughts as to the relationship between the characters, but in this case, if you don’t care for sex scenes, I’d recommend just skipping this scene altogether. You won’t miss anything important to the story.

I thoroughly enjoyed my introduction to the Virgin River series, and while I was initially a bit bemused by the subplot revolving around another resident in the town, I expect that his story will be continued in a later book in the series. This isn’t a series where you can pick up one book and not end up wanting to read the ones that come before or after it, and I guarantee that fans of contemporary, small-town romances will get caught up in the lives of the residents of Virgin River, just as I did. Sunrise Point is a great induction into this series, and I won’t be forgetting Nora’s stubbornness or Maxie’s wit any time soon.

Review title provided by Mira.

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