Monday, 11 February 2013

Book Review: Virgin River by Robyn Carr

WANTED: Midwife/nurse practitioner in Virgin River, population six hundred. Make a difference against a backdrop of towering California redwoods and crystal-clear rivers. Rent-free cabin included. 

When the recently widowed Melinda Monroe sees this ad she quickly decides that the remote mountain town of Virgin River might be the perfect place to escape her heartache, and to re-energize the nursing career she loves. But her high hopes are dashed within an hour of arriving: the cabin is a dump, the roads are treacherous and the local doctor wants nothing to do with her. Realizing she’s made a huge mistake, Mel decides to leave town the following morning. 

But a tiny baby, abandoned on a front porch, changes her plans...and a former marine cements them into place. 

Melinda Monroe may have come to Virgin River looking for escape, but instead she finds her home. (Harlequin Mira, March 2007)

RATING: 4.5 out of 5 (Excellent)

Whether you're a devoted romance reader or simply someone who trawls book websites for recommendations, it's hard not to have come across Robyn Carr's Virgin River series. This book has over 6,700 ratings on GoodReads, and they vary drastically. I was unsure as to whether I'd enjoy this book or not, given that some people were addicted to the small town of Virgin River while others claimed that Mel was too much of a Mary Sue and that they grew tired of the midwifery tales. Me? I'm pretty squeamish when it comes to blood or sick, but not babies, so I wasn't worried about that element. I can see why women who aren't determined to settle down and have a family would struggle to relate to some of the characters in this book, but this book suited me perfectly.

Mel's story captured me right from the start of the novel. I like to say I grew up in the country, but the little Scottish village I grew up in is a far cry from Virgin River. Stick me somewhere with no public transport and a falling apart cabin and I'd struggle just as much as Mel. Given how many people find escapism in Amish fiction, I'm sure a lot of women dream of finding peace in a small town and come across the same issues Mel did. But there's more to Mel than just her mistaken belief that life in the country is easier. Maybe I was just PMS-ing, but I got a bit emotional when she thought about her late husband and the horrible event that took him away from her. The loss of her husband and her struggle to conceive felt incredibly real, making it impossible not to sympathise with her.

If anyone was a bit too Mary Sue-ish in this book, it's probably Jack, Mel's love interest. Jack runs the town's bar and ends up being Mel's first real friend in Virgin River. Jack has his own baggage from his time in the Marines, but the way that he was always there for Mel and always had the right thing to say occasionally felt a bit too perfect. That said, I did love the way that their romance blossomed out of their friendship. Even though I didn't fall in love with my best friend (although we became best friends after dating for a while) this is probably one of my favourite ways for relationships to develop in romance novels. Mel and Jack have seen each other at their worst and still fall in love.

Even if you're not a big fan of romance, the small-town setting and the inhabitants of Virgin River might well convince you to stick with this series for the long haul. There's the grumpy old doctor who is convinced he doesn't need any help from Mel, the two women who run the corner shop, the teenage boy who helps out in the bar and the numerous women who come to Mel for help with their babies. The one sub-plot that stuck with me long after I finished reading this book was the one featuring Ricky, the teenager who Jack employs to help serve food in the bar. He lives with his grandmother and Jack sort of becomes a father figure to him, but isn't completely prepared to deal with a teenage boy with hormones running rampant over a local girl. Although I'm not a massive fan of teenage romance sub-plots in my romance novels, I thought Ricky's relationship was a very realistic portrayal of how hard it is for teenagers to hold back from taking relationships too far, and how hormones and emotions sometimes push sensible logic out of the way. I have a feeling Ricky will appear in later books, so I'm intrigued to see where his story goes.

The one thing that I don't love about Robyn Carr's novels is her sex scenes. Although I prefer to read novels completely devoid of sex scenes, I don't mind them if they're brief and dwell more on the emotional connection between the characters (such as Barbara Delinsky's more recent novels) than the physical descriptions of body parts, simply for the fact that I find a lot of sex scenes awkward and laughable. Plus, romance novels have a habit of romanticising sex and making every sexual encounter between the hero and heroine perfect, which isn't how it is in real life. I think this book had a total of three sex scenes, which can easily be skipped over. And for those who prefer to avoid profanity, there were a few instances of swearing in this book. 

Despite the perfect sex scenes and Jack's occasional Mary Sue behaviour, I thoroughly enjoyed this novel. I love small-town settings and happy endings, so Virgin River was the perfect fit for me. I know that some of the events in this novel might have worked out better than they would have in real life, but sometimes we need a bit of escapism, and that's what Virgin River is for me. I'm now working my way through the audiobook of the second novel, Shelter Mountain, and I imagine I'll be hunting down the rest of the series in the near future. I highly recommend this series for fans of small-town stories and contemporary romance readers. 

1 comment:

  1. Mary-Sue-ish or not, I loved Jack and I really liked Virgin River and was glad to finally start the series. I had the same issues with the sex scenes. Although I too, gravitate towards books that do not have them, I am not overly offended either if it is about the connection and the sex is inferred rather than described. There is no doubt that this one falls into the 'guilty pleasure' category for me. Great review by the way.
    -Gilded Grace