Thursday, June 3, 2010

I Love Romance Novels! Thank You, Robyn Carr!

Today I was reminded anew of a large reason why I have read romance fiction for most of my life. The realities of death and divorce in the lives of people I love cast a heavy pall over my day. I did what I could for those most affected, precious little though it was. Then, rather than sit and grow sadder with every moment of thought, I retreated to a book.

In this case, the book was an advance copy of Robyn Carr’s A Summer in Sonoma, which I read courtesy of her publisher, Mira/Harlequin, and NetGalley. I first read Carr when she was writing historicals back in the 80s, and she’s been on my auto-buy list since 1999 with The House on Olive Street (which has just been reissued and is in bookstores now, by the way). I bought Virgin River on its release day, well before it became a buzzed-about book. I include all these details because reading an auto-buy author is different from reading a new or new-to-me writer or a sometimes-read author, particularly when the reader has a long history with the writer.

I know when I pick up a book with Robyn Carr’s name on the cover that I’m going to get an emotionally intense story in which characters, who will be presented within the context of a community of family and friends, will experience problems that mirror real life problems. With the help of their community, the characters will overcome these problems in credible ways. The psychically and physically wounded will be healed, the lonely will find love, and the embattled lovers will reconcile.

I have a particular fondness for the kind of book Carr writes, books I call “hybrid romances” because they are a blend of women’s fiction and romance. I felt safe reading A Summer in Sonoma. I knew I was entering a world where characters would struggle with some of the same problems that had left me weighed down with sadness, but they would emerge triumphant. I wasn’t disappointed.

ASIS is the story of four women, friends since their school days, discovering that the lives they are leading as they head into their thirties are not the lives they expected.

Cassie, an ER nurse, is single. A series of bad relationships with jerks and losers have left her lonely and frightened. “There were times she thought life just wasn’t worth living without some kind of deep love and intimacy. The thought of growing into an old woman without ever having that kind of intimacy was unimaginable.” Then in the worst moment of her life, she meets a most unlikely knight.

Julie is married to her high school sweetheart Billy. The parents of three children, living on Billy’s salary as a paramedic for the fire department and his second job in construction, they have too many bills for their income and too little time together. “When she was crowned homecoming queen, this was not how she had envisioned her life. She’d had her fifteen minutes of fame when she was seventeen.”

Beth is a busy doctor, “a nerdy brain inside a model’s body.” Immersed in her new practice at a local women’s clinic, she insists she has no time for a man in her life. An only child of older parents, Beth is used to keeping things to herself: “She’s always been a private sort, not because she was secretive, but because she had a tendency to be intense, to think about things deeply for a long time before putting her emotions out there to be examined.” But the recurrence of a medical problem that had left her scarred in heart and body the first time teaches her how much she needs her old friends--and a new one.

Hairdresser Marty, married to Joe, a fireman, and the mother of one child, hates her life. Every day of dissatisfaction with her husband’s old world ideas about gender roles and his slobbish ways erodes her love for him more and sets her thinking of a life separate from his. “The sexy man she’d fallen in love with was gone, replaced by this Neanderthal who couldn’t care less about her feelings.”

The friendship that connects these four women is the center of this book. Their interactions felt real to me. The intimacy, the informality, the history they shared all rang true. More than once I was reminded of my own best friend, who has been a part of my life since we were four years old. I also liked the way the group extended to integrate the men in their lives. Cassie and Billy are friends too. He’s more than just her best friend’s husband. Billy introduces Joe and Marty. Cassie worries about what her friends will think of the new man in her life. All these things added to the credibility of the story. One of my favorite passages described a gathering of the tribe: “It worked. Four odd couples strung together by four women who’d been friends since they were girls, laughed and joked through lots of food and good wine, told tales about one another and seemed to connect on many levels.”

Fans of Carr’s Virgin River series know what great male characters this author creates. Walt knocked some of those VR heroes down a notch or two on my list of favorites. I adore the big, burly biker with his ponytail, naked woman tattoo, love of books, and tender ways with a woman’s body and heart. Billy who is still passionately in love with his wife after thirteen years of marriage, who thinks his three kids are miracles, won my heart too. Jerod, a nurturer who is not intimidated by Beth’s independence or forced dependence is a dream hero. Even stubborn Joe, who takes his marriage vows seriously and —once he knows the problem—knocks himself out showing his love for his wife, is a winner.

A Summer in Sonoma did exactly what I hoped it would. It allowed me to come back to the heartbreaks in my real world less weighed down by sadness, with a greater sense of optimism. Escapism? Perhaps. I prefer to think of it as a reminder that human creatures can, to borrow terms from William Faulkner’s Nobel acceptance speech, not merely endure but prevail.

I love romance novels! I owe a big thank you to Robyn Carr and to dozens of other romance writers who keep enriching my world and safeguarding my sanity with their tales of those who prevail.


irisheyes said...

Awesome blog, Janga. I knew taking a break from the craziness and checking in with you today would put a smile on my face.

I love romance novels, too! And have been rewarded over the past week with some of the best, and like you, at a time when I needed a little escape in my life.

Practice Makes Perfect by Julie James, Married By Morning by Lisa Kleypas, Savor The Moment by Nora Roberts, and Marrying The Royal Marine by Carla Kelly have all fed my heart and my soul this past week! Life would have been a bigger trial without them. And like you, I knew they would deliver - they are all auto-buy authors who never disappoint. Next up is Mary Balogh's A Secret Affair. She's going to get me through the weekend! :)

Janga said...

Thanks, Irish! I haven't read the new Carla kelly yet, but her books are always a treat. I agree that all the others are terrific reads. I loved A Secret Affair. It was worth waiting for and a wonderful end to a great series.

quantum said...

Sorry you're having a tough time Janga .... and Irish.

When you pass 50ish then people you have loved or simply known and respected, start to disappear.

George Bernard Shaw was well aware of this inevitability in life. I believe that he encapsulated it in his famous epitaph "I knew If I Stayed Around Long Enough, Something Like This would Happen".

I always try to remember people's achievements when they die. Concentrate on the happy memories. The real tragedies occur when children die. That really sets me pondering the meaning and purpose of life.

Lovely blog

I am hoping to try Robyn Carr soon. One attractive reason being that I can download her books here in the UK and some are available in audio format. As always, I'm pretty sure that I heard of her first from you. *smile*

PJ said...

Wonderful blog, Janga! Romance novels have been my sanity safety net through many of life's trials. When life seems to be at its darkest, I can pick up one of my romances and always find hope. It's one of the reasons I've donated so many of my romance books to the local cancer treatment center.

I just picked up Robyn's last two books. I need to catch up with all the goings on in Virgin River!

Robyn Carr said...

You brought tears to my eyes, Janga! What a beautiful, touching review -- Thank You!!

Kathleen O said...

Wonderful blog,, Robyn is one of my favourite writers, I started with VR series and have not missed a book since. I read most of her back books I can find and just finihsed the The House of Olive Street.. It was fantastic. And I can' to read this upcoming book.

Janga said...

Thanks for the sympathy, Q. I hope you will try Robyn Carr. I think you'll love her characters. The Virgin River books are a great place to begin because the variety of love stories is so rich.

Janga said...

PJ, you definitely need to catch up on the VR books. :)

Taking your discarded romance novels to the local cancer treatment center is such a great idea. For the same reasons, I take some of mine to the local hospice, which maintains a library for family members of patients.

Janga said...

Thank you for stopping by, Robyn, and thank you for all those hours of reading pleasure your books have given me.

Janga said...

Kathleen, I love seeing new faces here. Thanks for visiting. Have you read Robyn's Grace Valley books? They are among my favorites too. One of the many things I love about the VR books is seeing some of the Grace Valley characters again.