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Virginia Kantra

REVIEW:  Carolina Blues by Virginia Kantra

REVIEW: Carolina Blues by Virginia Kantra


Jack Rossi is Dare Island’s new police chief. The laid-back North Carolina community is just what he needs to recover from a rocky marriage and a big-city police department. He’s learned his lesson: no more high-profile women or high-pressure jobs. The last thing he wants is an unconventional alt girl rocking his world.

Grad student Lauren Patterson made headlines when she kept a bank robbery from going bad. She’s fled to Dare Island to clear her head and focus on writing her story. However, sexy Jack Rossi is a distraction that’s too hot to ignore, and it’s igniting an affair too combustible to resist—or quit.

But when their pasts come looking for them, Jack and Lauren find themselves fighting for the future they deserve, whatever the price.

Dear Ms. Kantra,

After enjoying the first three books “Carolina” books which focused on the adult Fletcher siblings, I wondered if they would be limited to a trilogy. Now it is obvious that the series is going to expand, involving other people on this Dare Island community of North Carolina.

“Carolina Blues” is more character focused than the last book, “Carolina Man,” in which the story arc which carried through the first three books was completed. It also features two outsiders to the community though thankfully it avoids any “us v them” elements. Instead the main characters are the new Chief of Police and a psychology PhD student looking to break her writer’s block.

They have a lot in common as each has been trained to watch, ask questions of, and interpret information given or not given by suspects/clients who might or might not be telling everything or the truth about anything. There is sly fun in watching them use their tricks on each other and be annoyed by the other doing it.

But they also know where the other has been, the dark secrets that can haunt you, the remembered pain, the need to tell another person about what they’ve been through, the downside of 15 minutes of fame and the demands of people you don’t know. Jack has the police/SWAT experience to call Lauren on her guilt over how the hostage situation ended and the responsibility she feels about it while Lauren focuses on getting Jack to open up about his feelings.

Their initial physical hookup is when each is trying to believe that this is nothing but a rebound for him and a quick, summer fling for her. It’s a chance for some physical intimacy and to feel more alive but nothing long lived or lasting. Or so each wants to believe. It’s refreshingly realistic that despite any electrical “zings” when their hands meet that neither believes this is “twu wuv” leading to “Mawwiage.” And points for managing to include one of my favorite movies in the story. This book is definitely a bit hawter than the last with Jack and Lauren, as Meg Fletcher puts it, going at it like bunnies.

Despite the sexual exploration of most of the flat surfaces, and a few of the vertical ones, on Jack’s boat, both are hiding their feelings, retreating from true emotional intimacy. Jack and Lauren have used their analytical skills as a psychologist or a cop to keep people at a distance as they analyze them. Their drift towards a relationship comes in slow, sometimes unsure steps. Jack seems to want her to stay over at his boat past the usual “morning walk of shame” checkout time Lauren is used to in her past fixer-upper one-night-stands while Lauren makes Jack think in terms of the future.

Still things don’t always go smoothly as when Lauren pushes for Jack to tell her about his day without being clearly upfront about how long she’s planning to stay on the island. Meanwhile Jack doesn’t think to tell Lauren why his ex-wife arrives in town and what this might or might not mean for their relationship. Just because someone is trained to use communication as a tool doesn’t mean they’ll always be good at it when it counts.

Jack and Lauren’s trip to trust and love takes a while to happen. Since the book doesn’t have a lot of external conflict, that is the main element of the plot. While I enjoyed the laid back, easy style that I’ve come to expect from this series, there were still times when I felt a bit adrift. As the story neared the finale, Jack and Lauren still appeared to have a gulf between them and a HEA. They’ve both settled issues from the past and seem ready to move forward but I’m not quite sure I totally buy into the fact that they’ve arrived in their relationship. “I love yous” have been said, they’re both going to end up in the same place, there’s even a public declaration straight out of a Chick Flick but somehow I’m still not convinced. Maybe over the course of the next book – which from the review I’m looking forward to – I’ll be more sure but this one ends on a B- for me.


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REVIEW:  Carolina Man by Virginia Kantra

REVIEW: Carolina Man by Virginia Kantra

carolina-manDear Virginia Kantra,

Carolina Man is the third book in your Dare Island series which, so far has featured the three offspring of Tom and Tess Fletcher.  Tom was a Marine for 20 years and after his retirement from the Corps, the family moved back to Dare Island, North Carolina to run the Pirate’s Rest B&B. Matt Fletcher, the oldest child, and teacher, Allison Carter, were featured in the first book, Carolina Home.  Meg Fletcher and Sam Grady were paired up in Carolina Girl and the third and youngest child, Luke, finally gets his book in Carolina Man. While each of the romances are separate stories, there is wider story arc in the trilogy involving Luke’s daughter, Taylor.  At the start of Carolina Home, Luke takes emergency leave from Afghanistan where he is a deployed Marine, to collect a daughter he never knew he had. His high school girlfriend, Dawn Simpson, dumped him when he enlisted and after she and her family moved off Dare Island, he never heard from her again.  Certainly he didn’t know that when she left she was pregnant with his daughter.  Dawn dies suddenly from a brain aneurysm and lawyer (and Dawn’s former employer) Kate Dolan contacts Luke to let him know that Dawn had nominated him as Taylor’s guardian in her will.  After confirming paternity, Luke takes Taylor to his parents to care for while he completes his deployment in Afghanistan.

*Mild series spoilers follow*

Most of Carolina Man occurs when Luke comes home from his deployment (some 4 months later) and tries to establish a meaningful relationship with and to secure permanent custody of his daughter. Kate Dolan is a family lawyer who, after a difficult childhood – her father was an abusive alcoholic – made it her life’s work to help (usually) women and children escape from difficult home situations.  She was also Dawn’s friend and Luke turns to her for help when Dawn’s parents (who want custody of Taylor) make unfounded allegations of maltreatment to Child Services.

While, with the above background, a reader could understand and enjoy Carolina Man as a stand alone, I think the true joy of the book is with the complete background of the previous stories.  Taylor features most strongly in the first and third books but her story arc continues over the entirety of the trilogy.  We know from the first book that something happened to Taylor when she was briefly in the care of Dawn’s parents after her mother’s death and before Luke arrived to take her to Dare Island, but we don’t know what.  We see Taylor begin to form bonds with the Fletchers, especially her Uncle Matt and her 16 year old cousin (Matt’s son) Luke.  We know that she longs for a relationship with her dad but she is also scared because she doesn’t know him and hasn’t really had a chance to with their communications pretty much limited to Skype.  We’ve also watched the family band together not just to help and welcome Taylor, but also to help Tess when she is seriously injured in a car accident in the first book.  I have read all three books and when I was reading the family scenes in this one it was with the rich background of having spend significant time with them.  I think that background only enhances the enjoyment of this, my favourite book of the series.

Like Brie at Romance Around the Corner, I think the series is reminiscent of Nora Roberts’ contemporary series (such as the Chesapeake Bay Saga) and I think fans of those books will enjoy the Dare Island books.  The style is easy to read and effortlessly engaging and full of the strong bonds of familial love.

I loved the banter between Luke and Kate, as well as the military metaphors Luke so often used and which fit his character so perfectly.

“You just got home. You’re understandably feeling unsettled. This is hardly the right time for you to be . . . for us to be doing . . .” She waggled her fingers in the air between them. “This.”

His grin broadened. “I’m not sure I recognize your hand sign. You mean dinner?”

She rolled her eyes. “You know what I mean. Any sort of personal contact— relationship— between us would be terribly complicated.”

“Only because you’re thinking like a lawyer.”

“I am a lawyer.”

“Right. You’re used to complicating things. Marines keep it simple. Identify your long-term objective, execute the steps to achieve your objective.”

Her eyes narrowed. “Do you honestly expect me to believe your objective is to have dinner with me?”

“No,” he admitted. “Dinner would be more like the short-term strategy.”

“I thought so.”

“Getting to know you would be the objective,” he explained.

I really liked the way Luke saw through Kate’s defence mechanisms and assumed good intent, wisdom, strength and capability.  His default was to think the best of her when others may have been put off by her prickliness and her reliance on the rules and legal mores she was more familiar with.  He appreciates her doggedness when it comes to her job and her “focus on the mission” which he never mistakes for a lack of care.  Kate has never known family the way Luke has and seeing her get slowly assimilated into the Fletcher clan and to learn to be a part of a loving family was a pleasure.

Kate might be relationship-challenged but she’s no pushover either – just as well Luke had a habit of saying just the right thing.

“It’s different for guys. Look around next time you’re at a bar or a restaurant or even at the movies. The men are in jeans and T-shirts. Maybe they’ve shaved. And their dates are all made up and dressed up, like they have to knock themselves out just to be with these guys.” She stabbed her fork into a shrimp. “I have to dress for court. I don’t need to waste my weekends tweezing, waxing, and worrying about my underwear in return for ordinary food and mediocre sex.”

He was looking at her with the warm, slightly unfocused look men got when they were thinking about sex.

Point to me for mentioning the waxing thing, Kate thought smugly.

“You could try doing something about that,” he suggested.

What? Oh. “I suppose I could hold out for better restaurants.”

“Or better sex.” A low note of laughter underscored his voice.

Kate lifted her chin. “I can handle the sex part fine on my own. I don’t need a man to have an orgasm.”

“Then maybe you should try a better man.”

Not that Luke always said and did the right thing -  he wasn’t comfortable with Taylor at first and he fumbled enough with Kate that he felt human to me

He was uneasily aware he could have handled things better last night. Not the sex. The sex was amazing. The talking and the dinner before that had been great, too. But the gotta-go-I’ll-call-you bit at the end needed some work. Like the invasion of Iraq, the evening had been strong on shock and awe, weak on exit strategy.

There is also a kind of love story between Taylor and Luke – as they get to know one another, as the parent gene kicks in and he realises that Taylor has a hold on his heart.  What happened to Taylor when she was staying with the Simpsons wasn’t quite what I had expected.  I liked the way Luke got furiously angry but kept his focus on making sure Taylor was okay.  I liked that he was smart and that he demonstrated both to Taylor and to Kate that he could be relied upon but always kept on the right side of the line.  I would have liked a little more information on what happened with the other part of the Simpson family afterwards though – particularly because there had been a thread running through the story of Taylor benefiting by having relationships with Dawn’s relatives.  We never know exactly why Dawn didn’t tell Luke he was a father but it wasn’t a “secret baby” book in the traditional sense and it wasn’t something I felt I needed to know.

There were a couple of things I wasn’t quite clear on at the end, but they really only occurred to me as I was writing the review.  As I was reading I was too caught up in the story.  There will be another book in the series – Dare Island police chief Jack Rossi, who is introduced in Carolina Man will feature as the hero in Carolina Blue – so maybe those questions will be answered then.  I’m sure the Fletchers will have a supporting role there.

I suppose in many ways it is not so very different to any number of small town contemporary romances.  But I think this is a particularly good example of the subgenre and I don’t get tired of familiar tropes when they are done as well as this.  I give Carolina Man a B+ and recommend the whole series to lovers of small town contemporaries.  (I can also add that I have listened to the first book and the narrator is one of my personal favourites – Sophie Eastlake – so, for those who inclined to listen, I can recommend the audiobooks as well.)



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