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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.)

Regards,
Kaetrin

 

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Kaetrin started reading romance as a teen and then took a long break, detouring into fantasy and thrillers. She returned to romance in 2008 and has been blogging since 2010. She reads contemporary, historical, a little paranormal, urban fantasy and romantic suspense, as well as erotic romance and more recently, new adult. She loves angsty books, funny books, long books and short books. The only thing mandatory is the HEA. Favourite authors include Mary Balogh, Susanna Kearsley, Joanna Bourne, Tammara Webber, Kristen Ashley, Shannon Stacey, Sarah Mayberry, JD Robb/Nora Roberts, KA Mitchell, Marie Sexton, Patricia Briggs, Ilona Andrews, just to name a few. You can find her on Twitter: @kaetrin67.

11 Comments

  1. Sarah
    Mar 04, 2014 @ 12:21:01

    VERY excited to read this book! I thoroughly enjoyed the first two books and agree, it definitely has the feel of Nora Roberts Chesapeake Bay series (which I also like). I have really been anticipating Luke and Taylor getting to know each other better but it sounds like the romance too will be fab. Great review!

  2. Eliza Evans
    Mar 04, 2014 @ 14:41:12

    You sold me, which is tough to do since I’m not a huge fan of small town romances. Carolina Home is on sale, too.

  3. Kati
    Mar 04, 2014 @ 15:47:28

    Lord, I love Virginia Kantra books. She captures the small town feel without the hokey-ness so beautifully. I love this series in particular, partially because she captures guy speak really well, and her heroines have spine, but also because she captures North Carolina so beautifully. This was a strong B+ for me as well.

  4. Kaetrin
    Mar 04, 2014 @ 18:42:08

    @Sarah: Yeah, the romance is pretty fab too. :)

    @Eliza Evans: Yay for sales!

    @Kati: Yes, the guy speak is authentic Kati. Good to know that the North Carolina stuff is too – I have no idea of course. :)

  5. Jayne
    Mar 04, 2014 @ 19:29:07

    I really enjoyed this one too and would probably grade it a B. Major likes – the way Luke mans up and takes responsibility for Taylor once he knows about her existence and how he is determined to protect her from the threat she’s under. Kate’s ‘fish out of water’ scenes with the Fletchers also seemed very realistic – though I still feels she has some issues from her childhood to work through. I could have done without the slight info-dump at the start of the book but since it’s the third in a series, I guess it’s unavoidable in order to bring new readers up to speed.

  6. Kaetrin
    Mar 04, 2014 @ 19:52:40

    @Jayne: I didn’t think it was all that info-dump-y myself. It was a different perspective from what was explained in the first book. I think that helped and it’s been a while since Carolina Home was released.

    There was one thing which bothered me a little (and I forgot to mention in my review). In Carolina Girl, Kate gets impatient with Taylor when they’re on the way to a temporary custody hearing:-

    “Mistake to bring the child in at all,” Miss Dolan said.
    “Judges don’t like these King Solomon decisions. Frankly, I don’t think the Simpsons have a showball’s chance in hell.”
    Snowball. It was too much.
    Taylor’s eyes burned. Her throat burned. One hot tear welled up and slipped down her nose. Another.
    “Oh sweetie…” Aunt Meg sounded shaken.
    Taylor squeezed her eyes tight shut, willing the tears away.
    “Now what?” Miss Dolan said.
    “I think… she had a cat named Snowball,” Aunt Meg said.
    “Oh, for Christ’s sake,” said Miss Dolan.
    There was a rustle, and then someone gripped Taylor’s shoulders hard….

    …’You’re going to be fine,” Miss Dolan said in a voice that said, or I’m going to kick somebody’s ass

    …”There are no wrong answers,” Miss Dolan said. “The judge wants to know how you feel. Feelings are never wrong, they’re just feelings. Okay?”

    She wasn’t at all like that in Carolina Man. It jarred a little. Because I thought she was a bit mean in the above scene even though what she said at the end really helped Taylor. She was a lot softer in this book. Then again, it was only one short scene so maybe I’m being unfair…

  7. leftcoaster
    Mar 06, 2014 @ 15:57:39

    I’m not a huge fan of small town stories either, but this sounds fun. Can someone post a spoiler about what happens to the daughter? I’ve got some hot button issues that mean I avoid reading about particular bad shit happening to kids at the hands of their families.

  8. Jayne
    Mar 06, 2014 @ 16:57:26

    @Kaetrin: Oh yeah. I’d forgotten this. Her actions then don’t exactly jive with her personality in this book. But, as a RL cat slave, I give her major points for how she handles the cat issue here.

  9. Jayne
    Mar 06, 2014 @ 17:03:43

    @leftcoaster: The spoiler (trying again here)

    Buried Comment (Reason: bad shit spoiler)   Show

    Taylor’s skeevy uncle would stand by her bed and masturbate.

  10. Kaetrin
    Mar 06, 2014 @ 17:09:04

    @Jayne: Glad I wasn’t the only one who thought she’d changed a bit. But I liked her very much in the third book.

  11. leftcoaster
    Mar 07, 2014 @ 11:52:11

    thanks Jayne, think I’ll sit this one out…

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