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REVIEW: Black Hills by Nora Roberts

Dear Ms. Roberts:

One thing that you never fail to do is make the setting come alive. The South Dakota Black Hills have never sounded so welcoming, so engaging than in your book, Black Hills. The story is in three parts and while I am never a fan of flashbacks, I did feel like the story dragged a bit in the beginning.

Cooper Sullivan is an angry 11 year old who is sent to stay with his grandparents over the summer. His parents are going away to "save their marriage" and can’t be bothered with their kid. Cooper is sullen and unhappy to be stuck in the backwoods of America without even a television. "As far as he could see, it would be him and Tetris for the duration of his prison term."

His expectations are challenged not only by the outpouring of love that his grandparents lavish on him but also his burgeoning friendship with Lil Chance, the girl next door. Lil loves baseball and riding horses and animals and that summer she opens her heart and takes in Cooper.

Cooper and Lil are inseparable for the summers that he visits his grandparents, but it would be a book length story if it ended with them married and happy, would it? No, Cooper needs to find himself and to that end, it means rejecting Lil. Oh, Cooper doesn’t like to think of it that way. He made a decision that it was best for both of them to have time apart particularly since Cooper never knew what he wanted out of life.

It is true that Lil has always known where she fit in and what she wanted out of life: to save animals and love Cooper. Cooper’s rejection stunned Lil and she tried to forge a new life without him with a new man and her mission to save her Black Hills wildlife.

Lil sets up Chance Wildlife Refuge in her backyard, essentially, run by grants and visitors. It’s the one part of her dreams that has survived her path from youth to adulthood and she is fiercely protective of it. Someone threatens to derail the Refuge by killing animals and people and targeting Lil.

Cooper, having made his mark in the world, comes back to his grandparents in South Dakota and comes back for Lil. He hasn’t ever stopped loving her and is in a place, both emotionally and financially to be her partner.

I would have liked to have seen Lil hold out against Cooper but I guess her emotions were too strong. I, unlike Lil, never really forgave Cooper for breaking Lil’s heart; for having to sacrifice her feelings in search of his own self worth. I objectively understood that had Cooper not gone on his path of self discovery, he wouldn’t be right emotionally and mentally for Lil but that still didn’t stop me from scowling at him while I was reading.

The secondary characters are so well drawn here from the grandparents of Cooper to the parents of Lil to her employees at the Refuge.   Even short appearances of townspeople.   There was a sweet older woman/younger man subplot that I found charming.

The suspense plot was good. I was surprised at how anxious I felt about the safety of the animals almost more so than the safety of the people.   I suppose, in part, because the animals appeared defenseless, even the predators. Despite the suspense, as with  most Roberts books, I was more engaged with the interaction between the main characters. B-

Best regards,


This book can be purchased in hardcover at Amazon or in ebook format from Sony or other etailers.

Jane Litte is the founder of Dear Author, a lawyer, and a lover of pencil skirts. She self publishes NA and contemporaries (and publishes with Berkley and Montlake) and spends her downtime reading romances and writing about them. Her TBR pile is much larger than the one shown in the picture and not as pretty. You can reach Jane by email at jane @ dearauthor dot com


  1. Sarah
    Jul 09, 2009 @ 17:13:33

    I would completely disagree about the setting of the Black Hills. Roberts has certainly brought her settings alive in previous books but I didn’t feel a connection to the Black Hills at all and I felt the book could have been set anywhere, with the same results. I’ve been to the Black Hills and South Dakota many times and I didn’t think Roberts was able to capture it very well.

    I do agree about feeling incredibly anxious for the animals. I also really liked Lil’s relationship with Baby. I’m glad it was stressed that despite coming back to Lil, this was still a wild animal with unexpected reactions.

    I would rate this book more as a C. It felt very average and while a pleasant enough read, I didn’t find myself engaging with the romance at all, nor even the characters, even as I liked learning about Lil’s work with the refuge.

  2. Gina
    Jul 09, 2009 @ 17:18:19

    Oh I am glad I just finished reading this before I saw your post. I agree the beginning was a bit slow but overall I’m glad she gave it some undivided attention. There is a lot to learn about Cooper and Lil in those first few chapters and I’d rather have it there than littered as annoying flashbacks throughout the heart of the story.

    Although I know this isn’t a series, there were a few side characters that I’d like to see developed into their own story – IE Matt the quiet vet who doesn’t like to be touched. I could just feel a story brewing there and hope (hint hint) to see him in the future. Also I was sorry she didn’t expand on why the security guy felt he owed Cooper. There was one conversation that was poised to explain it all and while the interuption was timely she never revisted it and I felt like there was something important that was left unsaid.

    Coopers “sacrifice” was a double edged sword for me. At times I felt “awe, what a guy” and other times I wanted to slap him upside the head. I did like that her first capitulation was selfish – “you broke my heart but I’m in a really bad place and I need comforting so take me…on my terms” – perfect and just what he deserved. But in the end love wins over pride, isn’t that what we read romance for?

  3. Kerry
    Jul 09, 2009 @ 20:25:45

    Are there ferrets? Inquiring minds and black footed ferret fans want to know!

  4. Pai
    Jul 10, 2009 @ 15:07:36

    I have never read a Nora Roberts book, I am ashamed to say. She is such a talented and prolific author, I have no idea which book to start with! She does books in every romance genre there is, it seems!

  5. Becca
    Jul 10, 2009 @ 15:30:35

    She is such a talented and prolific author, I have no idea which book to start with!

    If you like mysteries, my favorite is Blue Smoke – again, like Black Hills, it starts slow, but it does build.

    Northern Lights is also fun, and is told mostly from the male point of view.

    if you’re after straight romance, try the Chesapeake Bay books.

  6. readerdiane
    Jul 11, 2009 @ 11:01:44

    Actually I think Cooper’s decision was a guy thing. My hubbie didn’t want to get seriously involved or married until he had finished his schooling-12 years of college. He had to prove to himself that he could get through it.

    I didn’t like Lil’s whining. She has proven herself to be a strong, independent, self-reliant woman and she whines about Cooper.

    Otherwise I did like the book very much-not one of her best but it is hard to be better every time.

  7. Becca
    Jul 11, 2009 @ 18:04:36

    hm. I didn’t perceive Lil as whining – she was understandably cautious, but both Cooper and Lil nailed the reasons why, and it made sense to me. I liked the fact that she really wanted to go after the bad guy… and didn’t because she knew it would be stupid to do so.

    I normally don’t like plots that turn on a Big Misunderstanding that could be cleared up if only the people would *talk* to each other, but I can totally understand why Cooper didn’t feel like he could explain himself to Lil when he broke things off (I did something myself to the man who is now my husband, so I understand both why Cooper did what he did, and why it was really the wrong thing to do) – and I really liked the fact that somewhere along the line he’d learned to communicate, and was capable of explaining what he was feeling and why.

    I’d be more charitable about this book, and give it a B or a B+.

  8. Randi
    Jul 15, 2009 @ 08:49:53

    Kerry-so far, no ferrets. I am so sad. ;(

    Pai: Becca’s recs are good. I’ll second Northern Lights. It was my first NR book and is my favorite.

  9. RoseMary Connors
    Aug 07, 2010 @ 00:42:17

    I started reading reading Blcak Hills
    a couple of days ago . I am almost finished the book . I have found it romantic and filled with suspense .
    I love the book . I give this book an
    A+ and then some. Can’t wait to read
    Sweet Rains .

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    […] REVIEW: Black Hills by Nora Roberts | Dear Author […]

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