REVIEW: RETURN TO VIRGIN RIVER, BY ROBYN CARR

Kaylee Sloan’s home in Southern California is full of wonderful memories of the woman who raised her. But the memories are prolonging her grief over her mother’s recent death. A successful author, Kaylee hoped she could pour herself into her work. Instead she has terrible writer’s block and a looming deadline.

Determined to escape distractions and avoid the holiday season, Kaylee borrows a cabin in Virgin River. She knows the isolation will help her writing, and as she drives north through the mountains and the majestic redwoods, she immediately feels inspired. Until she arrives at a building that has just gone up in flames. Devastated, she heads to Jack’s Bar to plan her next steps. The local watering hole is the heart of the town, and once she crosses the threshold, she’s surprised to be embraced by people who are more than willing to help a friend—or a stranger—in need.

Kaylee’s world is expanding in ways she never dreamed possible. And when she rescues a kitten followed by a dog with a litter of puppies, she finds her heart opening up to the animals who need her. And then there’s the dog trainer who knows exactly how to help her. As the holidays approach, Kaylee’s dread turns to wonder. Because there’s no better place to spend Christmas than Virgin River.

From the very beginning of Return to Virgin River, I felt a connection to Kaylee and her life. As she settles into Virgin River, trying to deal with her grief and push forward with the book she is writing, I was caught up in her feelings and her goals.

Meeting townsfolk helped her begin the healing process, and then connecting to Landry, who was her landlord, brought out other forgotten emotions. The possibility of love.

The author’s descriptions of the setting, the characters who lived in Virgin River, and telling their stories as they all formed a community for Kaylee brought out a sense of a real place with real people. I love Humboldt County, so I felt as if I was there with these characters, many of whom were in the previous book.

I read the book in one day, as I could not put it down. I hope to rejoin these characters again. 5 stars.

***

REVIEW: LITTLE FIRES EVERYWHERE, BY CELESTE NG

 

In Shaker Heights, a placid, progressive suburb of Cleveland, everything is planned – from the layout of the winding roads, to the colors of the houses, to the successful lives its residents will go on to lead. And no one embodies this spirit more than Elena Richardson, whose guiding principle is playing by the rules.

Enter Mia Warren – an enigmatic artist and single mother – who arrives in this idyllic bubble with her teenaged daughter Pearl, and rents a house from the Richardsons. Soon Mia and Pearl become more than tenants: all four Richardson children are drawn to the mother-daughter pair. But Mia carries with her a mysterious past and a disregard for the status quo that threatens to upend this carefully ordered community.

When old family friends of the Richardsons attempt to adopt a Chinese-American baby, a custody battle erupts that dramatically divides the town–and puts Mia and Elena on opposing sides. Suspicious of Mia and her motives, Elena is determined to uncover the secrets in Mia’s past. But her obsession will come at unexpected and devastating costs.

My Thoughts: A beautiful and layered story, Little Fires Everywhere brought out themes of family dynamics, family secrets, and small town life.

Elena Richardson, at the heart of the novel, stands in direct opposition to her tenant, Mia Warren, a single mother and artist: a woman with a nomadic lifestyle and a beautiful daughter Pearl. Their values could not be more different, and when Mia seems to tug at the center of Elena’s family, inexplicably pulling some of her children to her, Elena digs in and starts searching for the dirt she knows is hidden behind Mia’s freewheeling façade.

Izzy, the youngest and most troubled of the Richardson children, gravitates toward Mia, where she finds the acceptance she craves and which is not there for her at home.

Even Lexie, Trip, and Moody, the other Richardson children, soon find something they want in the Warren household. Now it seems as though Mia is the “Pied Piper” for the teens, showing them options they had not considered. She does it all calmly and without intent. It is the pull of the appealing life choices that are anathema in their own family.

The fires of desire and independence are burning amongst the teens, and in the broader life of the community, the town lights up with the burning furor of a custody fight between an upper middle class family and the Asian birth mother who made a mistake. Abandonment, some town members cry out, but advocates for Bebe claim she made the “safe choice” when she couldn’t care for her baby and left her at the fire station.

Before all of the secrets are exposed, another kind of fire is lit…and scorches them all down to the core. A powerful novel full of images and metaphors that ring true. 5 stars.***