What do you do? If you’re like me, you snag a paperback off the rack at the grocery store or drugstore. You know, the ones where there is a dusty display of about 12 different titles, including a diet book and a religious epiphany or self-help book, 3 or 4 from the best-seller list going back six or eight weeks, and a random assortment of titles and authors you’ve never heard of. Books with untrendy covers – no embossed lettering, no fancy cut-outs. But you grab one anyway, and hope for the best, because even the worst book is better than sitting in line in the DMV with NO book. Even though experience tells you that you’ll probably regret shelling out your 5 to 8 bucks.
It was on just such an occasion that I encountered Down By The River by Robyn Carr. (I read the first trilogy out of order – try to go in order if you can.) Happily, the ending to this particular story is a good one: I discovered a new-to-me author with a substantial backlist to work my way through. Yum.
Carr writes contemporary stories with an old-fashioned feel. They’re set in small towns, typically with some connection to a medical profession (Carr graduated from nursing school before her writing career began). As you progress through the two related trilogies, Virgin River and Grace Valley, you get to see the gradual development of a small-town medical community, from the classic aging-town-doc-who-wants-to-retire-but-can’t, to the build-up of a clinic of respectable capabilities including outreach midwifery and women's health. The clinic serves as a focal point for the 6 books, attracting new blood from out of town, interesting secondary characters in the form of patients, and so on.
Readers looking for extreme escapism might not enjoy these as much as they do, say, jetting-setting through Elizabeth Lowell’s world of international jewel dealers and thieves. Or wheeling and dealing with Jayne Ann Krentz’s corporate moguls. As someone who
Despite a distinct lack of upwardly mobile career paths, the towns harbor a surprising population of eligible hunks—who also have hunky friends willing to relocate. Town benefactors lurk in the wings to grant wishes. Neighbors in need are looked after conscientiously. Women who think they are just passing through end up with good reasons to stay. You see what I mean.
Set in some of the most beautiful geography in North America, the mountains, valleys and lakes of northern California frame Carr’s idyllic little towns with beauty and a certain isolation that plays a part in the lifestyle of her characters as well as the plotting. Conflict centers around relationships: the central romantic one, baggage from characters’ former lives, and the network of friendships spanning the two towns and beyond.
On the sweet-to-steamy scale, these lean sweet, but don’t mistake that for lack of passion. These heroes are no SNAGs—they’re brawny and ripped (lumberjack, anyone?) and territorial and sometimes a little overbearing, but where Carr really shines is showing us their gentle and tender side without making them weak. It’s a tough line to walk, but she succeeds brilliantly.
If some romances are the perfect beach read, I’d say these are the perfect books for a crackling fire, comfy quilt, and BAMoT*.
*Big-Ass Mug of Tea, coinage courtesy of Meera.