Men are boys in bigger packages.
– truth from The Next Always
I love Nora Roberts. I have been in love with her writing since I was seventeen. My Mom, just before I got on a plane with my grandparents to Portugal for a month, handed my Three Fates – my first Nora Roberts book. I must have read it four times that summer – in fact, the pages are worn, a little yellowish and smell like sunscreen and sand. A few grains of sand fall out from time to time, but that’s just a testament to how much I loved that book. Who wouldn’t? A trio of siblings with a family history of looking for an ancient trio of statues that run into ruthless criminals and the loves of their lives? Swoon, so my type of book. Did I mention the menfolk were also Irish? Right? Swoon.
With that said, I don’t always pick up the latest Nora Roberts. I have read many of her books – Northern Lights, Carolina Moon, The Dance of the Gods Trilogy among my favourites – but the woman has at this point written over 200 books – probably all quality novels. There is always another Nora Roberts novel to read.
But while I was down renewing my library card for the first time since I left Toronto for law school back in 2008, I happened upon three Nora Roberts titles I hadn’t heard of: The Next Always, The Last Boyfriend and The Perfect Hope. Perfectly romantic titles for a good beach read – and as it happened, I was going to a beachy wedding in a week, so why not take these along?
Dear readers, I am so glad I did.
The trilogy is set in the small town of Boonsboro, and concerns the love lives of three of its most prominent bachelors: the Montgomery brothers – Ryder, the tough as nails oldest child; Owen, the highly organized and slightly anal retentive middle child; and, Beckett, the sappy youngest one who’s had a crush on the same girl since high school. They, and their highly enthused mother, are revamping the old dilapidated hotel in the town’s center – a hotel, as it happens, that is haunted by a well-meaning, lonely ghost of a Civil War widow, who immediately attaches herself to this hodge podge of a family and makes her presence known by pulling pranks and making everything smell of honeysuckle.
Then enter the love interests – Claire, Avery and Hope. All friends, very tight, and encouraging of one another. They’re the perfect fit to fill out this family. The one thing I have always loved about Nora Roberts`books is the presence of strong female leads who like each other. As counter intuitive as it may seem … that is not always the case.
But before I get too ahead of myself, here are my mini reviews for each novel that makes up the Inn Boonsboro trilogy.
“You’re seriously talking about a ghost. This building – or parts of it – has been here for two and a half centuries. It would strike me odder if there wasn’t a ghost. Not everything, everyone, leaves.”
The Next Always, Inn Boonsboro #1
The historic hotel in Boonsboro has endured war and peace, changing hands, even rumored hauntings. Now it’s getting a major facelift from the Montgomery brothers and their eccentric mother. Beckett is the architect of the family, and his social life consists mostly of talking shop over pizza and beer. But there’s another project he’s got his eye on: the girl he’s been waiting to kiss since he was fifteen.
After losing her husband and returning to her hometown, Clare Brewster soon settles into her life as the mother of three young sons while running the town’s bookstore. Busy, with little time for romance, Clare is drawn across the street by Beckett’s transformation of the old inn, wanting to take a closer look . . . at the building and the man behind it.
With the grand opening inching closer, Beckett’s happy to give Clare a private tour – one room at a time. It’s no first date, but these stolen moments are the beginning of something new – and open the door to the extraordinary adventure of what comes next . . .
Clare and Beckett’s love story was a slow moving one. It starts in spurts and false starts – children can do that to a new relationship. There is throwing up on shoes and staying up past bedtime, and even something called “Man Night” which serves only to make “Girl’s Night” that much more fun. However, the feeling of this book is very sensual – it is the start of a very family-oriented tale that ends with The Perfect Hope.
Clare is that little voice that tells us not to dive in, the one that claims responsibilities to others always outweigh the responsibility to self. She is self-reliant, she is in charge, she is completely and utterly amazing. And yet, when love comes knocking, she shies away from it, telling herself she is unworthy – it struck me that Clare is the exact character that many women embody – the one that takes on all the pains of motherhood, of girlhood and womanhood, but then demures from the pleasures of life, because hardship has become customary. To watch her transform, to allow the light of her life to begin truly shining, was brilliant.
The story is also about finding love again. Forgiving yourself for finding that love after a tragedy and learning to love with that new love, when the old one was just as important to you. Clare lost her husband to a war, and gained a new husband through luck, and both mean the world to her, but to have the latter, she had to let go of the guilt, and the intricacy of that, the heaviness of it, swells you up with emotions that clog your throat from the moment she realizes she’s in love again. The Next Always was beautifully written with family and redemption in mind, and the character of Clare is one you’ll root for, because she is steadfast, she is strong and she is definitely not one dimensional …
And contrasting her with Avery, well … let me explain:
“I’m okay. It’s exciting, and a little unnerving – but in a really cool way. Why are you so calm?”
“You sucked in all the excitement.”
The Last Boyfriend, Inn Boonsboro #2
Owen is the organizer of the Montgomery clan, running the family’s construction business with an iron fist—and an even less flexible spreadsheet. And though his brothers bust on his compulsive list-making, the Inn BoonsBoro is about to open right on schedule. The only thing Owen didn’t plan for was Avery McTavish…
Avery’s popular pizza place is right across the street from the inn, giving her a first-hand look at its amazing renovation—and a newfound appreciation for Owen. Since he was her first boyfriend when they were kids, Owen has never been far from Avery’s thoughts. But the attraction she’s feeling for him now is far from innocent. As Avery and Owen cautiously take their relationship to another level, the opening of the inn gives the whole town of Boonsboro a reason to celebrate. But Owen’s hard work has only begun. Getting Avery to let down her guard is going to take longer than he expected—and so will getting her to realize that her first boyfriend is going to be her last…
Avery is all fire – she may run from love, but she does it in such high fashion and energy that it’s almost commendable. She’s a tad broken from the abandonment of her mother, but again, family plays a huge part in this story – not only her own, which is made up of her father and her, but also of the Montgomery’s, who have helped raise her since her mother left her.
Though we mostly see the strength of her character at first – in running her own business, in taking on adversary and bringing people together – there is a completely different side to Avery that only comes out with the return of her mother, the love Owen seems determined to lay on her, and her realization that she is enough of herself that she deserves happiness. Because Avery will fight for those she loves, but, as with many of us, it takes her a while to realize that those she loves also want to fight for her.
Avery is also the glue of the most satisfying relationship of the books: the friendship between the three heroines. Avery knew Clare in high school and then befriended Hope in college, bringing all three of them together in Boonsboro to create a trifecta of awesome female friendship.
I mentioned above that this is not always the case in books (or movies for that matter). Women are generally not seen to interact very much in real terms – shows like Sex and the City being an exception. To see Clare, Avery and Hope together in this trio of novels in such a normal way – to help support one another, to stand up for one another, to comfort each other – was thrilling. I ended up hoping for more scenes of just the girls than anything else since it was done so well that it seemed the most natural thing … which it is, we just have seemed to have forgotten that …
“It’s never simple.” Avery slid an arm around Hope’s waist. “It shouldn’t be. Because being with someone should matter enough to be at least a little bit complicated.”
The Perfect Hope, Inn Boonsboro #3
The Montgomery brothers have been the talk of Boonsboro ever since they decided to renovate the old Inn into an intimate and handsome new Bed and Breakfast. Beckett and Owen have both found love in the process, but what of Ryder, the third Montgomery brother? Can the Inn Boonsboro weave its magic one more time…?
Nora Roberts’ enthralling series comes to a triumphant and richly satisfying close in this warm, witty and captivating novel.
Hope and Ryder were always the weird one. There is always that one strange couple when you link up stories like this. And these two were it. They were also the most fun. They disliked each other, would play off one another and glare across the room at each other, but somehow, that made it all the more sweeter when they began falling in love with one another.
But it’s Hope that intrigues me the most – Ryder is a very Alpha male character who undergoes a transformation from punch first, ask later to a more sensible person throughout the novel, but it’s Hope that’s intriguing. And it’s her interaction with her long-dead ancestor that seals it.
She’s never afraid of the ghost, she never runs from her – she talks to her, reasons with her and ultimately helps her to find resolution. There is a familial simplicity in that – a relative helping another relative out, across the generations, sifting through records and photos and stories until happening upon the one thing that can put all the pieces of the puzzle together into one cohesive unit. And Hope, meticulously organized and practical Hope, does it without blinking, without realizing how far from her comfort zone she’d managed to get to. It’s a wonderful transformation – an almost painful one, as she begins to understand how to trust and how to let go.
All in all, the Inn Boonsboro trilogy reminds me a lot of some of Roberts’ other works: strong familial ties, usually in threes, with a tough minded matriarch at its helm, and a healthy dose of the supernatural or fate to intervene and assure a victory to all the couples. They are stories of love conquering the obstacles we put in front of ourselves, and of familial bonds being so much more than the coding in our blood. They are about celebrating the good times in preparation for the bad times and in general, are just emotional and ultimately satisfying reads.
I highly recommend the trilogy – though I warn you, get them all at once! You’ll want to finish this all at once!
Next to Review: Sons of the Wolf by Barbara Michaels