After many, many books, Ms. Carr has left Virgin River and moved to Virgin River, I mean, Thunder Point. But it is a change, even if it doesn't feel like a change at all.
The Wanderer and The Newcomer both make references to Cooper, the former Marine who comes to Thunder Point to visit an old friend and ends up staying when said friend dies and leaves him everything. At first, Cooper plans to settle everything and leave, but once he develops a relationship with the community and with helicopter pilot, Sarah, his plans become roots.
Cooper’s story serves as a thread that unites a series of secondary characters whose lives are featured as prominently as his, making this a true ensemble cast. So we also get to know the town’s sheriff, Mac, a single father of a bunch of kids, including a teenage daughter who gets a secondary, YA-ish romance, and Mac’s friend, Grace.
Finally, there’s Sarah, whose role goes beyond being Cooper’s love interest. Add to that a quirky cast of minor characters, and you get the whole picture of the town and the type of book you’re getting. The storylines don’t get a tidy resolution in The Wanderer, so The Newcomer feels like a continuation of the same book, and although the latter does wrap up a couple of the stories, it leaves things open enough to warrant a third book*.
there’s an emphasis on branding and repetitive series seem to become even more widespread, we should question the popularity of stories that seem to sell the idea that the ideal only comes in white.
Back to the books, the only new thing about them is the way each book tells all the stories instead of focusing on one independent couple. Everything else is exactly the same as in Virgin River, and in fact, it almost read like a bizarre alternate universe in which we see Jack come to a new town, set roots, fall in love and become the bartender that moonlights as the moral pillar supporting the town’s social and emotional life.
The sameness of the two series brings me back to the subject of the author brand. Robyn Carr is synonym with small-town contemporary series filled with traditional values. Her books are familiar and comforting, and we know exactly what to expect from them because her brand is clear and perfectly demarcated. But when we begin to expect a particular product instead of general quality, that delimited brand becomes limiting. And this is something I’ve noticed with authors whose brand has become the small-town contemporary series**. My feelings about marketing, branding and the role publishers and readers play in it aren’t fully formed, but I’m worried about the future of my favorite sub-genre when all I see is uniformity and sameness.
The Thunder Point books are enjoyable as well as an interesting departure that still feel familiar, so anyone who has read and liked The Virgin River series should feel right at home here. But what happens when familiar becomes indistinguishable and boring? It may not happen to everyone, and it may not happen soon, but it’s certainly happening to me.
* Book three, The Hero, will be released next month, but I think I’ve had enough Thunder Point, so I don’t have immediate plans to read it.
** I’m sure this isn’t exclusive to small-town contemporaries, but since I mostly read contemporaries, it’s easier for me to use as example.
Purchase: The Wanderer | The Newcomer
Nestled on the Oregon coast is a small town of rocky beaches and rugged charm. Locals love the land's unspoiled beauty. Developers see it as a potential gold mine. When newcomer Hank Cooper learns he's been left an old friend's entire beachfront property, he finds himself with a community's destiny in his hands.The Wanderer by Robyn Carr
Cooper has never been a man to settle in one place, and Thunder Point was supposed to be just another quick stop. But Cooper finds himself getting involved with the town. And with Sarah Dupre, a woman as complicated as she is beautiful.
With the whole town watching for his next move, Cooper has to choose between his old life and a place full of new possibilities. A place that just might be home.
Harlequin MIRA. March 23, 2013
Single dad and Thunder Point's deputy sheriff "Mac" McCain has worked hard to keep everyone safe and happy. Now he's found his own happiness with Gina James. The longtime friends have always shared the challenges and rewards of raising their adolescent daughters. With an unexpected romance growing between them, they're feeling like teenagers themselves-suddenly they can't get enough of one another.The Newcomer by Robyn Carr
And just when things are really taking off, their lives are suddenly thrown into chaos. When Mac's long-lost-and not missed-ex-wife shows up in town, drama takes on a whole new meaning. They're wondering if their new feelings for each other can withstand the pressure...but they are not going down without a fight.
Harlequin MIRA. June 25, 2013