Sunday, October 4, 2015

The Aquarius View: The Next Always by Nora Roberts

"The historic hotel in Boonsboro has endured war and peace, the changing of hands, and even rumored hauntings. Now it's getting a major face-lift from the Montgomery brothers and their eccentric mother. As the architect in the family, Beckett's 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 sixteen.

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. Though busy and with little time for romance, Clare is drawn across the street by Beckett's transformation of the old inn, wanting to take a closer both the building and the man behind it.

With the grand opening inching closer, Beckett is happy to give Clare a private tour - one room at a time, in between blueprint meetings and kindergarten pickups. It's no first date, but these stolen moments are the beginning of something that could arouse the secret yearning that resides in Clare's independent heart - and open the door to the extraordinary adventure of what comes next..."

Headache Free Zone
Let’s get a little bit into this contemporary romance touched with paranormal and predictable-cheesy-stalker-antagonist love story.
I liked The Next Always, and look forward to catching the next two acts in the trilogy with stars and hope in my eyes.  You see, neither the heroine nor hero of The Next Always aggravated me–which is always a plus for an emotionally detached Aquarius such as myself.  But let me tell you why I found myself pleased with the characters, while extending my hope for the same consistency in the next entries.  

There were no emotional stand-offs and showdowns between the two.  (Thank you, Jesus.)  See, Clare arrived equally independent to Beckett.  She owned a bookstore, while raising three boys as a single mother/widow.  Her plate was full, giving her all kinds of reasons to flush Beckett aside through rivers of abstract-thinking melodrama.  However, she didn't allow her widowed past or existing circumstances to chunk Beckett at the door–or at their initial "hello."  Granted the two characters had the history of high school behind them.  Still, I cannot express my gratitude at finding a female romance protagonist receptive to her male counterpart.  Specifically one who has every reason to hand both him and the reader a box of argumentative, uptight rebuffs.  Rebuffs usually delivered in agonizing dialogue where a piece of the couple eventually storms out the room in a childish, uncommunicative huff.  See, this is what grates my nerves: characters in romance novels who don't just say what they feel or have genuine concerns for, but begs the other to pick up on clues to the point where begging leads to an argument!  The Next Always never planted that irritation in me.

Nevertheless, on the flip side of the couple's coin, Beckett took his time with unfolding the smaller recesses of Clare.  He wasn’t pushy or demanding; in a number of pleasing cases, he even played babysitter for Clare to exemplify his dedication to her family.  Now to be 100% honest, Beckett seemed a little "commonplace" as a male lead featured in a Roberts's romance.  Distinguishable, but not all that distinguishable from my experience with other male leads.  He does the same slugging of beer, hiking up the tool belt, bar-touch with the fellas, and getting in touch with his emotions deal.  And while all that is true, I also never got that he was an accessory to Clare.  He very much had his own, strong running narrative.  Should the two never became a couple, I felt they could stand as individuals.  I somehow got that that's the genius of Roberts's success.  The tone of her characters may have a breath of repetitiveness, but they contain flesh.

Their romance followed the formula.  Thankfully, without a stream of mind-numbing melodrama and cryptic conversations on love and emotional accessibility (that could be the Aquarius speaking).  They, to be clear of my observation, genuinely liked each other enough to purpose a relationship.  That, in turn, caused me to like them.    
Outside of their developed backstories, I can’t say there was much conflicting their possibilities as a couple; any differences of opinions were hashed out justly.  Otherwise, nothing immediate and demanding came barreling between the development of their relationship.  Unless you count the ghost haunting the inn, which appeared interested and invested in the two itself.  There’s also the stalker I mentioned.  Sadly, he came across as one-dimensional and unerringly singular to his role.  Nonetheless, by the end of the book, I was grateful Clare and Beckett’s romance wasn’t built off straining poker faces and calling each other’s bluffs.  In other words, The Next Always didn't contain a couple linking their emotions to the cowboys in a Bonanza episode.  No.  Clare and Beckett didn't withstand a romantic shoot-out driven by their discouraging past/lives and emotions toward one another.  They were honest.  They were upfront.  They were real in the context of the book.  Hallelujah!
Advertisements(?) & Settings
Wait, there's another thing I want to talk about...
Apparently, all the streets, buildings, and history behind this trilogy come straight out of Boonsboro, Maryland.  The same town Nora Roberts lives in (or near).  The featured inn, pizza shop, and bookstore, given in this romantic tale, comes owned by the author and her family in real-life.  It almost appears The Next Always is some form of endorsement.  Eat here!  Sleep here!  Buy books here!  (Roberts even mentions characters from her In Death series).  Reading a few online reviews, I found a couple of Roberts’s die-heard readers/reviewers discouraged by this slip.  But in contrast, I was cool with it all.  I mean, wouldn't it be fun to visit the places your favorite characters in a book visited?  Even so, I did find it annoying how all the characters in The Next Always run to the pizza shop for either a pizza pie or calzone.  Then again, even that isn’t unusual for a Roberts/Robb book.  Under whichever title, her characters consume pizza, wine and coffee like it’s nobody’s business.
Also, many may find it tiresome, but I loved the setting and construction process of the inn.  There’s plenty of conversations about cabinetry, tile, linoleum, chandeliers, wood, piping, etc.  All which I found interesting and necessary to the story like icing on cupcakes.  And if there's one thing I know for sure when it comes to Nora's writing, she generally provides a new flavor of icing to coat her romances.  Besides, I'm a details freak (one reason I quit Janet Evanovich) and love when an author takes the right opportunity to connect character with setting.
The Winning Romance
Anyway, the book is fun, relaxing, light-hearted, unsurprising, and scarcely suspenseful.  The hero and heroine hold pleasing backstories, without a pile of headache-inducing baggage to inebriate the development of their relationship (as well as the reader's experience).  Ultimately, it was this simple fact that made The Next Always a pleasant summer read.  I can only pray the next set of characters display similar, mature characteristics.
An interview detailing the conception of Roberts's Boonsboro Trilogy

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