“The Next Always”

Roberts, Nora.  The Next Always: Book One of the Inn BoonsBoro Trilogy.  Westminster: Penguin Books., 2011.  Print.

Borrowed from the Iowa City Public Library.

Read in between September 12 and 19, 2012.

Three and a half out of five stars.

Nora Roberts’s first book in the Inn Boonsboro Trilogy, The Next Always follows the development of the relationship between lead female protagonist Clare Brewster and her male counterpart Beckett Montgomery.  Beckett has been in love with Clare for years, however the two couldn’t be together due to extenuating circumstances (her high school sweetheart-turned-husband).  When Clare’s husband is killed in Iraq, she returns to her hometown in Maryland,  where the Montgomery brothers have taken on the job of renovating the Boonsboro Inn (which comes equipped with literary-themed suites such as the Titania and Oberon and Westley and Buttercup ).  The Next Always entertains readers through its cast of characters which includes Clare’s three rambunctious young sons, Beckett’s two handsome brothers Owen and Ryder, the fierce and protective Montgomery family matriarch Justine, and Clare’s quirky and loveable BFF Avery.  In addition to these characters, places in the book the Boonsboro Inn and Clare’s bookstore play prominent roles. Roberts writes in a candid and conversational tone with just enough sauciness to make the book a touch steamy, but not overly erotic or explicit.  It is both humorous and heartwarming, though at times bittersweet and nostalgic.  Although a bit predictable, fans of Nora Roberts will recognize her voice throughout the book, and Romance newcomers will appreciate the lighthearted novel that keeps readers guessing with its many sub-plot twists and obstacles (including a ghost and a stalker!).  The Next Always will satisfy readers who are looking for a romantic story with just enough heat to be interesting, but nothing too graphic or detailed.

 

As my first foray into the Romance genre, I chose to read a Nora Roberts book because I know how popular and prominent she is (with over 200 novels published), and because I assumed it would follow the traditional romance formula.  I have to admit, I was pleasantly surprised.  It certainly wasn’t what I would consider a great literary work, nor was it deeply thought-provoking, but it was entertaining and served its purpose as being a mostly upbeat, heartwarming (though exceedingly predictable) tale.  Readers of Roberts’ work certainly won’t need any convincing to read this title, though in my reading of other reviews it may disappoint some of her more diehard fans.  I have nothing to which I can compare this book, though I will probably read the other two books in the series.

“Strength in What Remains”

Kidder, Tracy.  Strength in What Remains.  New York: Random House, Inc., 2009.  Print.

Borrowed from the Iowa City Public Library.

Read in (mostly) one sitting on Labor Day, 2012.

Three and a half out of five stars.

This first week’s selection is the 2012 All Iowa Reads title Strength in What Remains written by Pulitzer Prize winning journalist Tracy Kidder.  It tells the true story of Deogratias a native of Burundi, the tiny country nestled between Rwanda and Tanzania in eastern central Africa.  Deo, as he’s referred to in the book, narrowly escapes the genocide and civil war that ravages Rwanda and Burundi in early 1994 and finds himself in New York City with only $200 to his name.  Though he doesn’t speak English, Deo gets a job delivering groceries and faces the harsh realities known to many immigrants: hunger, homelessness and, despite the horrors he has witnessed in his native country, homesickness.  Prior to fleeing Africa Deo was in his third year of medical school on his way to becoming a doctor.  Eventually, albeit not easily, he finds favor with a series of good Samaritan New Yorkers who get him back on his feet and back into school.

Throughout the book Kidder takes the reader back and forth between Africa and the United States, beginning with Deo’s flight from Burundi to New York in 1994.  As the story unfolds we catch glimpses of Deo’s childhood, adolescence, and school years, all intwined with the story of his arrival in the United States.  Although I appreciate Kidder’s attempts to meld Deo’s past and present, the progression comes off as disjointed, even forced.  By skimming the text on the back cover the reader learns that Deo finds his way to “Columbia University, medical school, and a life devoted to healing.”  With this prior knowledge, the sporadic plot fails in its goal of lending suspense and drama to an already incredible, profound, heartbreaking and awe-inspiring story.  Kidder injects himself unnecessarily in the last third of the book, narrating in first person as he accompanies Deo back to Africa on a journey to build a rural medical clinic.  The history of the Burundian/Rwandan genocide and civil war Kidder gives in the last third of the book could have better supplemented the accounts of Deo’s life growing up in Africa; rather it read like a hasty, afterthought of a lecture.

Overall I thoroughly enjoyed this book, more so for the characters Kidder brings to life than for his story telling abilities.  Having grown up without war, famine and disease it is hard to empathize with Deo, but it’s hard not to admire him for his resilience and outlook on life (which, understandably so, is not always rose-colored).  And while it is difficult to read about the atrocities and injustices depicted in Strength in What Remains, but I think that is one of the reasons this selection was a good one for the All Iowa Reads program.  Too often it is easy to forget what happens outside of our own little worlds, and it takes stories like Deo’s to remind us that there are more important things in life and that our attitudes and character define and shape us in many ways.