The Next Always
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A note to most men and other enthusiastic avoiders of the romance genre: You may as well tune out now. I'm going all Nora Roberts on you, and if you don't know what that means, you probably don't want to.<br />
Alright, are we all clear? Perfect. Good news, romance fans! Nora Roberts has started a new trilogy, and it falls in line with her most-loved, vintage work. *The Next Always* is the first book in her Inn Boonsboro trilogy. It follows Roberts' classic trilogy formula – three strong, sassy friends in a small, atmospheric town come together around a charming project. The project provides the setting for the three friends to further bond, and – eventually - fall in love with gruff, dreamy manly-men. <br />
Clare is a young, beautiful widow of a soldier with three boys under 10. When her husband died, she returned home to Boonsboro to be near her parents and best friend Avery (who owns an Italian restaurant across the street), and opened a bookstore. She loves her boys and her work, has done her grieving, and finds her days are quite full and happy – in other words, she's a true-to-form, Nora Roberts-style independent woman. She's looking forward to the jump in business that'll come when the Montgomery brothers finish restoring a historic inn nearby. Small towns being what they are, Clare gets tours of the Inn as it transforms, and eventually winds up working with the brothers writing copy for their ad material. One of the brothers, Beckett, is a handsome architect and contractor who's had a crush on Clare since high school. As work on the inn progresses, he and Clare grow closer. <br />
But, this being Nora Roberts, there has to be a mysterious twist: Local spoiled brat millionaire Sam Freemont's crush on Clare has taken a sinister turn. As Clare's relationship with Beckett deepens, Sam grows angrier and decides to take action.<br />
All Roberts' signature elements are here: Strong bonds between friends; sarcasm without cattiness; a strong sense of place and community; and hunky men doing manly things in sensitive ways. The Inn itself takes shape as a character as the story progresses, with Roberts giving lots of charming details for the design enthusiasts out there to latch onto. And, qua Roberts, there are even some supernatural elements and a nod to Celtic culture in the character of Avery (I'm sure that'll be fleshed out in her installment, *The Last Boyfriend*, coming May 2012). Sensitive readers be warned - the Montgomery brothers' dialogue is as blue as their collars, and there are some pretty spicy scenes. However, all in all, *The Next Always* offers no surprises to seasoned Roberts readers – just a cozy, atmospheric, light read with likeable characters, great for dreary winter afternoons.
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