Thursday, April 5, 2018

Nora Roberts - Black Hills

A summer at his grandparents' South Dakota ranch is not eleven-year-old Cooper Sullivan's idea of a good time. But things are a bit more bearable now that he's discovered the neighbor girl, Lil Chance, and her homemade batting cage. Even horseback riding isn't as awful as Coop thought it would be. Each year, with Coop's annual summer visit, their friendship deepens from innocent games to stolen kisses, but there is one shared experience that will forever haunt them: the terrifying discovery of a hiker's body. As the seasons change and the years roll, Lil stays steadfast to her dreams of becoming a wildlife biologist and protecting her family land, while Coop struggles with his father's demand that he attend law school and join the family firm. 
Twelve years after they last walked together hand in hand, fate has brought them back to the Black Hills when the people and things they hold most dear need them most. An investigator in New York, Coop recently left his fast paced life to care for his aging grandparents and the ranch he has come to call home. Though the memory of his touch still haunts her, Lil has let nothing stop her dream of opening the Chance Wildlife Refuge, but something . . . or someone . . . has been keeping a close watch. 
When small pranks and acts of destruction escalate into the heartless killing of Lil's beloved cougar, recollections of an unsolved murder in these very hills have Coop springing to action to keep Lil safe. Lil and Coop both know the natural dangers that lurk in the wild landscape of the Black Hills. 
But now they must work together to unearth a killer of twisted and unnatural instincts who has singled them out as prey. 

Comment: Someone paying attention to my blog for some time now has realized I'm a fan of Nora Roberts and maybe knows she was the first romance author I really dedicated myself too and she made me interested in reading more romance novels from then on. Because of that I try to ration her books so there can always be a book by her to read in my future.
Last year I've read a trilogy, this year I'm picking two standalone books.
This month I picked Black Hills, a 2011 edition (my paperback copy).

In this story we meet Lil Chance and Cooper Sullivan as main characters. The story begins when both are children and Cooper comes from New York to South Dakota to stay for a while with his grandparents. His grandparents live nearby Lil's parents and the two become friends during that time. As thy get older, despite the distance, they still maintain a friendship until it's time for Lil to go to college. They become lovers then but their lives are too different and in the following years they grow even more apart.
The main plot takes place in current times, when both are in their 30s, already with experience behind them when it comes to life and jobs and adult relationships. Cooper's grandfather falls and needs help in their farm so Cooper decides to sell his business and come back to South Dakota for good. 
They run into each other again and Cooper is impressed with Lil's work on her refuge for wild animals but someone else isn't and from little pranks to the death of animals, things seem to be very dangerous. Will Cooper and Lil solve their differences while protecting their lives as well?

As often happens with stories by this author, some plot choices are quite predictable but it's always a pleasure to read these books anyway because there's some gain in knowing the story will be engaging. I just think that, considering the amount of time it takes for the story to develop (my paperback has more than 400 pages), when it gets to the very end, besides the solution fo whatever was meant to be dealt with, nothing more. I would love the author to add a bit more information, not necessarily an epilogue, about what future reserves for everyone, just a couple of paragraphs would help. But mostly, we are supposed to infer that from what happens during the book and a very "zen" like description of the main couple sharing a sweet final moment three sentences after they catch the bad guy.

My little quibbles aside, what one must applaud the author for is the immense diversity she has in her character's jobs, careers, descriptions... it's always fascinating to think about what people can do for a living and this character loving and dedicating her life to the protection of wild animals might not be that unique but is certainly like a teaching class and the author's research comes through.

The bad guy in this book comes across as someone really unbalanced. I guess real life has thought us no one can be the kind of crazy no one would expect because some weird and hard tragedies do happen to prove us wrong. I just think he was so...conveniently explained. I don't know... I sort of don't mind we don't go too much into his mind and motivations, I don't mind he's a superficial character for the most part but at the same time, why bother...oh well.

There's also a secondary romance, which is very sweet. I like how most characters interact a lot and there's the notion everyone surrounding the protagonists matters somehow.
The romance between Lil and Cooper is also mature, shows there's people caring about one another, people who made mistakes but talk, eventually, and some interactions feel quite realistic. However, since they knew each other previously this falls a bit into lovers reunited category and I'm not that fond of this trope. Still, I was happy they got an HEA.

Just one last note I've noticed a lot lately in the author's books. It's kind of obvious some details, and even the heroine's personality/skills, are portrayed as too perfect. For example, she is competent, she is smart, she is fair, even when she acts wrong it's not because she seems to have flaws but it's a driving point to move the story forward. It just seems too tidy in the box and I'd love to have more vulnerable scenes except only the ones where she is sad or trying to defeat the villain.
Anyway, lots to think about.
Nevertheless, an interesting story.
Grade: 7/10

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