All right, to start the ball rolling again, I've decided to review Black Hills by Nora Roberts. Surprisingly, I haven't seen that many reviews for this book and it's officially coming out today...
Black Hills by Nora Roberts
published by Putnam in July 2009
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.Genre: contemporary, romantic suspense
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 fastpaced 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.
The Story: We are introduced to a young, sully Cooper Sullivan who has been sent to his maternal grandparents (with whom he had very limited contact) while his parents are having a second honeymoon, trying to salvage their marriage. Cooper is not happy to be away from civilization as he knows it. However, things change once he start realizing how much his grandparents love him, when he meets Lil and her family - a loving, tight-knitted family - and once he gets on a horse. Cooper develops a strong and deep friendship with Lil, coming back as much as possible... Friendship becomes more and eventually, Cooper and Lil become a couple. Trying to handle their long-distance relationship, both have to deal with a new life: Coop who has decided to go to the police academy and whose funds have been cut off due to his father's unhappiness with the career choice, and Lil who has started college and is determined to create a safe haven for wild creatures back at home. Unfortunately, their relationship is not able to withstand the many trials and each goes their different ways.
Years later, Cooper is back in Black Hills to take over his grandparents' business. Lil is wary because she's still in love with him, which has ruined her for other men, and is unable to forget that Cooper has broken her heart. Her plan is to busy herself with the refuge, avoid Coop when possible and otherwise, be civil. However, things don't go according to plan when a serial killer has decided to target the Chance Wildlife Refuge and Lil. Coop is determined to protect Lil whether she wants his protection or not and win her back, whether she wants to or not.
My Opinion: To be honest, as usual, I've been impatiently waiting for the new Nora Roberts release. Seriously, I think she is a great author. I got Black Hills and basically inhaled it. It was quite a quick read. What did I think of it? Was it up to my expectations? Hmmm.
Once again, Ms Roberts delivers a strong and solid read, unfortunately, I didn't feel like it was a wowzer. I thought it was better than last year's stand-alone, Tribute, yeah, but something was missing. The chemistry between Cooper and Lil was there, but their relationship was a little bit awkward. I feel that the relationship was a little bit rushed, that their scenes together were too short and the ending, their HEA ending, too abrupt.
But let's take it from the top... I liked Cooper and Lil, although I liked Cooper better. They were both strong characters, determined and proud, perhaps too proud. I felt that the older Cooper was a little bit more taciturn and I think it reflects the impact of being a cop on his life. The fact that he came back to Black Hills to take over his grandparents' business, it proves how much of a good man he is. Did he take some bad decisions in the past? Sure, but those decisions were consistent with his personality and more importantly, they were consistent with the fact that he was a young man. As for Lil, hmmm. She is the type of person who has objectives and goals in life and she will thrive on the challenge and do her best to attain them. She's a bit of an idealist and kind of the perfect person. The fact that she hold grudges made her more human, but at the same time, I found her a little bit too stubborn for my tastes. I know that Coop broke her heart when she was 18 years old, but personally, I thought she would have moved on by now. Did Coop handle the situation very well 12 years ago? Absolutely not. At the same time though, I agree with everyone else, that Coop did the right thing... that Lil and Coop were too young and that their relationship would have changed both of them. They had to become adults and unfortunately, they couldn't do it together... I'm surprised that Lil couldn't get it... I guess that makes her human, her inability to see it and her anger that decisions were taken for her. Anyway, let just say I sympathized more with Coop than with Lil. Quite frankly, overall, when you look back, Cooper had it more difficult. I have to say though, despite everything, I love their scenes together, their interactions. It was great, Ms Roberts is really able to convey how well the characters know about each other because of their shared past and relationship. LOL, I have to say, I loved it how Cooper got his way with Lil, with a minimum of fuss and words :P
I love Lil's parents, Cooper's grandparents and all the other secondary characters. Although they are secondary characters, they are amazingly well developed and fleshed out. They aren't just wallpaper, they are involved in the storyline and that is great. The little romance between Farley and Tansy was cute, without overshadowing Cooper and Lil, but at the same time, I don't know... in the grand scheme, it did seem a little bit superfluous. I would have preferred it to focus a little bit more on Cooper and Lil.
One of the aspects I greatly appreciated in Black Hills was the world which Ms Roberts introduced to us. Not the Black Hills, but the world of a refuge where people like Lil has to get grants and donations to keep things running. Where a vetenarian is needed to take care of animals as well as PR person to advertise and a geek wizard and etc. The world was very interesting and detailed. I really felt Ms Roberts did her research well and she was able to share that aspect with the readers. Having Lil write articles for academic papers, running the refuge, having to come up with different ideas for donations. The fact that she has to spin stories, milk whatever to make people attracted... It does sound mercenary, but the goal makes it worthy... and it's very realistic as well. Kudos to Ms Roberts, she did this very well.
The weakest part of the book? I would say the intrigue, the mystery. I thought that Cooper discovered the identity of the murderer way too easily. His motive, the way he thought, his next action... they figured it out again, too fast. It would have been better in my opinion if it would have been more suspenseful. Also, the motive to me was weak and delusional. Why would he suddenly target Lil and her refuge? I just didn't buy the explanation :(
Again, Ms Roberts is very consistent and delivers another read. However, knowing the scope of Ms Roberts' talents, I thought it wasn't enough. It seems there is a pattern to her releases: she'll come out with a wowzer and then, some solid but a little dull books... and then, when you're almost ready to give up, she proves you wrong and wows you again. That happened to me with the In Death series, almost gave it up after Survivor In Death, but she came back strong with Memory in Death. Then, with the trilogies as well... From her Key trilogies, I have been feeling meh... but she has started the Bride Quartet... with her stand-alones, same story again... After Chesapeake Blue, she came out with Birthright, Northern Lights and Blue Smoke... and I thought they were meh... but then, she wowed me with Angels Fall. Since this is her MO, I'm going to stick around for the next few releases :P
My Grade: B. The best word to describe Black Hills? Solid.