Carolina Home, by Virginia Kantra

>> Friday, June 21, 2013

TITLE: Carolina Home
AUTHOR: Virginia Kantra

PAGES: 304

SETTING: Contemporary US
TYPE: Romance
SERIES: 1st in the Dare Island trilogy

Home to the Fletcher family for generations, Dare Island is a fishing village rocked by changing times--its traditions slipping away like sands of the North Carolina coast. Single dad and fishing boat captain Matt Fletcher deferred his own dreams to support his innkeeper parents and build a future for his sixteen-year-old son. Matt has learned to weather life's storms by steering a steady emotional course...and keeping a commitment-free approach to love.

Newcomer Allison Carter came to Dare Island to escape the emotional demands of her wealthy family. The young teacher aims to build a life here, to make a lasting place for herself. She doesn't want to be another Woman Who Once Dated Matt Fletcher. It's both tempting and dangerous to believe she can be something more.

Then Matt's brother Luke makes a sudden return home, with a child of his own--and a request that will change all their lives. With a child's welfare at stake, Matt must turn to Allison to teach him to let go of the past, open his eyes... and follow his heart.
Allison Carter feels she's finally found the right place for her. Her wealthy family want her to follow the socially acceptable path of marrying an elegible man and spending most of her time on boards and committees. Allison, however, wants something with more meaning. She found her vocation while teaching in rural Mississippi with Teach For America (and organisation I'd never heard of before and had to google -what an excellent idea!), but when it comes to choosing a life, she decides she would prefer somewhere she can be part of the community. Dare Island seems perfect, and she's off to a good start in the school. She's worried about one of her students, though: a 16-year-old who's clearly clever but who refuses to make an effort. A parent-teacher conference is the way to go, she thinks.

Matt Fletcher is the single dad of that 16-year-old. He was very young when Josh was conceived, and had to drop out of university as a result. His wife left both him and their son not long after the birth, and ever since, Matt has lived in Dare Island, renting a small house just behind his parents' inn. With his parents' help he's been able to give Josh a good upbringing, but his love life's been a casualty of the situation. He's no celibate monk, but he limits himself to short affairs with tourists visiting the island. He has no intention of beginning a proper relationship with someone on the island, most especially not someone like Allison, who's got such a bright future and will obviously leave the island before long.

This trilogy was recommended as being a bit like Nora Roberts', and I do see the resemblance. The community and family and the stuff going with them, which will clearly be continued throughout the three books, were really enjoyable. There's Tom and Tess, Matt's parents, who run the inn and are still madly in love with each other. Some (spoilerish) stuff happens there, and I was gripped. There's Matt's brother and sister, both of whom have left the island, and whom we see fleetingly. Meg has an extremely successful and lucrative career in insurance, and Luke is deployed in Afghanistan. There's Matt and Josh's relationship, which was really fun. Most of all, and what I was especially interested in, there's little Taylor, the daughter Luke has only just found out he has. Her mum has just died, and her maternal grandparents are determined to have her back, even though Taylor's mum specifically left a will indicating Luke should be the guardian. There are clues that there are very good reasons why Taylor doesn't want to go back to them. These things aren't resolved here, but it felt perfectly right that they shouldn't, and that the threads will be tied off later on in the trilogy.

I also thought Allison and Matt were very well done as characters. Allison's frustrating relationship with her parents rang true (although she really should have been much firmer with them when they came to visit), and I really wanted to know what had happened with her brother, whom she hadn't seen in ages. Same for Matt's abandonment issues because of the situation with his ex wife. It was understandable that it would have had an effect, but at the same time, I liked that he didn't use it to make judgements about Allison. No "a woman betrayed me once so I now am sure all women are untrustworthy skanks" here. In fact, I especially liked that Matt's wife wasn't demonised. I mean, a woman who left her husband and child and went on to have a career as a high-flying academic? She'd be torn to pieces in a lot of romances. Not here, though. Matt's mother actually thinks quite compassionately about the girl she must have been, and doesn't condemn her.

But... however much Allison and Matt made sense to me as characters, they didn't convince me as a couple. It's something I'm finding quite frequently lately: heavy lusting that I just don't buy. Kantra kept telling me how much they ached for each other and how they couldn't resist the sexual attraction, but I wasn't seeing it. At the end I was all "Whoa! Marriage?", because all I saw was two people who liked each other. The funny thing is, Kantra can do smouldering attraction. Tess and Tom had it, you could practically feel the air crackling in their scenes together. Honestly, I think I would have rather have had them as the main couple.

Still, even not being convinced by the central relationship, I've been drawn into these people's lives enough that I'm planning to keep reading. I'm a bit leery of the plot of the next one, Carolina Girl, as from what I can tell from the blurb, it's the dreaded plot of a woman with a career in the big city losing everything and coming back to her childhood small town home to lick her wounds and falling in love with her old boyfriend, but I want to see what happens with Taylor and Tom and Tess, and Josh and the clever girl in his class.



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