After being shot in the line of duty, LAPD detective, Mike Valenzuela headed to the quiet town of Virgin River to recuperate and be near his good friends and former Marine buddies, Jack and Preacher. Now fully recovered, Mike is offered the job of Virgin River's first law enforcement officer. He decides to accept the position and make the tiny town his permanent home. Mike didn't expect his initiation to entail a sordid case of drugs and date rape, but it feels good to be back doing what he does best. He's determined to find the culprit and put him behind bars, not only for the girls of Virgin River, but also for the woman he loves.
Assistant District Attorney, Brie Sheridan, Jack's sister, has had the year from hell. She suffered through a divorce from a cheating husband and then a devastating loss in the trial of a serial rapist. When the guy walked, he immediately came after Brie, viciously beating and raping her. As Brie slowly recovers and tries to get on with the business of living, she finds unexpected support in the form of Mike Valenzuela. Having been the victim of a violent crime himself, Mike understands Brie in a way that her family can't. The pair create a deep bond of friendship as they meet for quiet lunches and Brie visits Virgin River to see Jack and his family. Gradually, their relationship turns romantic, as Brie slowly learns to love and trust a man again.
The first two books of the Virgin River series had left me feeling slightly underwhelmed. They were good, but not quite as good as I was expecting based on the rave reviews they tend to receive. Perhaps because of this I went into reading Whispering Rock with lower expectations, but it ended up being a wonderful read for me. Maybe it truly was a better book, or maybe I'm finally getting used to Robyn Carr's writing style, but this time I really connected with the hero and heroine as well as all the secondary characters and their sub-plots. Even though pages and pages could go by without seeing the main hero and heroine, I wasn't as bothered by it as I was the last time. I did roll my eyes once when the umpteeth woman turned up pregnant (there really must be something in the water in Virgin River ;-)). I think I'm beginning to understand why some other readers tire of all the births and women's health issues that come up in these book, but ultimately, it didn't bother me as much as I initially thought it might either. In fact, I usually found myself eager to get back to the book when I had to put it down.
Much like with Preacher and Paige in the last book, I could have done with a little more page time for Brie and Mike, but Ms. Carr seemed to make very good use of the scenes they had together. It certainly wouldn't have been realistic to have a woman who'd just been raped falling into bed right away, so I really liked the slow-building romantic relationship between this couple. I loved their quiet lunch dates and Mike frequently calling Brie just to talk. Having been the victim of a violent crime himself and a former cop who'd seen a lot, Mike was able to understand and relate to Brie in a way that her family couldn't. The author used these moments to create a truly lovely friendship between them before taking it any further, and to me that was thoroughly romantic in and of itself. Mike was a great guy, gently pushing Brie to get out a little more so that she doesn't get too depressed or lonely, and he tries to be there for her as much as he can in those moments to make her feel safe and secure. Yet he never rushes her in any other way. He just waits patiently for Brie to be ready, making it clear how much he cares for her through his actions. Brie is a very strong, courageous woman to face her attacker when he is finally caught. She is also an incredibly smart woman whose sharp attorney skills brought her through the trial with her head held high. I loved that she never had second thoughts when her ex-husband started coming around again, nor a moment of doubt about her love for Mike in spite of his previous track record with women. Mike, for his part, always treated Brie with tenderness and respect, like the precious jewel she was. I absolutely loved when he whispered sweet nothing to her in Spanish, and she pretended she didn't know what he was saying even though she was fluent in the language. Although there was only one detailed love scene between them, it totally turned me to mush and left a big smile on my face. These two were just a really well-matched couple that I enjoyed reading about.
As with all the Virgin River books, there are oodles of other characters, many of whom get their own POV scenes, making it more of an ensemble cast. Of course, our core couple Jack and Mel are back. As always Jack is kind of the heart and soul of Virgin River, or at least his bar and grill is. He's keeping busy building their new house, and Mel has plenty of nursing and midwifery to handle as they enjoy their growing family. Mel did annoy me once though, because in spite of being a nurse midwife, she can be pretty dense about her own reproductive health. My favorite couple, Preacher and Paige, were back, also taking care of the bar while trying to have a baby. Preacher was just too cute with his sex drive in overdrive. I think he's trying to make up for lost time.;-) As with their own book though, I couldn't help feeling that Preacher and Paige got a little shortchanged. They only had a handful of their own POV scenes, and they were rather brief at that, which saddened me. I dearly would have loved to be a fly on the wall on ovulation day;-), but I savored every tidbit I got with them. I didn't think to see Ricky again for a while, since he joined the Marines at the end of Shelter Mountain, but was pleasantly surprised to have him in a few scenes as Jack and Mel go to his boot camp graduation and he returns to Virgin River for a brief visit.
There are some new characters introduced as well. A retired army general comes to town with his teenage son, Tommy, in tow. Tommy kind of takes over as the resident teenage boy now that Ricky is grown and off in the Marines. He's a really nice kid with a good head on his shoulders. In fact, he may even be a little more level-headed than Ricky as he doesn't let his hormones get the best of him. In spite of his new friends playing it fast and loose, Tommy is still a virgin and just waiting for the right girl to come along. He thinks he's found her in good girl and straight-A student, Brenda. These two get tangled up in the fallout of drug abuse and date rape that is plaguing the teens of the area. Tommy's older sister, Vanessa, the wife of a Marine who was once under Jack's command comes to stay with her father and brother while her husband is deployed. Jack and Preacher's Marine buddy, Paul, who was seen briefly in Virgin River comes to town to help Jack with the home building. He is also best friends with Vanessa and her husband and was best man at their wedding, but is carrying a big torch for Vanessa and feeling rather guilty about it. When Vanni's husband is killed in Iraq, Paul is there to support her through her grief and the birth of their child. This pair become the main hero and heroine of book #5, Second Chance Pass. There is a little more sadness as well when a secondary character who has been there since the beginning passes away.
I have to say that the more time I spend in Virgin River, the more the characters become like family to me. Any misgivings I might have had about the series, virtually melted away as I read Whispering Rock. I loved Brie and Mike, and I really enjoyed all the other storylines as well, some more than others, but that's a given. All in all, it was a near perfect read for me, that left me feeling a little sad and bereft as I turned the last page. I'm now definitely looking forward to reading A Virgin River Christmas around the holidays, and continuing on with Paul and Vanessa's story in the new year.
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