The lives of the residents of the sleepy little beachfront community of Thunder Point are being turned upside down.
"Mac" MacCain, the local sheriff's deputy and Gina James, a waitress at the diner, bonded over being single parents far too young. For several years, they've been best friends and shared the ups and downs of parenting, but now they've taken their relationship to a whole new level. As they try to figure out how to integrate their two families, Mac's ex-wife, Cee Jay, unexpectedly returns to town. Unable to handle the stresses of young motherhood, she left him and their three children ten years ago without a backward glance. They've not seen or heard from her since, but now she claims to want to rekindle a relationship with her children. Mac's not buying it though, and as he tries to find out what Cee Jay really wants from him and the kids, Gina deals with problems of her own. Her teenage daughter, Ashley, has just gone through a painful and messy breakup from her long-time boyfriend that has left her humiliated, demoralized, and severely depressed. Mac and Gina wonder if their lives will ever return to normal and if they'll be able to find their elusive happiness together.
Meanwhile, Hank Cooper and Sarah Dupre's relationship continues to move along, but Sarah becomes reticent when news comes down the pipeline that she's up for a promotion and a transfer to a Coast Guard station on the east coast. The last thing she wants to do is lose Cooper or shake up her brother, Landon's life when he's just about to enter senior year of high school with a promising football career ahead of him. Cooper can tell there's something bothering Sarah, but he can't get her to open up. Then he has to deal with problems of his own. A surprising call from the husband of an ex-girlfriend who's dying brings shocking news that will forever change Cooper's life.
The Newcomer was another thoroughly enjoyable read from Robyn Carr's new Thunder Point series. I only have one small complaint which I'll get out of the way right here at the start. I wish that the cover blurber had found a better way to synopsize these first two books in the series. Readers are left with the impression that The Wanderer is Cooper and Sarah's story, while The Newcomer is Mac and Gina's story, but this really wasn't the case at all. Both books are more like serial dramas with ensemble casts, and both sets of couples play about equal roles in each book. Robyn Carr's Virgin River series had plenty of side plots, but for the most part, did have a "main" hero and heroine which each book focused on, so this is kind of different for me as a romance reader. I had felt like The Wanderer ended rather abruptly, with Cooper and Sarah's romance having more of an HFN rather than an HEA feel, and Mac and Gina's romance had already heated up well beyond friendship by the end of that book too. With that being the case, I guess it wasn't too surprising that both these couples shared the stage again in The Newcomer, working to overcome additional difficulties and growing their love. In all honesty, this didn't diminish my overall enjoyment of the novel, as evidenced by my 5-star rating. Still, I can't help having a preference for one couple being the main focus and hope that future books will lean more in that direction, or at the very least, that the blurbs will be clearer about the content.
At the end of The Wanderer, Sarah and Cooper had gotten their "I love yous" out of the way, but there was no clear path for their future. Due to a cheating ex-husband and a bitter divorce, Sarah was a commitment phobic, and basically still is when The Newcomer opens. Their relationship is solid, but when Sarah gets advance warning from her boss that a transfer to a Coast Guard command position somewhere on the east coast is coming down the pipeline in the next few months, she completely keeps it to herself. She spends a lot of time brooding and worrying, while trying to decide whether to accept the promotion or resign her commission for the sake of her brother, Landon, and her growing relationship with Cooper. Cooper and Landon see the change in her mood but are helpless to do anything about it, because she won't open up to them. A part of me understood that she'd been making these types of decisions alone all her adult life, but another part of me couldn't help wishing she would trust Cooper enough to share the burden. As evidenced by how things turned out in the end when she finally did tell him, he could have helped her and made her feel more secure. At the same time, Cooper receives an urgent phone call from the husband of an ex-girlfriend, asking him to come right away to the bedside of his dying wife. When he arrives, the woman makes a shocking confession which turns Cooper's world upside down, but ultimately, he adjusts beautifully to the changes in his life that this unexpected development brings. Again, my only small complaint in all this was Sarah. When Cooper started the same brooding act that she'd been giving him, she eventually insists that he tell her what's going on, which I thought was a little hypocritical on her part. In the end, everything worked out pretty nicely, although the decision about Sarah's transfer was left up in the air. I expect that to be resolved in the next book, and overall was still happy with where things wrapped up for them. It felt like a more solid HEA this time.
As I mentioned earlier, Mac and Gina's relationship had already heated up quite a bit in The Wanderer, so most of what happens with them in this book has to do with family issues. Mac's ex-wife shows up in Thunder Point out of the blue after ten years, claiming to want to reconnect with her children, but Mac's not buying it. He and his kids weather through a torturous family meeting with Cee Jay, who turns out to be quite the piece of work. When the children react badly to her sudden reappearance, she blames Mac for turning them against her, even though he's always been extremely careful not to badmouth her in front of them. When her real reasons for being there finally surface, it didn't surprise me at all. Gina has her own worries and struggles to deal with when her teenage daughter, Ashley, suffers a mental breakdown. In spite of their respective problems, Mac and Gina manage to carve out a little alone time, which was quite romantic, but best of all was how things wrapped up for them. I even got a little teary-eyed right at the end.
Some of the most prominent secondary story lines were for the teen characters. Sarah's brother, Landon, and Mac's daughter, Eve, who've been in a fairly long-term relationship have a little scare, so there's plenty of discussion of teen pregnancy and safe sex. However, there is also lots of angst when Ashley is thrown into a deep depression after her now-college-freshman boyfriend breaks up with her and his new girlfriend does something cruel and spiteful. Ashley has a very difficult time coping with all of the drama, but ends up finding a surprising ally who treats her with the respect she deserves. I'm happy to say that she comes out the other end better for having gone through this trying experience, and she becomes a very mature young lady. She also finally gets to meet her biological dad. The other prominent secondary plot revolves around Spencer, the widower of Cooper's ex-girlfriend. He's a great guy, but I can't say too much more about him without giving away some spoilers. Suffice it to say that he's moving to Thunder Point and becomes the hero of the next book in the series, The Hero, due for release in August 2013.
Robyn Carr has always written emotional stories, but this one seemed a little more so than usual. In fact, the first half or so was almost depressing. Before I even made it to that halfway point, two characters had died. Granted they were both minor characters, so the connection wasn't as great as it would have been with a main character, but it was still a downer. Add to that Ashley's depression and the turmoil Mac's ex caused, and the first part of the story was pretty heavy. I wasn't overly bothered by it though, because oftentimes, going through challenges like this can make the resolution and happy times sweeter. In many ways this was definitely the case, and the second half of the book was still serious and emotional at times, but not in the same way. I'd say that all the characters who suffered trials experienced a measure of happiness in the end, some more so than others. This is what I read these types of stories for, and Robyn Carr certainly didn't disappoint. The Newcomer maybe wasn't exactly what I was expecting based on the blurb alone, but it was still a lovely read full of understated romance, drama, and passion. I challenge any fan of small-town romance not to fall in love with Thunder Point too. This beachfront community has a relaxed atmosphere that has become a character unto itself much like Virgin River did. I can't wait to go back for another visit when The Hero is released.
Note: I received a copy of this book from the author's publicist via Netgalley in exchange for an honest review.
The Hope Chest Reviews on Facebook