Jillian Matlock is a talented PR executive for a top-notch software company who has just gotten the shock of her life. A few months earlier, she entered into what was perhaps an ill-advised love affair with a co-worker, and now, he's claiming sexual harassment in an all-to-obvious bid for her job. In order to set things to rights, her boss, who is the owner of the company, has asked her to take a leave of absence. Hurt and disillusioned, Jill decides to get away from the big city altogether. She sets off driving aimlessly, and eventually winds up in the little town of Virgin River which she had visited only once months ago. On that previous visit she had fallen in love with an old Victorian home out in the middle of nowhere. It reminded her of her great-grandmother's home where she and her sister had been raised. When Jill discovers that the house is still vacant, she makes Jack Sheridan an offer he can't refuse to rent the place to her for a few months, while she decides what to do next in her life. She immediately gets started planting a huge garden and by the time she's done, it's more like a small farm. Before long, Jill begins to wonder if she might be able to make a go of farming rare, designer fruits and vegetables that are primarily used by five-star restaurants.
Colin Riordan came to Virgin River to rest up and recuperate following a helicopter crash that left him badly injured and which later led to a stint in rehab for an addiction to prescription painkillers. He's a talented artist with a passion for painting wildlife, and he figured the sleepy little town was a great place to pursue his art while being close to family. Looking for the perfect vantage point from which to paint, Colin ends up on Jillian's land, not knowing anyone is living there until she comes barreling through the trees one day. Jill isn't Colin's usual type, but he soon finds her enthusiastic zest for life irresistible. She also seems to understand him better and provide more encouragement than any other woman he's ever known. Before long, the pair find themselves engaged in a passionate affair, but despite Colin beginning to find some success with his art, flying is still in his blood. He longs to be behind the controls of a helicopter again, but given his history, the only way to do that may be outside the country. He's already booked on an African safari, during which he plans to scout opportunities for bush pilots, and he's determined to go no matter what. But can he really leave behind the only woman who has ever truly loved him for himself?
For some reason, I haven't been quite as impressed with the Robyn Carr books I've been reading this year, as I was with many of the earlier Virgin River books. Maybe it's because between the Virgin River series and the Thunder Point series, I've been reading so many of her books in quick succession that I'm seeing more of the flaws in her writing style and the repetition in her storytelling. As for the flaws, I've known this for a long time in broad sense, but just now put my finger on the fact that Ms. Carr tells a large part of her stories though dialog and she has a habit of often dropping the reader into the dialogue with little or no sense of time or place as to where this conversation is occurring. She also has a tendency to skim over some of the deeper character emotions and tell certain things more so than show them. I really crave deep character POVs, but I don't usually get that as much in Ms. Carr's books, or at least, not the ones I've been reading this year. As for repetition, I'm starting to see a pattern of heroes and/or heroines who are doing some soul-searching following a life-changing event, which brings them to their respective small towns and their mate. That person then usually leaves the other with a temporary broken heart when they skip town, either voluntarily or involuntarily, while trying to come to terms with their desire for a particular career versus their love for their significant other. When this happens, the reconciliation doesn't usually occur until the final pages of the book, which doesn't usually work well for me. Even though they always return and sometimes in dramatic fashion, it usually leaves some open questions in my mind regarding the abandoning partner's commitment to the relationship. Obviously, the things I've taken note of aren't bothering other readers as much as they've begun to bother me, otherwise, Ms. Carr wouldn't have the legion of fans that she does. In general, I consider myself to be a fan too, but these later Virgin River books and her new Thunder Point offerings, IMHO, thus far, just aren't up to the caliber of her earlier Virgin River stories. That said though, Wild Man Creek was the best of her books I've read so far this year, but in spite of that, it simply didn't quite have what it took to be a keeper for me.
Jillian is kind of Robyn Carr's go-to, cookie-cutter type heroine, a woman in a high-powered, lucrative career who is taking a break to do some soul-searching. However, that break was not by choice. It was brought about by a man that she cared for and trusted, who ended up worming his way into her life and using her, only to betray her by claiming she was sexually harassing him in an attempt to further his own career. After Jill's boss tells her to take a leave of absence, she ends up back in Virgin River, a town she and her sister and their friends had briefly visited while on vacation the previous year. Jill is thrilled to discover that Hope's old Victorian home that she'd absolutely fallen in love with is still empty and makes Jack an offer he can't refuse. Jill is a very energetic person and somewhat impulsive, usually doing things on a whim. Luckily for her, she has good instincts and that's worked out pretty well for her so far, but since I'm not really that type of person, it was harder for me to relate to her. In this case, her whim is using the ten acres of land surrounding the house to start a garden, which quickly grows into a working organic farm, growing dozens of varieties of fruits and vegetables, some of which are designer, specialty items that are mostly only used by five-star restaurants. I did enjoy reading about Jill's skill with plants. I have a black thumb, but I very much admire people who can garden and make beautiful things grow. The one major missed opportunity I saw with Jill's character though, is that because of what happened with her last boyfriend, she understandably has trust issues where men are concerned when the story opens, but little more than lip-service was ever given to this. She ends up having no problems at all trusting the men of Virgin River and becomes embroiled very quickly in a new romantic relationship with Colin, never doubting him or his motives for a second. Her jerk of an ex does resurface briefly, but for no other reason than to make a few idle threats that go nowhere. I think the best thing about Jillian other than her gardening skill was that she's a very open, loving, and giving person. She understands Colin in a way no other woman has, and she encourages him to follow his dreams even though she suspects she'll be left with a broken heart.
As it happens, Colin is soul-searching too, as well as recovering from the horrific injuries he suffered when his helicopter crashed and his subsequent addiction to prescription pain-killers. He came to Virgin River for the peace and quiet and because there was plenty of wildlife to paint. He's essentially at a cross-roads in his life, where like Jillian, he's been involuntarily forced out of his dream job and has taken up one of his backup skills. He enjoys painting and is really good at it, but he misses the adrenaline rush of flying and is already searching for a way to return to his first love when he meets Jill. I admired Colin's artistic ability, which is something that I can only wish that I had. However, he didn't charm me in quite the same way that his other three brothers did. At first, he was a somewhat aloof character, which made it harder for me to feel connected to him. In addition to that, he's a definite risk-taker who likes to live on the edge, which is the exact opposite of my personality and which also made him a little more difficult for me to relate to. I really started to question his sanity though, when he went ahead with his plans of leaving town to go on an African safari and to look for work as a bush pilot over there. He claimed to love Jill by this point, but didn't seem to have much trouble leaving her. I guess Aiden was right in that it took that separation for Colin to truly realize what was in front of him and that he couldn't live without her. He swore he would never leave her like that again when he returned, but it just seemed like he should have been able to figure that out without breaking the poor girl's heart in the process.
As is usual for the Virgin River books, there are several sub-plots with secondary character POVs. Probably the most prominent of these is that of Denny, the new guy who came to town in the previous book, Promise Canyon, looking for his biological father and who had befriended Jack. Jillian hires him to help out with the farm work, and the identity of his father is revealed. I thought I had a pretty good idea where that was headed but was pleasantly surprised that Robyn Carr didn't take the easy, predictable route with that. However, I didn't really agree with or understand the decision Denny made toward the end once everything had played out. His disappointment over the situation made sense, but his actions and his near willingness to throw away the friendships he'd built in Virgin River because of it didn't. I'm glad that he changed his mind in the end, but until then I wanted to shake some sense into him. He'll become the hero of Bring Me Home for Christmas, where he will be reunited with the girl that got away. Jillian's sister, Kelly, is her support system and her only family. Kelly is a talented chef who is enamored of a much older, married man, who has been something of a mentor to her. I have a feeling that relationship is going south fast, as she will become the heroine of the next book, Harvest Moon, where she'll be paired with Leif who was introduced in this book. He's a widower who bought a house in the Virgin River area to escape the rat race of city life and who brings with him a seemingly bratty teenage daughter. Wedding bells ring for Aiden and Erin, bringing the entire Riordan clan together, including Patrick (My Kind of Christmas) who I believe made his first appearance in the series. Luke and Shelby do their best to support Colin and Jillian while expanding their little vacation rental property to include RV hook-ups. Last but certainly not least, Ricky comes back to town for a very brief visit to care for his ailing grandmother.
While there are some things, such as the build-up to Colin and Jillian's romantic relationship, that I thought could have been better, Wild Man Creek was still a pretty good read overall. It just feels like there was more variety in character types and storylines, particularly with the primary conflict, in the earlier books of the series than what I've been seeing from her in these latter books and her new ones. Ms. Carr has been writing three to four new books per year ever since the Virgin River series debuted, and I'm beginning to think that perhaps she needs to take a step back from her writing to revive her creative juices. Of course, as I said before it could partly be me too and my reading of so many of her books in close proximity. If not for me using the Virgin River books to complete a series challenge I'm working on, while also receiving ARC copies of all her new Thunder Point books for review each time a new one comes out, I might take a step back myself. Next year, I may consider doing just that or at the very least, delaying completion of the Virgin River series. Until then though, I guess I'll have to hope for the best that Ms. Carr got a great inspiration for the books I have yet to read this year and that she'll soon wow me again with the wonderful writing skills she's exhibited in the past.
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