on March 28, 2017
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Marine archaeologist Charlotte Bennett is no stranger to risk, but her dives into sunken wreckage are always meticulously planned. However, being the maid of honor in her cousin Samantha's English wedding gives her a new perspective on her life as a nomad who's given up on romance altogether. Though an encounter with roguish wedding guest Greg Rawlings leaves her unsettled, the other people she meets make a trip to the tranquil town of Knights Bridge, Massachusetts, enticing. Acting on impulse, Charlotte offers to house-sit at Red Clover Inn while Sam and Justin Sloan are away on their honeymoon.
The quaint inn isn't open to the public yet and Charlotte will have quiet time to plan her next project. It might also give her a chance to see how her cousin found love and a sense of family. But the peace is immediately disrupted when Greg shows up at the inn. The Diplomatic Security Service agent lives a dangerous life, and he, too, wants to clear his head before his next assignment. Juggling work, raising his two teenage children and nursing a wounded heart has left him jaded, and the last thing he expects is to find himself falling for the willful Charlotte. As the attraction between them flares, Charlotte realizes she might be in too deep. And each of them must decide if they can put love first before it's too late.
I received a review copy of this book from the publisher.
Although fans of the series will probably enjoy Red Clover Inn, particularly for its ongoing glimpses into previous characters’ lives, I didn’t find it a great introduction to Neggers’ books or the Swift Valley River series. There were too many things that simply didn’t work for me, from some of the characters to the structure to the writing style.
I don’t want to imply that Red Clover Inn is a bad book. There were many things I did enjoy, including the inn and the town of Knights Bridge, which are charming and evoke a sense of New England. Greg’s kids, Adam and Megan, are terrific: nice, level-headed, well-behaved but realistic teens. I loved the inn’s feisty, independent, elderly neighbor, Evelyn Sloan. I also rather liked Samantha and Justin, the protagonists of book 3 in the series (Cider Brook), and would like to read their story. And I enjoyed the heroine, Charlotte, though I had reservations about the hero, Greg.
Charlotte is a marine archaeologist currently on leave from her job, so we never see her in her element. She’s a sympathetic character, caring and perceptive, but at the same time reserved and somewhat complex. She’s dealing with two losses, both emotionally difficult, but she is very private about her feelings — to the extent that I had to infer a lot of them. I’m all about showing, not telling, but the writing does need to “show” in a way that lets the reader in rather than keeping them at a distance. When Charlotte does finally start talking about the larger of her two issues, I was surprised. I didn’t see a clear progression between keeping it to herself, and being ready to talk about it, particularly to three people she hadn’t known for long. I would have expected her to confide first in someone closer to her.
Greg, on the other hand, never quite clicked for me. He’s straightforward but rarely prone to introspection, and if he feels strong feeling, he doesn’t usually let on. To anyone, reader included — which made it hard to feel I knew him. He doesn’t grow or change much through the course of the book. I could tell he is supposed to be likable, but I found him a bit irritating at times; he likes to tease or dig at people, in a way I’ve never really cared for.
Given the ways in which Greg and Charlotte are each portrayed, it was hard to get a sense of a deep connection between them, which made investing in their romance difficult. There is blossoming attraction and a growing trust, yes, but I wasn’t sold on — I wasn’t even entirely sure — how and why that attraction became love.
Some structural issues bothered me as well. The plot meanders. In dialogue, the speaker sometimes changes subjects abruptly from one sentence to the next, within the same paragraph, leaving me scratching my head as to the connection between the two sentences. There are also several conversations in which one secondary character or another tries to explain at length to Greg or Charlotte the relationships between all the previous heroes and heroines of the series, and how they connect to one another and to the town of Knights Bridge. As someone who hasn’t read any of the previous books, I began to find that annoying, mainly because the explanations aren’t always easy to follow without knowing the players — and the speakers know it, often using the word “confusing” to describe the relationships.
Finally, I know this is nitpicking, but the former English teacher in me cannot stand the way the author condenses adjective phrases into single words. “Blueeyed” is bad, “almostdrained” is worse, and don’t even get me started on the longer ones like “upcloseandpersonal” or “smokybutnottoosmoky” (to describe a whiskey.) This is English, not German! If you’re going use adjective phrases, please use hyphens instead of running words together! I know that ARCs aren’t perfect or final, and it’s possible that this running together of words is just a typesetting error, but it is so clearly restricted to adjective phrases that I have to think it is intentional.
I know Ms. Neggers’ books are popular, and the blurb of this book really appealed to me. I wanted to love it. But in the end, I couldn’t muster up much enthusiasm for it. Hopefully I’ll have better luck with some of the other books in the series, since several of them are already sitting on my Kindle.
A note on my rating: I gave Red Clover Inn 2.5 stars — in other words, right in the middle, half-way between “it was amazing and I loved it” and “omigosh this was dreadful.” My ratings tend to align with Goodreads’ definitions of star ratings, under which 3 stars is “I liked it” and 2 stars is “It was OK.”