Don’t think I didn’t hear you gasp when you saw the grade for this book. Intrigued, and perhaps alarmed, you pounced on your mouse and clicked to this review to see just what on earth the reviewer was thinking. Perhaps the reviewer’s been living under a rock and doesn’t know who Nora Roberts is. Perhaps she’s intellectually stunted and Carolina Moon was simply over her head. Or, perhaps, she’s just a disillusioned wannabe who is jealous and bent on taking out her frustrations on a popular author. None of those things is true. What is true, is that Carolina Moon is a disappointing read … no more, no less.
Dirt poor Victoria (Tory) Bodeen is a lonely, abused 8-year-old whose best friend, Hope Lavelle, is daughter to the richest man in Progress, South Carolina. Tory’s father is a religious fanatic who beats Tory to a pulp on a regular basis to try to drive the devil out of her – the devil being Tory’s psychic abilities. Tory’s mother, a helpless, hopeless waif, does nothing in her daughter’s defense. One night, Tory is beaten so severely, she misses a late night rendezvous with Hope. Hope is attacked, beaten, raped and strangled, and Tory saw it all in her mind – all, except the face of the killer.
Nearly twenty years have passed and Tory has gotten herself a life. She has returned to Progress for two reasons – to open a designer boutique, and to face the horrors of her childhood and try to put them behind her. Hope’s killer was never found and while Tory doesn’t expect to solve the crime, she does want to put Hope to rest in her own heart and mind.
Cade Lavelle, Hope’s older brother, never forgot pretty Tory Bodeen and is waiting for her when she returns home to Progress. He’s in charge of Beaux Reves now (the family plantation) and is a wealthy man. He owns both the house Tory has rented, and the shop on Main Street where she is going to open her business. Tory and Cade are immediately attracted to each other and the remainder of the book intertwines Cade’s efforts to start a relationship with Tory with the unsolved crime of Hope’s murder.
I have read this same story a dozen times, and I’ll bet you have too. There is nothing new under this sun (or should I say Moon?). While Tory and Cade make a nice couple, the supporting players (and there are many) are right out of central casting. There’s Faith, Hope’s twin sister. Faith, the stereotypical Southern belle rich bitch slut sister who sleeps around, but whose heart belongs to Cade’s best friend, Wade, the town veterinarian. There’s Tory’s grandmother, who unabashedly lets her granddaughter know she’s having sex with the plumber. She’s hip, she’s cool, she’s my sleep-around Grandma. There’s the cold-hearted Lavelle matriarch who will stop at nothing to keep her son away from White Trash Tory. The police chief is black … have you read any story in recent memory where the chief of police was not black? Never attorneys, or mayors, or senators, or doctors.
Besides the Southern stereotypes, there was the head-hopping. I’ve taken writing classes. In every one of them, the instructors say, “Number 1, never head-hop; Number 2, avoid head-hopping; Number 3, don’t head-hop…” The head-hopping is so bad, there were many times I had to re-read passages just to figure out who was talking. The scene would begin with the words, “She went to the door …” She, who? Tory? Faith? Margaret? Lilith? Lissy? Grandma? Sherry? Hope? Several paragraphs in, the author would finally give me a name. This was too frustrating to be borne. To make matters worse, in Carolina Moon everybody has a point of view. We know exactly what every character is thinking, from the hero and heroine right down to the lowliest field hand, and all on the same page in the same scene, sometimes in the same paragraph. It’s tough to keep the identity of a murderer a secret when we are treated to his thoughts. I knew who the killer was from the first time his name was mentioned.
What is left after all this running around, is a book that is no longer suspenseful, no longer interesting, and is nothing more than a soap opera-ish pot-boiler, for, in addition to head-hopping, we have diary-hopping. It seems every major character in this book keeps a diary and we get to read passages in the first person. While this can be very emotional and effective for one character, to have everybody doing it, including the hero (real men don’t keep diaries), approaches silliness. And, although Hope is long dead, Tory still occasionally sees things through her eyes, and hears her in her dreams and gets warnings from her. This is confusing and detracts from Tory’s storyline.
In then end, the revelation of who the killer is, is so brief and anticlimactic, I was left wondering if this was a romantic suspense, a paranormal suspense, a paranormal romance, or just a poorly done book. Guess you already know how I feel about that.
Okay. Why the plus in D+? I liked Cade. I liked Tory. I liked Wade. I liked Mongo. And Nora Roberts’ writing style is beautiful, truly beautiful. She can come up with descriptions and images that are wonderful and to be envied by anyone who seeks to be a writer. There is no doubt she is one of the best at the difficult craft of writing, but that’s not what this review is addressing. Had the plotting been as nicely done, Carolina Moon might have shone rather than having been eclipsed by so many flaws. I didn’t get this book on assignment; I bought and paid for the book with my own, hard-earned $25 plus tax, and I don’t for a minute feel I got my money’s worth. I know I’m in the minority and that many readers will undoubtedly like Carolina Moon (it does have its moments). I, however, can’t hack the head-hopping. Unless that changes in future books, I’m no longer a fan.