The characters, once they finally arrive, are great, writes Nicky Pellegrino.
The statistics are pretty mind-blowing. United States author Nora Roberts has written 190 novels and had 150 New York Times best-sellers. More than 300 million copies of her books are in print right now and yet somehow I'd managed to get this far through life without reading one.
Laid up in bed with flu, it seemed like time to remedy the situation. I was looking for a cosy read, something escapist and not too challenging. And Roberts' latest novel, The Next Always (Piatkus, $39.99), seemed to fit the bill.
The first in the new Inn at Boonsboro Trilogy, it's set in smalltown America and is about a rundown historic hotel that is being renovated by three brothers, Beckett, Owen and Ryder Montgomery.
Beckett has always been sweet on local girl Clare Brewster, who has returned to town a war widow with three young sons and opened the Turn The Page bookshop across the street from the inn.
She is the target of unwelcome attention from the town creep and spends a lot of time hanging out with her best friend, Avery, who owns the Vesta Family Restaurant.
The first thing that strikes me with this book is the crushing amount of detail about the renovation of the inn. There is way, way too much information about dry-walling, building schedules and clawfoot baths. Then I learned that the story was based on fact.
Roberts and her husband renovated a historic hotel in their hometown of Boonsboro and opened it as a B&B in 2009. What's more, her husband owns the Turn The Page bookstore across the road and her son runs the nearby Vesta Family Restaurant.
The genius of it. Once they've read the book, Roberts' fans are sure to want to visit the town and spent their dollars in those establishments. So she's on to a winner however you look at it.
Other people's renovations are dull and I have to admit to speed-reading those sections to get to the bit I think most Roberts' fans will be interested in - the male lead. She writes a damn good one.
Beckett Montgomery looks sexy in a tool belt, he's practical and gets things done, he's manly but sensitive, polite, protective, engages in witty repartee with his brothers and knows how to talk to small boys. I'm picking there's no one quite like him in the real Boonsboro.
As the inn is transformed, Beckett and Clare do a "will they or won't they" dance around each other and even though you know that, of course, they will in the end, Roberts throws enough spanners (and hammers and drills) in the works to keep things interesting. For instance, there's a ghost haunting the inn and the town creep is a lot creepier than anyone realised.
I imagine the other brothers will find their love interests in the remaining two books of the series. It's not remotely difficult to work out who they will be. But even so it's tempting to re-visit Boonsboro, fictionally at least. There's something seductive about Roberts' storytelling and by the end of the book I felt as if the characters were very good friends.