Carolina Dreaming by Virginia Kantra

This RITA® Reader Challenge 2017 review was written by ClaireC. This story was nominated for the RITA® in the Mid-Length Contemporary category.

The summary:

When it comes to love, anything can happen on Dare Island—especially in this latest novel from New York Times bestselling author Virginia Kantra. 

After escaping a disastrous marriage, bakery owner Jane Clark has convinced herself that she has everything she needs—her precious son, a thriving business, and a roof over her head. But the arrival of a handsome stranger on the island shows her exactly what she’s been missing…

The only home Gabe Murphy ever had was the Marine Corps. He’s working hard to rebuild his life. It will take a special place, and a special woman, to make him want to stay.

Now Gabe is determined to prove that he’s worthy of Jane’s trust—and her love. But when her past reappears, that trust will be tested, and Jane and Gabe will have to fight hard to hold onto their love and make their dreams a reality…

Here is ClaireC’s review:

Carolina Dreaming is the fifth book in the Dare Island series, and I did feel like there was some character backstory I was missing by not having read previous books. People are introduced by name and it felt like those names should mean something to me. Jane, our heroine, played a minor role in a previous book, but that story is summed up in this book since our hero, Gabe, is new to town. Both Jane and Gabe have a LOT of baggage to unpack, but most of it gets handled by the end of the novel.

Quickly – Jane Clark is a single mom, owns the town bakery, lives with her retired-but-not cop father, and her ex-husband is due to get out of jail soon. She escaped a physically and verbally abusive relationship when her son was only a baby (Aiden is now seven), and has devoted herself to being a mom and business owner ever since.

Gabe Murphy grew up with an abusive father and a mother who couldn’t (or wouldn’t) protect him. He spent a lot of time with his uncle, joined the Marines, then worked in oil fields after being discharged. He ran into some trouble with the law when he prevented a rape, and has now hitchhiked his way to Dare Island, home to Luke, his old buddy from the Marines.

Gabe seems like a pretty standard semi-bad boy. He rolls into town as a drifter and keeps people at a distance, having learned from childhood that he can’t trust anyone to stick around. While at first much is made of his convicted status, many of the islanders eventually open up to him, as he proves himself a hard worker on a construction crew, adopts a stray dog (side note, the dog is described as a pit bull mix, but the cover depicts a German shepherd. Do pit bulls on romance covers not sell?), and bonds with Aidan, becoming an adult male figure to look up to in place of Aidan’s absent father. Points in his favor for admitting he read romance from the prison library, and he and Jane share an adorable moment of bonding over their love of Suzanne Brockmann. Gabe’s best quality is that he sees Jane as she is now, not as the misguided teen, or abused woman, or abandoned daughter. He continually points out how amazing her accomplishments have been – opening a successful business, raising a son on her own, taking care of an aging parent, and always feeding and caring for members of the community. The descriptions of her baking are excellent, and I do not recommend reading while hungry!

Jane’s father, Hank, gets some POV through the story, and I’m not his biggest fan. He watches Aidan quite a bit, but doesn’t interact with him at all, just sits in his recliner and watches ESPN. He still thinks of Jane as the rebellious 19 year old who ran off and got married, then had to move back home when her relationship fell apart. It’s clear that even though Jane is close to 30, he still thinks of her as that teenager and absolutely doesn’t trust her to make her own decisions. At one point, he even says to her, “If you believe that, you’re even stupider than I thought.” YIKES DAD.

Much later in the book, Jane is trying to convince him to get to know Gabe, and to trust that she’s learned from her mistakes:

“I’m sorry I didn’t listen to you about Travis [her ex]. You were right about him. But you’re wrong about Gabe.”

“I don’t give a damn about being right. I just want you to be …”

Her heart pounded. “Happy?”

Hank’s gaze met hers. “Safe.”

Hank’s idea of keeping her safe is controlling who she interacts with, and making sure that the community sees her as a mother and baker, not as an independent adult woman. Also, Hank has a secondary romance with the police dispatcher, a widowed Latina woman with four sons. Clearly she’s one of the only minority residents of the island, and while Hank is uncomfortable with how he feels about her, he still to get a dinner invite and kiss her in the kitchen 15 minutes into their “date.” Ugh, I had more feelings about him than I realized!

And what about Jane? She’s obviously still suffering from her mother walking out on the family, from her abusive relationship, and copes by putting her feelings to the side, and putting other’s needs first. It’s clear that her ex sexually abused her while they were married, even if she’s not willing to call it such, but she’s never sought therapy for herself or Aidan. There aren’t any graphic depictions here, but readers who are sensitive may want to proceed with caution. I will say that the sex scenes between Jane and Gabe are well done, with Jane being the instigator in their first encounter. Gabe keeps the focus on Jane, making sure that she’s okay with their actions and not presuming that yes to a kiss means yes to anything more. He does presume a little bit when he’s making plans to settle permanently on the island, which plays into (of course) the Big Mis between Jane and Gabe.

The story wraps up with a bit of drama when Travis (the ex) shows back up, but everything is resolved without fisticuffs or further fallings-out between hero and heroine. Happily the drama gives the community a chance to express their care for Jane and Aidan, and for Jane to stand up to her father and go after what she wants with Gabe.

Overall, it’s an enjoyable book, but Hank really dragged it down for me. I’d give Carolina Dreaming a C+. I don’t regret reading it, but I also don’t feel compelled to go back and read the rest of the series.

This book is available from:
Carolina Dreaming by Virginia Kantra

February 2, 2016

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