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Tuesday, July 15, 2008

Welcome to Grace Valley, California - Chances Are, You'll Never Want to Leave

Welcome to Grace Valley, California, Population 1, 564. With its lush landscape and friendly residents, the community offers small-town living at its best. Anyone looking to escape the bustle of the city can find peace in this place of "apple butter, heirloom quilts, unlocked doors, front porches and pies cooling in kitchen windows" (8).

For all its pastoral charms, Grace Valley isn't exactly Mayberry. Just ask the town doctor, June Hudson. She'll tell you about "the underside here, not visible to the casual eye ... battered women living in isolation on rundown farms; a roadhouse called Dandies that was not quaint and did not welcome tourists" (45). Add the nearby marijuana farms ("An uncomfortable reality, and it was just up the road" [8]), and you've got a truer picture of gentle Grace Valley. Still, it's a good town where "blood runs thicker ... ties bind stronger ... and love is all the more sweet" (back cover).

Author Robyn Carr takes us to the picturesque town in her trilogy starring 37-year-old Dr. June Hudson. If you enjoyed stays in Mitford or Big Stone Gap, consider a visit to Grace Valley, California. Chances are excellent that you'll never want to leave.


The series begins with Deep in the Valley, a charming introduction to June and her lively community. When we first meet the doctor, she's dashing through her house, dripping wet and wrapped only in a towel. It's 6:15 a.m., her phone's ringing, and she's the town's only full-time doctor. As she makes her way to the kitchen, she's startled to see a tattered mountain family sitting in her living room. Welcome to life as a country doctor, where surprises wait around every corner. After seeing to the patient - a teenager with a gangrenous foot - June heads for town, where the locals are already chortling about her half-naked doctoring. Welcome to life in a small town, where no one (especially her dad, semi-retired Doc Hudson) can keep their traps shut.

June has little time to dwell on the incident. Her hands are soon full with a drunk who beats his family; a baby who's coming too soon; a paranoid Vietnam vet; and a new doctor who may not be quite as perfect as he seems. As if that isn't enough, she also has to deal with a womanizing preacher, a distraught pregnant woman, and drug dealers who demand treatment at gunpoint. June, who hasn't had a date in a decade (in Grace Valley, you have to choose your spouse in 9th grade if you don't want to avoid old maidenhood), also finds herself falling for a mysterious DEA agent. Her life is so frenzied that she's even seeing angels. Could she be delusional, or is it all just another year in the life of crazy, wonderful Grace Valley?

This is an exciting opener that introduces readers to a fascinating cast of characters, including June's eccentric Aunt Myrna; her father and his irreverent cronies; the reclusive Mulls; June's crochety nurse Charlotte; and handsome newcomer Jim Post. It also highlights the hard-working doctor and her absolute devotion to her town. Funny and warm, it's a delicious appetizer to this pleasing series.

Just Over the Mountain, the second book in the Grace Valley trilogy, picks up where its predecessor left off. June's still worrying about the same ol' folks - Clarence Mull, a Vietnam vet with PTSD refuses to take his meds; Justine Cussler insists on having a baby instead of undergoing chemo for her ovarian cancer; and her nurse, Charlotte, wears the grey pall of death. Of course, June has plenty of new worries to keep her busy - there's the strange love triangle between Daniel, Blythe and Sarah; the reappearance of June's high school sweetheart and his troublesome twins; and the discovery of bones at her beloved Aunt Myrna's house. To top it all off, June's got the worst bug she's ever had - between the nausea, crying jags and exhaustion, she's barely able to take care of herself, let alone the town. In this state, is it any wonder she's having trouble resisting the advances of her sexy ex?

Deep in the Valley left me hungering for a second helping of Grace Valley in all its colorful charm, and Just Over the Mountain definitely satisfies. It introduces a different, more vulnerable, side of June that makes her even more likeable. Although the doc is a bit more melancholy than usual, the quirky townfolks keep things lively. A weary June would love to crawl under her quilts and hide, but one thing is obvious from the get-go: There will be no rest for the big-hearted June Hudson.

Although this one is pretty predictable (A doctor doesn't recognize what nausea, crying jags and an increased appetite mean for a sexually active woman??), it's so fun and warm that I really don't care. If Grace Valley existed, I'd be packing up the moving van. I love this series.

Down By the River delivers the exciting conclusion to this enchanting trilogy. When the story
opens, Grace Valley is buzzing with excitement - not only is the town's doctor, June Hudson, glowing with a decidedly maternal light, but she's been seen canoodling in public with a mystery man. June can hardly believe it herself. Her secret boyfriend, Jim, is newly retired from undercover work and here to stay. Although they have been seeing each other for some time now, June has been forced to keep the town in the dark for Jim's safety. Now that he's come out of obscurity, tongues are wagging all over town. Jim (whose only flaw seems to be his roof-raising snore) soon charms the townsfolk. The only question now is, "When's the wedding?"

June, who can calmly stitch up wounds, deliver babies, and treat patients at gunpoint, finds the idea of marriage terrifying. After all, she's approaching 40 and set in her ways. Besides, it's not like she's known Jim since kindergarten - she simply needs to get to know him better before she can commit. (Caution: This may make you want to whack the good doctor upside the head.)

Besides, June doesn't have time to pick out colors and shop for bridal gowns. She's got her usual patients - Clarence, the paranoid vet; the Forrest twins, who are still in traction after the infamous stunt with their grandma's Cadillac; and Birdie, whose stress levels have skyrocketed since her son returned to town. As if that isn't enough, June runs into a family in crisis right on the side of the highway. She finds young Erline Davis groaning with labor pains, while two children look on, and her husband Conrad bumbles about in a drug-soaked haze. When Grace Valley's residents get wind of the troubled family, they rally to help, but Conrad seems determined to abuse their kindness. It's not as if the town doesn't have enough to worry about - the preacher's acting strange, the river's rising faster than it should, and someone's robbing local businesses. June's exhausted by her pregnancy and the town's problems, not to mention her instant nausea at any mention of the M word. As if life isn't quite interesting enough, Aunt Myrna announces she has her own mystery man, and he's coming for Thanksgiving!

Obviously, Grace Valley teems with "eccentric people who minded everyone's business but their own" (119) - the folks don't miss much, including an opportunity to help those in need. With characteristic warmth, the residents band together to care for their own, proving once again that the most important things in life, are not things at all. In fact, artist Sarah Kelleher sums it up perfectly when she says, "People around here seem to take more stock in making a difference than making a dollar" (304). Down By the River showcases Robyn Carr's wonderful characters doing what they do best - making a difference in each other's lives.

You can always count on Robyn Carr for a happy ending, which makes her books both predictable and sentimental. I can spot her plot "shockers" a mile away. And, guess what? I don't care. My (uncharacteristic) ambivalence to predictability and sentimentality is a testament to Carr's magnificent ability to create endearing characters and magical places. I don't care if I can predict each character's every movement, I just want to pull up a chair at the cafe and glory in the charming little town that is Grace Valley, California.


The Grace Valley novels are being re-issued with gorgeous new cover art (shown in the images above) on August 1. You can pre-order these titles at Amazon and Barnes & Noble. Images in this post are from Barnes & Noble.

Grades: A

1 comment:

  1. Is Grave Valley inspired by a particular place? I recognize the area, in general.


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