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THE NEXT ALWAYS by Nora Roberts

THE NEXT ALWAYS

By Nora Roberts

Pub Date: Nov. 1st, 2011
ISBN: 978-0-425-24321-3
Publisher: Berkley

In Roberts’ new series launch, the conversion of a tumbledown Maryland hotel into a boutique country inn fails to expel an extremely shy resident ghost.

The first half of the novel, essentially an extended prologue, is painstakingly slow. As Roberts demonstrates a newfound passion for construction minutia (perhaps because she renovated and owns Inn Boonsboro in real life), the activities of architect Beckett Montgomery and his two builder brothers as they retrofit a historic building in Boonsboro (near the Antietam battlefield) unfold almost in real time. Working under the supervision of their benevolent tyrant of a mother, the brothers exchange good-natured macho gibes as they appoint the Inn-to-be with the most opulent tile, woodwork and fixtures. Amid all the bromance, Beckett watches longingly as his crush since grade school, Clare, goes about running her amazingly profitable independent bookstore while raising three unruly boys alone. (Her soldier husband died in Iraq.) Does she or doesn’t she notice him, Beckett muses ad infinitum. Meanwhile, Clare tells herself that Beckett is not really interested, just being kind to a war widow. Once this minor miscommunication is cleared up, the two begin a tentative relationship, however, the necessity of introducing obstacles to true love has Roberts stretching for things for them to squabble about, including the sighting by Clare’s youngest son of a ghostly lady dressed in an old-timey long gown, staring from an upper story window of the Inn. (The ghost, nicknamed “Lizzy,” has betrayed her presence to Beckett and a few others only with a scent of honeysuckle and a penchant for opening doors.) Cartoonish villain Sam, the spoiled, indolent son of the area’s wealthiest family, stalks Clare and tries to take indecent liberties, but his belated appearance, and his failure to pose a believable threat, do little to propel the plot. The fictional doppelganger of Boonsboro is an anachronistic bubble, seemingly untouched by the blight besetting so many American small towns.

An effective infomercial—and guest-room sleep-aid—for Inn BoonsBoro.