At Long Last

For Love Alone

Love Be Mine

Swear By the Moon

Coming Home by Shirlee Busbee
(Warner, $6.99, PG-13) ISBN 0-446-61190-5
In this sequel to Return to Oak Valley, we learn that Thomas Wolfe was wrong: you can go home again, but it’s deadly dull when you do.

The cast of characters:

Roxanne Ballinger. At 38, supermodel Roxanne has been in the modeling business for twenty years, but she has decided to retire while at the peak of her career before she’s overtaken by younger models. (No, I’m not making this up.) She has left the fast-paced life of New York for Oak Valley, California, where most of her large family still lives. Roxanne has bought the mountainside cabin of a deceased marijuana grower. She has plans to extensively enlarge and decorate the small dwelling.

Roxanne, who has lived on her striking beauty for the past two decades, wants to be noticed for her brains and intelligence. But what does she do now that she has all this free time on her hands? Matriculate at the local college to study rocket science? Embark on a lifetime of philosophical studies? Start reading the Encyclopedia Britannica from A to Z? No, she runs out of gas while on the way to a party at her brothers’ up another mountain and forgets to bring her cell phone. Her main activities are making gallons of iced tea and coffee and wandering around the house. Stick with the beauty game, honey, at least that one’s working for you.

Jeb Delaney. Jeb is the twice-married deputy sheriff. He and Roxanne have a history of personality clashes, and they get off to another rocky beginning when Jeb wonders if Roxanne is going to continue with the same line of work as the cabin’s previous occupant. Jeb confesses that “you can’t say someone with two, not one, but two failed marriages behind him really appreciates the finer nuances in dealing with the opposite sex.” So what does he do after he and Roxanne engage in some hot sex on her kitchen countertop? Pretty much accuse of her being promiscuous. Smooth, Jeb, real smooth.

Scores of others including Ilka, Roxanne’s sister who lost her worthless husband and two young children in an accident and years later is still immersed in her grief and living with mom and dad. As well as Roxanne’s brother Sloan and his wife Shelly, the hero and heroine from Return to Oak Valley, who are unsuccessfully trying to conceive a child. “It’s just that every month when my period comes, I want to die. I feel so useless, so, so barren. I feel like a failure, as a woman, and a wife.” (Yes, hard as it may be to believe after that excerpt, this book really does have a copyright date of 2003.)

And other characters who blur together. Acey, Nick, Roman, Maria, Mingo, Cleo, Sam, Monty, Don, Hank, Megan, Profane, Danny, Theo, Milo, Scott, M.J., Pagan, Morgan, Mark, Helen, Ross, another Sam, and Jeb’s two dogs, Boss and Dawg.

Except for the hot sex on the countertop nothing happens. Roxanne and Jeb don’t speak to each other afterwards for several months. No more hot sex. No more anything.

A large part of the book is a Better Homes and Gardens home remodeling story without the illustrations. Roxanne spends a lot of time thinking about how great her house is going to be along with an ongoing detailed update on the progress in both construction and decoration. (Personally, I have doubts that her bedroom wine brocade drapes are going to coordinate all that well with the dark blue enamel wood stove backed with rose-tinted tiles and the oriental patterned rug in shades of gold, ruby, and emerald against a sapphire-blue background….I told you it was detailed.)

Jeb hangs out with his dogs.

Life is really laid back in Oak Valley. It might be a nice to place to live and raise children, but it doesn’t make for an even mildly interesting story. The narrative’s pace would have to speed up to qualify as plodding. There are enough dangling threads at the end of the book that it seems there’s a good possibility there will be more accounts of watching paint dry yet ahead for the denizens of Oak Valley. As for me, I prefer my story lines to have some plot and character development. I think I’d rather mosey along to some place where there’s something happening.

--Lesley Dunlap

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