Forbidden Falls
by Robyn Carr
(Mira, $7.99, PG) ISBN 078-0-7783-2749-3
Forbidden Falls is the eighth and latest installment in Robyn Carr’s Virgin River series. Virgin River is a small town in northern California populated by hunky beta heroes and beautiful heroines in desperate need of rescuing. As the town grows one book, one angsty couple at a time, the community embraces them with all the love and support small towns are apocryphally supposed to provide but so rarely do.

On-going character Hope McCrea is at it again. The crusty old-timer’s mission is to expand Virgin River by attracting new residents. Her current strategy is to auction the long-abandoned church in Virgin River on ebay. (She claims Virgin River needs some religion.) Newly ordained Presbyterian minister Noah Kincaid is sufficiently intrigued to check it out. Using an inheritance from his mother and with the approval of the presbytery, Noah buys the church and makes plans to renovate it. He rescues an injured dog, meets the town folk, and starts making pastoral calls. He’s fitting right in, gaining acceptance in his new setting. Noah soon realizes that between community outreach and work around the church he needs help so he advertises for a pastor’s assistant.

One of the applicants is Ellie Baldwin. Ellie is interested in the position because she knows it will look good in her effort to get back her two children. Ellie is an exotic dancer with lousy taste in men. She married a school principal thinking he’d make a good father, but the marriage broke down in three months. Even though the marriage ended quickly in divorce, Arnie Gunterson, her ex, managed to obtain custody of Ellie’s children from the family court judge. The judge had been a customer at the club where she danced and didn’t believe that a stripper was a proper mother. How could a judge not approve of a pastor’s assistant?

(Ellie is more than the victim of a nasty ex-husband and a hypocritical judge; she’s also the victim of bad lawyering. The circumstances of the marriage entitled her to an annulment rather than a divorce and all the resulting custodial issues.)

Noah is reluctant to hire a former stripper, but Ellie’s desperation to get the position as well as the undesirability of the other applicants convinces him. As he gets to know her and comes to care about her, Noah begins to appreciate how hard Ellie’s life has been and how much she’s accomplished. Even though Ellie grew up in abject poverty and had two children on her own, she’s a hard-working, generous person. Noah is determined to help her regain custody of her children, especially after meeting the vindictive Arnie. And the great people of Virgin River are more than ready to help.

Meanwhile, the death of an old girlfriend has brought complications to the marriage of Paul and Vanessa, the main characters in Second Chance Pass.

Robyn Carr has a talent for creating sympathetic characters readers will care about. As the Virgin River series has developed, each new title has been a chance to revisit old friends and see how they’re doing. It isn’t an easy thing, however, to keep a series going book after book and keep it new and interesting. While Forbidden Falls is an acceptable book, it doesn’t have the vitality of some of the earlier titles.

It also suffers from heavy-handed stereotyping. Could Noah be any more compassionate? Could Ellie be any more long-suffering? Could Arnie be any sleazier? Could the good citizens of Virgin River be any more willing to pitch in and help? And could the injured dog Noah finds on the side of a road be more of a cliche?

It’s never a good thing when a book’s subplot is more interesting than the main plot. If Paul’s and Vanessa’s problems had gotten more attention, it wouldn’t have been a bad thing. Particularly because things seem to be resolved a little too quickly and easily.

Readers who have enjoyed the Virgin River series and the loosely-connected Grace Valley series will certainly want to read this newest title if for no other reason than to see how things are going with the earlier characters. Since the books build on each other, however, new readers are strongly advised to start with an earlier one.

--Lesley Dunlap

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