Patricia Rice: Carolina Girl
Patricia Rice: California Girl
Paperback, ISBN 0-8041-0983-X
In Carolina Girl, after being laid off from her job, Aurora (Rory) Jenkins returns to her family home on an island swamp in South Carolina. Her father Jake and sister Cissy both sport injuries from a car accident that totaled their truck.
Cissy mortgaged the doublewide trailer years ago (unbeknownst to Rory), and Jake depends on contests and the lottery to provide for his old age. Rory and her MBA background figure that a bit of careful development on their property can dig her family out of their debt of mortgages, credit cards and medical bills as well as provide a new truck or two and pay for the education of Mandy, Cissy's teenage daughter.
But the local tourism board wants to buy the swampland and encourage much more development than Rory wants. Clay McCloud uses his computer programming skills to build a program to hunt down all the swampland heirs -- only one heir needs to be coerced into selling. Then the government can force an auction of all the land, paving the way for, well, pavement.
Rory finds herself torn between wanting a little development, which would benefit her family, and preserving the wetlands, which house many poor families like her own as well as loggerhead turtle nesting sites. Clay merely wants Rory in his bed. A bad past relationship, coupled with corporate greed that took his multimillion dollar software company from him, leaves him not wanting to get involved. But Rory's fire draws him in, and Clay finds himself terminating his work on finding the heirs and instead throwing his lot in with Rory.
After a winning bottle cap gives Rory some instant cash, they set up a corporation to invest the money in Clay's latest software program; the cash generated by the software program would give them the money to fight the state, the tourism board and the developers. But the fight turns out to be more dangerous than they thought. Cissy gets run off the road, crashing Rory's distinctive BMW. Then a fire burns through their neighborhood, nearly consuming the doublewide. Rory and Clay finally track down the culprits. But the real obstacles on their romantic journey turn out to be Rory's need for stability and security versus Clay's risk-taking, and their difficulty communicating on an emotional level.
California Girl takes readers on a road trip. After years of watching her husband die from cancer, Alys Seagraves needs to take charge of her life. Determined to be free and unfettered to others, she and her friend Mame plan a trip along the fabled Route 66 in Mame's old pink Cadillac. They plan to see the sights and enjoy life for awhile. But a heart infarction lands Mame in the hospital and brings her nephew Elliot Ross to fuss over her. Mame checks herself out of the hospital, steals Elliot's SUV and begins leading Alys and Elliot on a wild goose chase.
The madcap aspects of Mame's adventure further her ulterior motives. The journey forces uber-focused Elliot to loosen up and let go of control. It also helps Alys realize how lonely being alone can be. The pair fall hard for each other, though they see no future together after they track down Mame.
Along the way, Alys and Elliot acquire a potted orchid, a kitten named Purple, and a five-year-old girl, all left in their safekeeping by Mame. Mame and her friend Dulce snatch Lucia, the girl, from Lucia's grandfather, sparking further chases and harrowing escapes. Lucia's grandfather claims to be the girl's rightful guardian, despite legal evidence to the contrary. Alys and Elliot must take Lucia to her dead mother's family on the Navajo reservation.
Lucia's grandfather sends his fleet of truckers after them, tracking them across the desert. One night, a couple truckers attempt to break into their motel room. Elliot fights them off, but in the process sends himself into a cardiac emergency. He shares the same problem as Mame, congestive heart failure. After dealing with her late husband's illness, Alys tries to distance herself from what she feels for Elliot, afraid to go through that pain again.
Patricia Rice writes novels that are full of both romance and action. Despite the numerous twists, the plots actually move along easily, with no confusion of characters, events or continuity. The characters all display both strengths and weaknesses, giving them plenty of depth and making them more compelling than the typical romance novel hero or heroine.
One of Rice's best features turns out to be her attention to detail. Naming the kitten Purple, for example, or the classic-rock lyrics that Rory and Clay swap in instant messages add a bit of charm and whimsy to the story. Both of these books make excellent reads.
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