Title: Just Fine with Caroline by Annie England Noblin
Cold River Series Book One
Publisher: William Morrow Paperbacks
Genre: Contemporary, Women’s Fiction
Length: 368 pages
Book Rating: B+
Complimentary Review Copy Provided by Publisher
From the author of Sit! Stay! Speak! comes a tender, terrific novel complete with long-buried secrets, a three-legged pot belly pig, and an irresistible dog—an unforgettable story about love, friendship, and community. Perfect for fans of Mary Kay Andrews and Mary Alice Monroe.
Caroline O’Connor never dreamed she’d be back home in Cold River, Missouri, the Ozark Mountain town where everyone is ‘up your business.’…they mean well as they drive you crazy. She thought she’d left town for good, but now she’s back, helping to care for her New York born mother—struck with Alzheimer’s, and prone to saying and doing anything—and her father, the beloved local doctor frustrated he can’t cure his own wife.
As for Caroline, she’s doing ‘just fine’ coping with her parents, her brazen cousin Ava Dawn’s marital disasters, her mostly-deaf dog…and with Noah Cranwell, far-flung relative of a local family mostly infamous for running moonshine, an ex-veteran who’s come to Cold River with troubles of his own.
Caroline believes she knows everything about Cold River and the people who live in its hills and hollers … but sometimes life’s greatest surprises happen closest to home
Annie England Noblin’s delightful Cold River series is off to wonderful beginning with the first installment, Just Fine with Caroline. This absolutely marvelous novel is a poignant but uplifting story that I highly recommend to readers of contemporary women’s fiction.
Caroline O’Connor left college before obtaining her degree to move back to her small hometown nestled in the Missouri Ozarks to help care for her mother after she is diagnosed with Alzheimer’s. During the summer months, she runs her mom’s bait shop in addition to caring for her mom. This summer is a little livelier than usual due to the unexpected arrival of Noah Cranwell, who plans to reopen his family’s store, the return of Caroline’s ex-boyfriend, Reese Graham and her cousin Ava Dawn’s impending divorce. Despite living in a small town where everyone knows everyone else’s business, the Cranwell family remains a bit of a mystery and Caroline is stunned to discover her family is harboring a shocking secret as well.
Caroline is struggling with the reality of her mom’s worsening condition while feeling like her life is in limbo. While she does not begrudge assisting her parents’ through this difficult time, she cannot help but feel like she is waiting for her own life to begin. At the same time, Caroline is a little frustrated with her emotionally distant father who is not handling his wife’s diagnosis very well. Not exactly content with the status quo, Caroline just sort of drifts through her days until she meets Noah. She is quite drawn to him but will their burgeoning relationship survive once Caroline learns the truth about a long held family secret?
After several years in the military, Noah is finally ready to put down roots. He is soon caught up in renovating his family’s long closed business while at the same time reconnecting with his grandfather. He is just as surprised as Caroline by their mutual attraction and although there is tension between their families, they enjoy getting to know one another. However, secrets do not always remain hidden and Caroline feels betrayed by him once her family’s secret is revealed. Is their fragile relationship strong enough to withstand this stunning setback?
A secondary story arc featuring Ava Dawn’s decision to leave her abusive husband, Roy, provides added depth to the main storyline. Her troubled marriage has to be the worst kept secret in town and although she has left Roy numerous times in the past, this time Ava Dawn is serious about divorcing him. Further complicating the situation is her involvement with a popular church and its minister, Brother Haiden Crow. Unlike Caroline who does not trust Brother Crow, Ava Dawn hangs on his word but does her involvement with him go beyond spiritual guidance?
Just Fine with Caroline is an incredibly moving novel that delves into the complicated dynamics of family relationships. Caroline’s heartbreak over losing her mother to the vagaries of Alzheimer’s Disease is realistically portrayed and will definitely resonate with readers whose lives have been affected by the ravages of the disease. The romance between Caroline and Noah is sweet yet steamy but misunderstandings and lack of communication threaten to derail their relationship at the first hint of trouble. he Missouri Ozarks serve as the perfect backdrop for this marvelous story and Annie England Noblin brings the town of Cold River and its inhabitants vividly to life. An absolutely charming first installment in a promising new series that I absolutely loved and highly recommend.