It's been years since I last read or reread any of Nora Roberts' books. Her books used to be my top picks when I needed romance novels that were guaranteed to put a smile on my face. Unfortunately, I read too many in a row at one point and burned out on her. She works best for me in small doses, spaced far apart, so that I'm not so painfully aware of her character types and the patterns in her stories.
The MacGregor Grooms was, I think, the very first Nora Roberts book I ever read and fell in love with. I had previously tried one of her romantic suspense books and couldn't stand it, so this was a pleasant surprise. In general, Roberts writes good “large, loud, happy family” books, and The MacGregor Grooms is an excellent example.
This book is composed of three novellas, each starring one of Daniel MacGregor's grandchildren. I suppose each novella could work on its own, but, as a set, they're far stronger. Read together, they really drive home the “large, loud, happy family” theme. It's hard to imagine anything truly horrible happening to this family, but, if something did, they'd band together and weather it just fine. It was, for me, a very cozy and comforting reread.
“D.C.” stars D.C., an intense artist, and Layna, a cool businesswoman. Daniel MacGregor (aka “the MacGregor”) works with Layna's godmother to sneakily match the two of them up. D.C. and Layna each think they're doing the other a favor by being their date to a charity ball, and that “favor” leads to mutual attraction and interest.
Layna likes things orderly, so it's a little of a surprise to her how much she enjoys being around D.C., who rarely remembers to shop for groceries or do his dishes and can barely be bothered to unpack his things and properly move into his penthouse. D.C., for his part, is surprised at how interested he is in cool and controlled Layna, when his usual type is more passionate.
Okay, so this is one of those “perfect world, perfect people” romances. D.C. is the son of a former U.S. president, for goodness' sake, and Layna has never wanted for anything, as far as money and education go. The primary thing standing between them is Layna's fear that she isn't cut out for love and marriage, because her parents aren't warm and loving people. It's a flimsy obstacle, made flimsier by the speed with which she gets over her fear.
Still, this is a nice romance, and I enjoyed it when D.C. defended Layna to his grandfather's secret delight. I also felt for Layna when she explained that she likes to closely follow rules when she's still learning, so that she makes fewer mistakes – it was a lovely moment of vulnerability, and it painted a great picture in my mind of the kind of person she was.
The MacGregor's matchmaking meddling was at its heaviest in this story, and it was delightful. It's funny, because it's quite possible that a real-life Daniel MacGregor would drive me crazy with his scheming and his obsession with seeing his children and grand-children matched up and popping out babies (while also pursuing careers they enjoy, of course). Somehow, though, the MacGregor and his family really works for me.
“Duncan” stars Duncan, the owner of a riverboat casino, and Cat, a singer. Cat is the newest talent hired to entertain the customers on Duncan's boat. The MacGregor highly recommended her, which Duncan soon figures out was as least partly a matchmaking scheme. Still, Cat is good, so he lets it slide and even indulges in a bit of flirting with her.
Cat figures that Duncan is a charming heart-breaker, and she's determined to escape unscathed. Duncan is determined to win Cat over, especially once he realizes he's in love. Although Duncan didn't seem to think their relationship was at all a problem (and neither did any of the other employees!), Cat was a little more realistic and knew that a boss-employee romance was probably not a good idea. I applauded her for keeping an eye on her future. She was the only main character in the book who hadn't spent a good chunk of her life wealthy, or at least well-off, and she hadn't gotten to this point in her career by being stupid.
Again, several members of the MacGregor family make an appearance, and it is lovely. I couldn't help but smile when Cat fell head-over-heels for Daniel MacGregor. Because family is such a big thing in Duncan (and any MacGregor's) life, Cat's love for Duncan's grandfather wasn't just padding, but rather an important piece of their romance. Very nice.
One thing I tend to notice in Roberts' works is the jobs. In the previous story, only D.C. was shown working much. Layna briefly thought about her plans for the future (she wanted to be CEO of her parents' department store), but that was about it. This story was different, showing both Cat and Duncan at work, and I think it made them seem more real.
Now for my all-time favorite story in the book: “Ian.” The couple in this one is a bit quieter and more homey-feeling. Ian is a lawyer, and Naomi is taking over the management of her parents' store, Brightstone Books.
Ian falls for Naomi so quickly it's like he was waiting his whole life just to fall in her lap – very little meddling necessary on the MacGregor's part. Once again, the greatest obstacle in the relationship comes from the heroine – Naomi fears she is still too much of an ugly duckling inside for someone like Ian.
When she was younger, Naomi was pudgy and awkward and felt out of place in her beautiful family. In the months prior to the beginning of this story, she began making changes in herself, overhauling her wardrobe, losing weight, and working hard to have a more confident outward appearance. It takes her a while to realize that Ian is truly interested in her, and, even then, part of her thinks that the woman he likes is a fake, not the real her.
Even though I love this story, I have to admit that, in the real world, most men's reaction to Naomi's outburst about not really being pretty and needing a computer program just to figure out what to put on in the mornings would probably be to back out the door and run away. I consider that scene the weakest in the entire story - it made me cringe on Naomi's behalf. Ian's main reaction is worry that he's swooping in and stealing Naomi's chances to grow and have new experiences, because Ian is mind-bogglingly perfect and understanding.
I think one of the reasons I continue to love this story the most out of all the ones in this book is because it hits the right romance buttons for me. Ian is nice and goes out of his way to make sure Naomi feels comfortable around him, Naomi satisfies my love for the “shy heroine” trope, both Ian and Naomi are book lovers, and the MacGregor family is, once again, wonderful, warm, and supportive. The combination makes me happy sigh.
All in all, the stories in this book were too brief to be more than just “okay” or “good” reads on their own, but, together, they worked excellently. Roberts is fantastic at blending romance and family in such a way that the family aspects don't feel like they're in addition to the romance, but rather a part of it. I'm pleased to say that this book worked as well for me now as it did when I first read it and will continue to have a place in my “comfort reads” collection.
(Original review posted on A Library Girl's Familiar Diversions.)