“I’ve been thinking a lot about new ground myself. New steps, new risks. I like to think we’re tough enough and smart enough to risk taking those steps onto new ground.”
~Parker Brown, via Nora Roberts in Happy Ever After
Sometimes – by choice, by chance, by a combination of both – we come across a book that truly resonates. It strikes a lasting chord, weaves a message that not only threads through every word and every page, but far beyond. Its characters are ones we can relate to and root for from start to finish. Its wisdom lingers, inspires, and draws something – often times, many things – out of us. And if we’re really lucky? That book is part of a series that does exactly the same thing.
My friend Mary Kate gave me the first novel in Nora Roberts’ Bride Quartet for Hanukkah. She’d seen it in a store and thought of me immediately. That’s just one wonderful thing about having friends who are more like family – they know you so well, sometimes even better than you know yourself. MK and I have been friends for four years, but it feels like so much longer. So when she chose this book for me, I figured that I’d enjoy it. What I couldn’t have known was how much I’d absolutely love it, to the point that I ordered the rest of the series pretty much the minute I finished reading. Seriously, that’s not an exaggeration. I then proceeded to wait what felt like F-O-R-E-V-E-R for the next three books to arrive (you’d think I’d be good with that whole patience thing, considering how much of it the querying process requires, but not when it comes to something like this!). And, when the box finally arrived, I couldn’t dive into the second book fast enough. I sped through it – and number three – and then something happened. I picked up Happy Ever After, starting reading, and found myself already dreading the end. Why? Because this series is JUST. THAT. GOOD. The idea of it being over was more than a bit disappointing.
Part of me wanted to race through the book like I had the others. After all, it was, in ways, the culmination of so many journeys for so many characters. I wanted to get swept up in Parker’s journey, just as I had with Mac, Emma, and Laurel. I wanted to see what was in store not only for her and Malcolm, but for all the other characters I had come to know (literally, I felt as though they were my friends) and love. I wanted to see how Nora would tie everything together in the end. But, at the same time, I didn’t want to get to that conclusion. I didn’t want to reach the end of the path. I didn’t want this book – or this series – to be finished. So what did I do? I forced myself to only read a set amount of pages each day, in the hope of making it last longer. That worked pretty well until the last hundred pages, and then forget it. I literally could not put the book down. I savored every word, and yes, I’ll even admit to getting a bit teary several times throughout those last few pages. The ending was just that fitting, that beautiful, that unequivocally perfect.
Three days later, and I still find myself thinking about these characters. I find myself wondering about what’s next for them. Where do their lives lead? Do their happy ever afters follow parallel paths or do they all carve out their own trajectories? What new roads do they travel down? What’s next for Vows, the wedding planning business the four women run? Nora left so many possibilities floating around, and I can only hope she decides to write one more book as a follow-up to these four. I, for one, would buy it in a heartbeat. Mac, Emma, Laurel, Parker, Carter, Jack, Del, Malcolm, Mrs. Grady – these characters worked their way into my thoughts. They settled themselves into my mind, inspired me with their stories. Each person is special and different, but the bonds that tie them together transcend all that. Their journeys are compelling, real, and emotional. They sweep you into the fold, just like Nora sweeps her readers into the fold of her books. Family and friendship, laughter and love, demons of the past and challenges of the present, the Bride Quartet has it all.
The love stories are magical. They’re the stuff dreams are made of, the fairytale that every hopeless romantic wishes is out there (me included!). Beyond that, though, the friendship between the four women – a friendship that began when they were children and blossomed to a special kind of family over the years – is the true heart of these books. Mac, Emma, Laurel, and Parker, they’re sisters in every way that matters. The bond they share is touching. We should all be so lucky as to have friendships like that. And what they’ve made of their lives? How they turned their childhood game of “Wedding Day” into a business, a career, a life they treasure and cherish … how can that not be a sparkle of hope for us all? Because new ground can be intimidating. It can even be frightening. But those new steps, those new risks, they’re worth taking. If we believe in them, if we believe in ourselves, then we have what it takes to venture forward. Sure, it’s tough. But how can we know what’s waiting around the bend if we don’t move toward it? That new ground, it has the potential to be just what we’ve been working and wishing for.
Just like a blue butterfly perched atop a sunny yellow dandelion – a moment that changed it all for four young girls and, later, for four dedicated, passionate women – there’s a symbol of inspiration out there for all of us. What’s yours?