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The Villa    by Nora Roberts order for
by Nora Roberts
Order:  USA  Can
Putnam, 2001 (2001)
Hardcover, Audio, CD

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* *   Reviewed by Martina Bexte

Nora Roberts is to womens' fiction what Stephen King is to dark fantasy. With well over one hundred books to her credit, this prolific author is a unique publishing phenomenon. Roberts was one of the first romance authors to successfully cross over into mainstream fiction and she's been unstoppable every since. Her consistently innovative stories are always appealing, in large part because of well drawn characters, particularly her female leads. These are strong, savvy, capable women who know what they want. It's little wonder that this author's books continue to ride high on various best seller lists.

Roberts sets The Villa in the lush Napa Valley wine country. Matriarch Tereza Giambelli has called her family together to announce a merger with MacMillan wineries. Despite opposition, she's adamant about her decision. The most vocal arguments come from her granddaughter Sophia, who's never been overly involved with the wine business; she's too busy with her PR job in San Francisco. But Tereza changes her granddaughter's focus when she orders Sophia and Tyler MacMillan to work together - Sophia must teach Tyler all about modern marketing techniques, and Tyler must teach Sophia everything about wine making, from planting and tending the vines to the final bottling process. Rivalry and mistrust turn to undeniable attraction, love, and thoughts of a permanent merger.

The murder of Sophia's father, Anthony Avano, soon heats up the action and the suspense. Who is trying to undermine the Giambellis? And why? Is it a member of their own volatile, tempestuous family? A professional rival? Or just someone with a long-standing grudge against Anthony Avano, a known embezzler, liar and womanizer? The killer remains elusive and the trail takes the story across the Atlantic to Venice, where there are more murder attempts. When it becomes clear that Sophia is a target, she and Tyler will stop at nothing to unmask the cunning adversary who's trying to destroy them.

Nora Roberts has crafted another top notch tale in The Villa. Red herrings and sub-plots abound. The best one involves Sophia's mother Pilar and acting independent COO David Cutter in a nifty (and steamy) older woman, younger man romance, with Pilar fighting her attraction for David (and his children) all the way. But he's determined to sweep Pilar off her feet, and does, with style and persistence to spare. Actually, these two come close to over-shadowing the main characters, Sophia and Tyler, something that doesn't often happen in a Roberts book. By the end all red herrings and loose plot threads are accounted for and, as always, the author manages to throw in a surprising plot twist when the identity of the bad guy is finally revealed.

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