||Set in beautiful Napa Valley, California, Nora Roberts's latest novel portrays a rich world of family-owned wineries, complete with enough romance, sophisticated business intrigue, betrayal, and murder to cow the Medicis of Florence. The Villa focuses on the merger of two prominent winemaking families, the Giambellis and MacMillans, and the incendiary combination of the two upcoming leaders of those dynasties, Sophia Giambelli and Tyler MacMillan. Tyler is the manager of the MacMillan vines and the distilling process, a job that suits his frank and no-frills personality. Creative and flashy, Sophia is head of Giambelli's public relations, and her job has been to put the best spin on whatever her family business produces--hard to do when the merger requires that she and Tyler switch jobs, and particularly hard to do when her own heart seems to spin out of control whenever they're together.
Soon after the merger goes through, Tyler and Sophia learn that they have bigger problems than their conflicting work styles. Tony Avano, a Giambelli executive and Sophia's father, is murdered, and threats surface against the Giambelli women. As a quiet woman, Sophia's mother, Pilar, has made few enemies, except for Tony's new wife, Rene. The matriarch of the family--known simply as La Signora--may have knocked some rivals aside as she clawed her way to the top, but few would have reason to threaten her now. When poison is discovered in Giambelli wine, Sophia and Tyler learn the killer is much closer than they thought.
In description, dialogue, and plot, Roberts's talent and control are as fine as ever. But while the relationship between Pilar and David, the new COO, feels complex and mature, Sophia and Tyler's romance can at times feel slightly forced. As Roberts explains repeatedly, Sophia approaches sex "as a man does," which apparently means with no strings attached. And while that does tend to take the "romance" out of the romance to some extent, the positive aspects to be found in The Villa outweigh this flaw, ensuring another hit for the talented and prolific Roberts. --Nancy R.E. O'Brien