cover image Roberta’s Woods

Roberta’s Woods

Betty J. Cotter, . . Five Star, $25.95 (321pp) ISBN 978-1-59414-673-2

Cotter’s competent debut imagines the Yankee frontier as recreated by a severe energy crisis, along with an unlikely heroine to navigate it. In 2013, fuel shortages are rampant, forcing Roberta Wilcox from her University of Maryland teaching job. As she returns to her rural hometown of Coward’s Hole, R.I., for the first time in eight years, ruthless Sen. Fred Maine takes control of the state’s energy rationing, while government official Anthony Piccirelli pushes a program that buys out small communities and relocates them to clustered developments. Roberta’s father, owner of a lumber mill and steward of the family’s property—including the woods that are the source of their wealth—seems apathetic, while her half-sister is hostile. Normally passive Roberta struggles to untangle what looks like a Maine-headed conspiracy as she clings to her family’s ancestral land, cares for her elderly grandmother and manages competing romances. Family secrets, however, threaten to undermine her efforts. Cotter’s suspenseful vision of the near future features strong character development, sensual writing and an absorbing plot. (Mar.)