The Cottage
by Sandra Steffen, contemporary (2001)
Zebra, $6.50, ISBN 0-8217-7130-2

Caleb "Cale" Wilder has just recently lost his beloved wife Ellie when his fourteen-year old stepson Danny ran away from home. Danny wants to visit the beautiful Dawsons Hollow wilderness that his mother spoke fondly of before she died. Cale follows him, but he crashes his Cessna on his way and is discovered by and nursed back to health by country healer Miranda Sinclair. Together, they will love, heal (he lost his wife, she was raped before), and give Danny a home once again.

Fun huh? Well, The Cottage has some great non-contrived elements in the romance. Cale loves his late wife, really, you know, and she doesn't end up a complete trailer-park alcoholic, slutoholic skank so that Miranda can come out smelling like roses. Danny is a touching character, a precocious kid whom nobody understands and who just wants to be left alone to mourn. Miranda... well, Miranda's a kooky healer who may or may not be a magical healer who can heal with her touch (don't groan).

But after the initial set-up of emotional drama, The Cottage becomes flatter and flatter until it resembles the flat line in a life support machine. It's not that it's bad. It's just that nothing happens. Just Miranda acting all sagey and all-knowing, wise and understanding, as Cale pours his soul to her and she nods and offers mystic greeting-card/New Age/Earth Mother shamaness mumbo-jumbo advice. And as he heals, Cale holding Miranda in his manly embrace to banish the demons in her life, sexual healing style. But nothing happens. Just talk. Chit-chat of two people in perfect unison and synchrony, mind and soul, while the beautiful wilderness - trees and squirrels and all - provide soothing scenery.

Danny is more interesting, as is his friendship with a local girl. He radiates teenage confusion and angst that are genuine and moving. If anything, he deserves happiness more than his father.

Oh, and the final "action", if I can call it that, is Miranda and Cale's search for Danny's biological father and the reason why Ellie left this place she loved so much. Again, this makes a far more interesting - and moving - read that the perfect lovebirds' perfect romance.

So on one hand, The Cottage is one of the increasingly rare romance novels I've read that actually focus on the characters' inner turmoils. No sheriff yee-ha's, no ditz (although Miranda's psychadelic babblings come close to kookdom), no slapstick comedy, just two people talking and loving in smooth, creamy, chocolate rhythm to the tune of Marvin Gaye's Sexual Healing.

It's nice, but really, with so much love and understanding making Dawsons Hollow a perfect place for romance and sex, I can't help wishing for something a little more... happening to take place. Some emotional baggage that just doesn't get solved so easily after long, soul-baring talk by the fireside as their perfect aerobicized limbs lay entwined, basking in the beautiful fireglow... how lovely. And how kinda boring too.

Rating: 86

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