Dell, $6.50, ISBN 0-440-24118-9
Contemporary Romance, 2003
If I have to give one good reason why Cabin Fever is worth one’s time, I’d say read this book for the delightful large-sized heroine Magnolia “Nolie” Harper. Otherwise, this book is a pleasant but ordinary small town romance between the single mother and the grouchy loner – it’s familiar offering with minimal paranormal fanfare, despite the presence of three guardian angels. The hero Chase Wilson, however, remains in his haze of self-pity for so long that I wonder what Nolie sees in him.
Nolie moves to Bethlehem when she finally has had it with her in-laws. She loved her late husband, but good grief, her in-laws are driving her crazy because they are suffocating her. They never actually approved of her marrying their son, and now they think they can run her life and expect her to spend her life paying for whatever sins they imagine her to bear. She wants to move on with life, date a man, and be a good mother to her daughter Micahlyn. She settles in nicely in some twin cabin she owns, only to realize that her neighbor is grouchy Chase Wilson, a shamed lawyer who just wants to be left alone. You may have read this story so many times before, and this one is no different. Chase can’t get away from the Micahlyn brat, and soon the angels and the forever kind townspeople of Bethlehem eventually have another couple to join their cult of apple pie wholesomeness.
And if he could see past her size-sixteen exterior to the perfect ten hiding inside, she would be downright ecstatic.
Nolie has me at this sentence and she never disappoints. What a lady – here is a woman who may be sometimes insecure, but for most of the time, she is confident and determined enough to want a man to love her for her, size-sixteen exterior and perfect ten interior. She finds the strength to cut away from her overbearing in-laws and when push comes to shove, she gets on a bulldozer and charges forth anyway. Chase really put her through a lot of crap late in the story (more later), but Nolie has me cheering her on when she refuses to let the hero get to her. I like Nolie. She has guts and she is smart.
Micahlyn is sometimes cute, sometimes grotesque (any kid that asks Mommy to sing when she’s scared of walking through the woods redefine the word “grotesque” alright). Still, she’s tolerable. The author also gets the small town secondary cast just right: these townspeople never overwhelm the main couple, they are not walking advertisements, and they are not even overbearing matchmaker plot devices. The secondary quasi-romance between a conman and Chase’s sister Leanne will actually lead to a full-length book coming up next, but these two characters are intriguing enough to be worth their taking some space in this book.
The biggest problem is Chase. He’s tortured, yes, but he’s such a walking stereotype at the same time. While Nolie is a refreshing antithesis of the usual desperate and pathetic needy heroine smalltown romances tend to feature, Chase walks around in a funk of whiny self-pitying depression that refuses to stop. Chase’s “can’t love again” baggage is also a familiar one: he keeps thinking about his ex-wife – the one that dumped him for his partner – apparently he’s so in love with her or something. But at the same time, every time Chase remembers Fiona, the author snidely portrays the woman in a really unflattering light. This makes Chase’s pining over Fiona come off a little on the illogical side. The one test of his relationship with Nolie sees him crumbling like the worthless flacky piece that he is, and it’s a predictable denouement I can see coming a mile away. Thank goodness Nolie doesn’t let him plunge them both into a stupid big misunderstanding idiot fest – she just puts her foot down and wants nothing to do with him anymore. Good for her!
Alas, the author then uses the classic plot machination of making Nolie indebted to Chase for a yet another predictable reason. Instead of Chase really having to work to prove himself to Nolie, he just walks in, remembers that he’s a lawyer at the last minute, and solves every problem in Nolie’s life. So, of course she has to love him, right? And regarding the evil in-laws, yes, in the end it’s always the mother-in-law who’s the biggest bitch in the land. The Daddy-in-law, like Daddies and Heroes of the land, is as always misunderstood.
Cabin Fever is a pleasant story that won’t surprise anyone familiar with the small town romance formula. It is the heroine that elevates this story from being yet another one of the many small town books on the romance aisle. However, with the formulaic storyline that Nolie’s starring in, I can’t help feeling that I’m somewhat shortchanged by the author of a really good story.