In the romance-novel industry, the word “sweet” signifies that a book has no sex scenes. In that sense, the word does not apply to Cabin Fever by Marilyn Pappano, as the characters do make love. But in every other sense of the word, this is an extremely sweet book.
A sheltered Arkansas woman named Nolie Harper arrives in Bethlehem, New York with her small daughter, Micahlyn. Nolie got married right out of high school, and when her husband Jeff died she and Micahlyn immediately moved in with Jeff’s parents. Feeling stifled by her in-laws’ controlling ways, Nolie was relieved to discover that she’d inherited two small cabins and a feed store in Bethlehem. She views the move as a welcome change, and a chance to prove that she can be independent. But Micahlyn just wants to go back home.
Nolie moves into one of the two cabins, knowing that the other has been rented. She is surprised to find that her tenant is a dangerous-looking man named Chase, who terrifies her daughter and refuses to answer questions about himself. Depressed, betrayed, and disillusioned with life, Chase hides out in his cabin until Nolie’s charming, neighborly ways draw him out of his shell. There’s a lot of attraction between the two, but how can it work? Chase refuses to even tell Nolie his last name, much less the facts that he was once a successful lawyer who was wrongfully convicted of a felony and recently spent three years in prison. And while Nolie wants a relationship, she’s very insecure and doesn’t believe that a good-looking man like Chase would want a plump homebody like her.
The two have other issues to deal with, as well. Nolie’s manipulative in-laws are using Micahlyn’s love for them in order to manipulate Nolie. And Chase has serious issues with his own parents, who just so happen to live in Bethlehem as well. Meanwhile, Chase’s sister Leanne embarks upon a relationship with a financial planner named Cole Jackson, who is definitely not what he seems to be. Bethlehem is also populated by a couple of busybody angels, who help the characters get things straightened out.
I really enjoyed the characters in this novel, especially Nolie. She’s a plus-sized heroine who’s too sheltered to have learned that there are, in fact, men who like plus-sized women. She’s always on a diet, but she loves to cook and loves to eat, and her resolutions don’t usually last long. Her shyness is sympathetic, as is her determination to make it on her own. She’s just a nice girl, one who has a hard time standing up for herself, but she never hesitates to stand up for those she cares about. Chase is not quite as likable. As the book opens he is firmly mired in self-pity, and toward the end of the book he does something incredibly aggravating. But it’s rewarding to see how Nolie’s love brings him around. I liked Micahlyn, Nolie’s daughter, too. Most romance-novel children are little darlings, but while Micahlyn has her moments of cuteness, the author succeeds in portraying her as a strong-willed, stubborn individual.
If this book goes wrong anywhere, it’s in making Bethlehem too idyllic. I’ve lived in small towns my entire life, and none of them was as sociable, neighborly, and crime-free as Bethlehem. I also don’t generally like romances that feature angels, and these angels are a bit intrusive. They’re always popping up and giving sage advice (the first time this happened, I didn’t realize they were angels, and my response was a big “Huh?”). I prefer it when characters figure out their problems for themselves, without supernatural assistance.
Although this book has a pervasive aura of sweetness and goodwill, and its ending is sufficiently happy for any romantic, it stops just shy of becoming cloying (in spite of the angels). I really liked the fact that Chase’s storyline was not wrapped up in a big happy family scene at the end. If that had happened, I might have died of sugar overdose. Instead, the author makes it clear that some of his issues are going to take years of work to resolve. Also, Leanne’s relationship with Cole ends with a real cliffhanger. They will be the hero and heroine of the next book in the series, and I’m looking forward to see how they straighten out the mess they’ve gotten into.
Bethlehem is always a nice place to visit, and this installment of the series is no exception. If there was ever a book that’ll give you warm fuzzies, this is it.