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18 September 2005

Lakeside Cottage

By Susan Wiggs

"In Wiggs's appealing summer romance, single mom (and newly unemployed journalist) Kate Livingston and her edgy son, Aaron, arrive at her family's lakeside cottage in Lake Crescent, Wash., to discover unexpected company in the form of a troubled teenage girl and a handsome but mysterious neighbor. Callie Evans has run away from an abusive, unloved childhood; former military medic JD Harris is hiding from the relentless media scrutiny he's received following a sudden heroic action. Each is warily drawn to Kate's good-heartedness, and Kate responds with characteristic warmth and commitment. But their growing bonds are threatened when Callie becomes ill and Kate discovers the famous identity JD has tried to conceal." From Publisher's Weekly, Copyright © Reed Business Information.

I follow Susan Wiggs anywhere, primarily because she plays with the conventions of romance novels so successfully. At least sometimes. Early novels such as The Drifter tackled issues of drug use and child abuse, while the romance was still both believable and intense. Fun (The Charm School), frolicking (The Mistress), and sometimes annoying (The Horsemaster's Daughter) attempts followed, but she always managed to stray from the conventions of romance writing - conventions that were so set in stone that I could almost predict the page on which the two leads would get together, so to speak. In The Firebrand, she seemingly laughed at the "sex on page 200" rule by keeping her characters platonic until the second-to-last chapter.

In recent years, Wiggs has abandoned her historical romance roots in favor of contemporary stories, almost all of which include some sort of atypical heroine/hero relationship. One-time lovers are somehow reunited, long-married couples are forced to re-examine their love affair, and blended families are made whole through a new romance. These are not your typical virgin-meets-knight/ cowboy/pirate stories. Thus, I actually BUY her books (not in hardcover - I'm not that silly), content to let her experiment with a genre that has, frankly, come to bore me tremendously in the past decade.

HOWEVER. That said. I must criticize a recent trend of hers. Wiggs's most recent five novels are all, well, rather short on the romance. Issues of family, careers, kids, perils, health issues, etc. all crowd out the good old-fashioned sparks. In this novel and Home Before Dark, I think the heroine and hero spend all of a few days together, and the remainder of the prose is dedicated to pining and solving life's other problems. While this is probably more in keeping with how ordinary people must deal with love affairs - as the ups and downs conflict with the reality of work, family, bills, and baggage - too much of this reality makes for a novel that is lighter on the romance than I prefer.

Oh well. I can't have it both ways, I suppose. She experiments, which I like. She strays from convention, which I like - to a point. I'll just have to wait and see what she does with her next try...

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