Strawberry Hill, by Catherine Anderson

Every once in awhile, I just need some fluff. I don’t want to think; I just want to feel. I never thought in a million years I would turn to romance novels for fluff, as my haughty reading tastes had prevented me from enjoying them before. But now, I have to admit, they’re growing on me. And since Catherine Anderson proved herself so well before, I thought I would seek out some of her other works, starting with Strawberry Hill.

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Vickie Brown and Slade Wilder have held separate lives for forty-one years; Vickie had children and ran from an abusive spouse, while lone wolf Slade opened a successful mountain camp. While they blame each other for the reasons surrounding their separations, they still hold a small kindling of affection for one another. They meet again when Slade unknowingly hires Vickie to be his camp’s cook. Vickie decides this is a great chance to finally put to rest all her years of resentment toward Slade and to tell him about the son he fathered forty-one years ago.

It was refreshing to read a romance about an older couple. Vickie and Slade are in their early to mid-sixties, and it’s sweet to imagine two older people finding love. So many romances cater to the young and hot, but here, we have two people who’ve been through the wringer and just want to lay their regrets to rest.

I also enjoyed Vickie as a protagonist. Despite all that she’s been through, she is still very kind to those she cares about. She’s a wee bit of a jokester too, playing practical jokes on Slade at her daughter Nancy’s insistence. On the whole, she read like a real woman who goes after what she wants but is still vulnerable. Plus, with her early-sixties age and her curly red hair, she reminded me of my own aunt Vicki (howdy hey, Aunt Vicki, if you’re reading this).

Surprisingly, though, the whole book is not just about Slade and Vickie. The romance is split between them, and another couple: Wyatt, one of Slade’s camp helpers, and Slade’s deputy niece, Erin. While Wyatt and Erin’s relationship is cute, it’s much more interesting watching Slade and Vickie. Wyatt does provide some funny commentary on the practical jokes that Vickie and Slade play on each other, which, yeah, is true.

This book is almost five hundred pages long, but it doesn’t feel like a lot happens. Not that that’s a bad thing. I’ve just noticed that romance novels have a long-winding style; there aren’t a lot of choppy sentences or short paragraphs. The whole thing feels very meditative and thoughtful, with less a focus on action and more internal monologue. The stakes are also not that high, and the realistic setting, with normal people just going about their lives, is quite soothing.

Not that I’m going to pretend that’s an original revelation about romance novels in general. I just think I’ve figured out for myself why they are so soothing to read.

Is Strawberry Hill the best romance I’ve read so far? I don’t know if I can make that grand of a statement just yet, but it provided the service it promised: it took me away and soothed my tangled nerves.

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