Duets 83

Smooth Moves

North Country Man by Carrie Alexander
(Harl. Super. #1102, $5.95, PG-13) ISBN 0-373-71102-6
North Country Man is an interesting mix of a book. I have to admit a certain partiality for the setting - Michigan’s Upper Peninsula, or UP - being a native Michiganian myself. And for the most part, the hero and heroine are engaging. A few too many stereotypes and plot contrivances do put a damper on things, though.

Claire Levander is enroute to tiny Alouette, Michigan, to look over a bed-and-breakfast as a possible acquisition target for a hotel company. When a deer jumps into the road, Claire ends up in a ditch. Then she hears crashing sounds in the underbrush. However, what steps out of the woods is a big, bearded man carrying a bear cub. He helps Claire get her car back on the road, then vanishes.

It’s only later, after Claire is cozily ensconced in the supposedly-cursed bridal suite of Bay House, that Claire discovers her purse is missing. She must have dropped it at the scene of her mishap. The Bay House inhabitants are sure Claire has met reclusive Noah Saari, a local man who returned from fighting a forest fire out West and has basically holed up in a backwoods cabin. Claire returns to the spot where her car took a nosedive, but can’t find the purse. Noah Saari must have picked it up. She decides to follow a faint trail into the woods, believing it will take her to Saari’s cabin.

Then Claire descends straight into Stupid Heroine Hell. Despite her protestations that she’s a regular gal from Nebraska, she chooses to make a two-mile hike down a rutted path wearing high-heeled boots. Of course, she sprains her ankle badly. Of course, Noah shows up to rescue her. Of course, her ankle is too badly swollen for her to walk, Noah doesn’t own a vehicle, and she has to spend the night in his cabin.

Once back at Bay House, everyone starts buzzing. Claire has actually met Noah Saari! The bridal suite curse - which says that any single woman who stays in it will marry within a year - must be working. Claire resists the idea of a curse, but when Noah shows up at the bed and breakfast, declaring his intention to “court” Claire, she is hard-pressed to say no.

Claire and Noah aren’t the problem here. Their romance works quite well, with Noah’s natural shyness around women nicely offset by Claire’s hesitant interest. There is plenty of spark between them, too.

As for the secondary characters, too much time is spent with Cassia, a young woman in a wheelchair who lives at Bay House. Claire and Cassia talk and gossip and watch movies, and it’s all very girlfriend-y, but it seemed like an obvious setup to a future book. As for the rest of the Bay House residents, they’re straight out of central casting. The owner is a kindly woman named Emmie, who runs the place with her mischievous, gnome-like brother, Toivo (a name so stereotypically UP that one can buy books of “Toivo” jokes). There’s a hotel maid who’s so man-crazy that she’ll do anything to spend a night in the bridal suite, in hopes that the curse will strike her. Why someone doesn’t just give her the key and tell her to have at it is beyond me. Even Noah, with his aw-shucks backwoods attitude and cabin with no running water, electricity, or vehicle is a bit much. Too many stereotypes. It’s sort of like setting a book in, say, North Carolina and then having everybody act like Gomer Pyle. The UP is a land of great natural beauty, peopled by folks from every walk of life. Rubes and yokels, they are not, and it was disappointing to see them painted with those overtones.

However, at the core of this story is an engaging and satisfying romance. North Country Man may be just what you’re looking for if you like a rugged, outdoorsy hero.

--Cathy Sova

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