The Cottage on Juniper Ridge
By Sheila Roberts
Publisher: Harlequin Mira
February 25, 2014
Jen Heath has lost all joy in her life. She is working two jobs in order to pay her mortgage, her car payment, and her maxed out credit cards. Looking back, she realizes she was crazy to buy the Seattle condo she fell in love with but couldn’t really afford and crazier to hit the limit on her credit cards for all the furniture and accessories she just had to have for her new home. Now she has no time to enjoy her home or her friends, and even finding time for her family is a stretch. A year after her divorce, she still can’t find time to date. Jen used to love Christmas, but now the holiday just means more tasks added to her must-do list. After a particularly difficult day, Jen goes home, calls in sick, and curls up with a book that her sister gave her—Simplicity by Muriel Sterling. As a result of reading the book, in an impulsive move to simplify her life, Jen quits her job, puts her condo up for sale, and moves to the small town of Icicle Falls, Washington, where she discovers the joys of life with fewer stresses, including a part-time job at a bookstore, and new friends who are kindred spirits, and begins writing a book. Learning to drive on snowy roads presents a challenge, but if only her landlord, sexy firefighter Garrett Armstrong, would stop jumping to conclusions about her similarity to his irresponsible ex-wife, life would be practically perfect.
Jen is only one of the women whose lives are transformed by reading Simplicity. Stacy Thomas’s motto when it comes to collectibles or sale items is the more, the merrier. When she decorates her home for Christmas, it is so cluttered that her guests can’t find a place to set a cup of coffee, and her husband complains that she has taken over their shared closets. Single mother, Chita Arness is stretched so thin with her job, her kids, and her volunteer activities that she has no time for herself. Even Jen’s sister Toni worries that her husband’s work which, thanks to the computer, infringes on personal time, her daughter’s constant texting, and her son’s video games are destroying the loving connection that once characterized her marriage and family. Each of these women will discover ways to simplify her life, ways that will allow her to have a life that is richer and more satisfying than the one she has known.
Although there are several romantic elements in The Cottage on Juniper Ridge, the primary one being Jen and Garrett’s relationship, the novel is more women’s fiction than romance. The focus is on the women and their friendships and individual journeys, and the romances are just one part of the women’s lives. As readers familiar with Sheila Roberts’s books will expect, there is a rich vein of humor, some of it quite broad and some of it wonderfully subtle. I found myself smiling a lot during the sisterly exchanges between Jen and Toni. But there is also wisdom that most of us would do well to heed in the idea of simplifying complicated, overextended lives.
I’ve enjoyed all of the Icicle Falls books, but this one is my favorite. I liked Jen, and even though I could have shaken Garrett a few times, I liked him too. His stubborn clinging to clearly wrong-headed conclusions and his basic decency reminded me of men I know. I also liked that Roberts showcased women at various stages of their lives—from the single Jen to the older, twice-widowed author of Simplicity. This is the fourth book in the series, and while it can be read as a standalone, it is a more satisfying reading experience for those who have read the other books and are familiar with Icicle Falls.
I know people who are skeptical about the power of a book to change lives, but I’m a believer because I can point to several that changed mine. Can you point to particular books that changed your life in specific ways?