Series: Lakeshore Chronicles #9
Published by Harlequin MIRA Genres: Contemporary Romance
Source: the publisher through NetGalley
Also in this series: Starlight on Willow Lake
Also by this author: The Apple Orchard, The Beekeeper's Ball, Starlight on Willow Lake, Family Tree
Sonnet Romano's life is almost perfect. She has the ideal career, the ideal boyfriend, and has just been offered a prestigious fellowship. There's nothing more a woman wants - except maybe a baby...sister?
When Sonnet finds out her mother is unexpectedly expecting, and that the pregnancy is high-risk, she puts everything on hold - the job, the fellowship, the boyfriend - and heads home to Avalon. Once her mom is out of danger, Sonnet intends to pick up her life where she left off.
But when her mother receives a devastating diagnosis, Sonnet must decide what really matters in life, even of that means staying in Avalon and taking a job that forces her to work alongside her biggest, and maybe her sweetest, mistake - award-winning filmmaker Zach Alger. So Sonnet embarks on a summer of laughter and tears, of old dreams and new possibilities, and of finding the home of her heart.
At once heartbreaking and uplifting, Return to Willow Lake plumbs the deepest corners of the human heart, exploring the bonds of family, the perils and rewards of love, and the true meaning of home.
I received a review copy of this book from the publisher through NetGalley.
Please welcome Susan Wiggs!
Bestselling author Susan Wiggs is here with me today, celebrating the release of her newest title, Return To Willow Lake, the ninth book in her popular Lakeshore Chronicles, a contemporary romance series set in the fictional Catskill town of Avalon. Ms. Wiggs has written a number of contemporary and historical romances, including the RITA-winning novels Lord of the Night, The Charm School, The Mistress, and Lakeside Cottage. I’m honored and delighted to have her stop by on her blog tour.
Lark: Hi, Susan! Welcome to The Bookwyrm’s Hoard. I’m so excited to have you here!
Susan Wiggs (SW): Are you kidding me? I’m the excited one. I have a new book out, and I get to flit around the web, visiting with virtual friends. It’s like a progressive feast without the calories. Thank you for having me.
Lark: I’ve really enjoyed your books, particularly Lakeside Cottage, The Firebrand, and The Goodbye Quilt – and a number of the Lakeshore Chronicles books, of course! You have a real gift for conveying women’s emotions and choices, drawing us deeply into their lives. What most appeals to you about writing romance and women’s fiction? Have you ever been tempted to try another genre?
SW: I’ve always been drawn to exploring all the loves that life offers us–romantic, familial, friendship. The Lakeshore Chronicles offers me the chance to really mine that motherlode of emotion in different ways, again and again. I would love to try my hand at other genres, and have from time to time. The Goodbye Quilt was more literary and meditative, for example, and I loved the nonfiction book, How I Planned Your Wedding, co-written with my daughter. I love pulse-pounding thrillers and mysteries, and sagas as well, so one of these days I’d love to write one. Playwriting and screenwriting interest me, too.
Lark: You’ve written both historical and contemporary romance. Which is more fun to write, and why?
SW: The actual writing doesn’t differ for me. Whether I’m writing a modern woman working on a reality show (Return to Willow Lake) or a Chicago heiress-turned-suffragette (The Firebrand), the job doesn’t change. I brainstorm, I plot, I research, I write, I rewrite. And then I sleep.
Lark: I’m always fascinated by hearing writers talk about writing, so I enjoyed the video on your blog in which you talk about your writing process in regard to the Lakeshore Chronicles. You describe how you come up with the main character and the overall idea of the book. How much specific plotting or outlining do you do before you sit down to write? Does a story ever take a twist you weren’t expecting?
SW: My story synopsis–-the one I send in to my agent and editor–-is usually 5-10 pages long, so it’s really just a rough sketch. That leaves room for the story to take on a life of its own and unfurl in surprising ways. I love when that happens. For example, the storyline between Sonnet and her father in Return to Willow Lake was not planned from the beginning. But it just seemed right for those characters so I went with it.
Lark: When I read The Goodbye Quilt, I was struck by how much Linda’s relationship with her daughter, and her thoughts and feelings about her daughter leaving home for college, resonated with my own experience. How much do you draw on your life and experiences as you write?
SW: A lot, as you can imagine. The Goodbye Quilt was actually written, originally, as a travel journal I wrote just after delivering my daughter to college for the first time. However, to make it work for fiction, I added different characters and conflicts. But the deeply felt emotions come from a very honest and sometimes raw place inside me.
Lark: Avalon and Willow Lake seem very real; I’m sure many of your readers would love to visit them. Are they inspired by real places you’ve been?
SW: Yes indeed. All my fictional places have elements of my favorite places on earth. Avalon is a bit like the little storybook towns you see along the upper Hudson river in Ulster County. There are also elements of the town where I was born (Olean, NY) and the town where I live (Bainbridge Island, WA). The new book has a map of Avalon. I’m in love with this map. I geek out every time I see it.
Lark: I’ve often thought that one can learn a lot about a person from the books they love. What are your favorite books of all time? Feel free to include books you loved as a child!
SW: So many. The “Little Maid” books–historicals. The Betsy-Tacy books. Anything by Beverly Cleary or E.B. White. I loved The Diary of Anne Frank, The Lord of the Ringsbooks and lots of dark angsty fiction in my teens, like Beneath the Wheel and Heart of Darkness by Joseph Conrad. My mother gave me some Georgette Heyer books, but they didn’t really resonate with me until I was much older. The first romance I recall reading was Green Darkness by Anya Seton, and then Shanna by Kathleen Woodiwiss.
Lark: Which fictional character (other than your own) would you most want to meet, and why?
SW: Fun question! If I wasn’t happily married, I’d be interested in Rhett Butler, who thinks a woman needs to be ravished–and often. Sherlock Holmes would be entertaining, don’t you think? And I’d love to meet Anne of Green Gables. I bet we’d be BFFs.
Lark: And finally, just for fun: If you had to pick a flower that is most like you, what would it be?
SW: Stargazer Lily. I love its lush smell, its spectacular blossom, its sturdiness.
Lark: Thank you so much, Susan, for being willing to answer my questions. And best of luck with Return to Willow Lake. I look forward to seeing it in print!
I really enjoyed Return to Willow Lake. I’ve read (and loved) a number of books by Susan Wiggs before, but hadn’t read any of the Lakeshore Chronicles until now. Before starting this book, I checked several of the earlier books out of the library and read them first. I’m very glad I did. Although Return to Willow Lake can certainly stand on its own, having some familiarity with the recurring characters and their backstories made reading it more satisfying.
Sonnet and Zach are high school students in the first books in the series. Here, the former best friends get their chance at romance, though for a long while Sonnet remains willfully blind to what she could have with Zach. (In fact, there were times I wanted to grab her shoulders and shake some sense into her, which shows how involved with the characters I became.)
Also returning are Nina and Greg Bellamy, Sonnet’s mother and stepfather, whose romance is the focus of Dockside, and Zach’s father, a convicted embezzler. Several other characters show up in cameo roles. Getting to “visit” with old friends is one of the delights of a series, though in this case, Nina’s illness remains a concern throughout much of the book. The scenes depicting her treatments and the toll they take on Nina and those who love her are well written, sometimes even wrenching to read.
Sonnet’s desire for her successful-but-absent biological father’s love and approval have influenced many of her adult decisions, but her mother’s illness and Sonnet’s return home provide an opportunity to re-evaluate what really matters to her. Sonnet’s father, a decorated general with a perfect family, is making a bid for the Senate, and the existence of Sonnet (conceived out of wedlock during his years at West Point) could prove an embarrassment to his campaign unless it’s handled carefully. That’s one of the jobs of campaign aide Orlando, whose other role is as Sonnet’s “ideal” boyfriend. Ideal, that is, from the point of view of pleasing her father, something the reader sees immediately although Sonnet cannot. She tries to ignore the fact that their relationship lacks… sparks. Both the campaign and Sonnet’s relationship with her father remain intermittent but significant issues in the book, and provoke some of the tensest moments. Yet watching Sonnet reconnecting with her true self and her dreams is one of the major satisfactions of Return to Willow Lake.
Meanwhile, both Zach and Sonnet are working for a reality TV show filming in Avalon, one involving an ex-con female rapper named Jezebel and a group of poor, inner-city children. Jezebel is a fascinating young woman: street-smart, irreverent, funny, and outspoken, but also compassionate and even wise. One of my few regrets about Return to Willow Lake was that we did not get to see more of Jezebel; she’s one of the best characters in the book.
Zach Alger is almost too good to be true: gorgeous, sexy, and absolutely smitten with Sonnet. Thankfully, he has a few flaws. For one thing, he used to be a bit of a womanizer (though of course, now that he’s in love with Sonnet, that’s in the past.) And his heart is firmly planted in Avalon, while Sonnet’s life has been in New York until now. But how could any woman resist the combination of best friend and passionate lover? It beats me, but Sonnet manages to for most of the book, before finally (inevitably!) coming to her senses.
One mark of a skilled romance writer is the ability to maintain the reader’s interest in the principals’ relationship despite the fact that the end result — their “happily ever after” — is a foregone conclusion. Wiggs is indeed good at this; I never lost interest in Sonnet, Zach, or their relationship. Wiggs doesn’t rely on sizzling scenes of physical intimacy to keep the reader’s interest, either; although there are a few distinctly sensual scenes, this is mainly a book about Sonnet’s emotional journey.
My only other regret about Return To Willow Lake is that there is so much going on — Nina’s pregnancy and illness, the reality TV show, Sonnet’s relationship with her father and his Senate campaign — that the book occasionally seemed a little choppy. I felt that I didn’t get to experience the emotional highs and lows quite as deeply as I wanted to because of the frequent shifts in focus from one subplot to another. Nonetheless, I had no trouble connecting to and caring about these characters and their stories, particularly Sonnet, Zach, and Nina. Kudos to Susan Wiggs for a very satisfying and heartwarming Return to Willow Lake.