Saturday, November 22, 2008

Lake News by Barbara Delinsky *****

This is a new-to-me author whose name I've seen listed in lots of PBS bookshelves but not discussed much in the forums I frequent or the blogs I read. A friend in the area loaned me this and the sequel, An Accidental Woman, to read, and I bought a slew of her books at the local library sale as well.

It seems Delinsky straddles the Women's Fiction/Romance genre borders, from what I can tell. Her book affected me like the Robyn Carr book, Virgin River, I read recently - I truly loved it. I found the writing warm, and lush - not complex or layered as much as detailed and thorough. Well, I'm not much of an author myself, so maybe I'm not describing it right. There were some suspenseful moments, and some tender, heart-breaking moments, and I felt those. I felt Lily's fear as she battled the newspaper reporters after being accused of having an affair with a Catholic priest, and I felt John's grief as he watched his father - as he wrestled with the feelings of inadequacy and longing for approval. She made me feel - and that's my first requirement of a good story.

Both Lake News and Virgin River also made me long for a small town to go home to, a community of people who know me and accept me for what I am and defend me. That's actually laughable since I grew up in a small town and frankly don't have any yearning to ever return there. I don't find the reality of small town living anywhere near the romance of it in fiction. (I don't count my current rural living as really small-town because I consider "small town" as more like 1000-5000 people, with the accompanying accoutrements, and I'm rural, as in, pack a lunch to go into town rural.)

The Blake family of Lake Henry, New Hampshire, has run the apple orchard and cider business for generations. Currently Maida Blake is in charge, since George died some years back. Maida's daughters Poppy and Rose live in town. Poppy's paraplegic, and lives in a cottage on Maida's property, and Rose is married and lives in town. Rose and Maida don't approve of the oldest Blake sister's life: Lily Blake is a nightclub singer and music teacher in Boston.

Lily left Lake Henry after a teenaged scrape that gave her a (sealed) juvenile record: a boyfriend, Donny Kipling, stole a car and took her riding in it. She didn't know it was stolen, but he claimed she did so his jail sentence would be reduced. Now living a relatively quiet life in Boston, she counts among her friends and associates Father Francis Rosetti, who has just been elevated to Cardinal. A Boston reporter decides there's more than friendship, and cons Lily into making some statements that, taken out of context, set her up as the Cardinal's lover - and the story breaks on page one of major newspapers all across the country.

John Kipling is Donny's older brother. He also left Lake Henry at a young age - but he's about 8 or so years older than Lily, so he didn't really know her then. He's become an accomplished journalist, but 3 years before his father had a heart attack, and John decided to move back to Lake Henry to watch over his dad, and run the local weekly newspaper, the Lake News. Donny died years ago, and their mother left their father a long time before that, so John is Gus's only relative. Not that Gus has ever respected him, or forgiven him for leaving, or anything. Gus is a crusty old bastard, and John grits his teeth and goes forward, trying still to win his approval after all these years. When John gets a call from his long-time nemesis, the crooked journalist who broke the Lily/Cardinal rumors/story, he develops an interest in the story.

The book chronicles, in rich details, what Lily goes through - losing her two jobs in Boston, her flight to NH to hide and her slowly developing relationship with John. John is hoping to get a book deal out of Lily's true story of injustice, and he's got a publisher chomping at the bit for it - but his sense of honor won't allow him to use the underhanded techniques his colleagues used to break the story. He works away at Lily slowly - and slowly finds himself head over heels in love with this shy singer with a stutter.

Reading the book felt like swaying in a hammock, comforting and comfortable, and the ending was satisfying and smile-inducing. In fact, on one level, it almost had the same effect that watching Die Hard movies has on me: wanting to jump up and shout YESSS! when the bad guys get it and the good guys come out on top. Except not in a shouting way, but just a smile and a nod of the head. Same emotion, different level, is all.

Now - why is it more women's fiction than romance? Well, the emphasis of the tome is more on their lives and their families and neighbors and how they intertwine than the actual romantic relationship between Lily and John, but it's a tiny, narrow line between the 2 genres and could be either, really. There are also the undercurrents of the relationships between father and son, and between mother and daughter - the latter shown between Maida and Lily, and echoed in Rose and her daughter Hannah, but these don't necessarily make it not a romance. In a Harlequin/Blaze I have on audio, Hot for Him by Sarah Mayberry, the relationship between the heroine and her mother is an important element and the book is still romance.

Anyway, it's a 5 star read, and I'm already several pages into the sequel.

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