On the longest night of the year, Jenny Majesky loses everything in a devastating house fire. But among the ashes she finds an unusual treasure hidden amid her grandfather's belongings, one that starts her on a search for the truth, and on a path toward a life that she never imagined. The Winter Lodge, a remote cabin owned by her half sister on the shores of Willow Lake, becomes a safe refuge for Jenny, where she and local police chief Rourke McKnight try to sort out the mysteries revealed by the fire. But when a blizzard traps them together, Jenny, accustomed to the safe predictability of running the family bakery, suddenly doesn't feel so secure. For even as Rourke shelters her from the storm outside, she knows her heart is at risk. Now, following her dreams might mean walking away from her one chance at love.My choice for the September TBR Challenge read is based on my mood. I felt like getting lost in a small town romance and found this book in my Kindle. I began reading the Lakeshore Chronicles by Susan Wiggs years ago after picking up some of the books at a local pharmacy that to this day carries a limited amount of romance books. Anyway, I read a few of them out of sequence and skipped The Winter Lodge. Once I realized this was the second book of the series, I purchased the Kindle edition where it has been lingering for years.
These romances are set around the small town Avalon, and all are somehow connected to Camp Kanoga and the Bellamy family. Camp Kanoga is portrayed as an old fashioned place where kids and teens went during the summer to learn camping skills and shared life-changing experiences. There is a strong Peyton Place atmosphere to these books with secrets, betrayals, star-crossed lovers suffering because of class conscious families, and children affected by divorce, physical abuse, neglect, poverty and alcoholic parents. Teenage pregnancy is also an issue tied to Camp Kanoga. Jenny Majesky is the result of one such (secret) teenage pregnancy.
The romance in this particular installment is a bit of a mixed bag for me. As in the first book of this series, Summer at Willow Lake, Wiggs uses back flashes to develop the entire story. The couple, Jenny Majeski, a townie, and Rourke McKnight, a wealthy camper, are extremely likable people. They are the focus of the story, however, this is a triangle with Jenny and Rourke loving each other since childhood, but with Rourke believing he is undeserving of her because of childhood abuse and baggage. Jenny is aware of all of this, but dates Rourke's best friend Joey, going as far as becoming engaged to him. Of course this is a recipe for disaster.
Rourke and Jenny were traumatized children from dysfunctional families, and grow up to be dysfunctional adults. Neither can verbalize true feelings for each other without feeling guilt or undeserving until almost the end of the book -- particularly Rourke. It's like they are frozen in time and have a tough time growing up until a mystery is solved and both are set free. Sex is kept behind closed doors, which Wiggs handles very well by infusing the relationship with passionate sexual tension and yearning.
I enjoy how Wiggs works the family dynamics in this series and love the gorgeous descriptions of Avalon and Camp Kanoga. But what I will remember about The Winter Lodge are all the fantastic recipes Wiggs incorporates as part of Jenny Majesky's family history as owners of the Majesky bakery. I drooled, craved breads and sweets throughout most of this read.
I want to share a recipe from the book. Here is the shortest, easiest one I could find in the bunch, but there are some fantastic recipes for bread, and Kolaches, Chess Pie, and Irish Cream Cake. I highlighted all of them!
1 pound cake flour (3 cups)
1 pound eggs (about six)
1 pound (4 sticks) unsalted butter, softened (don't substitute)
1 pound (about 2-1/4 cups) sugar
2 teaspoons vanilla
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon buttermilk
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1 teaspoon baking power
Preheat oven to 325 degrees F. Grease and flour Bundt or tube pan. Beat butter until light and gradually add sugar, vanilla and then eggs, one at a time. With mixer on low, add buttermilk. Sift together all the dry ingredients and add slowly. Pour batter into pan and bake for about 1 hour and 20 minutes, until a thin blade or toothpick comes out clean. Allow cake to cook 15 to 20 minutes in pan. Then gently remove it, and serve at room temperature with fresh fruit or lemon curd. Makes 12 generous servings.