Showing posts with label Susan Wiggs. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Susan Wiggs. Show all posts

Wednesday, September 17, 2014

TBR Review: The Winter Lodge (Lakeshore Chronicles #2) by Susan Wiggs

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.
Grade: B-


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.

Tuesday, December 18, 2012

Review: The Horsemaster's Daughter (Calhoun Chronicles #2) by Susan Wiggs

Here are my impressions on a little gem I read while searching for this week's TBR Challenge read. I began skimming and couldn't stop reading until I finished it.  

The Horsemaster's Daughter by Susan Wiggs.

Southern plantation owner Hunter Calhoun gambles the success of his Virginia horse farm on an Irish stallion; unfortunately, the animal arrives crazed and unridable after the stormy sea crossing. Desperate, Hunter turns to Eliza Flyte, the horsemaster's daughter, who has inherited her father's gift for gentling horses. Her ability to heal wounded spirits with her compassion and wisdom is amazing, and when Hunter convinces her to leave her isolated island and return home with him, she soon applies that gift to the bitter man and his grieving, motherless children. But what future can a woman raised alone by her father with only the sea, animals, and a few books for companions have with a man who grew up as a rich, upper-class son of the South? It seems unlikely that Eliza could ever fit into Hunter's world and just as unlikely that he would give up his privileged life for her world. It just may take a miracle for these two mismatched lovers to find a way to live happily ever after.
The Horsemaster's Daughter by Susan Wiggs is the sequel to her highly enjoyable historical romance, The Charm School. In that novel, I loved the twist on "The Ugly Duckling" that Wiggs used to develop the romance. In The Horsemaster's Daughter, Wiggs combines two classics: The Tempest by Shakespeare is very much a part of the first part of the book when Hunter and Eliza first meet at Flyte island and Wiggs introduces the reader to the innocence and magic of Eliza's upbringing and personality which contrasts with Hunter's cynical and tortured soul.

Later on once Eliza is forced to leave the island and Hunter takes her to his dilapidated mansion in Virginia, Wiggs incorporates Bronte's Jane Eyre along with The Tempest into the rest of the romance as Eliza becomes "governess" to Hunter's motherless children. Wiggs further develops Hunter's dark side, and through Eliza's efforts at healing, the reader learns what haunts him and his family. Wiggs beautifully combines both tales into a pre-Civil War romance.

I loved Eliza's character. There's an innocence and a sense of wonder about her, but it is all mixed in  with insight, deep knowledge and compassion. Eliza's capacity to love is boundless, yet she is not easily trampled and doesn't allow herself to be used or abused. Eliza is a giver and does so without holding back, yet she tries to be realistic about her circumstances. Her understanding for gentling horses, Eliza's deep understanding of the children and her open, honest passion and giving love for Hunter all make her a winning heroine, but the way she deals with those Virginia belles? Well... that makes her a champ in my eyes!

Hunter on the other hand is a man who has allowed loss and guilt over what he sees as past mistakes to embitter his life. He has become a functioning alcoholic and when  not drunk, a workaholic. As a result his children and personal life are both severely neglected. Eliza's arrival changes everything for Hunter and his children. Hunter Calhoun is a good man and soon enough we know to whom his passion and heart belong, but he is stuck and has wallowed in an emotional swamp of denial for so long that admitting he's wrong, and confronting his weaknesses and mistakes, have almost become an impossibility. It's a tough road to a happy ending for Hunter.

There are secrets upon secrets to unravel within this romance. The dead haunt the living. Lacey's death and her secrets haunt Hunter and their children, and Henry Flyte left the world and Eliza without revealing secrets that come back to haunt and change her life forever. Wiggs' portrayal of Virginia's pre-Civil War society and the facts introduced about the Underground Railroad used by abolitionists give this romance more than just atmosphere, these facts give it depth. The characters in this novel stayed with me, Eliza and Hunter, Blue, Noah and Charles, and yes... Lacey Beaumont Calhoun and Henry Flyte. This time around there was no surprise on my part as to why I enjoyed Ms. Wigg's historical romance. This time I just sat back and enjoyed the great ride from beginning to end. Grade B+

The Charm School, Book #1
The Horsemaster's Daughter, #2

Tuesday, June 5, 2012

May 2012: Reads + Updates

May is over! During May I celebrated my 3rd bloggiversary by reading and reviewing books by authors whose works I have recommended throughout the past three years. Favorite authors.

I was lucky that many of them had recent releases, and was able to read and/or review books by Mary Balogh, Nora Roberts, Elizabeth Bear, Sarah Mayberry, Carrie Lofty, Nalini Singh, Lisa Dale, Alex Jeffers and Steve Berman. And since I love to 'discover' new-to-me authors, there a few of those in there too. I'll be following up by reading Catherine Lundoff, Sally MacKenzie and Annika Martin. :)

As you can see, May was definitely a great month!

May Books Read: 20
 Contemporary: 5
 Historical Romance: 6
 Paranormal Romance/Sci-fi: 1
 Fantasy: 1
 LGBT: 7 (Fantasy=2, Romance=5)

1.   The Proposal by Mary Balogh: B-
2.   Range of Ghosts (Eternal Sky #1) by Elizabeth Bear: A-
3.   Silver Moon by Catherine Lundoff: B
4.   Firooz and His Brother (Free Short Story from Wonder Stories) by Alex Jeffers: *NG
5.   The Last Boyfriend (Inn BoonsBoro #2) by Nora Roberts: C+
6.   College Boys by Daisy Harris: C
7.   Addicted to You by Bethany Kane: C+
8.   Under Her Uniform by Victoria Janssen: B-
9.   A Promise of Safekeeping by Lisa Dale: B+
10. The Charm School by Susan Wiggs: B+
11. Boys of Summer edited by Steve Berman: B
12. The Hostage Bargain by Annika Martin: B
13. Hard Tail by J.L. Merrow: B
14. Her Best Worst Mistake by Sarah Mayberry: B+
15. Frog by Mary Calmes: C+
16. A Little More Scandal by Carrie Lofty: B+
17. Bedding Lord Ned (Duchess of Love #1) by Sally MacKenzie: B-
18. Permanently Legless by J.L. Merrow: C+
19. The Seduction of Phaeton Black by Jillian Stone: (Upcoming Review)
20. Tangle of Need (Psy/Changeling #11) by Nalini Singh: B
     *NG = No grade yet, will save it for the book release (Great story though!)

Upcoming Reviews:

Currently Reading:

If you go by my grades, my top reads last month were Range of Ghosts by Elizabeth BearHer Best Worst Mistake by Sarah MayberryA Little More Scandal by Carrie LoftyThe Charm School by Susan Wiggsand A Promise of Safekeeping by Lisa Dale. However, those "B" grades were really enjoyable too! 

How about you? Did you find any treasures in your book pile last month? 

Wednesday, May 16, 2012

TBR Review: The Charm School (Calhoun Chronicles #1) by Susan Wiggs

TBR Challenge 2012 Theme: Old School Romance

I had a tough time choosing a book and actually began reading three of them before settling on one. In the end I chose The Charm School by Susan Wiggs, a book first published in 1999. This historical romance has been in my TBR since November of 2011. How did it get there?  JenM mailed this book to me after she recommended it while commenting on a post. I mentioned that I had never read a historical romance by Susan Wiggs, only contemporaries! Thanks again Jen!

Isadora Peabody is an awkward misfit in her beautiful and accomplished family. She turns from the polite Boston society of 1841, taking a job as a bookkeeper on Captain Ryan Calhoun's ship, "Silver Swan." Sailing to Rio de Janeiro, Isadora discovers not only adventure on the journey, but passion and friendship.
The Charm School by Susan Wiggs is a great example as to why a book should never be judged by its cover, or its title. I've seen this book around countless times, and I've passed it by without ever reading the blurb. Mostly because of that title, but frankly the cover didn't help either. No kidding.

In The Charm School, Susan Wiggs brilliantly reworks the 'Ugly Duckling' fable into a romance. Izzy is the plain, dark and socially awkward ugly duckling in a family of beautiful and socially adept parents and siblings. Her journey from that ungainly, plain, and insecure person is helped along by the reluctant, handsome and roguish Captain Ryan Calhoun of the Silver Swan. Ryan resents the way Isadora gains a position as translator in his ship, and that she will be a part of his crew during the voyage to Rio de Janeiro, but he figures he'll make her pay while teaching her a lesson or two along the way. Neither Ryan nor Isadora knows that on their way to Rio they will find friendship, passion, love and more.

This romance surprised me with its charm and unexpected turn of events. There are two reasons to love this novel: Isadora's character growth from beginning to end is measurable, and Wiggs develops the romance between Isadora and Ryan in increments until it is believable to the reader. Additionally as interesting plotting points, Wiggs incorporates some serious pre-Civil War subjects and dark moments into the characters' present situation and background histories, while using humor and excellent dialogue to give the story an unexpected light and fun atmosphere.

Isadora and Ryan are both memorable characters. Isadora because of the slow transformation she undergoes from the unattractive and prissy self-proclaimed spinster into a beautiful, confident and smart young woman, and Ryan because of the way he appreciates Isadora's qualities and pushes her to acknowledge her strengths. I love the way their relationship goes from enmity to a bickering, almost reluctant friendship, and from a surprising attraction to passionate love.

I was further surprised by where this book got its title, The Charm School. I don't want to give it away, but those scenes on the ship were some of the sweetest in the book. I mean, really! There are some great secondary characters in this story. Additionally, this book has the distinction of being the one and only historical romance I've read where the heroine loses her virginity while both protagonists are high on hemp! That was an unforgettable scene. "Isadora, I adore-a."  Somehow Wiggs made it work. Of course there's some expected drama before the happy ever after, and although the ending is a bit over-the-top (no question about that) I think it is appropriate for this story.

This pre-Civil War historical romance offers a sailing adventure that takes the reader from Boston to Rio de Janeiro, and through Virginia. I enjoyed the journey, but most of all I love that in the end I finished the story with a smile on my face. I'll be reading the second book of this series, The Horsemaster's Daughter.

Theme: Old School Romance
May Review
Category: Historical Romance
Series: Calhoun Chronicles
Publisher/Released: Mira/March 1, 2001
Grade: B+

Visit Susan Wiggs here.

The Charm School, Book 1
The Horsemaster's Daughter, Book 2
Halfway to Heaven, Book 3
Enchanted Afternoon, Book 4
A Summer Affair, Book 5

Saturday, February 25, 2012

This n' That: NJ Bloggers + Surprises & Thanks!

A week ago today, I had the pleasure of meeting with my fellow New Jersey bloggers. We are trying to meet at least once per season, if not more often, depending on our busy schedules. It was a pleasure meeting with Christine, Mariana and Natalie again!

This time Mariana chose the place and we met at The Melting Pot in Hoboken where they serve everything fondue! Cheese fondue -- just look at Christine's smile in the picture above! ;p We ended up having a yummy lunch filled with ooohs and ahhhs. Lunch was good, but the dessert was the piece de resistance! The Yin & Yang combination of melted white and dark chocolate was a sight to behold and I don't think there was enough left at the end to lick the bowl. LOL! We all loved it, and I walked away dreaming of strawberries and cheesecake dipped in chocolate. Check out my grainy pictures, doesn't that dessert look yummy?

Of course we also discussed books and our latest reads. Christine shared how much she enjoyed her latest read Eon by Alison Goodman, and she and Mariana recommended it to the rest of us. Natalie shared her surprise with her enjoyment of latest read Homefront by Kristin Hannah, and that turned out to be great because I just happened to have a book by this author in my bag of goodies that she took home with her! Mariana was all about our latest Internet Book Club read The Lover's Dictionary by David Levithan, and I was waxing poetic about He Will Laugh by Douglas Ray and the merits of poetry (lol), plus the latest release by Victoria Alexander, My Wicked Little Lies.

We didn't exchange books this time, instead I just brought something for everyone and that helped me make room in my bookshelves. It worked out perfectly for all of us. :)

Thank you ladies for a great time! It was a wonderful, wonderful afternoon!


I do have two other great ladies I would like to thank. Back in November I put up two posts -- one post was about Pamela Morsi books I purchased and the other post about Mary Balogh books I received from my friend Reny. In one I mentioned that I had been looking for a particular book by Ms. Balogh, and in the comments area of the other there were some great recommendations from the wonderful readers/bloggers that visit.

As a result, I received two books in the mail from two generous and thoughtful ladies!

In the comments area of the Morsi post, JenM recommended The Charm School by Susan Wiggs (1999). When I mentioned that I had only read contemporary romances by this author, but had never read her historical romances, she offered to send me the book and did so immediately. I was quite touched by Jen's generosity!

At that time Jen also recommended Conor's Way by Laura Lee Guhrke, the latest rage around the web (going by all the reviews, lol). Hey Jen! I finally got that book at a great price... 0.99 cents for my Kindle. Thanks for the recommendation. :D

Then! I mentioned that I was missing Indiscreet (The Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse #1) by Mary Balogh (1997), to complete the series, but that it was next to impossible to find the book at a reasonable price. Well, I received a wonderful surprise on Valentine's Day when a copy of this book arrived at my door all the way from Canada from sweet Ames! She found it at a used book store and thought of me. She made my day!

Thank you JenM and Ames for your generosity and thoughtfulness!