Title: Meet Me at the Lake
Author: Carley Fortune
Genre: Contemporary Romance
Published On: May 02, 2023
Publisher: Penguin Random House
As a lake girl myself, I knew I had to read this book the moment I saw the title. Meet Me at the Lake has been on the New York Times bestsellers list for three weeks. This is the second romance novel by Carley Fortune, whose first novel Ever After Summer was also a New York Times bestseller. Meet Me at the Lake is told in the present and ten years prior. Will and Fern have a chance encounter while she’s working in Toronto. They set out on an adventure exploring the city together. Despite the initial sparks, both characters are in other relationships. They agree to meet up in one year at her family’s lakeside resort, Brookbanks Resort. When Will doesn’t show, Fern is left heartbroken. Fast-forward nine years and Will Baxter surprisingly re-enters her life, offering much needed help as Fern navigates the difficult transition of taking over her mother’s resort.
Although I enjoyed the general plot of the book, I could not empathize with Fern or Will. I was initially curious to discover why Fern and her mother’s relationship was so strained after she read her mother’s diaries. Fortune included diary entries, so I was eager to find out what was so terrible. The anticipation of figuring out what caused Fern to lash out kept me turning pages. When I finally discovered the cause, I wished the entire subplot had simply been omitted. The reader is supposed to feel sorry for Fern, but Fortune’s writing had the opposite effect because the reasoning behind Fern’s rebelliousness was irrational and portrayed her as a petulant young adult.
As a fan of second-chance love stories, I was eager to see how Will and Fern’s love story would play out. I was disappointed by the overly-infatuated romance I’d expect from a teenager, not two characters now in their thirties. I felt their lack of chemistry left much to be desired. I generally love dual-timeline books, but I felt Fern was a ten-years older version of the same immature twenty-two year-old. Will, on the other hand, changed significantly, but not in a good way. Will displayed serious red flags throughout the entire book that were inadequately and haphazardly rationalized in the final five pages. The emotional and borderline physical infidelity, as well as the overall pettiness of the two main characters left me feeling disconnected from the storyline.
The supporting characters and the setting were my favorite aspects of the book. Carley Fortune’s vivid descriptions of the setting keep a reader engaged. Fortune provides a lot of backstory for the supporting characters and their playful personalities could make even the most reluctant reader fall in love with them.
The reader could grasp a good sense of Fern’s ex-boyfriend Jamie, her surrogate father Peter, and her best friend Whitney. However, when it came to Fern and Will, Fortune over-utilized exposition to keep the plot moving, so I spent most of the book yearning for more conversations and interactions between them. The over-use of internal narrative overwhelmed every scene they were alone together.
As a second-chance love story, Meet Me at the Lake definitely fits the trope. Another theme was personal goals and dreams for the future. Fern is adamant about never wanting to run her mother’s resort. Her dream is to run a coffee shop in Toronto. Will is committed to his art and refuses to work an office job. Ten years later, they ended up doing exactly that. Fern is forced to make the difficult choice of choosing between pursuing her lifelong dream, or running Brookbanks Resort. The reader is told how much Fern dreads going home and running Brookbanks would be the last thing she’d ever want to do, though we hardly get valid reasons as to why she hates it so much. Because Fortune glossed over the decision-making process, the ending ultimately comes off as impulsive.
Overall, there isn’t much to love about the book’s two main characters, and their relationship is toxic at best. I love the premise of the novel and I enjoyed reading about the supporting characters. The idea was creative, but the story’s execution and poor character development forced me to give it two and a half stars. While I don’t recommend Meet Me at the Lake, there are still readers who would enjoy the book.
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