Meet Me at the Lake – Carley Fortune

Canadian writer Carley Fortune’s second novel, Meet Me at the Lake, doesn’t stray too far from the plot of her first book Every Summer After. In that book, childhood besties become more and are then separated by a bad decision, only to reunite many years later.

In this iteration, Fern Brookbanks meets Will Baker in Toronto just after she’s graduated with her BBA. He’s an artist who has been hired to paint a mural at the coffee shop where Fern works.

Guys this hot were the worst. Cocky, self-absorbed, dull. Plus, he was tall. Hot plus tall meant he’d be completely insufferable.

Except, Will is not insufferable; he’s actually pretty great. He suggests a tour of Toronto before he heads back to Vancouver and she heads home to Hunstville, where she’s about to start working at the family business, a resort on the lake. The problem is, Fern is at a crossroad. She is pretty sure that’s not what she wants to do, even though that’s where her boyfriend of four years, Jamie, is. She has different dreams.

There is definitely a spark between Fern and Will, and they agree to meet in Muskoka in one year – except Will doesn’t show. Well, he does show, actually: nine years late.

Fortune offers readers two timelines: the day Will and Fern spend together and then their reunion in present day. Will is nothing like Fern remembers him, except that he’s still tall and hot. Instead of being an artist, he’s some sort of consultant who was apparently hired by Fern’s mother Maggie, to help breathe new life into the resort. He is both Will and not Will, but Fern still feels the crazy chemistry she felt all those years ago. What’s a girl to do?

The things I liked about the book are the same things I liked about Every Summer After. Canadian settings (I have friends in Huntsville, though I have never been), and references just make me happy. There are some fun characters in the book; I particularly liked the Roses, a couple who have been coming to the resort Fern’s whole life and “have hosted a Sunday cocktail hour at Cabin 15” since Fern was born and Peter, the pastry chef and Fern’s surrogate father.

The story itself, vague details of running a lodge and lots of food talk, is mildly diverting. But that’s not why you read this sort of book anyway. We’re here for the romance and I am guessing, based on the book’s massive popularity – shooting to the top of the NYT’s best sellers list when it was released – that most everyone loves that aspect of it. Like with her first book, it just didn’t quite work for me.

But maybe that’s just me. I like angst. Will and Fern had a day, a really special day from all accounts, but then ten years later Fern is almost immediately ready to put that in the past because Will is there to work with her and she needs him to do that to save a business she didn’t even want anything to do with ten years ago -and yes, I get it people/circumstances change. And he’s tall. And hot. Their reunion just felt a little too easy and the bumps, when they arrive, come out of nowhere, and are all resolved with a little bit of familial exposition.

I didn’t hate this book. It was 50 pages too long, but it was easy to read. I didn’t feel annoyed when I was done reading, but I also didn’t feel that post-romance swoon. If you’re not going to break my heart – which is actually what I’d prefer – at least I don’t want to read Erotica 101. That’s mean: this book is definitely better than that, really, but it didn’t 100% scratch my romance itch even though I liked both main characters just fine. Still, a great book for your beach bag.

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