Review: The Secrets We Carried by Mary McNear

Review: The Secrets We Carried by Mary McNearThe Secrets We Carried (Butternut Lake, #6) by Mary McNear
Format: eARC
Source: supplied by publisher via Edelweiss
Formats available: hardcover, paperback, large print, ebook, audiobook
Genres: contemporary fiction, women's fiction
Series: Butternut Lake #6
Pages: 368
Published by William Morrow Paperbacks on September 25, 2018
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKoboBook Depository
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Readers who love Susan Wiggs and Susan Mallery will adore New York Times bestselling author Mary McNear newest novel. A young woman travels home to Butternut Lake, confronting her past and the tragedy she and her friends have silently carried with them for over a decade while also facing an unknown future.

Butternut Lake is an idyllic place—but for one woman, her return to the lake town she once called home is bittersweet…

Sometimes life changes in an instant. 

Quinn LaPointe grew up on beautiful Butternut Lake, safe, secure, sure of her future. But after a high school tragedy, she left for college and never looked back. Becoming a successful writer in Chicago, she worked to keep out the dark memories of an accident that upended her life. But now, after ten years, she’s finally returned home.

Butternut is the same, and yet everything is changed. Gabriel Shipp, once her very best friend, doesn’t want anything to do with her. The charming guy she remembers is now brooding and withdrawn. Tanner Lightman, the seductive brother of her late boyfriend, wants her to stick around. Annika Bergstrom, an old classmate who once hated Quinn, is now friendly. Everyone, it seems, has a secret.

Determined to come to terms with the tragedy and rebuild old relationships, Quinn settles into Loon Bay Cabins, a rustic but cozy lakeside resort, where she begins writing down her memories of the year before the accident. Her journey though the past leads her to some surprising discoveries about the present. As secrets are revealed and a new love emerges, Quinn finds that understanding the past is the key to the future. 

My Review:

In my reviews of previous books in the Butternut Lake series I have said that Butternut Lake should be renamed “Second Chance Lake” because those stories have featured a second chance at love for the hero, the heroine, or both.

The Secrets We Carried does not follow the pattern of the previous books, and there’s nothing to keep a reader from starting here and deciding if you like the place and want to go back. I definitely like the place. A lot.

But this story is still about second chances. In the end, there’s even a second chance at love – but that is not the kind of second chance that is the centerpiece of this particular story.

This one is about a second chance at life. And it’s about finally forgiving yourself so that you have a chance at grabbing that second chance.

Because that’s what Quinn LaPointe needs to do. And that’s why she’s come back to Butternut Lake, the place she grew up, ten years after the tragic accident that overtook her senior year in high school. A tragic accident that she has never fully dealt with – or completely healed from. An accident that she feels at least partially responsible for.

But she’s not the only person carrying that particular secret. And she’s not the only person who has not been able to move her life past that terrible fixed point in time.

In her life post-Butternut Lake, she has kept moving forward, but she hasn’t moved on. An anonymous invitation to the dedication of a memorial to the accident, and the three young men who needlessly, recklessly, stupidly died in it, gives her the chance to take herself back to the place she once called home.

And gives her the opportunity that she needs. A chance to finally remember, an opportunity to hopefully understand, and above all, both the proximity and the distance that she needs to finally forgive herself.

Quinn needs to let go of her past, so that she can finally claim her future.

Escape Rating A: I wasn’t in the mood for a romance, and that turned out to be an excellent thing. In spite of the way that the blurb reads, and contrary to the previous books in this series, The Secrets We Carried is not a romance.

Instead, this book is more of a character study, crossed with more than a bit of “women’s fiction”. In other words, if a man had written this story, it would just be labeled “fiction”.

I digress – but mostly because I just finished this book and I’m still reeling a bit. This was absolutely marvelous – especially because it wasn’t what I expected. It went a whole lot deeper than that.

Quinn’s high school career ended in tragedy. Her boyfriend and his two best friends drowned in Butternut Lake under the stupidest of circumstances. Jake Lightman was drunk and so were his buddies. Jake drove his truck out onto the frozen surface of Butternut Lake one night in the late spring and just sat there, in the truck, until the ice gave way and the three young men drowned.

Quinn blames herself. She broke up with Jake that night because she caught him lying to her, and not for the first time. She believes that he drank so heavily because of their breakup, and that he was out in the middle of the lake because she told him that’s where she lost the promise ring he gave her.

So Quinn comes to Butternut Lake for the dedication of the memorial to his death, and the deaths of his friends.

But Quinn isn’t the only person who has spent the past ten years heaping blame on herself for the events of that long ago night. Or rather, a night that should be long ago but seems to be ever-present as Quinn decides to stay in Butternut Lake and finally process the events of that night by writing all of her memories.

As part of her “memory writing” she touches base with not just the events but also the people who were part of that time, and who, it turns out, also have not been able to let things go. The deeper Quinn digs, the more she discovers that there is plenty of guilt to go around.

And like so many burdens, once that guilt is shared, once all of the people who touched and were touched by those events lays out the part that they each feel they played that night, they reach, tentatively and together, for a truth that was hidden by the secrets they all carried. A burden shared is a burden halved. A burden shared by as many people as have a share in this one lightens their load, and their lives, to the point where they can put the past behind them. Forgive themselves but never forget.

This is a beautiful story where the only way forward is through. Everyone holds back and everyone hides pieces of themselves that have come to hurt to much to be revealed. Quinn’s need to get it all out there, at least in her own mind, conflicts deeply and realistically with her desire to bury it all as deeply as possible.

The ending, when Quinn finally reaches it, goes all the way back to the beginning. And it sets her free.

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Review: The Light in Summer by Mary McNear

Review: The Light in Summer by Mary McNearThe Light In Summer by Mary McNear
Formats available: hardcover, paperback, ebook
Series: Butternut Lake #5
Pages: 384
Published by William Morrow Paperbacks on June 20th 2017
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKoboBook Depository
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New York Times and USA Today bestselling author Mary McNear brings you home to Butternut Lake and a novel filled with irresistible characters who you will want to call your friends.
It’s summertime on Butternut Lake, where the heat of noon is soothed by the cool breezes of the evening, where the pace grows slower, and sometimes, just sometimes, the summer light makes everything clearer...
For the lovely Billy Harper, Butternut Lake is the place she feels most at home, even though lately she feels the only one listening to her is Murphy...her faithful Labrador Retriever. Her teenage son, Luke, has gone from precious to precocious practically overnight. Her friends are wrapped up in their own lives, and Luke’s father, Wesley, disappeared before his son was even born. No wonder she prefers to spend time with a good book, especially ones where everything ends in perfection.
But Billy is about to learn that anything is possible during the heady days of summer. Coming to terms with her past—the death of her father, the arrival of Cal Cooper, a complicated man with a definite interest in Billy, even the return of Wesley, will force her to have a little bit of faith in herself and others...and realize that happiness doesn’t always mean perfection.
“Butternut Lake is so beautifully rendered, you’ll wish it was real.”—Susan Wiggs, #1 New York Times bestselling author  
“This triumphant story had me reading until the wee hours of the morning.”—#1 New York Times bestselling author Debbie Macomber on The Space Between Sisters
 
 
 
 

My Review:

I love the Butternut Lake series. I really, really do. But, and it’s a very big but, in spite of the heroine being a librarian, I did not love this particular entry in the series.

The Butternut Lake series so far have all been contemporary small-town romances with more than a smidgen of what is dreadfully labelled Women’s Fiction. I hate that term but it has become a handy catch-all descriptor for stories that include a slice of women’s lives and often their strong friendships and other relationships.

I’ve also referred to Butternut Lake as “Second Chance Lake” because so many of the romances feature second chances at love, sometimes even with the original love-interest.

The series is stand-alone-ish. Each entry is complete, and the reader usually doesn’t have to know much about what came before to become familiar with the town and its residents. The Light in Summer may be the exception to that rule. The hero in this book is the brother of the heroine in the first book, Up at Butternut Lake.

But as much as I have enjoyed this series, this one did not work for me. While in most of the books there has been a lot going on in the life of the protagonists, the stories have usually given equal weight to whatever those other crises might be and the romance.

For this reader, the romance between Cal and Billy (very short for Wilhelmina) takes a far back seat to all of Billy’s quite justifiable angst over the behavior of her son Luke, who seems to be entering adolescence with a vengeance. Billy is right to worry. Luke is hanging out with the wrong crowd, getting into serious trouble, lying to her and letting his grades slip. His attitude has also dived into the toilet, but the problem isn’t the attitude so much as all the bad things and people that the attitude is leading him towards.

The recent death of Billy’s father, the only father-figure that Luke has ever had, has thrown them all into a tailspin. And Billy is caught in the age-old dilemma of how much she needs to be a parent vs. how much she wants to be a friend and confidant.

But all of Luke’s issues, and Billy’s issues with Luke, completely overwhelm the story. The romance gets such short shrift that we really don’t see it develop. We don’t have enough interactions between Cal and Billy to buy into their chemistry.

Escape Rating C: I’ll admit that I’m probably in a minority on this, but the focus on Billy’s problems as a parent, as real as they are, just don’t hold my attention. There’s a lot of teenage angst in this story, and if that was what I was looking for, I’d have found it. But it is not something that I look for, and certainly didn’t expect to find it in this book or this series.

I’m still looking forward to more in this series, but for this reader, The Light in Summer didn’t have nearly enough romantic heat. Your reading mileage may vary. But if you are looking for an entry in this series that does a much better blend of family drama with romance and small-town feels, go back to The Space Between Sisters, which was terrific. More like that, please!

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Review: The Space Between Sisters by Mary McNear

Review: The Space Between Sisters by Mary McNearThe Space Between Sisters (The Butternut Lake Series, #4) by Mary McNear
Formats available: paperback, ebook
Series: Butternut Lake #4
Pages: 336
Published by William Morrow Paperbacks on June 14th 2016
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKoboBook Depository
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Return to Butternut Lake with the newest from Mary McNear, whose heartfelt and powerful stories have made her a New York Times and USA Today bestselling author. Here, the complicated bonds of sisterhood are tested, long-kept secrets are revealed, and love is discovered…all during one unforgettable summer at the lake.
Two sisters couldn’t be more different. Win organized and responsible; Poppy impulsive and undependable. Win treads cautiously and plans her life with care; Poppy bounces from job to job and apartment to apartment, leaving others to pick up the pieces. But despite their differences, they share memories of the idyllic childhood summers they spent together on the shores of Butternut Lake. Now, 13 years later, Win, recovering from a personal tragedy, has returned to Butternut Lake, settling into a predictable and quiet life.
Then, one night, Poppy unexpectedly shows up on Win’s doorstep with all her worldly possessions and a mysterious man in tow. And although Win loves her beautiful sister, she wasn’t expecting her to move in for the summer. Still, at first, they relive the joys of Butternut Lake. But their blissful nostalgia soon gives way to conflict, and painful memories and buried secrets threaten to tear the sisters apart.
As the waning days of summer get shorter, past secrets are revealed, new love is found, and the ties between the sisters are tested like never before…all on the serene shores of Butternut Lake.

My Review:

butternut summer by mary mcnearSecond-chance lake strikes again. So far, in all of the books in the lovely Butternut Lake series (Up at Butternut Lake, Butternut Summer, The Night Before Christmas and Moonlight on Butternut Lake) someone in the story gets a second chance at love. In the case of Butternut Summer it’s even a second chance at the same love as the first time around, but hopefully with much better results.

In The Space Between Sisters there are several kinds of second chances that finally come true. For sisters Winona and Poppy Robbins, it’s a second, or possibly one hundredth, chance to bridge their strained relationship, now that they are both, at least theoretically, adults.

Win is a teacher at Butternut K-8. She has the sometimes insane job of teaching social studies to 7th and 8th graders, just as their teenage hormones start kicking in. Win loves her job, and loves living on Butternut Lake in their grandparents’ cabin. But she’s lonely and still grieving the loss of her young husband to cancer after only three years of marriage. Win is nearly 30, and her life has only sort of gone on. In her OCD way (and she is, a bit) she keeps rearranging the mementos of her marriage into little memorials around the house, never letting go.

Poppy is Win’s opposite. Where Win is organized to the point of obsession, Poppy lets everything and everyone slide. Including jobs, apartments and relationships. She drops debris wherever she lands, and seems to expect someone else to pick up the pieces. That someone has usually been Win. But in Poppy’s entire life, there are only two people that she has ever been able to count on. One is Win, and the other is her 16-year-old cat Sasquatch.

Their parents have never been responsible parties. Their dad is a not-very-functional alcoholic, and their mother is such a complete “free spirit” that she neglected the girls and left them to raise themselves. To say that their parents are totally uninvolved with their lives, and always have been, is an understatement of epic proportions.

So when Poppy quits her latest job, she surprises Win by moving in with her at Butternut Lake, dragging all her possessions and Sasquatch up from Minneapolis in the care (and car) of a nice guy she met on her morning coffee breaks when she was still working.

Poppy doesn’t even know Everett’s last name. And Win thinks that Everett agreed to give Poppy a lift because he was interested in her incredibly beautiful sister. But like so many other things that happen in Butternut Lake, nothing about Poppy’s retreat to Win, Everett’s reasons for giving Poppy a lift, or even the truth behind the dynamics of Win’s and Poppy’s relationship, are exactly what they seem.

And the truths that are finally revealed set them both free.

Escape Rating A-: At first, everything in this story seems so obvious, and then it suddenly isn’t. Win and Poppy act out a dynamic that happens so often in real families, one becomes super responsible, and the other becomes super irresponsible. The good girl and the bad girl. One makes messes, the other cleans up. And that seems like a natural response to the way they weren’t brought up. Poppy imitates their parents (minus the drinking) and Win goes 180 degrees the opposite direction. And of course they drive each other bananas.

Win is tired of cleaning up after Poppy and taking care of her messes. Poppy is tired of Win’s obsessive need for order. (When someone starts fuming about the “right” way to load a dishwasher, the reaction of not wanting to help is not a surprise). But Win has a point about Poppy’s fecklessness and Poppy has a point about Win needing to let her grief take its course instead of continuing to create shrines to it.

But they can’t really reach each other until a crisis finally breaks Poppy out of the fog she’s been living in for the last 15 years. Until she lets go of her old traumas, she can’t deal with the new ones that have come barreling toward her.

She falls in love for the very first time. And is too frozen with suppressed PTSD to act on it. And the one person who has always been there for her, dear old Sasquatch, has used up his 9th life.

While the nature of Poppy’s suppressed trauma was all too easy to figure out before the big reveal, once it all finally comes out every character has to reassess their relationship with Poppy, and Poppy has to reassess their relationship with her. It’s only when she lances the boil in the past that she is able to heal and grow into herself in the present.

Both Poppy and Win find love. For Poppy, it’s her need to finally enter into an adult relationship that makes her open up the memories she has ruthlessly (and also rootlessly) suppressed. For Win, it’s a chance to look at her life and what’s holding her back from living it. And she nearly screws it up. Which is what makes them both so human and so likeable.

And poor Sasquatch. He was a good cat, and Poppy gave him a good life. He was there when she needed him, and at the end, she’s there when he needs her to make the hard decision. Particularly for those of us who have had a companion animal at a critical part of their lives, the scenes with Sasquatch and her memories of all the times he was there for her require a box of tissues.

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