Thursday, 16 July 2015

Guest Book Review: Jane Riddell - Daughters of the Lake

Reviewed by Emma Crowley

Daughters of the Lake is a contemporary family drama set in Switzerland. Madalena invites her four adult children to celebrate her hotel's fortieth anniversary, unaware of their tensions and secrets. As the day of the celebration approaches, confused emotions take hold, and the occasion goes badly wrong.

Set against a backdrop of mountains and lakes, this is a story of love, betrayal and family conflict.

Amazon links: Kindle or Paperback

Daughters of the Lake is the first book I have read by Jane Riddell and I have to say the title is very apt. The setting of the book is Switzerland and a beautiful family run hotel next to a lake. Matriarch of the Fontana family Madelena has summoned her children and their spouses back from wherever they now live in order to announce a big surprise. Also the hotel is at a crossroads as it is celebrating its 40th anniversary and change is afoot. It's obvious family secrets are waiting to be revealed which will determine the course of the future of both the hotel and the family. Snippets of these secrets are drip fed to the reader and the author alludes to a major shock but to be honest I never had that major jaw dropping moment that I look for in books. I wanted to be surprised and stunned that I had never guessed the twist but that never happened for me as the pace here was just way too slow. I'm reluctant to say this but I was quite bored at several points waiting for something to happen. It may sound ridiculous but this book is more character based rather than a real story and for a book to grab my attention and hold it it needs to have both. I did continue with the book as I wanted to know what happened to the characters but I can't say I enjoyed the whole story. I didn't hate the book but didn't love it rather I am firmly planted in the middle on this one.

Madelena Fontana has four adult children, Portia, Annie, Vienne and Lawrence, all of whom grew up in the hotel and enjoyed an idyllic childhood but have now spread their wings. Portia – a human rights lawyer is hesitant about this reunion for numerous reasons. The death of her father five years ago still holds a firm shadow over her life not to mention the pressure of raising Lucy. Lucy is on the cusp of becoming  a teenager and showing all signs she is not going to make life easy for anyone concerned in her upbringing. Portia had been married to Elliott but the burden of a secret and lies put untold strain on the pair and now they are divorced and this amongst other problems is causing Lucy to act out. A serious incident at Lucy's boarding school leads to her expulsion and Portia has no choice but to bring Lucy to the reunion. At first I couldn’t understand why Portia was so reluctant to bring her daughter to meet up with the family, surely it is a natural thing to do but when we uncovered what Portia had been up to it all made sense. Lucy came across as a spoilt brat who needed a good shake and to be sat down and told this is the way things are now get over it. I understood she was hurt and confused but she was allowed get away with murder and needed a firm hand. She was rude and obnoxious to relatives and should never have been let get so out of hand. Lucy wants the truth not evasiveness as she believes she is onto something in her family history. Rebelling is her only way to get the attention she craves from her mother but her actions were  just too much for me. Honesty in the first place would have prevented a whole lot of unnecessary pain and trouble. Despite all Portia's faults I found she was my favourite character as once she got her act together there was no stopping her.

Annie has just been left by her pregnant partner Ferne for a man. Deeply upset and wounded she arrives at the hotel hoping for solace and some time to work through her feelings and emotions. She was confused and chef Gaston does nothing to help her reach a decision. I found her very needy wanting to please others and always relying on constant reassurance throughout her stay. But she hasn't bargained on everyone else having so many issues to deal with. Vienne is a famous pianist married to Micheal. She has a huge important concert coming but there are physical symptoms causing her to worry. Is something seriously wrong with her? Vienne was nothing only a worrier and she was just so annoying. She moaned and complained the whole time and never had any trust in her husband even though he was trying to support her. Micheal may not have had a clean slate but he did his best. Portia and Vienne had a rocky relationship and endless times throughout the book they almost met each other to talk but didn't. This dancing around each other and avoidance tactics on Portia's part was just silly and unrealistic.

Madelene did have four children and Lawrence is the final one to mention. He chooses to stay in a different hotel which struck me as just weird. He was totally under utilised in the book and to be honest I saw no point in him being there at all. He rarely made an appearance or was vaguely mentioned in passing. His story line was non existent except to bring some small ounce of comfort towards the end to Madelena. In fact his sisters demanded so much airtime that there was no space left to feature him more prominently. Madelena herself was once strong but had suffered but thanks to the the help of good friends she is coming out the other side. She certainly had not bargained for all the trouble which erupts once the family convenes for the celebration. So her own issues get put on the back burner for a while. She was kind, sensitive and caring but her children and their actions left an awful lot to be desired.

The book had a very good basic storyline and as the blurb says it is a story of love, betrayal and family conflict. It did have these elements but there was too much description and it was overly character driven that those points didn't come across as strongly as they could have. It wasn't a page turner for me and I genuinely thought it would be from the title alone. It had potential to be an epic story but it failed as the characters weren't the most likeable bar one or two. The descriptions of the hotel, lake and surrounding countryside were fabulous and redeem the novel in a small way. But overall I wanted to get hold of the majority of the characters and give them a good talking to. Wake up and realise what's going on around you and deal with it instead of skirting around the issues. If there had been more action and dare I say it more deviousness instead of wallowing in self pity this could have been a more enjoyable book. Daughters of the Lake is not the best book I have read this year and won't be the most memorable come December but I am glad I gave a new author a try. I'm still divided in two as with more work and more likeable characters this could have worked a whole lot better. It was on the cusp of achieving that at times but sadly never reached that point.

I'd like to thank Jane for sending us a copy of Daughters of the Lake for Emma to review.

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