Reviewed by Emma Crowley
Casa D'Or, the mysterious plantation house on Sunset Lake, has been in the Wyatt family for over fifty years. Jennifer Wyatt returns there from university full of hope, as summer by the lake stretches ahead of her. Yet by the time it is over her heart will be broken, her family in tatters, her dreams long gone.
Twenty years later, Casa D'Or stands neglected, a victim of tragic events. Jennifer has closed the door on her past. Then Jim, the man she met and fell in love with that magical summer, comes back into her life, with a plan to return Casa D'Or to its former glory. Their reunion will stir up old ghosts for both of them, and reveal the dark secrets the house still holds close...
Tasmina Perry's writing style has certainly changed since her earlier days where her stories could be termed glamorous bonkbusters packed full of characters you'd love to hate combined with a gripping storyline that would have you rapidly turning the pages. Now there is a more serious mature side to the stories she writes with much more emotion and depth as displayed in last years book The Last Kiss Goodbye. This new book The House on Sunset Lake delves into the past focusing on one long hot summer in Savannah when a girl and boy meet and a bond is forged although circumstances can't allow said meeting to turn into anything long term. The story moves between the present and twenty years earlier following the characters over that fateful summer and how through chance they reconnect so many years later.
This book could have been absolutely brilliant there was so much potential for developing the storyline and the setting but instead it was only OK and I reluctantly say that about an author whose books I have enjoyed so much in previous years. I loved the title for the book as it suggested mystery and intrigue and the cover was beautiful evoking the setting and the hot summer when everything occurs. But it failed to live up to expectation and I know other readers felt the same and struggled to reach the end. I kept going because I wanted to know the secrets to be revealed but do think this book would have worked better if we had gone back a generation or two and linked it with the present. Twenty years wasn't much of a gap. I do understand it has essentially a love story at its core but it all felt so lacklustre and none of the characters appealed to me instead they were immature and boring at times and I hate saying that but it's the way they made me feel.
The story opens on New Year's Eve in the Scottish Highlands as Jim Johnson is attending the opening of a glamorous new hotel he has overseen the renovations for. He works for Simon Desai, head of the Omari hotel group, and enjoys his job and likes to see his projects become successful. Simon is looking for a new challenge and wants to open a hotel in the Deep South of America. Jim knows just the place but he has a tainted history and connection with Casa D'Or and has not returned there since that fateful summer twenty years ago. By agreeing to over see Simon's new hotel Jim will earn a promotion but can he do this if it risks opening a can of worms best left closed? Memories, events and a certain woman have been placed firmly to the back of his mind and he wonders by going back to the house will it just prove a disaster? After all that happened it has had such a lasting affect on him. The story then moves back and forth between that summer and the present day as Jim works towards the opening of Casa D'Or in all its new found splendour. I found the story jumped forward and back too suddenly and lacked cohesiveness. I was getting used to what was going on in 1994 and then abruptly we would be back in the present day and trying to get used to an older Jim who was battling re-emerging emotions towards our main female character Jen who herself has changed dramatically since the summer she first locked eyes on Jim.
I never really liked either of our main characters. Jim seemed so self absorbed and analysed everything to a t, I wanted him to just come out and talk face to face straight up with Jen and confront everything they both had kept locked up for so long. There was too much focus on Jim and his thoughts that I felt we never really got inside Jen's head, yes it may have happened towards the end but it was too late and I didn't grow to like her. It was interesting enough initially to read as to how Jim came to be in America with his parents for a few months and how he met Jen but after that nothing really happened and the intense love that was meant to be between the pair I just didn't feel it at all Jen seemed to be a typical rich girl who got what she wanted and had her whole life mapped out ahead of her with a suitable man by her side but she seemed to like to play around and use people. That's what I felt like she did with Jim like she was playing with him and knew this was just a summer fling. The intense passion and love that was meant to come across just wasn't there for me and made the story lacking. What the author did nail though was the descriptions of the setting of the lake, the house and the city and the intense heat and almost stillness of the summer. I really wanted the story to take off far earlier than it did and get inside more character's head as that would have made for a far more gripping read. Normally I could say in a story like this I preferred the past sections over the present or vice versa but in this case both didn't seem to get going for me and were sadly lacking.
In one way I am glad I persevered and reached the end of this book as the last 20% of the book was far better than what had gone before and at last the twists and turns I had been waiting for finally began to materialise even if I didn't view everything the way the author wanted her readers to. I know sticking with a book for so long when you have not got stuck into it by the last part of the story may seem ridiculous to some people but I hate giving up on books unless I really have to and if they are by an author whose work I normally like I want to give them the best chance possible before dismissing a story out of hand. In the last few chapters so much happened that the reader never knew what they were going to discover on each page. Yes I wanted these twists to occur but they just seemed totally out of place and flung in at the last minute just to have some sort of action happen as things had been very sedate in the entire story up to this point. I felt as a reader going through the final parts of the story that there were parts I had missed out on or pages/chapters I had skipped but this wasn't the case. I don't feel from reading the earlier and mid sections of the book that there were clues subtly put in place for the read to have tantalising glimpses as to what was to come. It all seemed so unexpected and out of left field and didn't sit well with what I had read of the characters or the general story. Yes I wanted to see secrets uncovered but it all felt so rushed and unbelievable.
Normally when you read that jaw dropping moment of revelation there is a sense of ah damn it I should have spotted that and oh now I know why such and such a thing occurred but here everything just seemed so out of the blue and it made me feel uneasy as to some of the actions of the character. If the point was to spice up the story it was too late as everything came flying at the reader and soon it became very tangled and difficult to follow what was going on. It was as if the author knew she was coming towards the end and had to get everything slotted in. If more clues or development of characters who had been on the periphery had taken place during the story I would have been satisfied with what happened in the end even if the twists and turns were what made me keeping reading until the final page.
I loved Tasmina Perry's earlier books and her last one but I was disappointed with this one and I know other people I have talked to felt the same. That said it's Tasmina Perry and she is hugely popular and I normally enjoy her writing so I'll forgive her for this one and await to see what she writes next.
Many thanks to Headline Review for my copy of The House on Sunset Lake to review via NetGalley and to Sharon for having my review on the blog.