Still Lake, by Anne Stuart

>> Tuesday, June 07, 2005

My only Uruguayan romance-reading friend and I are currently on an Anne Stuart glom. Everything we see by her we buy, and the latest one we got was Still Lake.

It was a dream come true.

Buying a run-down farm in a beautiful Vermont town is the start of a new life for Sophie Davis. She moves her mother, Grace, and her half sister, Marty, out of the city, hoping the change will help both women sort out their complicated lives. And for Sophie, turning Stonegate Farm into a quaint country inn is the fulfillment of a lifelong dream. She doesn't even mind that the farm was the scene of a grisly multiple murder twenty years earlier . . .

Then a stranger comes to town.

When a stranger moves in next to the farm, Sophie believes the sense of peace she has built for herself and her family is being threatened. Because there's something different about John Smith. It's clear he's keeping secrets . . . and that he's come to Colby, Vermont, for a reason. And that reason has something to do with Sophie and Stonegate Farm.

Now her dream is becoming a nightmare.

Who is John Smith? Why does his very presence make Sophie feel so completely out of control? And why is she beginning to suspect that this mysterious stranger will put in jeopardy everything she's dreamed of -- maybe even her own life?
It's funny, but the reason my friend and I both like Stuart so much is the exact opposite of the reason why I like Jayne Ann Krentz. I like Krentz because I always know what I'm getting with her, which is why she's my biggest comfort read. The reason I like Anne Stuart, on the other hand, is because, with her, I never know what I'm getting. Light, dark, quirky, dramatic, funny, depressing, contemporary, historical, she's done it all, and it's fun to open the book and prepare to be surprised.

Still Lake is a very atmospheric read, a darkish contemporary with a very gothic feel. I quite liked the plot and the hero, but wasn't too crazy about the heroine. My grade would be a B-, but only barely missing a C+.

Griffin is an immensely interesting hero. He's back at Still Lake trying to find out the truth about the murders which took place there 20 years before, murders he was accused of committing. He was sent to jail and got off on a technicality a few years later. He's almost completely sure he was innocent, but he was drunk and stoned out of his skull that night, so whatever happened is a blank in his mind. After trying to just ignore this for 15 years, he's decided he wants to try to find out exactly what happened that night, and going back to Still Lake is a good way to jog his memory.

The best part of the book is the complete fascination he feels for Sophie, the woman who's opening an inn in the house which was the scene of the crime all those years before. Griffin is cynical and sophisticated and he has a frankly cruel edge, so the way he can't stay away from this naive, old-fashioned woman surprises him.

Those scenes are great. I adore books in which the hero is determined to stay away from the heroine but just can't help himself, and Griffin tries to put up a good fight. These two really don't have much in common, but the chemistry between them is steaming hot.

However, Sophie was NOT a heroine I liked. She's a silly woman, often crossing the line from naive and innocent into foolish. I did buy her reasons for being a virgin (her explanation actually sounded exactly like a friend of mine), but her reactions to Griffin's sexuality were more suitable to a 12-year-old.

It was near the end of the book when I realized how much I disliked her. There's a scene in which she dresses up in her sexy underwear (all the while telling herself she's doing it for no reason, just because) and goes over to Griffin's after convincing herself she really needs to go tell him off.

By the end of the book, it would have been nice if she'd grown up enough to take at least a little control of her own sexuality and not need to feel as if she's being overpowered so that she can get her pleasure AND still feel like she's a good girl... the old rape fantasy rationale.

And there's a tiny little moment as she leaves the house, barely a couple of lines, but it turned my stomach. She passes her supposedly senile mother's window on her way out and she sees her in bed accompanied by the doctor, who's reading to her from the Bible. And the little twit actually giggles, thinking that her mother had never cared much for organized religion, but that now she had no choice but to put up with it. As an agnostic who doesn't never care much for organized religion, I put myself in her mother's place and hated Sophie a little bit right then for being such a self-righteous prig.

The suspense subplot wasn't as good as it could have been. It really had potential, but for one thing, it was never much of a mystery who was responsible. Not only did this take away any sense of mystery from the book, every clue ended up being so obvious that Sophie, especially, looked like an idiot -a willfully blind idiot- for not realizing what was going on. Also, there were several very obvious avenues for investigation that were completely neglected, which drove me crazy. I wanted to scream at Griffin to do things like ask around about certain flowers, for instance.

I've gone on and on about my problems with this book, so it must sound as if I hated it. Actually, I had a good time reading it. It's just that it could have been a truly excellent book if these aspects had been a bit better.


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