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Thursday, April 16, 2015

Haven Lake Compelling, Though Not Completely Satisfying

(Image from Barnes & Noble)

Haven Lake has always been a place of refuge for drifters, draft dodgers and down-on-their-luckers.  In the '60s, its idyllic Berkshire setting provided the perfect backdrop for a peace-touting, free-lovin' hippie commune.  Like all the children who lived there, Sydney Bishop pranced naked through its fields and forests, wild and free as a wood sprite.  It was only as a teenager, after twin tragedies shattered not just her community, but also her family, that Sydney ran away from Haven Lake, vowing never to return.  Desperate to leave her past, with all its dark memories, far behind her, Sydney's kept her promise for two decades.

Now 36, Sydney finds fulfillment in her job as an educational psychologist, her quaint cottage on the shore, and her upcoming marriage to Gary Katz, a handsome surgeon.  Soon to be a stepmother, she's worked hard to get to know Dylan, her fiancé's 16-year-old son.  When the troubled boy runs away from home, Sydney's sympathetic, but shocked when she learns he's holing up at Haven Lake with Sydney's mother, Hannah.  Her astonishment turns to anger when Hannah offers to let Dylan stay and help her with the sheep farm.

Dylan's problems, mixed with Hannah's interference, and Gary's increasingly alarming mood swings, create a toxic cocktail that has Sydney questioning everything about her life.  The raging turmoil inside her can't be assuaged, she realizes, until she finds out the truth about what happened on the night her childhood best friend drowned in Haven Lake.  Facing the hurt that defines her past may be the only way for Sydney to find future happiness.  But, what happens when everything you remember is wrong?  And the future you've always dreamed of no longer feels right?  As Sydney confronts her haunting past, she'll have to decide whom to believe, whom to trust, and ultimately, whom to blame for the terrible events that turned Haven Lake into a hell of sorrow, guilt, and pain. 

It's no secret that I'm a complete sucker for a good damaged-woman-returns-to-her-hometown-to-confront-her-past novel.  With a premise like the one I summarized above, it's no surprise that I wanted to read Haven Lake by Holly Robinson.  The question is, did it deliver the kind of rich, redemptive story for which I generally go ga-ga?  Answer:  yes and no.  Although the characters are a sad, depressing lot, Robinson takes time to build them into complex, knowable beings.  Thus, I felt for them and cared about what happened to them.  Plot-wise, the novel roams here and there, with plenty of superfluous subplots that distract from the mystery at the heart of the book.  A tighter, more focused story would have made the novel feel more suspenseful and polished.  Likewise, I could have done without the graphic language and sex scenes, which, for me, detracted from the overall appeal of the book.  In the end, I found Haven Lake compelling, though not completely satisfying.   

(Readalikes:  Reminds me of other novels with similar premises, although no specific title is coming to mind.  Help?)


If this were a movie, it would be rated:

for strong language, sexual content, violence, and depictions of illegal drug use

To the FTC, with love:  I received an e-galley of Haven Lake from the generous folks at Penguin via those at NetGalley.  Thank you!


  1. Yeah, I've read a few damaged-woman-returns-to-her-hometown-to-confront-her-past novels, but it's been awhile.

  2. I do like this kind of storyline too a shame this one roamed a little too far and wide to put it up there with the best.

  3. Right? I find myself reading a book with this basic plotline every month or so. Something about it appeals to me, not sure why exactly ...

  4. Well that's a disappointment. I usually enjoy books with this sort of idea behind them too.


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