Wednesday, August 29, 2012

BLOG TOUR: Interview with best-selling author Susan Wiggs, & a review of her latest release, Return to Willow Lake

Hey peeps!

It’s been ages since I last posted a review up here, but things are about to change today coz I’m back with a requested review. Guess you know I sometimes hear from a publicist who asks me to feature and/or review for her clients? She was recently putting together the promo tour for one of her authors, and asked if I’d agree to hop along. When I saw who her client was, I jumped on the occasion. Why, do you ask? Because the tour is for none other than Susan Wiggs, one of my favourite authors!

Disclaimer: Before we proceed, I need to point out that in no way was I asked, requested, influenced, coerced, or suggested in any way, to present a positive review of the book. Any and all opinions stated henceforth are mine, and mine alone.

So, this being said... Susan Wiggs is back, after 2 years, with a brand-new installment in her Lakeshore Chronicles contemporary series. The book is titled Return to Willow Lake. Here’s a blurb:

Sonnet Romano's life is almost perfect. She has the ideal career, the ideal boyfriend, and has just been offered a prestigious fellowship. There's nothing more a woman wants - except maybe a baby sister?

When Sonnet finds out her mother is unexpectedly expecting, and that the pregnancy is high-risk, she puts everything on hold - the job, the fellowship, the boyfriend - and heads home to Avalon. Once her mom is out of danger, Sonnet intends to pick up her life where she left off. But when her mother receives a devastating diagnosis, Sonnet must decide what really matters in life, even of that means staying in Avalon and taking a job that forces her to work alongside her biggest, and maybe her sweetest, mistake - award-winning filmmaker Zach Alger. So Sonnet embarks on a summer of laughter and tears, of old dreams and new possibilities, and of finding the home of her heart.

At once heartbreaking and uplifting, Return to Willow Lake plumbs the deepest corners of the human heart, exploring the bonds of family, the perils and rewards of love, and the true meaning of home.

My review:

This is the first of Susan Wiggs’ contemporaries that I have read, and definitely not the last. Just like I fell in love with her historicals (in particular, the Chicago Fire trilogy and the Calhoun Chronicles series), I am now a convert to her Lakeshore Chronicles series.

I loved this book. Though the start was a little slow and dragging to my taste, I did know it was necessary to point out how the interlude between Sonnet and Zach happened. From there on, things really picked up.

There were lots of twists in the story; some I saw coming, others slammed into me from nowhere. In a good way, though – not the kind that makes you go, “what on earth...???” And though this book is mentioned as a romance, I wouldn’t really say that. To me, it was more akin to grown-up chick-lit/women’s fiction, because the story was first and foremost about Sonnet and her relationship with her entourage, namely her family, Zach, perfect-on-paper boyfriend Orlando, the detached biological dad.

I admit it took me by surprise when I was a few dozen pages into the book to learn that Sonnet is biracial. Not that this would change anything in my enjoyment of the story, but until this revelation comes, Sonnet doesn’t really “click” with the reader (at least, not with me!). The overachieving ways then start to make sense; the need to be accepted and lauded by her father; feeling like she’s got one foot on both sides of a wall and not having a sturdy footing to stay on – all these worked once we learn about Sonnet and why she is how she is.

I’ll admit she got me wanting to clock her on the head quite a few times where her relationship with Zach was concerned. It’s obvious the guy wants her, but Sonnet has this idea of perfection and achievement that spells “Orlando” when it should spell “Zach” in bright, neon letters. This did drive me crazy – but then, I suppose Ms. Wiggs did her job, because she got this reader to care that much about *gasp* fictional characters! There weren’t sparks in this book, not the kind we usually associate with romance, as in, they couldn’t get enough of each other, etc. Here, the romance between Sonnet and Zach was more about buried feelings, companionship turning to more, learning to trust, to take a step out of comfortable boundaries and explore the unknown. In this way, this was a very heartening read. With a pace that, though I wouldn’t say “slow”, is not edge-of-your-seat rapid either, you move right along with the characters.

Special mention for how Ms. Wiggs treats the subject of breast cancer in the story. As a 2-times survivor, I am always on the lookout for stories that feature cancer in their plots. This is achieved here without the inherent doom-&-drama people associate with cancer, the treatments presented for what they are and without any embroidering on the reality of the disease. A little nit-picking as Nina mentions at first she is going directly for a mastectomy, but the story plays out with her having a lumpectomy first and then going for a mastectomy later – that kinda didn’t sit well with me, because she didn’t go for the procedure directly and ended up having surgery twice when once would’ve been enough (if she’d had the mastectomy directly). Anyhow... Yes, cancer is scary, but we need awareness if we want to win the fight over it – if anything, I hope this book gets women to think about their health and keep the prospect of breast cancer in their perceptions more than they actually do.

The descriptions of the area, and especially Willow Lake, are absolutely breathtaking, and the feel of small-town community is right there permeating every page of the book. I think this is Book #9 in the series; I jumped right in and didn’t feel lost in this world, so that’s another good thing. I am definitely going back to read the first 8 books now.

On the whole, I loved the story. Everyone who loves small-town stories, slow-burn love, and watching friends give in to their true feelings will enjoy this book.

And also, peeps – Susan Wiggs agreed to answer a few of my questions! Totally stoked to feature this little Q&A session we did for this feature. Here it goes:

What was the idea behind Return to Willow Lake?

SW: I wanted to tell Sonnet’s story. She’s an intriguing character, so I threw some truly difficult life situations at her to see what she’d make of them.

What inspired you to create Sonnet and Zach the way they come across in the book?

SW: Sonnet and Zach took on a life of their own, and I just followed their lead.

I've read quite a few of your historicals (Chicago Fire, & Calhoun Chronicles), but this is my first contemporary by your pen. How different, or even difficult/easy, is it for you to switch between historicals and contemporary works?

SW: A story is a story is a story. The process for me is the same. I brainstorm and plan, I do research, I write and rewrite. So switching is easy. WRITING is hard. J

Lakeshore Chronicles takes place in its own little world. Is it easier for you to work with an existing/
established location, or to invent the setting from scratch?

SW: I wouldn’t say it’s easier, but it works better for me. I like to include certain features of a town–a library, courthouse, lake, summer resort, and so forth, so for me, it make sense to build my own world.

The fun question - who do you picture as Sonnet, and *more importantly, lol!*, Zach? Curious minds
want to know how you saw them in your mind.

SW: That is a fun question, but I am so out of the loop on today’s hot young actors. I would love to see Sonnet played by an appealing, soulful mixed race actress. And Zach–tall, white-blond, manly man with a sensitive side. Does such a creature exist?

Thank you for this opportunity to interview you! I've been a big fan of your stories; been hooked ever since I read Halfway To Heaven. I also remember how I had sent you a gushing fan email and you were kind enough to reply me, this crazy-sounding chick from the island of Mauritius. J It's a pleasure to have you over on my blog.

SW: No, thank YOU. Hearing from readers is manna from heaven to me. See you around the web!

Isn’t she a darling? Seriously, I do admit to sending her one of those I-should-be-horrified-I-gushed-so-much fan email to Susan a long time ago, and I thought I had died and gone to Heaven when she did reply me. I was like, big-name folks like her do not reply little peeps like me, right??? Susan Wiggs won herself a lifetime fan that day, and I’m real glad today to be able to showcase her latest book.

Please make it a point to check Return to Willow Lake. Yes, it’s smack-dab in the middle of an established series, but this book reads perfectly as a stand-alone. So what are you waiting for?

From Mauritius with love,



Natalie G. Owens said...

What a lovely interview! Susan is a real darling and you both did a wonderful job! Love those heartwarming, emotional stories, and Susan seems to deliver on that front. I need to go scouting for her books now and decide which to read first. Thank you!

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