Many romance readers are not going to like Cameo Lake simply because they will not allow adultery in their romance novels. But if you’re a reader who, like me, is not bothered by a plot featuring adultery, this story of a quietly sweet relationship may please you somewhat.
Novelist Cleo McCarthy is having a hard time finishing her latest manuscript. When her best friend, Grace, offers Cleo the use of her cabin at Cameo Lake as a haven to escape and just work, Cleo takes her up on it. While there, Cleo does get some work done and befriends Ben Turner, who lives across the lake. Many people in the Cameo Lake community find Ben a loner, an outsider, but Cleo doesn’t seem to have that problem with him.
While her solitude gives Cleo time to work, it also gives her time to think. After she’s at the lake a few weeks, her husband and kids arrive for a family vacation. Her husband, Sean, eventually has to leave on business and breaks their agreement to keep the kids while Cleo works. Sean’s betrayal from eight years ago comes back to haunt Cleo, and she has to confront issues she thought she’d resolved, which leads her to deeper questions about her relationship with Sean.
Ben, of course, has issues, too, or he wouldn’t be considered a loner. Innuendo and gossip about his wife’s death make him something of a black sheep in the community, but he doesn’t seem to mind his loner reputation. Mostly Ben is quiet and nice, but I liked the moments his darkness came out.
Cleo and Ben are not spontaneously combustible. Instead of chemistry they have comfort. They come together like old friends meeting, or perhaps soul mates. There’s a recognition of each other, that each is what the other has been missing, even though neither admits it right away. There’s also a playfulness to their friendship. The friendship deepens into the eventual romantic relationship, and things happen before Cleo is totally free and clear of her relationship with Sean.
That Cleo is such a sympathetic character makes it necessary to have Sean be less so. Wilson touches on Cleo’s relationships with many people besides the men in her life, including her mother-in-law, her kids and her best friend, Grace. Most interesting of these relationships was the one with Cleo’s mother-in-law, Alice. Cleo’s parents are both dead, and even before that, Alice became more of a mother to her. That relationship is a big consideration in Cleo’s deciding how to handle things in her marriage.
I really enjoyed Wilson’s writing. It’s smooth and pretty, and she gives a wonderful sense of place. She creates great imagery with few words, a neat trick that other authors should pay attention to. The book has an even tone to it but the complex characters keep it from being boring. I’ll note that this book is written in first person because I know that bothers some readers, but I thought it worked very well in this case.
Wilson did a nice job tying up the story threads, but I thought she could have gone a bit deeper with some of them, such as resolving Cleo’s issues with her daughter. Unfortunately, for all its good qualities, I found that Cameo Lake did not stick with me after I finished it. I did enjoy it while I read it, but it didn’t touch me in any way upon its completion, which rendered it only above-average read in the end.