Desert Isle Keeper
This engaging story begins Susan Wiggs’ new series set at Camp Kioga, the Bellamy family camp in the Catskill Mountains. Summer at Willow Lake focuses on the reunion between Olivia Bellamy, whose grandparents own the camp, and Connor Davis, whom Olivia hasn’t seen in almost ten years and had almost succeeded in forgetting. Connor discovers Olivia “run up” the flagpole and unable to get back down. Their reunion is clever and the sexual tension palpable. Several other characters and potential relationships are also introduced through the course of the story.
Olivia arrives at summer camp as a shy, awkward, and overweight seventh grader. She has no friends and is disinclined to make any. Her parents have just gone through a divorce and, for the first time, her cousins aren’t coming to camp, so Olivia feels like it’s her against the world. She is paired up with new kid Connor, who although he seems to have it all together, has plenty of problems of his own.
Much of the story is told through flashbacks, so we see scenes of Olivia and Connor at camp over the years, as their relationship progresses from an uneasy friendship to something more serious by the time they are old enough to become counselors at the camp. Although Olivia is head over heels in love with Connor and he seems to feel the same, Olivia’s insecurities and lack of self-confidence mean that she is unable to get over a humiliating incident at the end of the summer. That, combined with the instability in Connor’s life, ensures that they don’t see or hear from each other again until a chance meeting nine years later.
Olivia has become a successful apartment stager in New York, putting the finishing touches on people’s homes to ensure that prospective buyers see the potential in their possible purchases. She is in a serious relationship and is hoping for a proposal, especially after her previous failed relationships. However, when asked to oversee the renovations of the long-closed Camp Kioga for her grandparents’ golden anniversary party, Olivia begins to reevaluate her priorities. Olivia takes the summer off from the city and is soon joined upstate by several relatives ready to help out with the work. And of course, the only contractor available in the nearby town is the still single – and devastatingly handsome – Connor Davis.
Despite the abrupt demise of Olivia’s relationship – the hoped for proposal didn’t go as planned – Connor and Olivia are very wary and unsure of each other, especially since such a long time has passed since they’ve seen each other. The long weeks of working in close proximity allow them to get to know each other again and build a stronger relationship than they had had as teenagers, but they both remain afraid of being hurt, and are convinced that they don’t want the same things out of life. After all, Olivia appears to be a beautiful, sophisticated city girl, and Connor seems to be a single biker enjoying his solitude. Of course, they each have deeper desires than they allow to show. I found the chemistry between Olivia and Connor believable, especially since it had endured over so much time. They had known each other and cared for each other for so long, especially during Olivia’s less attractive adolescence, that I believed that their relationship and attraction went much deeper that just a couple of months could inspire.
I thoroughly enjoyed reading this book. The characters are nuanced and well-developed, including the many secondary characters. The camp setting and its renovation are also well-described. Olivia’s grandparents were married there fifty years before, and although it has fallen into disrepair, it is well-loved and the renovations show it as it could be and prove the ideal setting for the anniversary celebration. Since the Bellamys decide to reopen it as a family resort, it is obvious that Camp Kioga will serve as the backdrop for many more happy couples.
Although each chapter switches from flashback to present and vice versa, Wiggs handles the transitions so skillfully the reader doesn’t get confused. This also allows for multiple storylines to be followed. A charming addition to many chapters is a snippet from the so-called Camp Kioga handbook – a tradition, a line from a song, or a quote from the code of conduct.
Summer at Willow Lake is a thoroughly enjoyable and enticing story, and I am eagerly awaiting the next installment due in February.