Summers at Blue Lake

Summers at Blue Lake

4.1 254
by Jill Althouse-Wood, Kristin Johansen

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She thought that her family was an open book, without secrets. Even as a child, Barbara Jean Ellington knew her grandmothers were lesbians, a truth they never concealed. During BJ's summer vacations at their home on Blue Lake, Nonna and Lena taught her to swim and play cards, provided a lively contrast to BJ's conservative parents, and comforted BJ when her first

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She thought that her family was an open book, without secrets. Even as a child, Barbara Jean Ellington knew her grandmothers were lesbians, a truth they never concealed. During BJ's summer vacations at their home on Blue Lake, Nonna and Lena taught her to swim and play cards, provided a lively contrast to BJ's conservative parents, and comforted BJ when her first summer romance ended abruptly and without reason. Now, years later, BJ seeks refuge in her late grandmothers' house in the wake of her husband's affair. As she relives the languid summer days of her youth and prepares the house for sale, she struggles to come to terms not only with the looming threat of divorce, but also with the Pandora's Box of family revelations she uncovers in Nonna's hidden notebooks. In them, she discovers a 50-year family history littered with secrets from the past—secrets that have present day consequences for herself, her marriage, and for Travis, the boy who broke her heart during that long-ago summer. With discerning prose and compelling characters, Summers at Blue Lake follows in the tradition of bestselling authors such as Anita Shreve, Elizabeth Berg, and Sue Miller.

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Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly
The author of biographies on Cond Nast and Marietta Tree, Seebohm here intriguingly fictionalizes the glitterati of WWI-era New York and France (with "Mrs. Cond Nast" making an appearance on the first page), but can't follow them all the way into psychosis. The mother of Dorothea and Iris Crosby, identical twins in New York Society, dies after giving birth to them and their father dies soon after in a riding accident. The two cling tightly to each other, overseen by their befuddled older brother, George. After the 1911 Triangle Shirtwaist Factory fire, the teenage twins do wrenching work identifying burn victims. After several (chaperoned) trips to France, the twins, in their mid-20s, return to France as Red Cross volunteers when the U.S. enters WWI. When Iris falls in love with Southern Jewish aviator Maurice Aronsohn, Dorothea feels threatened. The two repledge their mutual loyalties, but the unhealthiness of their attachment becomes readily apparent. Seebohm's wartime Paris is particularly vivid; her prose throughout is concise and rich, and her narrative is peppered with period dialogue and epistolary correspondence among the characters. What doesn't come through is the sisters' desperation or the claustrophobia of their unraveling. One comes away wishing these innocents were a little less so. (Apr.) Copyright 2006 Reed Business Information.
VOYA - Barbara Johnson
After her beloved Grandmother Nonna's funeral, BJ Ellington returns to Blue Lake to the house that Nonna shared with her partner, Grandma Lena. BJ has not visited Blue Lake since her fourteenth birthday in 1983, and she brings her son, Sam, plus the burden of her crumbling marriage. When Travis arrives, their teenage romance is rekindled, and they become lovers. Husband Bryce pleads for another chance, but BJ has found Nonna's letters to BJ's deceased mother, Judy, and they reveal secrets that affect BJ's decisions about her marriage and her future. Lena, not Nonna, was Judy's biological mother so Travis is actually BJ's cousin. Trusting the wisdom garnered from Nonna's writings, BJ musters the courage to depart from the norm like her grandmothers and chooses the unconventional path with Travis. Although this novel deals with homosexuality, sexual abuse, and incest, it is primarily a tender tale about difficult choices and love. Both grandmothers' stories are plausible. Nonna married a soldier, became pregnant, miscarried but kept it a secret even as a widow. Lena, raped by her drunken fiancT, called off the wedding but delivered his child. Both collaborated on the birth deception and later their friendship evolved into love. The author skillfully builds suspense with flashbacks to 1983 and adds even more as Nonna's notebook spills its secrets. Characterization is exceptional; both grandmothers sparkle. Spikes of humor, brilliant descriptive passages-Nonna's hedonistic summer on the Aegean-all contribute to a memorable, thought-provoking novel. Buy it for public libraries and recommend to serious teen readers.
Library Journal

In this first novel, Barbara Jean "BJ" Ellington is facing a summer filled with change, reminiscence, new beginnings, and hard choices. BJ has just left her cheating husband, Bryce, back in Michigan to travel with young son Sam to the home of her recently deceased grandmother, Nonna, in Pennsylvania. BJ had spent many summers as a youth with Nonna and Nonna's partner, Lena. It doesn't take long for Travis, BJ's adolescent crush and Lena's nephew, to show up and rekindle a flirtation. In the novel's first part, Althouse-Wood reveals BJ's past and present in alternating chapters. In the second, she tells the history of Nonna and Lena's relationship through BJ's reading of Nonna's notebooks. The surprising disclosures in the notebooks cause BJ concern over her relationship with Travis, and Bryce's apology and pleas for a second chance leave BJ confused about how to move forward. Skillfully weaving together summers past and present, this fascinating story is perfect for the season's waning days and is sure to please readers of women's fiction. Recommended for all public libraries.
—Karen Core

Kirkus Reviews
Yet another first novel about a woman returning to the old home place to recover from a broken marriage and, lo and behold, finding true love. After her lawyer husband Bryce has an affair and asks for a divorce, metal craftswoman BJ brings her five-year-old son Sam to the small lakeside town in Pennsylvania where she has recently inherited her deceased maternal grandmothers' house-two maternal grandmothers, because BJ's mother had lesbian mothers before gay parenting was fashionable. BJ spent wonderful summers in the house in the 1970s and '80s with her biological grandmother Nonna, a baker, and her partner Lena, a wedding photographer. Now BJ sets up her metalworking studio in Lena's old darkroom and has a burst of creative success. Her best friend from those summers has become a lawyer who handles BJ's amicable divorce from Bryce. Most important, BJ rekindles her romance with the son of Lena's half-sister whom she hasn't seen since she was 14. Travis is BJ's patient, sensitive soul mate-in other words, unbelievably perfect. After a surfeit of niceness-even Bryce is a good father and decent ex-husband-trouble, or at least complication, finally surfaces. Bryce comes to visit Sam and begs BJ to take him back with pretty convincing arguments. At the same time, BJ finds a notebook from Nonna explaining her family history: After being molested as a child by her evil stepfather, then raped and abandoned by her equally evil fiance, Lena found herself unmarried and pregnant. Nonna, happily married to a soldier serving in World War II, secretly had a miscarriage around the same time. So Nonna raised Lena's baby as her own. Nonna's husband was killed, she and Lena moved in together for the baby'ssake, and their love blossomed. Reading the notebook, BJ realizes she and Travis are cousins. Will true (if ickily close to incestuous) love prevail over a sense of marital/parental duty? Of course. Bland, despite the contrived melodrama. Agent: Denise Marcil/Denise Marcil Literary Agency
Aptos Times - Robert Francis, APTOS TIMES
“An engaging character study that alternates between the past and present, “Summers at Blue Lake” investigates how the actions of one generation can have consequences many decades later.”
Voya Book Reviews - Barbara Johnson, VOYA BOOK REVIEWS
“The author skillfully builds suspense…Characterization is exceptional…Spikes of humor, brilliant descriptive passages…all contribute to a memorable, thought-provoking novel.”
Booklist - Carolyn Kubisz, BOOKLIST
“In Althouse-Wood's engaging novel, she alternates between past and present; gives BJ a fresh, honest voice; and beautifully develops the relationship between the grandmothers."

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Product Details

Brilliance Audio
Publication date:
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Product dimensions:
5.25(w) x 6.75(h) x 0.50(d)

Meet the Author

Jill Althouse-Wood lives with her husband and family in Pennsylvania. This is her first novel.

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Summers at Blue Lake 4.1 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 245 reviews.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Told in alternating narratives by the protagonist as a teenager and an adult, Summers at Blue Lake kept me engaged from page one. As someone who reads a lot of young adult and women's fiction, this novel is the best of both worlds. The reader follows B.J.'s coming of age in the summer of 1983 as she experiences her first crush, teen angst, and the dramas of small town life. Her voice is humorous and compelling—at the same time that she’s surreptitiously reading Harlequin romances, she’s mentally criticizing her friend’s flagrant flirtatiousness. When contrasted with B.J.’s adult self—a woman who’s raising a small son while unhappily married—the author provides a realistic portrait of one woman’s life—a life filled with the joys and trials of motherhood and marriage and yet not defined by the labels of “wife” and “mother”. Add in the history of family secrets that B.J. discovers while cleaning out her grandmother’s house, and this novel becomes truly irresistible. Beautiful prose, well-written and realistic characters, and an intriguing plotline—it has everything I look for in a book. Highly recommended.
yoopermom2 More than 1 year ago
The secrets of the story unfold in such a way that encourages you to keep reading. This is one of those kinds of books that keep you up too late because you can't put it down. The descriptions and story line are genuine, painting the picture not of a typical American family, but certainly a believable one.
mi-miMS More than 1 year ago
Summers at Blue Lake is a family story - we all have those, but Jill's fictional account brings a family together. Touching and tender and timely. A very worthwhile read ! Afterall it always is Blue Lake.
JLong91 More than 1 year ago
I thoroughly enjoyed reading Summers at Blue Lake! I was looking for a different genre of book to read than I normally do and I just couldn't put this book down - I have 4 kids and finished it in one weekend. It keeps the reader engaged with it's easy-to-follow flashbacks, family secrets, and geniune characters. A great read!
marianne68 More than 1 year ago
Good suspense, great story- very well told. Worth the money
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
A book I couldn't put down...I loved the connection of the past and present...can't wait for it to be an e-reader book to read again...since my e-reader goes everywhere with me...
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
In her spectacular debut novel, Althouse-Wood's writing style reminds me of Alice Sebold's and Kristin Hannah's...some of her phrasing is so delicious you can almost taste it, and you want to read and re-read morsels of it again and again. Add this one to your beach bag, because it's a beautiful family story that will stay with you long after you're through.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
I am the same age as the protagonist in this story. It was fun to reminisce about coming of age in the 80's, but this book is so much more than that. The characters are timeless and the writing superb! Put it at the top of your list for beach reading.
amyh1 More than 1 year ago
This is the summer read choice for me! Just one of those stories that you can't put down until the very last page is turned! I already have the hard copy and continue to lend it out... now I can have my own copy at my fingertips whenever I want to pick it up for the season! Waiting to hear more about the rest of this family... I am sure it will be worth the wait!
enazzaro More than 1 year ago
Thought-provoking, with very believable and rich characters. I have the hard-cover version, but love its latest incarnation as an e-book. Would make a great beach read (or even a lake read!)
Santasis More than 1 year ago
Wonderfully written book. I enjoyed the story that unfolded page after page. I found myself reading at the beach and could not put the book down until it was finished. These charaters became my friends and I can't wait to hear more stories from Summers at Blue Lake!!!
kelreads More than 1 year ago
It is do trite to say that you could not put a book down, but in this case it was so true. The characters were so believable that I found myself wondering about them long after I stopped reading. I highly recommend this novel. Also hope to hear more from Althouse-Wood.
jneen30 More than 1 year ago
Summers at Blue Lake was a gift. I am an avid reader and my friend knew I would love the book. It is a timeless tale of family, secrets and the journey to understand. Between the attention to detail and characters you feel as though you are a part of this loving story.
MrsWoodie More than 1 year ago
The characters Jill has crated are believeable and likeable. The book grabs your attention from the first sentence to the last. This is a family story that touches everyone who reads it and leaves you wanting more.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Easy to read yet engaging - I loved the twists and turns and the images and details it conjured. I read it a while back yet I can still picture the house and the lake and all the dreams that occurred!
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
The depth and feeling in this book is beyond belief. It is an amazing thing when you can sense the authors feelings in their writing. The characters, the baked goods, the card parties came alive! I could even smell the lake!
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
A story of family secrets, of decisions made for love and the consequences. I felt like I was there with BJ, reading Nonna's notebook with her. Read this book and it will open doors to understanding the layers beneath who we are and what we believe about life.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
I started this book at work and couldn't put it down; I was bummed when it had to be put aside to do some actual work. The story is well-written, the characters believable, and with the first part alternating between the past and present, the characters were well-developed. I can't wait to finish it tonight. Excellent reading.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
I thought it was a good read but i have to admit i found the ending to be a little too weird for me. Great writting, easy to read but i didnt like the ending.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
The author kept me reading although parts of the story made me cringe.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
This is a beautiful story which draws you into its rich tapestry highly recommended if you njoy outstanding story telling
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Once I started this book, I couldn't put it down. I would highly recommend this book!
rmd270 More than 1 year ago
This was a first time read of this author and I found the story interesting with a good summer read. This story was told in both the present and as a flashback to Barbara Jean's (BJ) childhood summers spent with her grandmother. During the changes in her current period life BJ is able to look back both fondly and inquisitively to the times spent on Blue Lake and the relationship her 2 grandmothers had and how it related to her family and directly to own up bringing. The lessons of family past history and the events that shaped their decisions and impacted BJ are very well told and woven and together
boxer62 More than 1 year ago
Good quick read.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
The past-present timeline was hard to follow. Also, the "sexual abuse turns one into a lesbian" pretense is pretty cliche.