Monday, May 1, 2017

Review: The Lighthouse Keeper

How's this for a disclaimer: I went to high school with the author. Cynthia Ellingsen is a couple years younger than I am, her older sister, Carolyn, was in my class, and we were all "band kids."  I reconnected with Cynthia in 2011, at RWA (yes, my Librarian of the Year year) right before her first book with Berkley came out. Since then she and her husband have had a couple of kids and her latest book, The Lighthouse Keeper sees her moving over to Amazon's Lake Union imprint (print everywhere, ebook exclusive to Amazon, but if you're a Kindle Unlimited person you can read this book for free!).

Dawn Connors has her life mapped out before her, until her family's past comes back to haunt her.  Her parents were treasure hunters, diving and recovering ship wrecks.  They now own an antiques store in picturesque Starlight Cove, Michigan but they made their money thanks to one really well-documented treasure recovery.  So it's not unheard of that they would be the subject of a television documentary.  Dawn spent her childhood being constantly uprooted and longed for a "normal" existence.  She somehow gets talked into hosting a viewing party for the TV special and that's when all hell breaks loose.

The on-air personality resurrects the family scandal.  Dawn's great-grandfather was a sea captain who lost his ship off the cost of Starlight Cove.  On board?  Prohibition era whiskey and a pile of Morgan silver dollars - neither of which was ever recovered.  The TV show digs up all this dirt, leading to Dawn losing her boyfriend and her job in the ensuing publicity.  That's when the insurance agency comes calling.  Hand over the silver dollars and all will be forgiven.  If not?  Her parents lose their house.  At the end of her rope, lost in despair, Dawn does something rash.  She notices the Starlight Cove lighthouse is for sale via online auction.  She makes a bid, and wins it.  So now she's on her way to northern Michigan to look over the albatross she just bought, reconnect with her parents, oh and she has to figure out a way to find the silver dollars and clear her family's name.  Which means she has no time to waste getting sucked into the orbit of Kip Whittaker, the town's most eligible bachelor.

You know those cozy mysteries that the Hallmark Movie Channel is running non-stop these days?  Yeah, this book.  However enjoyment of the story hinges on the reader's ability to "roll with it."  Is this probable?  Honestly?  I have no idea.  But it does strain a bit that an insurance company would make threatening overtures regarding a ship wreck that happened in the 1920s.  Although who knows?  Maybe they would.  Insurance companies don't exactly have a warm and cuddly past (or present for that matter....).

It also requires patience on the part of the reader.  This is one of those Throw The Reader In Head First when it comes to character development.  Ellingsen tosses you right in and then employs the backtracking method to reveal more about her characters.  It's not a slow build kind of read - it's sink or swim in the early chapters.  But once Dawn wins the lighthouse and the action moves to Michigan, the author finds surer footing and we're off to the races.

It is an engaging read.  I would label this women's fiction with a touch of romantic mystery.   If you're a fan of small town contemporaries, this is the book for you.  The author does a great job of creating the town of Starlight Cove and all the residents - some welcoming to Dawn and some not.  It's the kind of small town where even if your family has been there for 20 years, the old guard is still going to consider you an "outsider."  It's also the best of both worlds, since the mystery of the shipwreck dates back to the 1920s and there was a great love affair between Dawn's great-grandparents - so there's a little something here to engage the historical fan.  I got invested in the mystery and the author sprinkles in various puzzles for the characters to, well, puzzle over and it kept me engaged all the way to finish line.

Fair warning, this is one of those books where the big city heroine ditches it all for the small town (Dawn's living in Boston when it all goes bust), but given Dawn's unhappiness in Boston (and the fact that her life implodes there) I didn't have an issue with it.  The editing could have been a bit tighter in spots for me, but I'm the sort of small town contemporary reader who wants less of the small town world-building (which, again, the author does exceedingly well) and more of the main couple - so take that for what it's worth.  The one solid detraction I have for the story is that the author leaves Dawn's ex-fiance' twisting in the breeze, but by then the mystery is in full swing and things are heating up between Dawn and Kip so.....a quibble more than anything else.

There's some history, some mystery, and some romance (kisses only, fade-to-black style).  If you're a reader who cannot get enough small town contemporary, this one will likely be a winner for you. Personally it made me a little home sick (and that's a compliment).

Final Grade = B-

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