Haywood Smith Ladies of the Lake

ISBN 13: 9780312316952

Ladies of the Lake

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9780312316952: Ladies of the Lake

Sisters Dahlia, Iris, Violet, and Rose—all with grown children of their own—have a complicated relationship, so when their grand - mother’s will requires them to spend the whole summer—without friends or family—“camping in” at her run-down lodge on re mote Lake Clare in order to inherit the valuable land, old rivalries and new understanding emerge, with plenty of laughs along the way. Desperate to save her Buckhead home from foreclosure after being left in the lurch, recent divorcee Dahlia must complete the summer and sell her share immediately. Practical, even-tempered Violet will be no problem, but Iris has been Dahlia’s nemesis since she learned to say, “no” to her big sister. And super-sweet, quirky Garage Sale Queen Rose is so “green” she’d test the patience of a saint. As tempers flare and old secrets are revealed, four grown women discover that the past is never truly buried.

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About the Author:

HAYWOOD SMITH is the New York Times and USA Today bestselling author of Wedding Belles, Red Hat Club and The Red Hat Club Rides Again. She lives near Atlanta, Georgia.

Excerpt. Reprinted by permission. All rights reserved.:

1

There’s nothing wrong with this family that a funeral or two wouldn’t fix.

—MY PATERNAL GRANNY MAMA LOU

I have some family secrets to tell, but first, I need to make one thing crystal clear: With two glaring exceptions, my mother is a true Southern lady of infinite grace and discriminating taste.

The first exception—and by far the least—is the fact that as soon as the four of us girls were safely on our own, Mama moved to a double-wide in Clearwater, Florida, where in short order she married, then buried, two "diamonds in the rough" who smoked cigars. Good men, but phew. Only recently did she find the second great love of her life besides Daddy: retired rabbi David Rabinowitz, who loves her back just as much as our sainted daddy did.

The second, and worst, exception is that Mama (who hated being named Daisy) broke her own vow to give her daughters normal names and succumbed to the centuries-old tradition of christening all female descendants of our direct ancestor Lady Rose Hamilton with floral names. Mama said she wasn’t afraid of the ancient "unlucky in love" curse that’s supposed to fall on nonfloral daughters, but Daddy, romantic that he was, loved the idea of siring his own little bouquet, so Mama finally gave in, sparing herself the infamy of breaking the chain of ages. Her only rebellion was naming me, the firstborn girl, Dahlia instead of Rose.

Frankly, I would have preferred Rose. Weird names like mine made me fair game for the Susans and Patricias and Nancys and Cathys of my era. Not to mention the fact that I still have to spell out Dahlia for everybody.

I was unlucky in love, too, so maybe there’s something to that curse, after all.

Two years after I was born, feisty, colicky Iris arrived. After another two years, we were blessed with precious Violet, an angel-child from her first breath. I was eight before placid baby Rose was born and Mama made her nod to the woman who started the whole tradition back in England.

We’ve forgiven Mama for our names, but Mama hasn’t been able to forgive our grandmother for her shortcomings, which were many, as you shall see.

My three sisters and I had the privilege of growing up in Atlanta during that golden illusion of domestic innocence between World War II and the sixties. For us, magic was real and had a name: Lake Clare. We didn’t know and didn’t care that the lake was Old Atlanta’s premier summer watering hole, its rustic homes handed down from generation to generation, among them our great-grandparents’ impressive three-story Hilltop Lodge and Mama’s tiny Cardinal Cottage. We only knew we loved spending our summers in the little log cabin just down the hill from our beloved great-grandmother and our black-sheep grandmother Cissy (short for Narcissus), who was so vain she never let anybody—even Mama—call her anything but Cissy.

We never suspected how much Mama hated it at the lake, or why. All we knew was that there, in the cool beauty of the mountains, we could go barefoot, drink café au lait instead of milk with our eggs and bacon, and spend our days swimming and exploring and playing. And, in Iris’s and my case, fighting. We were so busy, we never suspected the secrets that hid in the shadows of Hilltop.

.........

THE LAST TIME my sister Violet and I saw Cissy was two years ago, and she was trying to kill us—and enjoying herself immensely.

But that was Cissy for you. She never had been anybody’s idea of a grandmother—or a mother, for that matter.

It was just before Christmas, and Violet and I were on our regular holiday run up to Lake Clare, bearing gifts and a perky little decorated tree along with the food we and my other two sisters took turns delivering every month. Normally, Violet and I really look forward to our December drive from her place in Clarkesville to the northeast corner of the state. We both love the bare-bones splendor of the mountains in winter, and the trip provided welcome escape from the pressures of the season and a chance to visit.

But this time, an unexpected Canadian Clipper had barreled down on us, sending the temperature plunging in the cold, hard drizzle. By the time I picked her up and got back onto Highway 441, the Bank of Habersham sign said 31 degrees, and the pine trees were already bowing slightly under a coating of freezing rain.

"I should have let you drive," I fretted, slowing down to fifty. There wasn’t much tread left on my ten-year-old Mercury Sable’s tires, but the home-building crisis had put a serious dent into my developer husband’s income and his ego, so I’d used the car maintenance fund to buy him a new golf club for Christmas to cheer him up. "These tires are okay for regular driving, but not ice."

"Nothing’s okay for ice," Violet said without alarm. "But we’ll be fine. WSB said it wasn’t going below freezing, even up here." As always, her blue eyes and soft expression radiated calm and reassurance.

It took a lot more than the prospect of running off the road to ruffle Violet. Of the four of us Barrett sisters, she was the most stable and well-rounded.

"Oh, gosh." Violet delved into her huge purse. "I almost forgot to call Cissy." We were nearing the fringes of the cellular network, and it wouldn’t do to arrive unannounced in our grandmother’s isolated mountain realm. Even when we called ahead, there was no guarantee what we’d find when we got there.

After dialing, Violet stuck her finger in her ear (we all have midrange nerve deafness) and waited, then hollered, "Cissy? Hello? Cissy!" She frowned at the phone and muttered, "Still plenty of signal. She just hung up."

Our grandmother Cissy was almost as hard of hearing as she was crazy, so even the special amplified phone we’d gotten her didn’t make communicating much easier. You have to pay attention to the other person for it to help, something Cissy never had mastered.

Violet dialed again, waited, then hollered hello again. After a brief pause, she brightened. "Hi! It’s Violet! We’re on our way with your groceries!" Pause. "Violet! Your granddaughter!" Her soft alto voice wasn’t made for yelling. "No, Daisy is my mother! I’m Violet!" She gave the thumbs-up (Cissy had remembered Mama, at least), but she crossed her eyes at me when she did it, which made me laugh. "Dahlia and I have your groceries!" Pause. "Dahlia! Your granddaughter Dahlia! We’re coming with the groceries!" A sigh of resignation and renewed volume. "We’re on our way with the groceries! Your groceries are coming today!" Her lips folded briefly. "No, we’re bringing groceries to you!"

The routine was so familiar, I could hardly keep my tickle box from tumping over, which would only set Violet off, too.

Violet enunciated every word emphatically. "We . . . are . . . bringing . . . your . . . groceries . . . today!" She frowned, then gave up and flipped the phone shut. "Boy, that wears me out. I have no idea if she ever connected with what I was saying before she hung up on me."

Based on experience, things wouldn’t be much easier when we got there, even though Cissy seemed to be having a fairly good day. I mean, she’d remembered Mama, which was something.

Beside the road, pine saplings were bent double now. I gripped the steering wheel. "Let’s get her the food and get back home ASAP."

"Works for me," Violet said.

Thirty minutes later, I was relieved to turn off the slick pavement onto the rough tar and gravel road that led over the mountain to the family compound where we’d spent our summers as children. The way was steep, but offered a lot more traction than the highway’s slick blacktop. It took us another twenty minutes to navigate the cutbacks up and down the other side, but at last we reached the single-lane dirt road at the edge of Cissy’s fifty-three acres, and scraped our way through ice-laden rhododendrons and mountain laurels down to the turnaround at Hilltop Lodge.

"Let’s take the stuff to the side door, so it won’t get wet," Violet said as we broke out the umbrellas and hurried to unload.

Nobody ever used the side entrance on the verandah, but there was no protection from the elements at the kitchen door, so I agreed. I didn’t hear Foxy (Cissy’s mangy old red mongrel that she insisted was at least half fox), but the dog was as deaf and ancient as she was, so I didn’t think anything of it.

Worried that a huge branch might break off and kill one of us any second, we skirted the thick laurel hedge that shielded the little vegetable garden and the kitchen door, then carefully picked our way up the mossy fight of native quartz stairs to the verandah.

Built in 1919 from virgin timber as a hunting lodge, the rambling old three-story place had sunk and sagged till it seemed to have grown up out of the sodden drifts of leaves like a giant mushroom fantasy, with thick moss on the log walls and curling shingles. Down the slope of the orchard beyond, Lake Clare lay shrouded in mist like a Turner painting.

I put down the gifts and groceries on the ancient wicker settee, then turned to gaze across the lake and breathe of the cold, clear air, mold be damned. No other place on earth had the power to calm me like this one.

Sending me half out of my skin, Violet shattered the quiet with an ear-piercing rendition of the distinctive five-note whistle that had been our family’s summons for generations.

"Violet!" I scolded, heart pounding. "You scared me half to death."

She just smiled her graceful little smile, but I knew her calm façade hid a streak of mischief a mile wide.

We listened for some sign of life inside, but there was none.

Violet whistled again, but this time, I was prepared.

After the brief echo died, we heard nothing but the rain and the ominous creak of ice-co...

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