After a bad breakup, young architect Oliver Foster needs a change of scenery. So when Thompson and Associates Design advertise an opening for a mentorship, he jumps at the chance to move a thousand miles away from the ex who broke his heart, his trust, and a few ribs. Plus, the mentorship sounds like the perfect way for Oliver to jumpstart his career. Less perfect is the only affordable housing he can find. At first, it is just one inconvenience after another: no hot water at night, no water pressure due to leaky pipes, substandard heating, and poor lighting. But the longer Oliver lives at Lakeside Lodge, the more he suspects the tenants themselves are also questionable characters. And his landlord seems to know it.
Nym Brown is struggling to keep his boarding house open, never mind staying on top of all the desperately needed repairs. But the old house he inherited from his great-great-grandaunt has given his life a purpose and he’s determined to see it stay open. As a means to that end, Nym takes a chance on putting a general “room available” ad in the paper. Hopefully, an influx of money will alleviate some of the financial stress of maintaining the property for him and his other tenants. Nym never expected to be attracted to his new tenant, Oliver. He never expected the fellow residents to want to bring Oliver into their fold. But when Nym decides he can trust Oliver with the truth about Lakeside Lodge, he may end up ruining any chance for the two to be together.
The House on Druid Lake is a paranormal romance by author Isabelle Adler. It takes place in Baltimore, Maryland and is largely set in the fall, which makes it the perfect Halloween read. The lyrical descriptions of the setting and the house gave me “cozy read” feelings. The coziness is balanced out by the inexplicable anomalies Oliver endures while living at Lakeside Lodge, like mysterious voices, hushed conversations, and vanishing visitors. Plus, there is the tempered attraction that ebbs and flows between Oliver and Nym to spice things up.
The story is told in third person, but from Oliver’s perspective. This technique builds tension as Oliver moves into Lakeside Lodge because both he and the reader are unsure what to make of the old house and the unusual tenants. It was a fun challenge to try to figure out the tenant’s “quirks.” Some were easier to guess than others, like Rafe in the turret room or Nym himself. Others were less easy, like Kimona in the room above Oliver. One, named Amy, I never figured out. From the very beginning, Oliver is on edge about being around these people. This wariness gets more pronounced when he finally starts his mentorship and meets his horrible boss and the company’s star client—the developer, Cox, who is trying to convince Nym to sell Lakeside Lodge. As a reader, I loved the ethical dilemma of Cox asking Oliver to get dirt on Lakeside Lodge and watching Oliver balance that with his own feelings on the subject.
I think this division of Oliver at Lakeside Lodge and Oliver at work was a great way to generate conflict. Oliver ought to feel comfortable at home, but he doesn’t because he can’t get a bead on his fellow tenants. Oliver shouldn’t feel uncomfortable at work, but he does because his boss is a Grade A Asshole and Cox seems to want to use Oliver as a means to get Lakeside Lodge. All of this serves as a way to put Oliver into the ethical dilemma of whether or not to report to Cox on the true state of disrepair of Lakeside Lodge. If he does give Cox a list of what’s wrong with the house, Nym and the others will be out of a home. If he doesn’t, Oliver could be out of a job. I love that this same dilemma happens twice, to very different outcomes. The second time this happens, Oliver truly must contend with his choice even when he comes to realize it may not have been the right one.
As far as the romance goes, things start off pretty tame. There is just an attraction on Oliver’s side to Nym. This is awkward because Nym is his landlord and his physical appearance might fit Oliver’s personal taste in men…but it also reminds him a lot of his abusive ex. But nothing can stop the sparks from flying one night. Instead of immediately jumping into a relationship, however, they agree to cool down and try being friends. After several weeks of getting to know one another, they finally reconnect as lovers. It was really strange to me to read about this, if only because this “let’s slow down and get to know each other first” stage felt like it was scarcely represented on page. There are numerous little scenes that describe any number of happenings at Lakeside Lodge that strike Oliver as odd or weird. Yet when it comes to Oliver losing his heart, I thought there was a noticeable lack of scenes of him and Nym actually falling for each other. It made the transition from “friends” to “more than friends” a bit jarring for me.
Overall, I thought House in Druid Lake was a great fall-time/Halloween read. I think Adler does a wonderful job building a paranormal story with a tight focus on the main and supporting characters. The romance is a sweet mix of intense initial attraction, of both men wanting to be sure about their feelings before jumping in, and intense emotion later. Even with what I felt was a bit of a glossed over courtship, I was ready for these two to fall for each other. The main conflict extends from Oliver finding out exactly who Nym and the others are and builds up to Oliver lashing out before finally resolving in a HEA. I would recommend this story for anyone who likes paranormal romance, Halloween stories, or cozy mysteries.