The Maxwell Sisters
Random House AUS
Copy courtesy of the publisher via NetGalley
It’s the invitation that Natasha Maxwell has been dreading. Even though she’s happy that her younger sister Phoebe is getting married, it means she’ll have to go home. Have to face telling her family that not only did she lose her job months ago and hasn’t been able to find another one but that she and her husband have also split up.
For youngest sister Eve, the idea of Phoebe’s wedding is just as painful. She’s been in love with the groom (known as ‘Spider’) since they met years ago but he has no idea. In his mind they’re best friends and former business partners, having worked together in a failed restaurant attempt that still plays heavily on Eve’s mind. Now she learns that Phoebe wants to fix up the restaurant Eve ran with Spider and have the wedding there. It’s the absolute last thing Eve wants…..and she’ll also have to face her older sister Natasha, who told her in no uncertain terms what she thought of her after the restaurant failed.
Phoebe just wants her wedding to be a happy occasion that brings everyone back together. She wants to mend the rifts in the family and thinks the wedding is the perfect way to do it. She’ll fix the problems between her sisters and she’ll get Eve interested in the restaurant again. But it seems that in all her attempts to make things right, she’s creating a rift between herself and her groom, who is losing patience with not being privy to decisions. There’s also the possibility that Spider is not anywhere as trustworthy as he seems. And then there’s the secret Phoebe is keeping…
Loretta Hill leaves the mines, construction sites and FIFO lifestyle behind in her latest novel which is set in the Margaret River region in Western Australia. It’s an area I’ve never visited (I’ve never been to the west) but it’s an area well known for its food and wine. The Maxwell family are winemakers, growing grapes and producing their own wines. And Eve is a chef, who once operated a restaurant on the vineyard property with Spider who is now Phoebe’s fiance. Twelve months ago the family was torn apart when the restaurant caught fire. Eve and Spider went their separate ways business-wise and Natasha and Eve had words and haven’t spoken since. Phoebe is the sister caught in the middle and she wants to fix things between her sisters, make them as close as they were as kids.
Loretta Hill writes amazing relationships. Not just romantic ones but family and friendship ones as well. There are some intricate and complicated relationships in this book and she handles them all with brilliance. There’s nothing like the bringing together of two families to create tension and the mother of the bride and mother of the groom are locked in a battle to outdo each other from the very moment everyone arrives at the Maxwell family home. Add in Natasha and Eve’s tension, Eve and her unresolved feelings over the failure of the restaurant and the awkwardness with Spider plus her discomfort around her parent’s new employee plus the fact that Natasha’s estranged husband has been invited by a well-meaning Phoebe who doesn’t know they’ve split up. And he’s made it perfect clear to Natasha that he doesn’t want to go ahead with the separation anymore, he wants them to get back together.
So there’s a lot going on. But it really does work, there’s a real sense of authenticity whenever the characters are interacting. One of my favourite types of story to read is actually the torn apart lovers reconnected so I was really interested in Natasha’s story and what had happened with her husband. It’s slowly teased out and their interactions at the Maxwell family property are still full of chemistry as well as heartache. I think out of all of the various threads, I was engrossed in that one the most – but a close second was the truth behind the fire that destroyed the restaurant. Who really set it and why?
There are several incidences in this book where people jump to conclusions pretty quickly, usually the wrong ones but the story was so good that I could go with it. People are often rash to judge, especially when it involves their families and people they care about. I feel as though Loretta Hill created a whole family unit here and even the characters which don’t get as much time are still interesting and contribute to the whole picture. Although I have to admit that at times the character of Adam, the winemaker the Maxwell’s had hired after the family patriarch retired, got on my nerves I was glad to see Eve, the youngest sister, get a chance to find happiness after so long wanting a man she couldn’t have. Eve has seriously lacked confidence since the demise of the restaurant, working in a job she dislikes for people who take her for granted. She’s the quintessential “can’t say no” type of person, always doing things she doesn’t want to do because she can’t bear to refuse. Adam, however obnoxious he occasionally was, actually saw Eve in a way that others didn’t seem to. He got her right away, saw the things she wanted, the things she needed, the person that she was and he pushed her to fulfill her potential. Often his methods were a bit maddening but there was plenty of humour in them as well.
Overall I really enjoyed this – I feel as though Loretta Hill has become one of those authors who can basically do no wrong for me, every release is charming and contains characters I love who stay with me. I still think about Lena and Dan from her first book, The Girl In Steel-Capped Boots. And I’m happy to learn from Danielle’s review here that there are going to be more books from Loretta set among the wine-making families of the Margaret River.
Book #1 of 2015
The Maxwell Sisters kicks off my participation in the Australian Women Writers Challenge 2015. It’s book #1