All The Books I Can Read

1 girl….2 many books!

Review: The Jam Queens by Josephine Moon

on May 19, 2021

The Jam Queens
Josephine Moon
Penguin Random House AUS
2021, 400p
Copy courtesy of the publisher

Blurb {from the publisher/}: Award-winning jam maker Aggie is determined to take her Barossa Valley cafe to new heights. She has put the pain of unsuccessful IVF treatments and a broken relationship behind her, and is focused on the many wonderful possibilities life still holds in store.

When an invitation to travel across Australia on the Ghan for her mother’s seventieth birthday comes her way, she is at first apprehensive. But the trip offers a precious opportunity to spend some quality time with both her disgruntled mother, Valeria, and her distant daughter, Holly, as well as her meddling great-aunt, Myrtle. The four generations of the family, all single women, will be reunited at last.

As the iconic train chugs its way beneath majestic desert skies, Aggie’s difficult past resurfaces, her business comes under threat, and long-held family rifts reignite. To complicate things further, she’s distracted by the attentions of a handsome younger man on his own search for meaning in some of the country’s most remote and magical places.

By the bestselling author of The Cake Maker’s Wish, this is a sweet and soulful story about women being there for each other through the stickiest situations. It celebrates the joys and sorrows of life, and reveals the essential ingredients of the true recipe for happiness.

I’ve read and enjoyed Josephine Moon before and I was really drawn to this book for lots of reasons. I thought the cover was very eye-catching and the title seemed fun as well. But it was reading that part of it would take place on The Ghan, the train journey that traverses Adelaide – Darwin through the middle of Australia going north/south that made me know I had to read it. I’ve always wanted to do a trip on The Ghan. I’ve mentioned before on here that I really like trains, I find them relaxing and I can read on them, which I cannot do in a car. I’ve done quite a few relatively decent length train trips before, but nothing like The Ghan, which takes 3 days or the Indian-Pacific, which traverses the country east/west and takes about 4 days. Both are bucket list items for me but they are quite pricey – you could easily book a holiday for a few weeks somewhere luxurious for the same amount. But one day, I’d love to do them, just for the sheer experience and being able to see so many different types of landscapes that we have here, up close.

In this book, four members of the same family plus a friend, undertake the journey. Aggie is in her late 40s and has had a fractured relationship with her mother Valeria since she got pregnant as a teenager and Valeria was anything but supportive. She was offered safe haven with an aunt and Aggie is far closer to her than she is to her own mother. Aggie has just arranged to buy her aunt’s cafe from her and is looking forward to shaping her future. For her, the journey is also a good opportunity to think about a decision she must make with her ex-partner and also it might be a way where she can connect with her daughter Holly, home on her summer break (winter in Australia) from teaching in the United States. Holly has definitely been distant and Aggie wants to know why.

I really loved the part of the book that takes place on the train – the women fly to Darwin and decide to do the trip heading from there back to Adelaide, close to where they live in the Barossa Valley in South Australia. It gave me quite a good idea I think, of what the trip would be like, the extras you can add on as well, such as visiting Uluru as well as the challenges of being confined to a train and things like the noise and it rocking/swaying at night. The confined environment too means that it’s impossible for some things not to be revealed and some tensions to escalate.

And this is a family with quite a few issues to work through. Aggie has certainly experienced a lot – from falling pregnant as a teenager, to being a young single mother to Holly, to meeting someone later in life and then having an IVF journey to try and fall pregnant. I really felt for Aggie and her story. I’ve never done IVF and I’ve never lost a child but I know what it’s like to want more children than you have and not be able to do that. Aggie has this huge decision hanging over her that she and her former partner Gideon must make together. There are a few options, but none of them feel exactly right and she needs time to sort through them. Her mother has a very strong opinion on which option Aggie should take, making her feelings very clear and also going so far as to meddle in it as well, to try and get her desired outcome, which causes even more friction in her relationship with Aggie. I thought this was all handled so well, with care and sensitivity and showed just how difficult the process can be.

Valeria was definitely a very prickly character, strong with her opinions and she wasn’t an easy character to like. She has chances to be happy and seems to deliberately allow her judgements and prejudices to sabotage them several times. She had to realise that about herself I think, to make choices that allowed her to be more open and less inclined to judge. I also really enjoyed the two older characters who joined the trip – Aggie’s aunt and her longtime friend and travel companion, who added some humour and also had interesting points to make about aged care, which are quite relevant.

I also found the jam making really fun – I love jam and I like going to markets and buying different types, or at cafes. The sort of cafe that Aggie had and her dreams for the future, would definitely be my sort of thing.

I did find this a bit slow in the beginning but once they got on the train, I really enjoyed it.


Book #78 of 2021

The Jam Queens is book #32 of the Australian Women Writers Challenge 2021

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