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Review: A Place To Remember by Jenn J. McLeod

A Place To Remember
Jenn J. McLeod
Head Of Zeus
2018, 467p
Copy courtesy Harper Collins AUS

Blurb {from the publisher/Goodreads.com}:

A man loses five years of his life. Two women are desperate for him to remember.

Running away for the second time in her life, twenty-seven-year old Ava believes the cook’s job at a country B&B is perfect, until she meets the owner’s son, John Tate. At twenty, the fifth generation grazier is a beguiling blend of both man, boy and a terrible flirt. With their connection immediate and intense, they begin a clandestine affair right under the noses of John’s formidable parents.

Thirty years later, Ava returns to Candlebark Creek with her daughter, Nina, who is determined to meet her mother’s lost love for herself. While struggling to find her own place in the world, Nina discovers an urban myth about a love-struck man, a forgotten engagement ring, and a dinner reservation back in the eighties. Now she must decide if revealing the truth will hurt more than it heals…

A new Jenn J. McLeod novel is always cause for a celebration for me so I’ve kind of been keeping this one for a rainy day. I started reading it last week to take a break from the craziness and it was such a good story to get engrossed in and just while away some peaceful hours.

Ava Marchette is in her late 50s when she comes across an article about artist John Tate. She is transported back thirty years in time, to when she was a young woman in her late 20s, working for the Tate family on their cattle property Ivy-May. Ava had fled a difficult home life and although she hadn’t finished school, she was an accomplished cook with a dream to one day study in Paris. Although there’s a connection between her and John Tate, heir to the vast property, it’s clear that to Mrs Tate at the very least, Ava is not an option for her son. It’s a world she doesn’t inhabit and they have plans to join their property with the one next door, with John earmarked for Katie, the neighbour’s daughter.

I don’t often read a romance where the woman is older, especially when the male is only twenty. It was quite refreshing to see and the two of them complimented each other well. It seemed like John could truly be himself around Ava, and indulge the love he had for cooking, something that wasn’t really fostered in the family station environment. John was expected to work the land, things like cooking delegated to hired help. An added complication to their blossoming romance is Katie, the almost eighteen year old next door neighbour who definitely dreams of being Mrs John Tate as soon as she comes of age. Katie comes with the added attraction of her adjoining land, although John doesn’t have any romantic feelings toward her. This is of little consequence to his formidable mother, who believes that Katie will make him a good wife and the two will build on the family dynasty.

Jenn J. McLeod takes the reader on some unexpected twists, including why Ava and John were separated, all those years ago so soon after declaring their mutual love for each other. I really enjoyed a lot of the intricacies of the story and the way in which characters were developed and fleshed out. Even Katie, somewhat an unsympathetic character for a very large portion of the book, has several reveals that made me see her in an entirely different light. I still don’t agree with a lot of her choices and motives but I can definitely better understand them, especially with the position she was in at the time.

Also woven into the story is that of Ava’s daughter Nina, struggling with finding her place in the world, and John’s son Blair. After Ava visits John’s family home after a thirty year absence and confesses her connection to the place to Nina, her daughter decides to see this place for herself and the man that made such a mark on her mother. After getting off to a somewhat rocky start when Blair mistakes the reason Nina is there, the two find some common ground. I really liked the character of Nina, who was not really sure what her role of place was. Her mother had this amazing company that she’d built from scratch, her brother had found his niche within it, as well as marrying and having a family but Nina had yet to find that satisfaction in either her personal or her professional life. This is something I quite identify with (the professional part) and it’s interesting to read about people who are struggling in that way. She has a job, it’s fine but it doesn’t seem to particularly fulfil her. But through her visits to Candlebark Creek, a seed is born.

I found this book really satisfying overall. It had such an intriguing premise upon reading the beginning – why have these people been separated for thirty years? How did this happen? And in going forward and getting the answers to all my questions there were surprises and clever twists along the way as well as a thread of hope. I loved the part about the mystery surrounding the ring and that was just another loose end from quite early on that played much bigger part later in the book.

Another fantastic read from an author who always delivers a really lovely story.

8/10

Book #96 of 2018

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Blog Tour Review: Season Of Shadow & Light by Jenn J. McLeod

Season of Shadow and LightSeason Of Shadow And Light
Jenn J. McLeod
Simon & Schuster AUS
2015, 478p
Uncorrected proof copy courtesy of the publisher

A post-partum stroke has robbed Paige, a professional food reviewer of both her sense of smell and taste, rendering her unable to work. Her marriage is also on the rocks, despite their privileged lifestyle in Sydney and Paige has only her beloved daughter Matilda and the woman known as Nana Alice to turn to. She decides to take a holiday – she needs to get out of Sydney, she needs some time away from her husband. A chance discovery of a photo from long ago leads Paige on a quest to find what happened with her mother decades ago, despite Nana Alice’s attempts to dissuade her.

Along the way bad weather sees them stranded in Coolabah Tree Gully to avoid rising floodwaters. Paige takes a liking to the town and decides to stay, using it as an excuse to take some time out while she attempts to solve the family mystery. In Coolabah Tree Gully, Paige finds somewhere she and Matilda can really call home, more so than the large house in Sydney. Matilda makes friends and Paige finds that after her husband’s infidelity maybe she isn’t interested in a reconciliation. Here she has the chance to heal the rifts of a lifetime and make a new way for herself and those dear to her.

Season Of Shadow And Light is Jenn J. McLeod’s third novel and for me, she just keeps getting better with each release. I was lucky enough to be able to read this one early and had to read it on my computer. I hate reading on my computer, I really do but this one kept me utterly engrossed and I ended up finishing it in a day. From start to finish I was sucked into Paige’s world and her quest for the truth about her family.

Paige suffered a late term pregnancy loss and then a post-partum stroke thereafter. She didn’t get to take her little baby home from the hospital and she is still feeling the effects of the stroke. She can’t smell or taste, which as a food critic and reviewer, means she cannot really work. Her husband Robert has become increasingly distant, their marriage slowly falling apart and Paige seems lost. She has Matilda, her six year old daughter to focus on as well as Nana Alice, the partner of Paige’s deceased mother. Two years after the stillbirth, Paige still suffers nightmares, ones that she keeps to herself. When she discovers something about her husband, it’s the perfect excuse to get away, to maybe try and investigate the secrets she felt were being kept from her.

Season Of Shadow And Light is a lot of things – a mystery, a story of personal growth, a family saga, a gentle romance. It’s an exploration of love and loss as well as some tough issues, such as the late term child loss and complications arising from Paige’s stroke. There’s a very delicate constructed relationship between Paige and “Nana Alice”, the woman that loved Paige’s mother and rolled up her sleeves to take over the full time parenting role when Paige’s mother died when Paige was 12. Nana Alice has acted as mother-but-isn’t-quite and now grandmother to Matilda but she also made a promise to Paige’s mother to keep the secrets. Paige is now utterly desperate to know, which puts them at odds sometimes but you can still tell that under that exterior, they care for one another. I loved their relationship, which was portrayed so realistically because they have plenty of spats and Nana Alice has plenty of misgivings about precisely what Paige is doing taking this holiday when she should be sorting things out with her husband and she attempt to get her to go home many times. I came to understand Alice’s fear as well, her determination to keep the secrets she had promised.

I really enjoyed the setting of this book as well as the local characters that Paige meets when she arrives at Coolabah Tree Gully. At first she has no real desire to stay there but she’s cut off from her real destination by rising floodwaters and so accepts local accommodation. She begins to create friendships, connections with the locals and even the possibility of romance with Aiden, a chef from the city who is dubbed ‘Grumpy Draws’ for his somewhat brusque manner. That part of the plot was a lot of fun and I found myself warming up to Aiden very quickly.

The further you get into this book, the more intriguing and multi-layered it becomes as a mysterious character named Aurora (Rory) returns and Paige begins to attempt to put together the mystery that surrounds her family and get to the bottom of the strange dreams she’s been having since she lost her baby. There was so much going on here and puzzling out all of the pieces and watching Paige grow as a person, find a place where she could be happy was a truly enjoyable reading experience.

9/10

Book #14 of 2015

Jenn J McLeod blog tour

 

This review is part of the Season Of Shadow and Light blog tour. Make sure you stop by all of the other blogs taking part and read their thoughts as well.

aww-badge-2015

This review counts towards my Australian Women Writers Challenge for 2015. It was book #3

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House For All Seasons – Jenn J McLeod

House for all SeasonsHouse For All Seasons
Jenn J McLeod
Simon & Schuster AU
2013, 474p
Copy courtesy of the publisher

Four friends who have barely spoken to each other in twenty years are left a hundred year old house that they spent time at during their childhood. Situated in their hometown of Calingarry Crossing, the terms of the will state that each woman must spend a season there in order to fulfill the terms of the inheritance. Each of the women have varying feelings about returning to spend time in the house, from downright refusal to eagerness. Returning means confronting demons for all of them, including what happened during their muck up day celebrations, so many years ago.

Sara is first. A breast cancer survivor, she’s had one man run out on her when she was at her lowest. Returning to the Dandelion House gives her an opportunity to make amends for things she’s done wrong in the past and it gives her a chance to rekindle her friendship with Will, someone Sara has always loved. But Sara is afraid to love now, love is not on The List.

Poppy is a journalist, up for a Walkley award after a stint overseas reporting on the war in Afghanistan. No matter how successful she is, what she does, all that matters to her is the approval of her distant father Johnno, damaged from what he saw overseas in his own war, Vietnam.

Amber was a spoiled and cosseted teenager, the apple of her charismatic father’s eye. When a youthful indiscretion meant that Amber should probably leave Calingarry Crossing, her father arranged everything. Twenty years later Amber is an over-Botoxed socialite desperately tired of the charity lunch game. The return to Calingarry Crossing gives her a chance to face what her childhood really was and make amends with someone she has long done without in her life.

Caitlin is looking to give something back to the small community, the way her respected doctor father did. Taking over the local practice while she’s spending her required season in the house, Caitlin is about to uncover a well kept secret that will bind the 4 girls even more tightly together…and give them the strength they need to decide what to do with their legacy.

I’ve been looking forward to this book for a long time now. Following authors and publishers on twitter means you hear about things often long before they arrive and the wait can sometimes feel like forever. You hear details of books going through drafts, edits, etc. It’s much different to when you just walk into a bookshop and see whatever happens to be on the shelf, published already.

From the inside out, this book is beautiful. From the very beginning, when we meet our four women as adults in their mid-to-late thirties, you know that something has happened to make them no longer friends. It isn’t just that their lives have changed and grown, they’re all carrying feelings connected to their hometown that have made them want to forget. Gypsy, the former owner of the house has used their connections to it in order to bring them back and make them face what happened in the town twenty years ago and also help them assess their lives and what they really want and need. Each one of them is dealing with something, or many things. Alone (with no contact with each other during their season ‘stay’) they each have no choice but to really examine themselves and their lives.

Each of the women are very different, some were harder to connect to than others but I found that I had little trouble immersing myself in their lives. Sara, the first to spend time in the house, was easy to like but it wasn’t hard to see just how much of herself she was holding back, scared to fall in love again after her husband betrayed her and left her when she was most vulnerable. I liked her blossoming friendship with Will, a man who had also been dealt numerous blows as well. I loved the way that Will was portrayed, a man who was trying to make the most of his situation, but sometimes exhausted by the effort it took. The optimism and frustration was very well done.

I didn’t love Amber at first, but I think she’s the character who experiences the most personal growth. I think her journey was the one that touched me the most, even though I didn’t relate to her as such. We have nothing in common and she wasn’t entirely likable but watching this Sydney Potts Point lady who lunches settle back in to a quiet country town and realise that the woman she saw in the mirror for twenty years wasn’t really her was fascinating. The only thing about that storyline that did have me raising an eyebrow was the forty year old surgeon who wanted to marry a seventeen year old girl. That was a bit weird, even if I did like the character of her husband. But it was probably weirder that Amber’s father agreed to it. In some ways I found Poppy’s story similar to Amber’s – Poppy was also being someone that she didn’t realise wasn’t really her and a lot of her issues were all hung up on someone she had a difficult relationship with. In order for both Poppy and Amber to become the people they really were inside, they had to obtain some sort of closure or reconnection with the parent relationship and allow themselves to move forward in a new way. Caitlin was probably the only one that didn’t seem to be undergoing the same amount of emotional upheaval as the other three and her story felt much shorter and not quite as intense as the stories of the others. Her stay though, was crucial as it was the way in which the secrets were uncovered.

I really enjoyed this book – I read it in less than a day. It kept me turning the pages, drawn into the journey of these four women and their guilt and sadness over what had happened twenty years ago. It’s beautifully written, a story that sweeps you in and holds you there. There’s a little bit of magic in this one.

8/10

Book #45 of 2013

AWW2013

House For All Seasons is book #22 for the Australian Women Writers Challenge

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