Strengths: Realistic portrayal of life in a small country town and a gentle read
Weaknesses: Ending is quite open (is a sequel in the works?)
Why I read it: Sent to me by Harlequin Australia – thank you!
Pages: 386 (ARC)
Publisher: Harlequin Mira
Setting: Rural South Australia
Rating: 8 out of 10
I am enjoying Australian rural-based fiction more and more of late, so I jumped at the chance to try South Australian Fiona McCallum’s latest novel, Saving Grace. McCallum has the tick of approval from my mentor in Aussie rural fiction (my mother), who wanted this book from the moment the parcel arrived! I can say now that Mum was right on the money when she said I’d enjoy this gentle story.
Despite the title, the main character of the book is not Grace (that’s the dog), but Emily. Emily is the shame of her mother for not marrying until 28 (gasp!), but redeemed herself somewhat when her marriage was to one of the wealthiest farming families in the district. Three years on, the old Emily has disintegrated, leaving a shell of a woman who is continually bullied and abused by her husband. Emily lacks the courage to do…well, most things, but when John shoots at her puppy, she ups and goes. There, she must restart rebuilding her life from scratch and her confidence too. Can she become the independent woman she was, or is it all just too hard?
The character of Emily is one of the things I liked about Saving Grace. To have a heroine who isn’t as bold as brass in need of TLC was refreshing – this story is delightful when Emily regains the confidence and independence to do something the rest of us consider simple – like decide to rent a house. It’s a bold move by McCallum, but it worked for me. It made me realise just how damaging continued mental abuse is to someone’s self-esteem, whether it be from a spouse, family or a colleague. How Emily works her way through the difficult periods is realistic and positive.
McCallum is also a realist when it comes to portraying country towns – it’s not all happy living in a small town. She aptly describes the gossiping and shunning of those who are thought to be in the wrong. The snubbing of Emily when she goes to town by her friends is something that happens and unfortunately, there’s generally few avenues to turn to. (Think of it like school – the gossiping and living in each other’s pockets). Emily has a good friend in Barbara, who is her saviour in getting her through this.
I also really liked that there was no romance in this book. Yes, no romance. It was refreshing to realise I only had ten pages left and Emily hadn’t met ‘The One’. While it’s lovely to have a happy ending, it is more realistic that she’s not going to meet someone in her small community within a month! Speaking of the ending, it is left rather open and several plot lines are left dangling. I think (I’m not certain) that there could be a second book for Emily coming. I was a little surprised that the book finished where it did, but the main plot is Emily recovering after her separation and the ending was fitting for that.
This book was a fun and gentle read. McCallum characterises well, plus her descriptions of Emily’s farmhouse (almost) had me wanting a place in the country! I’ll be very pleased to read more about Emily and her friends.