In brief: The third (and possibly final book in The Button Jar series) has Emily growing stronger and more secure as a person. (Read more here).
The good: Lovely to catch up with the characters and follow their lives.
The not-so-good: There are no huge dramas, just small hiccups.
Why I chose it: Really enjoyed this series, thanks to Harlequin Australia for the eARC.
Publisher: Harlequin Mira
Setting: South Australia
My rating: 8.5 out of 10
Meant to Be is the third book in Fiona McCallum’s The Button Jar series, and possibly the last. I’ve really enjoyed this series as it’s turned the norms of rural fiction upside down – we have a heroine in Emily who is not supremely confident, outgoing or at the peak of her career. She’s more of an everyday girl, shy and reluctant to cause trouble, even at the hands of her bullying mother or abusive husband. She doesn’t have the world at her feet by the end of the first novel in the series (Saving Grace). But by the start of Meant to Be, Emily’s life is slowly coming together. She has a new boyfriend in Jake and doesn’t need to struggle to make ends meet. Once she tackles her overbearing mum and finds a new career direction, she’ll be sorted. But as in life, there are several stumbling blocks ahead in Emily’s path. How will she tackle them this time?
I’ve enjoyed reading about Emily’s increasing confidence and acceptance of herself. She hasn’t had an easy time over the previous two books (you could read Meant to Be as a standalone book, although I feel it is best enjoyed in order – Saving Grace, Time Will Tell and then Meant to Be). Emily’s always felt very realistic to me, even if at times her shyness/unwillingness to rock the boat can be frustrating. There are less of these moments in this book though, although I found myself telling Emily to just ‘do it!!’ when she was reluctant to discuss her engagement status with Jake in case ‘he’d made a mistake’. You’ll be cheering on Emily later when she tackles her mother – I did find some of the other characters’ reactions to her outburst interesting and it made me wonder how they saw Emily – quiet obedient mouse or woman with a mind of her own? Myself, I fully supported Emily after writhing in frustration at her mother’s petty, cruel putdowns.
The novel doesn’t have a big crescendo make-or-break moment – it’s more of a quiet, realistic book with minor stumbling blocks. Still, I couldn’t put it down and read late into the night until I finished it. There’s something lovely about reading about Emily’s life and the world Fiona McCallum creates that puts a smile on your face. I found it familiar and interesting – the descriptions of rural life (both the good and bad) were excellent. I loved the imagery of all the farmers working together to do the seeding when one of them is in crisis. The camaraderie and pulling together of a community was beautiful to read.
I’m going to miss Emily, Jake, Barbara, David and the other characters as I’ve really enjoyed following their lives. For fans of Barbara and David (Emily’s closest friends and the ones who were her saving grace), they have a strong subplot in this book. I’d suggest having tissues at the ready, but it’s an opportunity for Emily to repay the kindness that the couple showed her previously. Jake’s sister Simone and Emily’s father Des also appear more often. Simone’s a wonderful character, bright and exuberant. If there were to be more books in the series, I’d like to read about her. Plus, I wondered (as did Emily) what happened to villain Tara, who evicted Emily from what was her perfect house. Was it simply spite or does Tara have future plans? There was also a quick revelation about Liz, Emily’s cousin who she has an up/down relationship with – could Liz want to return home to the country?
Despite the many possibilities for future stories, I felt that Meant to Be wrapped up Emily’s story very well (really, the poor girl doesn’t need any more tragedy in her life)! I’ve loved watching her grow into a confident woman with the happy ending she deserves.