Season of Shadow and Light by Jenn J McLeod

In brief: Paige needs to escape the city and come to terms with the major changes in her life – the loss of her job, a marriage falling apart and a daughter asking questions about a grandmother even Paige doesn’t know the truth about. A chance stop in a small country town will unravel everything Paige thought she knew…

The good: The mystery was interesting and sense of community in the in country was palpable.

The not-so-good: A little slow to warm up for me.

Why I chose it: Thanks to Simon & Schuster for the ARC, this review is part of a blog tour for Season of Shadow and Light.i

Year: 2015

Pages: 469 (ARC)

Publisher: Simon & Schuster

Setting: New South Wales, Australia

My rating: 8 out of 10

Even though I have Jenn J McLeod’s debut novel on my shelves, I still haven’t read it! (So many good books, so little time). I’m ashamed to say this is my first taste of Jenn’s writing, her third novel to date. Season of Shadow and Light is right up my alley, combining my loves of Australian rural fiction with a family mystery. It does have romantic elements too, but they are quite minor. The book celebrates the community spirit that is felt in small towns and the power and love of family.

As the book opens, Paige Turner (yes, that’s her name) and her life in heading a downward spiral. Some time ago, she lost a son and had a post-partum stroke, robbing her of her sense of smell and taste. To top it off, she’s a food reviewer, which meant her career was effectively ended. She’s having problems in her marriage after she found out her husband had an affair and when daughter Mati wants to do a Pinterest page on Paige’s deceased mother, it’s the last straw. There’s so much Paige doesn’t know about her mum, particularly about her youth. So Paige, Mati and Alice (Paige’s mother’s partner) decide to get out of the city and head to the country with a nice stay at an old boatshed in the town that happens to be a link to Paige’s mother. But fate intervenes in the form of a summer flood and the trio find themselves marooned in Coolabah Tree Gully. The locals take them in with open arms and Paige is beginning to feel alive again as she makes friends with locals Aiden and Sharni. But Alice is worried – there are far too many coincidences here about Nancy (Paige’s mother) and her life as a young woman. Will Alice break her promise to Nancy and tell Paige the truth, or should some secrets stay buried?

I must admit that when I read the blurb I thought this book was more about Paige’s life immediately post-stroke. But it’s something that’s more in the background and pops up every now and again. Paige’s main concern is trying to work out where she is in the world – should she leave her marriage? What job can she do now? In Coolabah Creek, she finds herself relaxing and becoming more accepting. The family ties were a bit of a puzzle at first – I thought there might be something more between Paige and Aiden, but once another character appears, you’ll understand what the hints meant from earlier in the book.

I found the story a bit slow to start, as I didn’t really understand which direction the book was heading in but once Alice appeared, describing more of her and Nancy’s history, I was engrossed. (Each chapter is told from a different point of view – mainly Paige and Alice, but with inputs from Aiden and a couple of others). I loved the way Jenn entwined the past and present into the mystery of Nancy’s youth. Once the secret was revealed, the story didn’t lose momentum – if anything it cranked it up a few notches! The hurt and anguish turns into a race against time as Paige must work out where and with whom her loyalty lies. There are a few co-incidences that are very timely, but hey, that’s the magic of fiction.

I raced through the last 150 pages of this book – the story is that compelling. Persevere with the first 50 pages and you’ll find you are reading a winner that is not only well-written but captures the heart of family and friendship.

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