In brief: Beth has been through some hard times, so when her grandmother surprises her with a trip to Australia, it’s hard to say no. Amid the beauty of Western Australia’s south, she finds how to be herself again – and perhaps how to love if Clayton has any say in it!
The good: I do love a West Aussie setting and the great descriptions made me long for a holiday!
The not-so-good: We didn’t see too much of Jo (heroine of Fly In Fly Out).
Pages: 320 (eARC)
Publisher: Michael Joseph (Penguin)
Setting: England and south west Western Australia
My rating: 8.5 out of 10
Summer Harvest is a perfect read for…well, summer. It has that filled-with-light, lazy holiday feel to it, yet it covers some darker subject matter with skill and tenderness. A word of warning though, the story will make you crave a getaway to Western Australia’s Margaret River region (home of wine, cheese, chocolate, fudge and surf)! It’s one of those books that show off my home state to the world and make me proud to be a West Aussie.
The story opens in grey, drizzly England where Beth is living a mundane, day to day existence. Since her double mastectomy for breast cancer (which coincided with her husband leaving her – nice guy), she’s been living with her grandparents. Her only spot of joy is her work as a dog trainer. (It was at this point that I wondered how big a role Beth’s job was going to play in the story because I’m not a dog person – but it’s not much). She’s surprised when her gem of a grandmother gives her a ticket to Australia, the home of Violet’s favourite soap. The only thing is that Louis, her grandfather, got the wrong side of the country and Beth is off to Western Australia. (The better side, really). On arrival, Beth takes off for the south west to have a really relaxing break away from cities and people and…everything. She didn’t expect that a chance meeting with a handsome stranger would end up changing the tone of her holiday… Beth quickly falls into a friendship with Laura and Clayton, but Clayton could mean something much more. But Beth feels she’s damaged a Clayton has a demon or two to deal with (not to mention his father and grandmother being at loggerheads). Can they get it together?
I’m sure you know the answer to that last question, but it’s a really fun trip getting there. Beth seemed to me a bit insipid initially, but I think that’s because she’s so shy and damaged from her experiences that she’s reluctant to reveal herself to even the reader. As we got to know her, she came across as much stronger and meeting Clayton helped with that strength coming to the fore. The jokey way Clayton and his friend Jeff competed for Beth’s affections was a great demonstration of Aussie mateship. Clayton was a great hero, he appeared to tick all the boxes initially, but I liked seeing his more vulnerable, softer and questioning side. Laura (Jeff’s sister and the owner of the cottage where Beth stayed) was a character I’d like to know more about – she’s a bit quirky and full of sensible advice. Perhaps she will get her own book in the future? Penney also writes fantastic older characters, from the fiery Angie (Clayton’s grandmother) to the frank Violet, who was born to gossip. There’s also some romance around the more mature folk, which is handled sensitively but with several fireworks.
Summer Harvest also explores life post-cancer, which is a topic that gaining more interest, both in the lay press and oncology circles. Given that survival rates for several cancers are now better than they’ve ever been, people can expect to live for decades after, if not their full life span. For Beth, who had a double mastectomy and lost her sister to the same disease, it’s not an easy process. Her scars and mastectomy bra revolt her to the point where she doesn’t want anyone (even Clayton) to see them. Changes in body image and sexuality are common post breast cancer (feeling of loss as a woman) but aren’t something that’s talked about that often. I’m pleased that Summer Harvest covers this in detail.
But the story is not all doom and gloom. There’s some hot sex scenes and plenty of good wine, balanced with some very funny moments (think a sheep in a tractor for example). I can’t wait to see what Georgina Penney comes up with next.