In brief: Grace’s life is messy. Messy divorce, messy kids…well, everything. When her children inherit a property in a wine growing region, she sees it as a way to use the money for a better future. But Gum Leaf Grove has many secrets to show her and her boys…
The good: Funny and sweet – a great rom com.
The not-so-good: There are a couple of characters who don’t have Grace and her family’s best interest at heart…
Why I chose it: Thanks to Penguin for the copy.
Publisher: Bantam (Penguin Random House)
Setting: South west Western Australia
Rating: 9 out of 10
Loretta Hill’s novels are an integral part of summer. It’s practically an Australian tradition to lie on a couch under air conditioning (or a beach if you’re lucky) and lose yourself in the story. The Secret Vineyard is a light romantic comedy that will definitely entertain on a long, hot summer day. If you’ve read The Maxwell Sisters and The Grass is Greener, you will recognise a few of the supporting cast. If not, you’ve got plenty to look forward to!
Grace Middleton is a single mum of three lively, adventurous boys. Her marriage didn’t end well and even though she’s an accountant, money is tight. Grace is estranged from her mother, her best friend married her ex-husband and well…it’s not going all that well. When her ex-husband dies, she’s not expecting anything for her sons. But it turns out her husband did care a little bit as he’s left them a property Grace never knew about, a vineyard and house in the beautiful Margaret River region of Western Australia. Grace’s aim is simple: sell the property and have her sons live comfortably in Perth. But when they arrive at Gum Leaf Grove, it’s not what they were expecting. It’s a huge, rundown house with 70s décor with ample place for the boys to play. It may just have a resident ghost, a secret safe and a secret room. But what’s in the secret room turns out to be extraordinarily beneficial for Grace… To top it off, there are two single men interested in her! Grace’s plans begin to change as she envisions a life lived in the beautiful south west…
If I were to describe The Secret Vineyard in just one word, it would be fun. (But I won’t because that’s no fun for me to write, nor you as the reader of this review). There are serious issues addressed, like loss and healing, but the overall tone is tongue in cheek. And it works. I’m not too good with romantic comedies (it’s all about the drama, not the LOLs) but the story brought a giggle throughout. Some of the aspects of the novel you might have to take a leap of faith for (like what’s in the secret room) but it’s a load of fun doing so. One of the characters, Scott, cracked me up in his ‘moves’ on Grace. He’s following the textbook but in real life, the smoothness is coming off as awkward. The other contender for Grace’s heart (I can’t reveal spoilers here) is much more sincere in his respect and admiration for her, even when he says nothing at all.
Of course, with three boys in the story, there are going to be plenty of funny moments. There are ghosts, inopportune statements in public bathrooms, even more embarrassment in unlocked bathrooms and a need for pizza. (I heartily approve of the last one). Loretta Hill nails their characters – they’re loud, rambunctious and utterly lovable. Grace’s sister Rachel is a calming voice of sense in the background and a surprise visitor near the end of the novel provides some perspective Grace didn’t think she needed. It’s a sweet ending to a book that starts with loss but ends with happy gains for all.