REVIEW: The Garden of Hopes and Dreams by Barbara Hannay

In brief: In a small city apartment block, the occupants all have their own secrets and issues. Can a rooftop garden bring them together?

The good: A fun, light read with lovely characters.

The not-so-good: I would have liked Ned and Jock’s backstories to have a bit more detail.

Why I chose it: Sounded like fun. Thanks to Penguin for the copy.

Year: 2021

Pages: 321 (ARC)

Publisher: Michael Joseph (Penguin)

Setting: Mainly Brisbane, Australia

Rating: 8 out of 10

In these times, reading about normal life is quite refreshing. I found this tale of a group of people who live in the same apartment building and come together through the building of a rooftop garden rather enchanting. It has a broad mix of characters and backstories and delights in the simple things.

The building is in inner city Brisbane, Australia with a range of ages and life stages of the characters. Maddie is a young, heartbroken paralegal while Vera feels as though she has been banished from the family station to the city. Ned is an academic with a passion for bees and plants while caretaker Jock is writing a novel and waiting for his wife to come home. Other residents support these characters such as couple Dennis and Joe and grumpy Nancy. However, the majority of the book focuses on Vera and Maddie. They are somewhat of a contrast due to their ages, yet they are going through (or have been through) similar things. Maddie is unlucky in love, having caught her boyfriend cheating and her new boyfriend has some very strange mood swings. Vera and her husband were exiled from England to Queensland after she found out the truth about his gambling on her wedding day. Both feel lost in the city, having come from smaller towns. There is a sense of each character trying to find where they fit in their current setting.

The other characters that come to play a larger role in the story don’t have as detailed backstories as Maddie and Vera. Jock, the caretaker, comes on the scene about halfway into the book and later, a tragic event has him as a central focus. I found this a bit off balance, especially given that as the caretaker he would have been known to all the residents. Likewise with Ned, he is very mysterious with the reader not knowing a lot about him, yet several of the residents gush about how great he is. There wasn’t much evidence to support that for me until his backstory was revealed very late into the book. I would have liked a bit more history of both of them earlier on in the story.

The themes of the story are very wholesome – friendship, helping people out and second chances. It has a real community spirit to it and the pages roll by. You can’t help but be entertained by this tale, it’s easy to read and genuinely engaging.

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