Aussie Book Review: Simmering Season by Jenn J McLeod
My Rating: 4 / 5
Format: ARC courtesy of Simon & Schuster
Publication Date: April 2014
Category: Modern and Contemporary Fiction
Publisher: Simon & Schuster Australia
From the Cover
Back in Calingarry Crossing to sell the family pub, Maggie Lindemann has no idea a perfect storm is heading her way until her past and present collide with the unexpected.
Maggie once had a crush on Dan Ireland, now a work-weary police crash investigator, still hell-bent on punishing himself for his misspent youth. Dan has ample reason for not going home to Calingarry Crossing for the school reunion, but one very good reason why he should.
Maggie is dealing with a restless seventeen-year-old son, a father with dementia, a fame-obsessed musician husband, a dwindling bank account and a country pub that just won’t sell.
The last thing she needs is a surprise houseguest for the summer. Fiona Bailey-Blair, daughter of an old friend and spoilt with everything but the truth, whips up a maelstrom of gossip when she blows into town.
This storm season, when a school reunion brings home more than memories, Maggie Lindeman will discover there’s no keeping a lid on some secrets.
Summary and Thoughts
In Simmering Season, Jenn J McLeod returns us to the rustic little town of Calingarry Crossing to which we were introduced in House for All Seasons (House) (my review here), but this time it’s Maggie Lindemann’s story, and there are secrets aplenty simmering just below the surface.
Daughter of the small town’s ex-Reverend turned Publican, Maggie returned two years ago with her son Noah, to settle her dad and attempt to sell his pub due to his swiftly declining health.
Initially a temporary separation from her star-struck husband Brian and a hope that this would be just the opportunity to lift her and Brian out of the financial and emotional detritus that had become their life, Maggie didn't count on the fact that she was going to fall in love for the very first time – with the town and the people. Unfortunately (or would it be fortunately?), pubs are not that easy to sell in small towns and Maggie has found herself staying far longer than she thought although she’s slowly beginning to see it as an opportunity to rebuild a life for her and her little family - if only Brian would stop pursuing that elusive dream.
When she attends the funeral of a friend and meets the young Fiona Bailey-Blair, she finds herself inviting Fiona to stay at the pub for a while. This decision appears to be one of the worst she has made, with the first rumblings of discord arriving with Fiona and her announcement that she’s come to Calingarry intent on finding her real father.
As the layers of the narrative continue to unfold, unexpected forces begin to manifest themselves as, firstly, seventeen year old Noah hits it off straight away with Fiona. With Maggie’s introspection, those forces intensify, threatening to become a full-blown squall when Dan Ireland, the bad-boy ex-friend of her brother whose presence was plucked away from Maggie’s life by a terrible family tragedy, makes his appearance, culminating in a tempest of epic proportions, when Maggie finds her loyalty to Brian being challenged as she comes face-to-face with all the half-truths, lies and deception that she has avoided for the last twenty years.
There’s a certain enchantment to Calingarry Crossing that I just can’t help but be drawn to and I love the way the little town almost becomes a character in its own right. It’s a place where there’s a lot happening to the people who live there and, as with House, it's main focus is on relationships - the good, the bad and the ugly.
From Maggie, our admirable albeit frustrating protagonist, who I could have quite easily shaken from time to time; the shallow Fiona, shaped by circumstance and now searching for the truth; Brian, an extremely weak and selfish individual whom I disliked intensely as I saw him constantly dodge his familial responsibilities; Ethne, the steadfast presence in Maggie’s life; to Dan, living in a complicated marriage and almost burnt out from a job which continually brings painful memories to the fore, Jenn J McLeod once again adds much depth by creating a rich mosaic of fully realised characters whose lives interest the reader as she explores some of the human needs and flaws that plague us from time-to-time. In no way glossing over those moments in our lives that "suck", Jenn instead throws them out there for her characters to deal with, while peppering the pages with her fabulous wit and adding just the right amount of seasoning to give a lovely light-hearted feel to the story.
Dementia, loss, fidelity, and recreational drug abuse are just some of the underlying themes that Jenn J McLeod compassionately touches on as she deftly structures the novel from Maggie's perspective, with chapters throughout dedicated to Dan and Fiona’s POV’s. This reviewer feels that she is fast making her mark on being an intelligent and skilful writer who is able to effortlessly combine a large cast with a complex storyline that leads the reader in one direction, thereafter progressing the plot with developments that we could never have anticipated.
The fact that this novel has the same strength and depth of quality as House shows that she is going to be a steady and consistent talent in Australian fiction and I wish to thank Simon and Schuster for providing me with a copy of this heart-warming novel which, for me, was also about crossing that bridge to the place where the heart has always been.
While Simmering Season can be read as a standalone novel, I would recommend reading House first as it will give the reader some deeper insight into some of the characters.
A Little About the Author
No stranger to embracing a second chance or trying something different, Jenn took the first tentative steps towards her tree change in 2004, escaping Sydney’s corporate chaos to buy a small cafe in the seaside town of Sawtell.
Moving to the country was like coming home and she now spends her days maintaining her NSW property and writing contemporary Australian fiction—life-affirming novels of small town life and the country roots that run deep.
Securing a two-book deal with Simon and Schuster, her debut novel—House for all Seasons—was released March 1, 2013 to rave reviews.
Simmering Season is her second novel with books 3 and 4 in the Seasons Collection scheduled for release in April 2015 and 2016.