Author: Jenn J McLeod
Publisher: Head of Zeus (Harper Collins)
Copy: Courtesy of the Publisher
We have long supported the work of nomadic Australian author Jenn J McLeod and the books I haven’t read are on my wishlist to catch up with one day.
A Place to Remember is a multi-generational family drama that packs an emotional punch and torments with a couple of well-timed twists, written across dual timelines.
McLeod is a master storyteller and the way she weaves the timelines of her story to produce a seamless tapestry with all of the burning questions answered and still enough twists to keep you guessing until the end is simply sublime.
Ava Marchette is a self made business woman with an enviable bakery franchise, which at it’s heart is still a family business. She built it from the ground up and headed up the company until a health scare meant she had to take a step back and hand the reins to her son. Early retirement for health reasons is the perfect breeding ground for a fertile imagination and a garden of what ifs, so she heads back to Candlebark Creek where she spent an eventful year as the cook in a country B&B when she was 27. She returns to see what the passage of 30 years has done to the quaint B&B, and the family who own it.
The narrative plays out in dual timelines, often this is an alternating chapters scenario but not with A Place to Remember. McLeod has written parts which flick between the present day and the mid-80s, but there is still some switching at play because otherwise the twists couldn’t possibly be drawn out so deliciously.
Not long after her family discover her health issues a parcel arrives for Ava, an intriguing portrait that raises even more questions and after learning more about her mothers life than she had ever known before Nina races off to Candlebark Creek for some answers of her own.
McLeod has painted an intricate portrait, almost as richly detailed as the work of renowned artist John Tate. She paints the relationships between an impressive cast of characters, both the victims and the villains. There isn’t a lot of time spent on Ava’s family before she moved out of home as a teen and worked her way up the kitchen ladder to become an accomplished chef, but when things got a little hot and she needed escape the small country B&B seemed perfect, until she discovered she’d jumped into a completely new fire and that passion didn’t look like burning out.
A tragic incident sees John Tate lose his short term memory, and any recollection of Ava; pushed aside by his overbearing mother and convinced that she wasn’t the best thing for him Ava leaves, but never forgets. She goes on to live a rich and full life but never replaces John in her heart. Her return to Candlebark Creek is simply to check in and see what life held for John, hoping he had found happiness.
We are treated to the time Ava spent in Candlebark Creek in the 80s, then her return where we have some of the blanks filled in as well as what’s happening with all of the characters in Candlebark Creek in 2015. Next we have some more of 2015 but that’s where Nina comes to the forefront as she determines to fill in the blanks because she is sure there are still things her mother isn’t telling her. It doesn’t help that Nina is feeling a little untethered in her life, nothing excites her the way it once did and she’s feeling a little overshadowed. Her position in the family business is not what she saw herself doing with her life and there is a part of her that wants to find that passion for something.
One of the things that I really loved about McLeod’s characters in this one is the parallels between generations that started to become apparent, and the butterfly effect a lie can have down through generations. There was intrigue right throughout the story with snippets of storyline that are slowly introduced so you don’t get the complete picture until the very end. An ending that was absolutely gorgeous, and kept the last twist for threatening tears to turn into a sigh of utter contentment.
McLeod’s characters are vibrantly detailed and quirkily unique; the bad guys are sometimes the victims and the quiet ones can be the most reprehensible but ultimately sometimes we are all the victim of the cruel hand of fate and we can be molded by the things that happen around us that we have no control over. Speaking of Fate, there was quite a lot of talk of Fate in this one and it all played out beautifully.
A beautiful read by Jenn J McLeod that I am thrilled to have been able to get a hold of for book club. I would recommend unreservedly and I look forward to hearing what our readers have to say.
A Place to Remember is book #11 for the Australian Women Writer’s Challenge 2018.