Saving Grace by Fiona McCallum (The Button Jar Series #1)
Published April 1, 2013 By Harlequin Enterprises Australia
Thanks to the publisher and NetGalley for the copy of this novel I received to review.
When Emily Oliphant married John Stratten, she thought it was the beginning of an exciting new adventure, imagining herself standing shoulder-to-shoulder with the most eligible farmer in the district, mucking in to build a thriving agricultural business. Three years later, however, Emily sees her marriage for what it is — a loveless tie to a callous man, her advice heeded only when it pertains to her husband’s dinner.
The last straw comes when John threatens to harm her new puppy, and Emily is forced to brave her husband’s wrath, and her mother’s glaring disapproval, and move out. With the encouragement of her new friend Barbara, Emily moves into an abandoned property, taking on the mammoth task of making the unloved house into a home. As she begins to work on the property, she discovers a new side of her father, meets some new friends and finds an inner strength she never knew she had.
Emily’s fragile confidence is soon tested, though, when the owners of the property make her a tempting offer. Will she risk everything and invest in the ramshackle house that has finally given her a sense of purpose? Or will Emily listen to the views of the community, and the voice of her mother, and go back to her sensible, but meaningless, life with John?
Living in a small rural town in South Australia, Emily Oliphant is used to being seen as someone on the outside. Neither country (doesn’t live on a farm and that matters out there) nor city (she lives in town) she is torn between the two opposing forces in her life. With an overbearing mother and a somewhat silent and passive Father, life has never been easy for Emily. Among her Mother’s many criticisms is the simply fact that Emily is 28 and not married. She’s practically an old spinster!
When Emily accepts John Stratten’s marriage proposal she thinks her life is finally heading in the right direction. Not only is she no longer an old spinster but she has snagged one of the areas most eligible bachelors. Or so Emily thought. Fast forward some three years and Emily finds herself stuck in a loveless marriage and lacking any real direction in her life. Bored and on her own she day dreams about turning the farms run down cottage into a thriving Bed and Breakfast. That is until John tears the place down to thwart her growing ambitions, and threatens the life of her puppy Grace. Seeing this as a warning, Emily makes a quick decision then and there to leave John. And so our story really begins.
As a whole, Saving Grace is a quick and easy read. It is an entertaining, feel good narrative that dares the reader not to cheer Emily on in her somewhat chaotic adventures. With headstrong female characters such as Emily and Barbara, it’s hard not to be swept up in their emotional crises and hilarious escapades. Just like the characters, the setting is vivid and I found myself day dreaming about the homestead house the two girls stumble upon. McCallum has systematically employed the use of the reader’s senses to bring the town and surrounding areas alive, effectively opening up a new world to the reader.
That’s not to say that this narrative doesn’t have issues either. To start with the narrative begins slowly. This may have been a stylistic point on McCallum’s part to symbolise Emily’s marriage and life, but it just drags on. Although naturally distraught by John’s actions and their marriage breakdown, Emily is sometimes overbearing as a main protagonist. She is moody (and rightly so), whiney and she takes a long time to do anything about it. All of which made it hard for me to connect with her as character early on in the novel because she simply lacked a backbone in many senses. That said as the narrative progressed and Emily began to fight for what she wanted in life, I found myself drawn to her more and more with the glimpses of how her character might develop. Once away from John, and out from under Barbara’s shadow, Emily really comes to life in her own right. She is headstrong and really starts to shine through her interactions with other characters. There is a scene late in the book when her Mother has invited her over for dinner in what is obviously a set up with a friend’s son. Although embarrassed by the set up, Emily steals back the control from her Mother and dominates the scene in a somewhat hilarious and unexpected way. Once Emily’s character starts to emerge from its shell, the narrative takes on a life of its own and I found myself unable to put the book down.
My biggest concern, and complaint, is the narratives abrupt end. It’s jarring to the reader as the narrative has just started to pick up speed and starts going somewhere when the novel just comes to an end suddenly without any real closures or questions answered. As a reader I found myself glaring at my e-reader angry that Emily had unresolved issues, that she hadn’t found the diamonds and sorted herself out enough for the narrative to end. While I understand this is a start of a series, and these issues don’t need to be dealt with immediately, it leaves the book feeling much like a set up for the series, because we’ve really only received the story’s background and thus expect the narrative to come later in book two and possibly book three.
Will this stop me reading the series? No. Does it annoy me as a reader to not have that instant gratification and climax normally associated with the end? Yes, for by the time we have hit the end of the narrative, McCallum has dangled two new male leads in front of the reader’s eyes, both of which have promising attributes, but with no real knowledge of how Emily will sway. A fact made even more frustrating due to the flash-forward early on in the novel that gives us a glimpse about Emily’s future. I for one am intrigued as to what will happen and how it will come about; I just wish I didn’t have to wait a year or so to find out.
This novel was read as part of my Australian Women Writer’s Challenge (AWW) 2013.
It also is part of my Romance Appreciation Challenge (RAC) 2013.