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Season of shadow and light by Jenn J. McLeod

Season of shadow and light

by Jenn J. McLeod

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Even though I have Jenn J McLeod’s debut novel on my shelves, I still haven’t read it! (So many good books, so little time). I’m ashamed to say this is my first taste of Jenn’s writing, her third novel to date. Season of Shadow and Light is right up my alley, combining my loves of Australian rural fiction with a family mystery. It does have romantic elements too, but they are quite minor. The book celebrates the community spirit that is felt in small towns and the power and love of family.

As the book opens, Paige Turner (yes, that’s her name) and her life in heading a downward spiral. Some time ago, she lost a son and had a post-partum stroke, robbing her of her sense of smell and taste. To top it off, she’s a food reviewer, which meant her career was effectively ended. She’s having problems in her marriage after she found out her husband had an affair and when daughter Mati wants to do a Pinterest page on Paige’s deceased mother, it’s the last straw. There’s so much Paige doesn’t know about her mum, particularly about her youth. So Paige, Mati and Alice (Paige’s mother’s partner) decide to get out of the city and head to the country with a nice stay at an old boatshed in the town that happens to be a link to Paige’s mother. But fate intervenes in the form of a summer flood and the trio find themselves marooned in Coolabah Tree Gully. The locals take them in with open arms and Paige is beginning to feel alive again as she makes friends with locals Aiden and Sharni. But Alice is worried – there are far too many coincidences here about Nancy (Paige’s mother) and her life as a young woman. Will Alice break her promise to Nancy and tell Paige the truth, or should some secrets stay buried?

I must admit that when I read the blurb I thought this book was more about Paige’s life immediately post-stroke. But it’s something that’s more in the background and pops up every now and again. Paige’s main concern is trying to work out where she is in the world – should she leave her marriage? What job can she do now? In Coolabah Creek, she finds herself relaxing and becoming more accepting. The family ties were a bit of a puzzle at first – I thought there might be something more between Paige and Aiden, but once another character appears, you’ll understand what the hints meant from earlier in the book.

I found the story a bit slow to start, as I didn’t really understand which direction the book was heading in but once Alice appeared, describing more of her and Nancy’s history, I was engrossed. (Each chapter is told from a different point of view – mainly Paige and Alice, but with inputs from Aiden and a couple of others). I loved the way Jenn entwined the past and present into the mystery of Nancy’s youth. Once the secret was revealed, the story didn’t lose momentum – if anything it cranked it up a few notches! The hurt and anguish turns into a race against time as Paige must work out where and with whom her loyalty lies. There are a few co-incidences that are very timely, but hey, that’s the magic of fiction.

I raced through the last 150 pages of this book – the story is that compelling. Persevere with the first 50 pages and you’ll find you are reading a winner that is not only well-written but captures the heart of family and friendship.

Thank you to Simon & Schuster Australia for the ARC. My review is honest.

http://samstillreading.wordpress.com ( )
  birdsam0610 | May 9, 2015 |
“Light can illuminate truth, let us see things we might otherwise unknowingly pass by in the dark. It can also illuminate the signs that will allow each of us to find the road to forgiveness, to trust, to hope, to belief and to the future.”

An engaging story of secrets and lies, of trust and betrayal, of family, friendship and forgiveness, Season of Shadow and Light is Jenn J McLeod’s third novel of contemporary fiction set in rural New South Wales.

Unhappy and frustrated after a difficult few years, Paige Turner decides to take her six year old daughter, Matilda, and mother, Alice, and spend two weeks in country New South Wales. Their destination, Saddleton, is determined by signage visible in an old photograph of Paige’s mother in her youth, but rising floodwater results in the trio becoming stranded in the tiny town of Coolabah Tree Gully. Though Paige is content to enjoy the hospitality of the generous locals who offer the family a place to stay, Alice is increasingly anxious. Coolabah Tree Gully is home to a secret Alice has kept for decades and, should it come to light, has the potential to destroy everything she holds dear.

The story of Season of Shadow and Light unfolds primarily from the perspectives of Paige and Alice, two richly drawn, complex characters confronted with a legacy of secrets.

Paige has had an extraordinarily difficult time recently. A late term miscarriage was followed by a postpartum stroke, leaving her with physical deficits and destroying her career as a food critic. Learning of her husband’s infidelity pushes Paige to the breaking point, motivating her to escape to the country with her daughter and Alice. Paige choose Saddleton as a destination with the vague notion of tracing the origins of a photo of her mother, Nancy, unwittingly ending up in the town her mother fled in the dead of night almost forty years earlier. Paige of course has no idea about her mother’s past, but nevertheless feels incomplete.

“I lost the things that made me who I am, the things that made me feel complete as a person. You know that jigsaw puzzle Mati has – the one with the missing pieces we searched high and low for that day? That puzzle is me. There are pieces missing, and I don’t mean my sense of smell and taste. The fact I can’t explain what I feel frustrates the hell out of me.'”

Alice has been Paige’s sole parent since the death of Nancy, her partner and lover, when Paige was ten. Aware of Nancy’s hidden past, Alice had promised never to reveal the truth of it to Paige, but stranded in Coolabah Tree Gully it becomes harder for her to determine exactly who she is protecting, especially when she is confronted with the consequences of keeping it to herself. Alice really struggles with the thought of not only betraying Nancy, but being held accountable by Paige.

“An improbable set of circumstances.
An impossible situation.
How long could she hold on to the truth? Should she hold on?….Was she obligated to protect the deceptions of the dead when the truth might somehow help the living?”

A low key element of romance is introduced by Aiden, a local man recently returned from Sydney, ‘cheffing’ in the local pub, his own future in tatters after being betrayed by his ex-girlfriend. He is attracted to Paige, who appreciates the attention given the state of her shaky marriage, and eventually proves to be a link between Paige and her mother’s secret but to be honest I thought Aiden’s point of view, shared in brief chapters throughout the novel, wasn’t really necessary.

Through her characters McLeod explores issues such as miscarriage, stroke recovery, infidelity, identity, same sex partnerships, and organ transplantation. The larger themes of the novel examine the nature of loyalty, trust, deception and betrayal. Suspense stems from the nature of the secret that Alice is keeping and the anticipation of Paige learning it. McLeod skillfully teases out the details of Nancy’s hidden past but I did feel there were times when the narrative stalled briefly, repeating Alice’s angst and Aiden’s upset a little too often.

“Love is about connection.” says Alice, and Season of Shadow and Light is a story about connections – between partners and lovers, between parents and their children, and between siblings – tested, sometimes frayed and weakened, but strengthened by forgiveness, trust and love. ( )
  shelleyraec | May 4, 2015 |
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A summer road trip with her daughter is exactly what Paige needs. What she doesn't need is a reluctant Nana Alice in tow and unprecedented floodwaters forcing an unexpected and life-changing detour, stranding the trio in the tiny town of Coolabah Tree Gully. Paige feels like everything she trusts is betraying her bit by bit. First her body, with the stillbirth of her baby boy, then postpartum stroke strips the food editor of her sense of taste and smell. Her husband is having an affair, her mother (Alice) is acting weird, and her six-year-old daughter's questions about 'her other nana' is uncovering more questions than answers.… (more)

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