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Book DetailsISBN: 9780143792031
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Book Review: The Jam Queens by Josephine Moon - Reviewed by CloggieA (09 Mar 2021)
5 stars The Jam Queens is the seventh novel by Australian author, Josephine Moon. As a seventieth birthday gift to her niece, Myrtle, ever magnanimous, treats the Hermann women, Valeria, Aggie and Holly, to a trip on the Ghan. Myrtle’s regular travelling companion Dolce is, after over fifty years of friendship, an honorary member of the family, but still pays her own way. Five strong, smart, independent women who love each other, together on a plane, train and bus trips: what could go wrong?
Of Aggie’s recent resolutions, one, taking over ownership of the Strawberry Sonnet café from Myrtle, has already been enacted, and the second, improving relations with Valeria, she hopes to work on during the trip. She also hopes to find out what is troubling her daughter, Holly before she returns to America: there’s a disturbing disconnect in their usual good rapport. And the decision she and her ex have to make is a serious one she needs time to consider fully.
Being distracted by the gorgeous Harry Lyon isn’t part of the plan. Nor is the short notice and the caution of a huge fine from an officious council bureaucrat, or the deluge that threatens the café.
Valeria, recently recovered from a TIA, is less enthusiastic than expected with her birthday surprise, believing the women are motivated by the idea “that a blood vessel could snap in her head and kill her at any moment” and a need to prove their love for her before it’s too late.
Always conscious of appearances, Valeria can be judgemental and fractious, finding it difficult to hide her disapproval: almost thirty years earlier, that disapproval, intended to force her daughter into responsibility, caused a rift with Agatha into which Myrtle stepped with love and generosity.
Thereafter, relations between them have often been tense and sometimes volatile, and as Valeria catches sight of Aggie’s flirtation with a younger man, she can’t hold back: too much is at stake.
As seasoned travel companions, Myrtle and Dolce often share the same views, so Myrtle is dismayed when Dolce voices criticism of her characteristic (but mostly benign) meddling, and then shocked and a little hurt when Dolce makes a surprise announcement detailing an ambitious (and previously undisclosed to Myrtle) plan.
Moon easily evokes her settings: the Barossa Valley, The Ghan, Northern Territory and Darwin, and ought to receive a kick-back from the tourist boards: there’s bound to be an uptick in bookings! Her characters will feel familiar, the sort of people we encounter every day, especially those family members who firmly believe they know what is best for their loved ones.
There’s a lot going on in Aggie’s life, presenting her with several issues to resolve which, just as in real life, don’t conveniently allow a person to deal with one challenge at a time: sometimes life throws an overwhelming load of trials onto our shoulders.
The story is carried by three narratives, enhanced by a few flashbacks, and illustrates what can happen in the microcosm of a vacation setting, where forced interactions can distil the emotions to boiling point. Moon touches on transgender issues; the agony of stillbirth; the dilemma of deciding the fate of frozen embryos; a gob-smacking safety drill in US schools; and aged care. Of course, love, loyalty, friendship and a blue-ribbon-winning strawberry jam recipe also feature in this heart-warming and uplifting tale. This unbiased review is from an uncorrected proof copy provided by Penguin Books Australia.
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