Saturday, 20 October 2012

Lola's Secret - Monica McInerney

If you are looking for an easy, good feeling read and you like Christmas, then why not try reading Lola's Secret by Monica McInerney.  It is a sequel to her previous book 'The Alphabet Sisters', but you don't need to have read it first, as this works as a stand alone book.  Lola Quinlan is a sprightly old lady in her eighties, who dresses somewhat eccentrically and has very strong opinions on most things, especially anything that concerns her family.

Her home is a rural motel in the beautiful wine growing Clare Valley of South Australia, where she lives with her son Jim and daughter Geraldine, whom she has never seen eye to eye with.  Lola has run motels for decades, but is now mostly retired and spends a lot of her time helping to run the local charity shop with her group of friends. Lola also likes to keep up with modern technology and has enthusiastically embraced the internet, sending emails and mobile phones.

As Christmas approaches she wants to encourage her relatives to take some time out and go off on their own holidays, without feeling that they have to stay for her sake.  But although the thought of a peaceful Christmas spent alone calls to her, she comes up with the plan of inviting a group of strangers to the motel for the festive break and creating a wonderful experience for them.  She uses her new skills on the internet to invite people, using the lure of a free stay to get a small group of people to sign up.  But does Lola know what she has let herself in for?  Because unbeknownst to her, all of the visitors she is expecting for Christmas have their own reasons for trying to escape their homes and lives for the holidays, and bringing them all together could create a very combustible mix of drama and tragedy.

Meanwhile, there are problems in her own family that need sorting and wounds that need healing.  The death of her granddaughter Anna at the motel several years previously has left a huge hole in the family, and any closeness that her death had initially engendered in the family felt long gone.  Anna's two sisters were once more at each others throats, as difficulties in their marriages and family lives cause them to go back into competition with each other and revisit old disputes that they had thought they had left behind.  And Ellen, Anna's young daughter, was also facing heart ache of her own many miles away in Hong Kong, as she takes a rebellious stance when her father starts a new relationship, feeling that she is being pushed out and that her mother is being replaced.

Even Lola's home at the motel is under threat as Jim and Geraldine decide that they want to buy a smaller business in a different part of Australia, and Geraldine makes it clear that Lola is not included in their plans for the future.  So as she tries to sort out and help her family, create a wonderful Christmas experience for a bunch of strangers and keep things running smoothly in the charity shop, will Lola take any time to look into her own heart and acknowledge some of her own needs?

But Lola is going to be surprised this festive season by things from the past that she thought were long gone and lost forever, giving her another chance to put something right that went awry so many years ago.  Can this redoubtable old lady pull her family together again, help ease their pain and steer them onto a brighter path for the future?  Will her disparate group of invited guests have a Christmas they will never forget? And most importantly, will Lola discover a new direction for her own life and perhaps even find new love for herself?

Lola's Secret is a pleasant read, especially if you enjoy delving into human relationships and the tangles and predicaments that we create for ourselves. It is a book to take into the garden on a hot summer afternoon and let the hours slip by, or to cuddle up with by the fire on a cold, snowy winter afternoon.  As it is set in the 40c heat of a South Australian summer, sip an ice cold glass of Australian white wine while you are reading and have some tasty savoury nibbles to dip into.  My one niggle regards the cover of the UK edition, which is a picture of a young girl running through a lush bluebell wood.  It is an attractive image, but to me says nothing about the dry, dusty heat of an Australian summer in a wine growing region.  Probably me being too literal, but I would prefer to see a cover that was a closer reflection of what is contained within the pages.

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