I always look forward to a new book from Maggie Christensen, who unfailingly writes books that I enjoy – with those well-drawn older characters that it can often be so hard to find. It’s a pleasure today to share my review of her latest, The Life She Deserves, the first in a new Granite Springs series, published on 9th October, and available in paperback and for kindle. My thanks to Maggie for providing an advance e-copy for my review.
Two old friends. A new relationship. What could possibly go wrong?
Growing up in the small Australian country town of Granite Springs, Jo and Col have been lifelong friends.
Following Jo’s divorce and the death of Col’s wife, the pair find comfort in their common grief. But as they tentatively explore their new relationship, they have little idea of the challenges that lie ahead.
What they haven’t bargained for is Jo’s interfering ex, along with their three children, all of whom have their own agendas.
Can Jo ride out the storm? Will she be granted the life she deserves?
Set in the fictional Australian country town of Granite Springs, this is the first in a new series by the author who has been called ‘The queen of mature age fiction’
I’ve probably said this several times before, but every time I read one of Maggie Christensen’s books I’m struck by the sheer quality of her story-telling. There aren’t any real fireworks, nor the ubiquitous jaw-dropping twist: she simply presents her set of very real characters, and follows them through the twists and turns of their lives.
Jo’s experience in this book is a common one – adult children who think she has nothing she’d rather do than care for her grandchildren or support their business venture. In fact, son Danny even feels she’d be better off in a retirement development, with his family living in her beautiful home with its child-friendly pool – but also with its balcony where she takes her breakfast daily, enjoying the changing seasons. And then there’s the ex-husband – who left, remarried (perhaps less than wisely) and who thinks her door might still be open to his return. But Jo does have a life of her own, and a new relationship in its early stages – Col is the widowed husband of a close friend, and their friendship and mutual support begins its transformation into something rather more.
The characters are, as always, excellent – individuals drawn in depth, behaving the way real people do. Jo’s son Danny, a real estate broker (yes, he’s selling those retirement homes…) married to the equally awful Kylie, is a real piece of work; daughter Eve plans her busy life in the belief that her mother will happily do anything she asks; son Rob and partner Steve (a particularly likeable character) are considerably more amenable, but take yet another slice of Jo’s time as she works front of house at their restaurant. All their interactions are excellent, the children exercising their sense of entitlement while Jo struggles to move her relationship with Col onto a firmer footing.
The book is an in-depth look at the complexities of families, with a focus on grief, loss and love, and the many challenges around starting anew and finding yourself and your own path to happiness. The author’s emotional touch is as sure as ever, as the reader shares Jo’s doubts and fears, and her moments of joy – and being in her company is rather like spending time with the closest of friends.
I’d like to mention the setting of this book too – and how it was a particular pleasure to find the book set in rural Australia, in the wonderfully described small town of Granite Springs. I felt transported there – and, although the other books I’ve read have had an Australian setting in whole or part, I could really feel the heat of the sun throughout this one, the slightly alien environment with the galahs squabbling over crusts on the parched grass, and the occasional Australianism (that I’ll admit I sometimes needed to look up!). That last point isn’t a criticism, by the way – I really rather liked it, and the way it firmly anchored the story in its setting.
There’s really nothing I enjoy more than a strong character-driven story – along with primary characters I can totally identify with as they face the challenges of their fresh starts and new beginnings. This was a book I thoroughly enjoyed, as I have every one of the author’s books I’ve had the pleasure of reading. The next in the series, The Life She Chooses, is already available for pre-order, out on 9th December, and picks up the story of Jo’s friend Kay… and, having already met her (and experienced distinctly mixed feelings), I’m very much looking forward to it!
About the author
After a career in education, Maggie Christensen began writing contemporary women’s fiction portraying mature women facing life-changing situations. Her travels inspire her writing, be it her frequent visits to family in Oregon, USA or her home on Queensland’s beautiful Sunshine Coast. Maggie writes of mature heroines coming to terms with changes in their lives and the heroes worthy of them.
From her native Glasgow, Scotland, Maggie was lured by the call ‘Come and teach in the sun’ to Australia, where she worked as a primary school teacher, university lecturer and in educational management. Now living with her husband of thirty years on Queensland’s Sunshine Coast, she loves walking on the deserted beach in the early mornings and having coffee by the river on weekends. Her days are spent surrounded by books, either reading or writing them – her idea of heaven!
She continues her love of books as a volunteer with her local library where she selects and delivers books to the housebound. A member of Queensland Writer’s Centre, RWA, ALLi, and a local critique group, Maggie enjoys meeting her readers at book signings and library talks.