Aussie Book Review: Saving Grace by Fiona McCallum

saving Saving Grace (The Button Jar Series #1) by Fiona McCallum

Paperback

Uncorrected proof copy provided by publisher/ DMCPR Media

Harlequin Mira, April 2013

Synopsis- 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?

Review- Emily Oliphant is in a loveless, emotionally abusive marriage but she fears the judgment from her family and community if she were to leave him. But when she adopts little puppy Grace, she realizes that her pet is dependent and vulnerable to her protection and she can’t risk her husband using little Gracie has a pawn to control Emily. So, she leaves. She packs up her belongings and with the help of friend Barbara finds a dilapidated property that she rents for a low rate in return for tidying it up. Emily dreams of running her own rural B&B one day, but fears the cottage she has put time and effort into renovating may be sold from underneath her.

John, Emily’s ex-husband doesn’t put up as much of a fight as I’d have expected when Emily left. It was clear that he didn’t care for her as much as she’d hoped, but I’d have thought that his desire to control and be in power would have instigated a more forceful reconciliation or for some form of threats to be used. Instead he takes up with another woman and pays Emily a financial settlement hastily. This aspect of the story seemed a little unrealistic to me. I know that later the reason for the hastiness is unraveled, but I can’t imagine John going through the process of separation lightly, particularly since it was Emily’s decision. She was in control.

McCallum explores a serious social issue- domestic violence- in a rural setting where access to the extensive city-based support services is limited. She highlights some of the fears of a woman leaving an abusive relationship such as being alone, financial difficulties, pressure from the ex-partner and the prospect of living independently following many years of being financially and emotionally dependent on another. I think the statistics now say that on average a woman will leave an abusive partner about seven times before she leaves for good. Though Emily manages to leave John successfully on the first attempt there are many times following this decision that she loses confidence and questions whether life would be easier if she returned to him. Without the support of her friends Barbara and David, her father Des and to a lesser extent her cousin Liz and friend Jake; it’s likely Emily wouldn’t have had the strength to persevere. She certainly didn’t get support from the local community, nor her critical and intrusive mother.

I think McCallum dealt with the range of issues faced by women who have left an abusive relationship in a sensitive manner, even if the daily nuances and social interactions made for slow-reading at times. On occasion conversations and telephone calls seemed a little too detailed for me and I wonder if the pacing would have flowed better had some of those particulars been summarized or brushed over more quickly. I also found it difficult to connect with Emily at times, especially in the beginning.

Initially Emily was a passive, naive protagonist who had many fears about her future, but through the support of good friends and a newfound relationship with her father she learns to overcome some of these and discovers within herself new strengths and talents. From jam making to making a mouse-ridden dump into a home, Emily works hard to make a different future for herself and Grace. There’s even a hint of romance near the end of the story. Emily undergoes some emotional growth, enough for the reader to feel the story progressed and not too much for it to be unrealistic. Emily is still plagued by fears and self-doubt but this isn’t unusual in someone who has left the wraps of a manipulative and controlling mother, only to marry a man with the same traits. Saving Grace is the first in The Button Jar Series. I’m not quite sure where McCallum intends to take this series, whether Emily will continue to be the protagonist or whether the next installment will further explore the prospect of romance that was hinted in Saving Grace. I’m not really sure whether this book needed to become a series, but I’m interested to see where it does go hereafter.

Saving Grace is a story of a woman who has the courage to make a life different from the one she and everyone else expected of her. It’s a pleasant, easy read that most rural fiction fans or contemporary readers will enjoy.

Overall Rating

3.5/5

“I really liked this”

Saving Grace can be purchased from Fishpond and other leading book retailers

This book was read as part of the AWW2013 challenge:

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