84 year old Lola Quinlan is keeping a secret from her family and she's going to great lengths for it. She wants her family to go away for the holidays recognizing that each of them need time away to recharge. Plus she needs a break herself. To that end, she's told everyone that she will close the small family owned motel in Australia's Clare Valley and be happy as can be alone with herself this record hot Christmas. But in reality this vibrant octogenarian who freely dispenses wisdom, common sense, and rationality to her grandchildren has planned to gather a group of unknown people around her at the motel, perhaps to delve into their lives and problems much the same as she has for her own family for years. She's designed an internet campaign to make her plan work, offering free lodging to the first seven people who respond to her marketing. Her intended guests all have varying reasons for going to a small motel for Christmas but they are united by the fact that life has beaten them down and the holidays are just one more reminder of all the ways in which their lives are off-course, imperfect, and sad. There's a young man who has not only lost his job but been dumped by his girlfriend and sees no point in going on. There's a 17 year old girl who wants to take her younger sisters away from the toxic, constant fighting between their parents. There's an intense and unbending businesswoman who is estranged from her family. And there's a couple who have been sinking under grief and despair in the aftermath of a tragic workplace accident. All of them are the sort people who could use the sort of perfect Christmas Lola is dreaming up. But of course nothing is going to go as planned.
The novel's perspective jumps from Lola and her family's story to her upcoming guests' stories and back again as they all get closer to the holidays. This is a sequel novel to McInerney's The Alphabet Sisters so there's some past history for new readers to figure out but clues are peppered throughout the narrative to make it easier. Lola is still having to referee and act as go-between for her two granddaughters, Carrie and Bett, who find themselves in a ridiculous competition over who has a better life, more supportive spouse, and is a better parent. Meanwhile, Lola herself is still negotiating a very frosty relationship with daughter-in-law Geraldine, with whom she has never gelled, only existing in an uneasy state of detente because of their shared love for Jim, Lola's only son and Geraldine's husband. In addition to family, Lola also works at the local charity resale store and she finds herself in direct conflict with a new volunteer who is full of ideas, bulldozes the long-time workers, and doesn't do a shred of work herself.
Lola is a pistol and manages to keep a level head for those around her. She has so many balls in the air that a Christmas surrounded by strangers would be a relief. And while it's fun to ride along in Lola's slipstream, there are just a few too many plot lines running through the novel, with many of them never being fully developed to the reader's satisfaction. The family relationships seem genuine although the forty some year chill between Lola and Geraldine that culminates in some hurtful words followed by some soul searching on Lola's part seems a bit too simplistic for something that has festered for so long. The people immediately surrounding Lola in her life were fairly well developed but the secret guests Lola has coming to the motel are much more caricature-like and their stories far more superficial than the family drama that is really the center of the book. Overall, this is a sweet novel that attempts to include just a shade too much but for a quick and easy read, it will fit the bill.
For more information about Monica McInerney and the book visit her web page or Facebook page. Follow the rest of the blog tour or look at the amazon reviews for others' thoughts and opinions on the book. Thanks to Lisa from TLC Book Tours and the publisher for sending me a copy of this book to review.