Spring Clean for the Peach Queen

by Sasha Wasley

Listen to The Reading Edit’s review on ‘Recommended Reading’ on Drive with Julie Clift, ABC Gold Coast, 27 April 2021.

This book is such a delight! Thirty-year-old Lottie Bentz left her hometown 12 years ago, soon after she was crowned ‘Peach Queen’ at the annual Harvest Ball. Now, her celebrity career is in tatters, she’s in the middle of a media scandal and her agent is in crisis mode. All Lottie wants to do is go home to the orchard town of Bonnievale and wait until the whole thing blows over.

But, following her recent, well-publicised indiscretions, she arrives back in Bonnievale to discover her feminist mother is furious with her. Lottie is broke and determined to declutter her life and start afresh with a clean slate. She lands herself a place to stay at the Brooker’s farm, living in a dusty old caravan with no electricity and embarking on a Marie Kondo-style declutter of both her life as well as the long-held Brooker farm. But as Lottie’s declutter begins to stir up long buried memories and half-truths, the very private Angus Brooker – former Peach King to Lottie’s Queen and heir to the Brooker farm – makes it clear she’s not welcome.

Nonetheless, Lottie is soon swept up in small town life, avoiding her mother at the family newsagency and even finding herself on the organising committee for the recently reinstated Harvest Ball. As kind Mrs Brooker’s health deteriorates, Angus starts to appreciate Lottie and even begins to enjoy having her around. It seems the Brookers and Bonnievale may need Lottie as much as Lottie needs them.

Spring Clean for the Peach Queen is funny, warm and modern, but brimming with good old fashioned country charm. I really liked how the story confronted complex family relationships and didn’t shy away from the challenges faced by small towns and farming communities. I loved the characterisation of the various folk in the small country town of Bonnievale. Lottie especially is just so darn likeable! Anyone who goes out on a limb to save an unwell chicken, nurse it back to health and then eventually release it back into the chook pen while singing ‘Survivor’ by Destiny’s Child, is a kindred spirit of mine.

At 472 pages, it’s not a short story and it wasn’t exactly one of those books that you can’t put down. It’s more like a freshly made batch of homemade scones (with jam and cream) cooling in a country kitchen. You don’t want to eat all the scones in one go, rather, you can’t resist popping back for one more because they’re so warm, comforting and delicious.

The ‘Marie Kondo-style’ decluttering that Lottie embarks on refers to the Japanese tidying and decluttering sensation, Marie Kondo. In 2010, Marie Kondo authored the book ‘The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up’. Her method of tidying, known as the KonMari Method is based on determining which items to keep. You simply pick up an item one at a time and if it sparks joy, you keep it! If it doesn’t, you thank it for its service and let it go. Whilst it is a highly effective tidying practice, the actual goal of tidying using the KonMari Method is to clear away clutter so you are free to live the life you want.

Although I don’t have any actual practical experience with the KonMarie Method, I am constantly decluttering. My husband worries that if he sits in any one place too long, I’ll throw him out too. It’s partly because we have a small, but character filled home with little storage, but I also love the idea of living simply and decluttering our lives to bring calm and contentment.

Spring Clean for the Peach Queen has been described as a ‘spring clean for the soul’ (Joanna Nell). There’s romance, it’s funny, the country setting and characters are so real and honest, and at it’s heart, it’s a book about discovering the sort of contentment you feel when you are truly happy just being yourself. If that sounds like something you’d enjoy reading, I’m sure that, like me, you’ll be happy spending time in the town of Bonnievale too.

Spring Clean for the Peach Queen. Published by Pantera Press, 2021. 471 pages.

An Australian Epic by the Author of The Book Thief

Bridge of Clay by Markus Zusak

Cover of the book Bridge of Clay by Markus Zusak featuring the silhouette of a boy sitting on a roof and behind him is an orange sky. Image is to accompany the book review on the same page.

Bridge of Clay is Zusak’s next novel following the huge success of his international best-seller The Book Thief, and it couldn’t be more different. It is an Australian epic of family, love and loss – and it’s an absolute ripper.

At 579 pages, you can really immerse yourself in this sprawling family saga, set largely in the outer suburbs of Sydney. The story revolves around five brothers – the Dunbar boys – Matthew (the eldest and the narrator of the story), Rory, Henry, Clay and Tommy. Their mother is dead, their father has fled. The five boys, aged in their teens and early 20s, are growing up together in the family home.

A family of ramshackle tragedy. A comic book kapow of boys and blood and beasts.

Matthew Dunbar, Bridge of Clay (page 9)

They live with an assortment of pets collected by the youngest brother, animal lover, Tommy. The pets are each named after characters from the great Greek literary works, The Illiad and The Odyssey. So named perhaps in tribute to their mother, Penny Dunbar, who carried the books as a young immigrant from the Eastern Bloc and went on to lovingly read the stories to her sons, just as her father had read them to her.

Following the death of the boys’ mother, their father has retreated to the outback, in a house beside a river that overflows in big rain and isolates him from the town.

Our protagonist, Clay, is 16 years old and the fourth Dunbar boy. He is quiet and sensitive, yet also extremely physical. Always training for something, but none of them, including Clay, know what that is. All they know is that whatever it is, when that day comes, he’ll be ready.

And that may just be the day their father (only ever referred to as ‘The Murderer’ throughout the book) returns to ask the boys for their help to build a bridge over the river by his home. The sudden, unexpected return of their father is not welcomed by the boys; Clay, the only one who agrees to take their father up on his offer.

As the story unfolds, the building of the bridge provides a metaphor for the slow, rebuilding of the relationship between Clay and his father and the healing from grief following the death of their mother.

Clay will absolutely work his way into your heart. His young life has been marred by immense loss, tragedy and grief, but also love. As Matthew writes on page 10

“Let me tell you about our brother. The fourth Dunbar boy named Clay. Everything happened to him. We were all of us changed through him.”

Matthew Dunbar, Bridge of Clay (page 10)

Bridge of Clay will have you laughing out loud at unexpected moments. Equally, there will be times when your heart will swell with sadness and grief for the Dunbar boys, particularly Clay. With both scenarios, Zusak often catches the reader off-guard with his trademark laconic style.

Bridge of Clay took Zusak over ten years to write, and I for one am so glad he persevered.

Published 2019 by Pan Macmillan Australia, 592 pages.

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