The Little Cafe by the Lake by Joanne Tracey is the latest in a series of interlinked books – set across Australia, New Zealand and England.
These books and Tracey’s strength continues to be the relatability of her characters and the ease of her storytelling. I also appreciate that she paints players in shades of grey. Here there’s an unwelcome visitor and – though it’d be tempting to paint them in a cast them as completely villainous – she resists the urge, which has been the case in her previous books. And it’s surprising to find ourselves feeling sympathy or empathy for those responsible for others’ pain.The Little Cafe By The Lake
by Joanne Tracey
Published by Self-published
Genres: General Fiction, Women's Fiction
Richie Evans doesn’t think he’s ever been as happy as he is right now. He and his partner Maxine are about to have a baby and move into their new home on the shores of Queenstown’s Lake Wakatipu. His garden design business is booming and everything he ever dreamed of is within his reach.
Richie’s sister Jess is also feeling on top of the world. She’s about to be an aunt for the first time, is running a campaign to be nominated as godmother, and her Queenstown café, Beach Road, is going from success to success. To put a cherry on top of her already beautifully iced cake, her boyfriend Nathan is showing no signs at all of going back to his job in Australia and for the first time in her life, she’s in a relationship with someone who doesn’t seem to be just in it for the season.
As for Milly, she’s overjoyed at the thought of being a grandmother and can’t wait for the baby to arrive. With Richie and Max back in Queenstown to stay, and even Jess looking like she could be settling down at last with a man who is perfect for her, she and her husband Cam can finally begin to ease into retirement and maybe even take a trip or two. But then a stranger arrives in town – and he brings with him secrets that Milly had thought were buried forever, secrets that threaten not only her happiness but that of Richie and Jess too.
I must confess I struggled with the number of characters introduced as this book opened. I know all or most have featured in other books in the series, but if you’re an avid reader with a mind like a sieve (like me) you need some foreshadowing to remind you who people are and why they matter. I think once or twice there’s reference to a character before they’ve been introduced… I I found myself wondering who Tom was for example, and where he fit in, before the context was obvious.
I adored the characters we’d met before – namely Maxine and Richie along with his parents Milly and Cam/Fletch and sister Jess. I probably would have liked a little more from Kate with whom I bonded in Happily Ever After but realise this book is very much about Milly, Cam and Richie and arrival of Milly’s first husband (and Richie’s father) Gary.
We also spend time with Milly’s youngest daughter Jess who owns Beach Road Cafe. I actually didn’t like her much initially as she comes across as quite immature and kinda spiteful. She’s self-centred or absorbed to the point of being annoying.
I realised however, Tracey has written her in that way because we get to see some character growth in the novel as she realises for the first time that she’s not necessarily the centre of everyone’s universe.
My favourite part of this book was unexpected as I found myself captivated by the family dynamics unfolding because of the two crises in which they find themselves – Gary’s reappearance after a couple of decades and Jess’s #blessed life falling to pieces all of a sudden. And of course Jess is forced to confront her desire to control everything by someone who appears to be the first to challenge her in such a way.
As is usually the case with Tracey’s books this is filled with references to food and recipes and she shares some detail about tramping (trekking) given Jess’s part-time job as a guide. I know Tracey’s done a couple of treks in New Zealand so knows what she’s talking about but here she’s also included a lot of information about marine biology to reflect the work of Jessie’s love interest Nathan.
And… I was chuffed to see reference to Hervey Bay (where I live) which plays host to migrating whales each year and know Tracey ventured out on a tour with researchers based here.
I’m unsure if the vast cast of characters may be initially be challenging for a newcomer to the series, although it doesn’t take long to know who’s who and it’s certainly worth hanging in there.
The Little Cafe by the Lake by Joanne Tracey was published on 4 November 2021 and is now available.