I met Australian author Vanessa Carnevale early in 2017 – a month or two after her debut novel, The Florentine Bridge, was released. She was absolutely gorgeous and didn’t hold the fact I wasn’t a romance reader against me… despite the fact we were at a romance readers’ convention (and I was only there because I’d won a free ticket).
Vanessa, however was (and is) lovely and one of those people you are drawn to. Her generosity of spirit was kinda obvious and she seemed like a genuinely nice person.
I next met Vanessa at the Australian Romance Writers’ Conference – and yes I know it’s weird cos I don’t read romance or write (at all) – but it was something I went to hoping to meet like-minded people (ie. lovers of words and writing), which I certainly did. And I attended a couple of sessions Vanessa was involved in, including one about her ‘journey’ from manuscript to publication.
Again there was a authenticity that I liked about her. In fact she grabbed me at one point and – as she knows I’d like to write a novel but am inexplicably hamstrung – encouraged me to do so.
A couple of months later stars and planets aligned (and I restarted full-time work and was going to be less-poor) when I discovered Vanessa was running a writing retreat in Tuscany – a place on my bucket list.
It all seemed too providential so I booked my spot and am really (really) looking forward to that in September 2018.
In the meantime however, I noted Vanessa’s second book was being released and decided I should read it.
There was a sense of trepidation though. What if this person whose personality I liked so much, had written a book I disliked? And as I’m not a reader of romance, I was a tad nervous about my cynicism towards that thing many call love.
As it happened I needn’t have worried as I adored Vanessa’s very easy and engaging writing style and found myself ensconced in the unfolding narrative as if wrapped in a warm comforting blanket.The Memories That Make Us
by Vanessa Carnevale
Published by HQ Fiction
on February 19th 2018
Genres: Romance, Women's Fiction
Gracie Ashcroft is supposed to marry Blake Beaumont in three months’ time. The trouble is, she doesn’t know who he is…
After an accident leaves Gracie with severe amnesia, she’s forced to decide: live a life that is made up of other people’s memories of who she was, or start a new life on her own. Leaving her fiancé Blake behind, she moves to the country where she takes on the task of reviving her family’s abandoned flower farm.
While attempting to restart a business with an uncertain future, she tries to come to terms with the grief of losing a mother she can’t remember and a fiancé she so badly wants to fall in love with again. What she doesn’t count on is developing a deep connection with Flynn, a local vet. Worst of all is having to confront the fact that she might lose either chance at love.
Forced to examine the person she has become, Gracie confronts the question: if you had your time over, would you live the same life twice?
I say I don’t read ‘romance’ but I do. A bit. I enjoy romantic suspense and find myself reading more contemporary romance by Australian authors than I once thought I would. I also ‘used’ to read romance before I became bitter and twisted, so there’s something familiar about the genre.
Carnevale’s writing is lovely and so seamless I easily became engrossed in Gracie’s story.
It could have been tempting become frustrated at Gracie’s attitude at the beginning of the book but suddenly finding yourself without memories or any links to your past would be unimaginably difficult and I think Carnevale did a great job at consistently getting that message across. “Without any semblance of a past there is almost nothing,” Gracie says at one point. (p. 49)
“It’s our memories that make us who we are.” My skin tingles, tiny goosebumps appearing on my forearms. If memories are the delicate threads that knit our souls together and make us who we are, who can we be without them? p 125
We meet Blake (as does Gracie) through the letters he writes to her. She’s refused to see him… in fact she’s reticent to see her life and her memories through the eyes of those who knew her ‘before’…
I want to remember on my terms. I don’t want to remember things because you or anyone else that knows me remembered them a certain way. I don’t want to be told stories about how things were and what I felt. I want to know it and feel it myself. p 38
Her best friend Scarlett (and Blake) believe if Gracie’s fallen in love with Blake once, surely she would fall in love with him again. But for Gracie, it’s not that simple.
If things can’t ever be the way they were before, then all I have is what is in my life right now. p 42
As bad as an intangible past would be, it’s also an enticing notion… a blank slate – starting afresh and being able to redefine almost everything about ourselves: tea vs coffee; savoury vs sweet. Stopping to reconsider our likes and dislikes, or our passions and life choices seems like a luxury most of us don’t have.
But of course the question posed in this book is whether our memories shape us (in the present); or we’ve shaped our memories to fit our lives and (in reality) we’re fated to make the same choices or decisions (again and again) in some preordained way.
“What if you didn’t have a past to hold onto?” I say, my voice low.
“Then maybe you’d leave things to fate and destiny.” p 124
“So you think that sometimes you’re meant to end up where you end up? That maybe you’re meant to end up with the right person, in the right career at exactly the right time?” p 124
For most of us it’s impossible to really know if we’d make the same decisions second time around (AND without the benefit of hindsight). If we’d have the same tastes. If we’d like or love the same things or people. Not to mention the whole ‘sliding doors’ effect of changing one decision. And just a heads-up… don’t think about that stuff too much as it can be a huge mindf*ck!
I guessed what was coming in this book but we’re possibly meant to and I don’t think Carnevale worries overly about readers knowing beforehand. In fact, I put the book down briefly to do some chores before Gracie returns to her childhood home and (as I was enjoying the book and keen to get back to it, I was imagining what was going to come next). Carnevale wrote it exactly as I imagined it and as I wanted it to unfold.
I was surprised at how invested I became in the characters of this book and have to confess to sobbing hysterically on a couple of occasions and kudos to Carnevale for eliciting that reaction. (The jogging / shoelace scene killed me!)
From the beginning of the book we know flowers will be an integral part of the story. A just-awake-after-her-accident-Gracie inexplicably recognises the type of flowers in her hospital room despite not knowing her name. And she’s conscious of the delight she takes in them before knowing she grew up on a flower farm.
Carnevale has obviously done her research and touches on flowers I’ve never heard of, not to mention the fact I didn’t even know flower-farming was a thing. But it’s her love of flowers and their connection to her past that help heal Gracie in ways she didn’t expect.
This is a lovely book. I opened it at the perfect moment – on a bizarrely cold and rainy Sunday in summer and it gave me the perfect excuse to remain on my sofa until I finished the book completely.
I must also admit, now that I know Vanessa’s writing and story telling is really accessible and not at all overly sentimental I must go back and read The Florentine Bridge.
The Memories that Make Us by Vanessa Carnevale will be published in Australia by Harlequin and available from 19 February 2018.
I received an electronic copy of this book from the publisher for review purposes.
PS. There are book club questions in the back of the book, which is always helpful to those more sociable than moi. And there’s a list of flowers and their botanical names for those who care about that stuff.