Title: The Secret Vineyard
Author: Loretta Hill
Published: January 2nd 2018
Publisher: Penguin Books Australia
Genres: Contemporary Fiction, Australian, Romance, Rural
Rating: 5 stars
Single mum Grace has no plans – and no spare time – to fall in love again. Until she moves to her ex-husband’s secret vineyard . . .
Grace Middleton knew that her ex-husband Jake was a lying, cheating, wife-abandoning bastard.
What she didn’t know – until his untimely death – was that he was also the owner of a secret vineyard in the heart of the Margaret River wine region. And, much to the chagrin of his new wife, he’s left the property to Grace’s three young sons.
With the intention of putting it up for sale, Grace takes the boys to view Gum Leaf Grove. And immediately finds herself embroiled in mysteries from Jake’s past and the accidental target of the resident ‘ghost’.
Nowadays Grace believes in love even less than she believes in ghosts. So no one is more surprised than her when she finds herself caught between two very different men – with secrets of their own . . .
Warm, funny, genuine and profoundly romantic. These are the words that come to mind when I think about Loretta Hill’s new release, a novel titled, The Secret Vineyard. A backdrop of the stunning south-west location of Western Australia, close to the Margaret River wine region, compliments the absorbing storyline. Loretta Hill’s latest features themes of loss, new beginnings, forgiveness, family and love. The Secret Vineyard is one book you definitely need to put on your 2018 to-read list.
The Secret Vineyard is Grace Middleton’s story. The book begins outlining Grace’s chaotic life. Grace is a single mum to three young boys. She balances the care of her children, with her work as an accountant. Despite being in the business of managing finances, Grace’s situation isn’t great money wise. Her husband Jake left her almost four years ago, when she was pregnant with her youngest son Charlie. Jake is the rotten sort, he had an affair with Grace’s best friend Carrie that resulted in a divorce for Grace and a marriage for Carrie. When Jake dies unexpectedly, Grace and her boys are gifted with a secret inheritance, a vineyard in the south-west of WA, called Gum Leaf Grove Grace decides to take the boys to the property, with the full intention to sell it. However, circumstances quickly change for Grace. A family mystery, an intriguing ghostly presence at the vineyard, the loss of her job in Perth and the opportunity to fall in love again all present themselves to Grace. Gum Leaf Grove becomes the saving grace for Grace, her boys and even a mysterious stranger’s life.
The Secret Vineyard is my favourite of Hill’s books and I have read all but one title by this author, to-date. With the absence of a title from Hill last year, I was so pleased to see she has blessed her readers with an early 2018 release. Hill has set the bar high for 2018, I simply adored this novel, and it seemed to tick all the boxes for me. The Secret Vineyard has already secured a position on my top reads for 2018!
The Secret Vineyard is the leading character of the novel, Grace Middleton’s heartfelt journey. Hill has chosen to use a first person style of narrative for her sixth novel. The use of this narrative technique allows the reader to really get into the heart and mind of the heroine of the story, with a large degree of depth. This point of view enabled me to establish a swift but lasting connection to Grace. As a mother of two young children myself, I quickly saw the parallels between my own life and Grace’s life. Hill paints a picture of motherhood and in particular, single parenthood, with a strong dose of realism. Hill presents the reader with the tears and tantrums version of raising kids. Through the novel, we witness moments of despair, desperation, embarrassment, happiness and pride in raising three spirited children.
Hill’s heroine Grace is supported by a fantastic cast of secondary characters. I liked the inclusion of Rachel, Grace’s sister to the mould. She is a great source of reason, help and guidance in Grace’s life. I liked how Grace and Rachel’s conversations gave us an insight into both the events in the book, as well as Grace’s mind. Grace’s mother, whom she is estranged from for the bulk of the novel, allows Hill to tackle themes of forgiveness, trust, family dynamics and alcoholism. There are also comedic elements in the book, which comes from the inclusion of a colourful character called Antoine, who hails from an adjoining winery to Gum Leaf Grove. However, I felt Grace’s three children, Ryan, Alfie and Charlie are mostly responsible for the humorous scenes in the novel.
Romance is high on the agenda in The Secret Vineyard. Initially, the prospect of romance, which Grace tries so hard to resist, comes from real estate agent Scott. Readers will soon see how transparent Scott is, perhaps before the lead Grace. Scott’s inclusion in the storyline adds complications to the romance sub plot, as well as the revelation of an interesting secret this character holds close to his chest. Hill treats her lead to not one, but two men in the love stakes. The other male contender is much more guarded, genuine and shrouded in a healthy dose of mystery. This appealing male lead’s storyline does make up a healthy chunk of the novel’s direction but it is a compelling narrative thread that I enjoyed unpacking immensely. Half the fun, which some readers may find a little too far-fetched, is the ‘ghost’ element that is connected to this particular character.
As much as I loved the romance in The Secret Vineyard, I very much enjoyed the other aspects of the story. The family mystery involving Grace’s husband Jake, a set of letters Grace discovers at Gum Leaf Grove and the investigations Grace embarks on in order to solve this mystery, adds further appeal to this novel. I liked the inclusion of the hearty family history thread and the hints to the presence of a resident ghost. It is certainly something a little different for Loretta Hill and displays her growth as a writer to tackle some different sub themes to her previous titles.
My love for this novel was sealed by the use of the familiar south-west region of Western Australia as the location of the main events of the novel. The vineyard that Grace’s children inherit, Gum Leaf Grove, is located near Yallingup, a part of our state I have had the pleasure to visit many times over. Hill brings out the best of this region, which will be sure to draw in outsiders. For those with first-hand experience of the region, it was a pleasure to see how Hill captured the beauty – the beach, food, wine and giant forest areas of this region, perfectly on the page.
My final word on The Secret Vineyard comes from the ending. The closure of the novel is crisp, sweet and happy one, for (almost) all those involved in the events of this entertaining novel. The inclusion of the meaningful final song lyrics made me tear up. Loretta Hill’s sixth and latest novel is a book that has so much to offer the reader. The Secret Vineyard is; a hearty mystery, an unexpected love story and a study on complex family relations. All of these themes are offset by a relaxing West Australian vineyard setting and moments of bona fide humour. An essential read this summer!
The Secret Vineyard by Loretta Hill was published on January 2nd 2018 by Penguin Books Australia. Details on how to purchase the book can be found here.
To learn more about the author of The Secret Vineyard, Loretta Hill, visit here.
*I wish to thank Penguin Books Australia for providing me with a free copy of this book for review purposes.