I received a free proof copy of this book from a First Reads giveaway, in return for an honest review. I apologise if there are any spoilers. There's a lot of bad language, sexual content and mature themes in the book. Please be warned when reading it.
I like the writing style of the author in this book. She has a great way with descriptions and uses Australia as a beautiful back drop for her plot.
I'll start my character portion with Hamish. In the first chapter, it became painfully obvious that we're meant to think poorly of him; Paula made a big deal about him being on the phone all the time, but never being able to contact him for anything important. I admit, I kind of fell for that as well and did think a bit badly of him. However, in the second chapter, it became a little more clearer to me about his feelings and I drew to like him. Though, it became even more obvious that we're meant to think badly of him. It just seems like he meant well all through the first few chapters. He provided for his family, well enough so that Paula didn't even have to work. She wanted a new job and then I think the author was trying to imply that it was Hamish's fault that he was making too much money that she didn't need to become a midwife. He wasn't necessarily saying that she shouldn't do it; he was saying that it wouldn't pay out much in comparison to the work that she would put into it. Then, as if that wasn't bad enough, we were put into the mindset that Hamish isn't as good a father as Paula is a mother. Right from the birth of caitlin, Hamish faints and when he wakes up, she won't let him hold the baby. From then on, Paula just seems overly controlling. She keeps on implying that he's doing the wrong things and that he ends up only being allowed to do "blue jobs", like building cots and stuff. To me, however, it just seems like he's kind of depressed and sad about his situation. He is genuinely trying to do the best for his family and even steps out of Paula's way so she can be a better mother. He does his best in trying to raise both children, even if he doesn't really understand them. I thought it was really gratuitous to have him have an "affair" with the 17 year old girl over the internet. The sexual impulses he felt towards other women were only natural and it just felt as if the author were trying to make Hamish out to be really nasty.
As much as we're meant to hate Hamish, I kind of valued that he was willing to put in such a huge effort. Not only did he stay with Paula for so many years of marriage, when he was obviously depressed by it, he really went the extra mile to save the marriage. Heck, he went a whole bunch of extra miles in the attempt to win her back.
As for Paula, the wife and main character, in the beginning, I could sort of understand her feelings. It seemed that she was really genuinely caring for her daughter's situation with the school. It kind of struck me as odd that she seemed to think more highly of the daughter than she did her son, but then told her husband off for doing the same. My feelings completely changed towards her in the next few chapters, especially after seeing things from Hamish's point of view. I know that she's mean to seem like a good wife and a good mother, but I couldn't help but feel that she fails a little in both respects. Rather than talking to her husband after his accident, she barely visits him in hospital and she then decides to take his children away on holiday, not even bothering to speak to him about it, leaving the children to do the hard work. She deprives him of the necessary communication so that he can arrange his own ride home, even to the point where he has to get a nurse to find the telephone number of his friend. On that point, he likely would have had to make his own arrangements for work and not having his phone or proper contact might have meant that he'd lose his job if the situation were more dire. On the note of the holiday, it seemed completely ridiculous just to pack up the kids and take them away at a moment's notice. Sure, both Caitlin and Lachie might be experiencing traumatising feelings about the Facebook incident, but they would still likely have schoolwork to do. Considering Caitlin is meant to be going into her tenth year in a few months, her time would be better spent studying than going on a holiday across Australia. The same with Lachie. How are either of them expected to get good marks (or even graduate) if they're busy going on holiday? Also, as I read on, I found out that she took various homework for them to do. Only once did she try to make them do it, and then I believe she let them throw it out. A stupid thing to do, being honest. As much as she wanted the grandfather to teach them life lessons, they could have done it just as well, while learning a bit of school work now and then.
I can't get over what a hypocrite Paula is, though. She makes vast rules that they ought to be technology free, yet breaks them to gossip to her sister. Yes, I understand that keeping Jamie updated on location and status is important. However, to gossip about a male hitchhiker is just breaking her own rules. Also, another one of her rules being bad language, yet on the holiday, she's the one who breaks the rule the most. I can't condone willfull destruction of property. Nope. Not going to do it. No matter how angry she is at Hamish, it's just downright nasty to destroy someone elses' property, and especially things that are so expensive like an iPhone and a laptop. There are people in this world who could really use that type of thing, but don't have access to it. It's just wasteful. The same with the alcohol; it's just wasteful and you're basically pouring your money down the drain. Also, it was shameful that she used her son's chess magazine to prop up a wobbly table. Doesn't she have any respect for anyone elses' property? Despicable. Now, I don't drink and I'm not usually one to judge peoples' alcohol intake. However, it just seems ridiculous to me that she complains at her children for wasting the entire $250 grocery budget on junk food, when she and her father take up alcohol every single night. She makes a major complaint about only having a limited budget for food. Alcohol isn't necessary and it just seems hypocritical that they're spending money on booze when they could be spending that money on extra provisions or something that could really be used. She keeps on complaing about these money troubles, but keeps on partaking in unecessary things like alcohol and a Brazillian wax. It was such a waste to throw out those cloths in the beginning as well; they could have been used. It doesn't make sense at all to me. It all just seems ridiculous that Paula implies that this is for her family's own good; that getting away from school/ Hamish might instantly make their lives better. I understand that a lot of people feel the need to get away from their problems, but when they need to get back home, the problems are still there. Not to mention that there are likely going to be more problems. It just makes Paula (supposedly a strong character) seem emphatically weak, that she can't even bring her kids up to deal with a problem, just to run away from them. There's likely going to be a LOT of catch up school work for them to do. Not only that, she refused to let her own husband explain the problem from his perspective, which just makes her look selfish because she can't even think of a problem from anyone elses' perspective. This is also shown in relation to the Facebook incident; she just doesn't really understand it and keeps considering that it just wouldn't have happened back in her day. She doesn't even try to understand many of the kids' other problems such as using social media or even her father's gambling (or lack thereof) problem.
What the heck is with these kids? Firstly, they're stereotypical. Caitlin, the elder, is the victim of the Facebook incident. She's a sporty teen, smart, popular, good looking and has lots of friends. The younger is Lachie, who has no real important plot line. The author keeps on implying that Hamish looks down on him. Paula, who aparently treats both equally, also obviously finds Caitlin more important. Anyway, Lachie is stereotypically geeky. He enjoys things like chess, console games, reading, insert other stereotypically things authors think that geeks do. Which was also pretty odd to me considering that Caitlin seems to be the bookworm, while Lachie doesn't really care about schoolwork. The weirdest thing is that, from their personalities and the way they speak, neither teen really shows much of those traits, except for when they're being introduced or spoken about. I guess the author didn't really know how to write those in later on... The thing that's most surprising is the bad language that comes from their mouths. Paula doesn't seem to mind them speaking with such contempt, which is later proven when she ends up using more bad language than them at various points. Also, in the beginning of the book, she doesn't even care that Lachie was truanting school.
Sid, Paula's father is likeable. He seems charming and full of life, despite being an older gentleman. I particularly liked the story about his father gambling away the family's money and then him having to grow up in poverty afterwards. I thought it kind of sweet with his own gambling plot line where he refuses to place a bet, but still picks out winners. It was adorable and kind of heart warming that he didn't want to put his own family's welfare in trouble. It was also really sweet when he made those bets for the retired couple to help them with the animal shelter. I really thought it would have been a nicer plot line to explore.
Oh my goodness, the whole thing with Marcelo... It was just all so painful to read. The majority of his character was just so obviously a plot device for Hamish to be jealous, with basically no pay off considering that the marriage is over. The whole thing with Marcelo was just cringeworthy. I can't understand Paula's decision to trust him in the first place, but I think that she sensed something might go wrong because she immediately tried to blame her father for it; the studies where they needed to talk to strangers... For some stupid reason. The Marcelo plot line got stupider as the book went along. Paula kept on making stupid decisions and her affair with him was nothing short of hypocritical, especially considering the way she treated Hamish about his online affair (which I'll mention in the next portion, but I'll continue with Marcelo first). The drug running/ conman aspect of Marcelo's character was fairly obvious right from the character introduction. The thing I don't understand is that the author keeps on trying to imply that Paula is a smart woman, only set on doing what's best for her family. It just doesn't make sense that she didn't notice Marcelo's obvious conman nature, being that he had very stereotypical traits for such a character, and also that she took in such a stranger to begin with. The worst thing about the plot line is that she kept on flirting with him, despite being married and making vague considerations to get back with Hamish, though I suspect that she was only having her own affair to get back with Hamish about his own. I'm sorry, but I just can't get over what a stupid decision it was to begin with; there was absolutely no valid reason for her to trust him and that whole plot line is completely flawed.
Now, about the plot line with Hamish's affair. I just think it was completely gratuitous. Firstly, as I probably said at one point above, I think that the author was just trying to make Hamish seem like a really bad person. It's not enough for some authors to give them one or two negative traits, some authors just have to go to the end of the Earth to make them look bad. The author keeps on finding reasons to make Paula angry with him; the affair, body issues, work schedule, etc, etc. The worst thing is that I still think that Paula is more at fault in any of this. Hamish wouldn't have had the actual affair if she hadn't left him and taken the kids away. Not to mention, she had an affair as well, right? Yeah, and at least he was smart enough to think about protection when having it off with some weird stranger. Yet, the author keeps on trying to imply that Hamish is the worse of the pair. It doesn't make sense at all. I don't understand why the author keeps on implying that Paula is a good wife when she left him right when he needed her the most. Then she also makes a comment that their seventeen years marriage is thrown away over Hamish's online affair, yet she was the one to pack up the kids and leave without even trying to talk through the problems. SHE was the one throwing the marriage away when a problem arose. She wouldn't have even found out if she hadn't been prying into his private matters in the first place. Also, she kept on complaining that he didn't want to have sex with her, even so much as kiss her, but in his monologues he comments that he offered on multiple occasions. I'm sorry, but the more the author tries to get us to support Paula, the stupider the character becomes.
The Facebook incident plot line had such a stupid ending. It just seems ridiculous that two teenage girls would create such an offensive hoax just so that they wouldn't have to admit to being romantically involved. It's especially strange considering that both Paula and Caitlin then comment that Hamish would freak out because he mightn't understand such a thing, implying that he's homophobic. Yet, Caitlin and Amy had gone to such ridiculous lengths to not be "found out" in the first place, which I consider to be more homophobic, that they were the ones who didn't want to admit it to anyone, implying that they were the ones who found it problematic. I think the majority of the homophobia portion was just to, once again, make it out as if Hamish was the bad person, when he really had nothing to do with the Facebook incident. I felt it completely ridiculous that the author was trying to blame him for it, when he wasn't the one expressing homophobia in that instance. He didn't even know about the relationship, for Pete's sake. Being bisexual myself, I just found that both of the girls could have dealt with it much better and I can't believe either of them thought to do such a thing with Facebook would be a good idea. I'm really disappointed with that plot line; it turned out to not only be completely unnecessary, but also upsetting to me. Also, after finding out the ending, I immediately thought to the beginning of that plot line where she had apparently been so upset after the talk she'd had with the counsellor. Well, Caitlin, that serves you right; if you didn't want to have been upset by it, you shouldn't have used Facebook like that in the first place. I feel like I wasted a lot of pity on the girl.
The ending with Sid was sweet, but I felt that it was not well thought out on the part of the author. If Sid really intended to give the money to his daughters, it would have been more practical for him to keep it in some sort of special trust fund first, which might then be inherited to the girls upon his death. That would then also make it so that it wouldn't be accessible to Hamish via any divorce agreement. It was stupid for him to keep the surprise in the freezer, though, and downright confusing. It would have been more practical to just hand the envelope to her and save everyone the bother of waiting weeks to find out what was "in the freezer". Why bother...?
I think the plot lines overall were very muddled, especially considering that they were done so badly and much of it seemed completely unplanned. I think that the author ought to have stuck with one or two plot lines, the Facebook incident and Sid's gambling if I were to choose, and then vastly improved them. Just because, it's no use having so many plot lines if none of them are planned properly. I think it's the ending of the book that's the worst bit. After they get home and are all watching the news for Marcelo's reveal, that would probably have been the right time to end it. It was a point where I felt that the author had more or less redeemed herself in my eyes. At that point, I would probably have rated the book at three stars. However, after that, the author kept on going and picking at all the wounds that had healed over. What about the marriage? Nope, Paula's had enough now, time to give up on it. What about this ridiculous plot with Marcel that she's kind of gotten over already? Nope, we're just going to rub it in that she had unprotected sex with a conman in a tree... What an idiot.
Overall, I really didn't enjoy the book. There were a lot of stupid scenes that had me cringing because they lacked common sense and the characters just made idiots of themselves. Originally, when reading the plot online, I thought I might like the book and it might be a little adventure where they explore the country. It turned out to be an over-dramatised mess of plot lines, none of which made much sense. I'm so very disappointed in Paula. I was looking forward to a book with a strong, female character who takes it upon herself to look after her family. It was just upsetting to see her make so many stupid mistakes. Hamish turned out to be my favourite character. As above, I really felt sorry for him, especially that he kept putting in so much effort to try and get his family back. He really did seem like he was being genuine throughout the book and I can't help but feel so badly for the way he was treated. I was going to rate it three stars at one point, but after the ending, I can't help but feel it doesn't deserve it. I would rate it one star, but there were some heartwarming scenes that I kind of enjoyed. Two stars. I don't really intend to read more of this author's work in future. However, at the same time, I kind of feel like the problems here might just be part of this book, that the other works might be better. I might read their work in future, but I hope it's vastly improved.