Book review: The Peppercorn Project

The Peppercorn Project by Nicki Edwards
Review by Kylie Thompson

Genre: rural Australian romance

Isabelle Cassidy never expected to be a young widow, never expected to go from happily ever after to having her home repossessed. With her children struggling to cope, and feeling no better herself, it’s up to Isabelle to figure out how to find a safe place for her broken family to heal.

Enter the Peppercorn Project: a revitalisation effort for the tiny rural town of Stony Creek that will see four families given incredibly generous rent for a year. With so many families hoping for a fresh start in the town, it’s a long shot, especially for a trained nurse unable to do her job. But with options thin on the ground, Isabelle is more than willing to try her luck.

The town isn’t as she expected, least of all curt police officer Matt Robertson. Matt is a relatively new arrival to Stony Creek, having left the city to find somewhere to lick his wounds after a bitter divorce. The town has been good to Matt, giving him a place to call home and people who accept him wholeheartedly. But while the rest of the town is thrilled by the Project, Matt is decidedly against it, worried that the new residents will bring nothing but trouble to his sanctuary. That he’ll be stuck living beside one of the new families really doesn’t help.

Luck, or perhaps the scheming of a matchmaking town, sees Isabelle move in beside the surly officer. But can a bit of country charm truly heal so many broken hearts?

‘The Peppercorn Project’ is a compelling and sweet story about learning to move forward after a loss. It’s hard not to feel for Isabelle and her kids, to hope for the happily ever after they so richly deserve. The characters are relatable, and a lot of fun to while away a few hours with- as quirky as Stars Hollow from ‘The Gilmore Girls’ with a decidedly Aussie twist.

What’s wonderful about ‘The Peppercorn Project’ is that it doesn’t shy away from the realities of Isabelle’s loss, and the trauma associated with it. The loss of her husband is a jagged tear in her relationship with her children, and especially the son who witnessed his father’s death. The potential for new love doesn’t erase that damage, merely adds to the scaffolding of her healing. Isabelle’s guilt and self-doubt will no doubt be painfully familiar to at least a few readers, and Edwards has ensured that her heroine’s struggle is written compassionately, rather than being just another way to engender sympathy for a protagonist.

If there’s an issue, it’s that a few incredibly compelling storylines show up, steal focus, and then vanish with only the vaguest of closure. There are elements of the story I’d love to have seen expanded upon, or minimised so that they didn’t appear to be so crucial to the main plot. There are elements that see a lot of lead in for an unsatisfying conclusion, and though ‘The Peppercorn Project’ is clearly a rural romance first and foremost, the storyline could have been enhanced by working more fully with the elements of other genres that show up.

Does it ruin the overall story? Not unless you’re the sort of reader who likes to see more fully developed subplots, and have a strong dislike for a sudden narrative end. Though it distanced me a little from the story, it certainly didn’t ruin my enjoyment of the novel. ‘The Peppercorn Project’ is certainly an enjoyable read, and it’s hard to resist the charm of Stony Creek and its inhabitants. Isabelle is a relatable, sympathetic protagonist with two realistic kids you can’t help but adore. If you’re looking for a quick and compelling read, it’s an enjoyable way to spend a few hours.

‘The Peppercorn Project’ is published by Pan Macmillan Australia, and is available through the publisher’s website, and at all leading retailers.

Rating: 3 stars

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