Tumbledown Manor by Helen Brown
Description: The windows rattle. The roof leaks. Every surface cries out to be stripped, painted, or polished. But for writer Lisa Trumperton, the dilapidated manor house that once belonged to her great-grandfather is far more than the sum of its battered parts. It's the chance for a new start on her own terms. The fact that it's in the Melbourne countryside of her Australian homeland, far from the deceitful ex-husband she just left behind in New York...well, that's a bonus. Lisa sets to work refurbishing Trumperton Manor, assisted by her son, his friends, and a "Gray Army" of retired handymen. But it's not just her ancestral home that;s being transformed. As she trades her chic Manhattan clothes for jeans and work boots, Lisa is changing and fortifying her relationships with family and her sense of self. There are floods, fires and catastrophes, but there are new allies too, including a one-eyed cat, a stubborn cockatoo, and a rugged landscaper with an irresistible grin. Piece by piece, the house is pushing Lisa beyond her old limits, daring her to embrace something bigger, braver, and more rewarding than she ever dreamed. (from Goodreads)
Why I Picked This Book: A falling down old house is my kryptonite. I cannot resist them!
My Impression: This book wasn't what I was expecting. Going in I was expecting a contemporary romance but set in Australia and I got a lot less romance and much more story about Lisa herself. This isn't a bad thing it was just a little different than I expected.
I like Lisa quite a bit. Her fun 50th birthday surprise party turned into something rather awful and sent her scrambling to figure out who she was and what she really wanted. What she wants is to go back to Australia, closer to her son and her sister but where she hasn't lived since her marriage 20+ years ago. She's intelligent and a bit of a reformed free spirit who is writing a trilogy about the Bronte sisters but in a much more historical romance sense. She is also a breast cancer survivor and getting used to her life post-mastectomy. Her life in Australian isn't exactly all unicorns and rainbows as the history around her old family home is obviously not very pleasant but no one will tell her exactly what it is and figuring out all that needs to be down to the old house is an impressive task on it's own. Her struggles with her writing are very much a part of the book as she tries to figure out Emily's story and not let her concern for her daughter Portia, who halfway around the world is refusing to eat and becoming more and more standoffish, take over. The side characters are more developed and flawed than I would have expected. Lisa's relationship with her sister is complicated and it would be so easy to make her a villain but instead there are flashes of kindness and support and I saw her as more protective than bad. This was the same with the majority of the characters and added more depth to the novel.
I didn't understand her reaction to Scott after their first meeting. She seems oddly hostile to him at times though he's proven time and again that his intentions are good and that he is clearly helpful. She'll be all fine with him helping her or working on a project and then turns around and slaps him down for what seems like no reason. I also didn't enjoy the Portia subplot. She's really hard to like for the majority of the book and it seemed to wrap up a bit too quick. However, I did understand why Lisa was trying so hard to make the relationship work.
I loved the sense of place in this book. It felt like it was really set in Australia versus Anytown,Anywhere that was just labeled Australia. Between the fires, floods, and sometimes hostile wildlife there was never a dull moment. And I loved how blase Brown is about driving past kangaroos. I also really enjoyed the Afterword where Brown explains her inspiration for the story. It made it feel much more personal.
I very much enjoyed this book despite periodically wanting to drown a character or two and wanting to sit down and have a good talk about mixed signals with Lisa. It's an unusual story with a very unusual main character who is unusual because she seems so normal and just someone you'd really know.
Would I Read More of this Series/Author?: I would. I really enjoyed the author's voice and her ability to really flesh out characters.
Would I Recommend this Book?: Yes. If you enjoy books about character growth I think you'd enjoy this one.