Author: Fiona Lowe
Publisher: HQ Fiction
Publication Date: 24 February 2020
Copy: Courtesy of publisher via Netgalley/ Purchased personal copy.

Fiona Lowe’s latest novel Just an Ordinary Family is about a family that is anything but ordinary. This is a captivating story that encompasses all of the aspects of family life with it’s triumphs and it’s tribulations. It is filled with moments of joy and laughter but this is a family with more than it’s share of heartbreak and seemingly insurmountable hurdles to tackle.

Just an Ordinary Family is a book that I downloaded from Netgalley but then knew I needed to have in print, so I preordered it months ago and it’s been sitting on my desk calling my name ever since. I finally picked it up yesterday and have been loathe to put it down. In a serendipitous turn of events I actually had a lot of unaccounted for downtime in the last couple of days so found myself with hours to curl up and open a book – I am so glad it was this one.

This is the story of an extended family, bonded by blood, marriage and friendship. Some bonds are stronger than others and some members have more in common than others. It’s also a family that has relatively recently all moved back to the small coastal town of Kurnai Bay.

Alice Hunter was raised in Kurnai Bay with her slightly older twin sister and loving parents. She has been living and working in Melbourne but when her long term relationship crumbles and her job follows soon after Alice finds herself back in her family home in Kurnai Bay.

Life in Kurnai Bay doesn’t offer the fine art opportunities of Melbourne and Alice finds herself juggling 4 casual jobs, that have nothing to do with art, and her mother is beginning to worry that she’s wasting her potential. Alice is more concerned that her biological clock is ticking and without a significant other on the scene she’s not sure she will ever fulfil her dreams of having a family of her own.

Libby is Alice’s twin and she seems to have it all. A prosperous and rewarding career she’s passionate about, two darling young daughters, a gorgeous hands-on husband and father, and a beautiful home. She is ticking all the boxes and loves having her sister and also her best friend back in their hometown.

Jess has been Libby’s best friend since they were in school; so close that they consider themselves sisters, closer to Libby than even Alice could ever be. Libby has finally convinced the single mother to return to Kurnai Bay where she will have a support network and Leo can grow up with an extended family that adore him. The time Jess spent with the Hunters growing up was so far removed from her own upbringing that it showed her a completely different way of life, one the Hunters welcomed her into.

Karen Hunter has always wanted nothing but the best for her girls, trying to protect and nurture them. She welcomed Jess into that circle when she came to understand how much she needed that. She has fostered a kindness and thoughtfulness into the twins that sees them always thinking of others and you know from the outset there are things about Karen that we just don’t know.

The dynamics in these relationships make the family far from ordinary but they are a joy to get to know. From early on there are things that hint at long hidden secrets and Lowe weaves these through the story with insight and skill so that there are unexpected elements even in the things that you could see coming.

Alice had a rough start but with love and persistence she has managed to overcome the obstacles her low birth weight placed in her path. Art was the one aspect of her life she always surpassed the skills of her twin and it was the career path she chose but being back in her hometown mending her broken heart sees her realise that career path wasn’t bringing her joy. The new opportunities she has discovered in Kurnai Bay to utilise her artistic skills and connect with people on a more personal level has made her heart sing in ways her previous career never had. I loved watching this part of the story develop, especially with the work it took to convince Karen that this was what would make her happy,

Libby and Jess have an intense friendship that has always seen them share everything. Jess gained an insight into the workings of a close, loving family and Libby got a taste of life on the wilder side. They shared a lot of experiences through their younger years and Jess worked extremely hard to work her way out from the shadow of her mother’s legacy. This was a friendship that seems enviable, is everything that every woman wants but there comes a point you start to wonder if there’s an imbalance in the giving and where it will lead.

These four women are all fascinating characters that you want to get to know better but it was Alice that I really connected with. She always had to work so hard for everything that comes easy for so many of us and she always felt she was living in Libby’s shadow. Alice decides that what she really wants from life is a family of her own and she can hear her biological clock ticking, but she’s single and in a small town with limited options. Alice works out a plan and sets her sights on finding The One. The process offers readers a long list of reasons to avoid online dating.

Just an Ordinary Family is an intricate look at relationships of all types that will keep you involved and make it difficult to leave these pages for the calls of real life. I had to know what was coming next and it never failed to engage an emotional response. There were definitely elements of predictability but there was a lot of amazing character development and real soul-searching. There were times I couldn’t help but put myself in a characters position and ask myself what I would do. I also found that there were things I just didn’t see coming but Lowe manages to flesh out the characters and their motivations well enough that no-one is irredeemable.

I loved this book, I loved these characters and Lowe has managed to paint a captivating picture of small town life with love, lies, family and friendship that can all be found in the unlikeliest of places.

Lowe has penned a family saga of legacies best broken and working hard to provide a better future for the next generation. Absolutely adored the emotional rollercoaster ride.

Just an Ordinary Family is book #13 for the Australian Women Writer’s Challenge 2020.

Fiona Lowe can be found on Facebook, Twitter, and her Website.

Just an Ordinary Family is published by HQ Fiction and is available now from Angus & Robertson Bookworld, Booktopia and where all good books are sold. In these uncertain times it would be great to try and support a local bookstore, many of the ones in my area have put systems in place to fulfil orders even though their physical stores may be closed to the public.