Thursday, June 1, 2017

Review: Just Like Family

I first met Kate Hilton back in 2013 at BookBuzz Toronto, an event I helped run. She was one of ten authors taking part in the event and, this is the embarrassing part, the only author I hadn't read. *cringe* I've been following her writing career since then though so when I got the chance to review Just Like Family as part of HarperCollins Canada's First Look program, I was thrilled. I had this book done in two days and it was such a great read. Take a look at this link to see what others thought of this novel.

Here's the synopsis:
From the nationally bestselling author of The Hole in the Middle, a witty, insightful new novel about juggling the demands of three husbands—a work husband, an almost husband and an ex-husband—and figuring out the true meaning of family.
Avery Graham has built a life that anyone would admire. She has a brilliant career as chief of staff to Peter Haines, the charismatic mayor of Toronto. She has a devoted partner in Matt, her live-in boyfriend of 14 years. And she has a loving family and deep friendships that stretch back to childhood summers at the cottage.
But when Matt proposes, Avery’s past threatens to engulf her present. Can she contemplate a lifetime commitment to Matt after her disastrous first marriage to Hugh? And is Matt really the love of her life, when she has spent so much of it by Peter’s side? Avery could use some good advice from the women who know her best, but her closest friends, Jenny and Tara, have drifted away over the years.
When a scandal erupts at city hall, Avery must overcome her deepest fears about love and loss, and discover what it means to be a family.
One of the things that really drew me to this story was where it took place. The novel is set in Toronto and too often Canadian authors don't place their novels (especially contemporary/women's fiction ones) in Canada. Part of that is, I think, because for some reason readers in other countries (cough America cough) don't want to read any books set in Canada. Which is, in my humble opinion, stupid. I want to read stories that take place in my own country and set in my own time. While I don't live in Toronto, I'm close enough that I visit quite often and I even interned in the city for four months a few years ago. Because of this, I could picture City Hall - Avery's workplace - quite clearly. I also loved that there was a secondary setting of a cottage in, I'm assuming, Muskoka. I grew up in southern cottage country so I have a soft spot for any cottage set books. 

Also, a fictional story about a mayor of Toronto involved in something that is not more scandalous than the situations the actual former mayor of Toronto found himself in a few years ago? You can't help but laugh. (Just Google Rob Ford if you don't know what I'm talking about.)

Speaking of which, Hilton managed to find a great balance of absolute ridiculous scenarios (an older councillor bounces, quite literally, off another, much larger councillor and flies through the air) and realistic dramatic scenes. If she wasn't such a masterful writer, this could have been a completely different novel (I'm thinking Sophie Kinsella...a favourite author of mine but who is known for more outlandish storylines.)

And the drama! I was so invested in Avery and finding out why she was the way she was. She went through a lot at a younger age and hadn't quite dealt with everything appropriately. And let's be real - who actually deals with problems well in your early twenties? Avery was a really interesting, multi-layered character and I thoroughly enjoyed reading her story.

The story takes place in 2017 with flashbacks throughout. At first I wasn't sure how I felt about the flashbacks. I was sometimes annoyed to go back to 1989 or 1999 when I just wanted to see how present day Avery was faring. I eventually realized there was no other way to tell this story. Hilton uses the flashbacks to reveal more about Avery, her life, and the people she lost along the way. Those revelations made the present make so much more sense (like realizing why Jenny isn't in Avery's life much and what really happened with her ex-husband).

I have to note my favourite scenes, and probably the most powerful ones in the whole novel. I knew as soon as I saw the subheading of September 2001 for one of the flashbacks that we were going to head into some intense moments. Hilton wrote the scenes about 9/11 so well and it had such an impact. It was one of those times where I had no idea what else was happening around me because I was so completely drawn into the story. (And this is saying something because I was reading this part in my office on my lunch break.) Gah. Just...amazing scenes. Heartbreaking but so well done.

Rereading the synopsis as I wrote this post made me realize that Just Like Family is about so much more than what the synopsis suggests. It's not just about the scandal at City Hall or Matt proposing or even about her friendships. Kate Hilton's novel is about a strong, modern woman whose life is going completely off the rails, as it has done in the past. Through Just Like Family and Avery's story, we learn (or are reminded) that your past shapes your present but it does not have to define your future. Kate Hilton's new book is definitely one you're going to want to add to your To Be Read list!

*An ARC of this novel was provided by the publisher, HarperCollins Canada, in exchange for a review for their First Looks program. All opinions are honest and my own.*

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