Blue smoke sifting across the valley, a high blue sky, and a fluffy wombat sleeping stomach upward among the lavender...I'm enjoying reading Jackie French's A Year in the Valley. I discovered Jackie when hunting through the Premier's Reading Challenge list for books for my 12-year-old daughter to read. I liked the look of the titles (the list for years 7-8 is excellent), borrowed some from the library, and found in Jackie a great children's author (I especially liked They Came On Viking Ships, one of her historical novels for older children).
A Year in the Valley is Jackie's diary of a year in Araluen, New South Wales. It's a story of wombats adopted and peaches relished and skies observed. It's the story of a place, and the people who shape it and who are shaped by it. It brims with life: bums damp on logs, creeks brown with wombat poo, randy echidnas. There's no over-arching story: just a ramble with Jackie through her days and her home.
One of the reasons I like Jackie's A Year in the Valley is that it's essence of my mum-in-law. Both Jackie and my mum-in-law live in the Australian bush and grow their own fruit, veges and herbs. Their lives revolve around the seasons. They watch the rain gauge, mindful of the threat of floods, drought and bushfire. They keep chooks, ducks and geese. They excel in herb lore, cooking and making preserves. They delight in using the imperfect offerings of the garden which taste so much better than 'perfect' products from the supermarket: sun-warmed berries, poo-spotted eggs, blemished fruit, misshapen tomatoes, old-fashioned varieties of cucumber, caterpillar-nibbled greens.
Every few pages there's a recipe, for everything from peach fool to heart's-ease handcream. I have to admit I probably won't make any of the recipes (no home-grown peaches here, for one thing - although I do have a soft spot for soup, so I might attempt the carrot broth) but I loved reading them - and I'm not usually a cook-book kind of girl. The recipes are so intricately and intimately described that reading them is almost as good as eating the results.
If you want to read a book that is unpretentious and homey and good - a book with language so rich that you can taste it, so earthy that you can feel the soil under your hands - a book that is perfect for holiday reading, but also perfect for escaping the daily grind - if you want to read a book like that, you'll love this one.