In June Loves’ second novel, The Festival by the Sea, we return to her beloved Shelly Beach location, and her heroine Gina from The Shelly Beach Writers’ Group. Gina Laurel is still house-and-dog-sitting, although The Dog has decided to no longer answer to his name Hugo, and Gina has become reconciled, even appreciative, of her three-pronged approach to avoiding bankruptcy : part time jobs at the bookshop/cafe, library, and local pub. She has even come to welcome the Shelly Beach way – as a small seaside village, there are no secrets and while everyone is always willing to lend you a hand, you have to be willing in return to lend your own hands when needed.
So when Gina’s lover-or-is-it-just-friend Adrian suddenly accepts a job offer in the city and whisks off, and leaves Gina in the role of Director of the Shelly Beach Writers’ Festival – in a month’s time – Gina is shocked, but can’t say no – after all, this is Shelly Beach, and everyone is expected to help when asked. She plunges into the organisation of the Festival and even when Adrian keeps adding last minute adjustments – like, 150 overbookings, or an extra Schools’ Day, or a prima-donna international author guest, she rolls with it and with the help of her gutsy committee, manages to make everything tick along. Then, Gina is offered a new corporate job back in the city, and the opportunity to resume her snappy city-based lifestyle. She postpones the decision till after the Festival, but knows that her prospective new boss will be attending the Festival as a way to observe Gina doing her job.
The real story here is not the Writer’s Festival, although it sounds undeniably grand, but the amazing relationships that Shelly Beach is composed of. The different personalities that have been drawn to the location for its simple lifestyle and ocean views, and the high concentration of poets, writers and editors, make for a fascinating village that anyone would want to visit, or perhaps never leave. In the end, whether the Festival is a success or not, it’s the relationships in Shelly Beach that Gina knows will be key in her decision to stay or go, and the relationships that will remain in your mind long after you put this book down.
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