I have to admit that I was excited by the title of this one. Having read Chaucer, once upon a time, I can say with much certainty that something that is “not exactly Chaucer” is much more to my taste. However, Wendy Mason’s literary talent shines through in this book.
In this contemporary twist on Chaucer’s ‘The Canterbury Tales’, tour manager, Bailey, strives to ensure that her guests enjoy their three-week tour of Australia – for many, the holiday of a lifetime.
Then Bailey discovers that her tour operator – Australia Unleashed – has been taken over, she has a secret shopper among the guests and her career is on the line. She remains determined in her quest. However, her good intentions disintegrate into a cocktail of chaos!
Take a slice of mystery; a shot of skulduggery; a measure of prejudice; a twist of romance and a dash of humour. Put them all together, shake and enjoy, as the twenty-one travellers each tell their stories, form new relationships and discover things about themselves that will change their lives forever.
This has been such a fun and easy read. With 21 characters, and containing 21 different tales or excerpts from each character, it had the potential to get very messy. However, Wendy’s talent and skill shines through in this well-organised, original and entertaining book.
There are a few things going on here: an overall plot, mainly involving the tour guide Bailey and mystery man Miller, the tales of the guests, and the cocktail recipes and setting descriptions.
The overall plot gives the book an overarching direction and purpose. I really liked Bailey as a character and found I was intrigued by her relationship with Miller. Bailey seems to be a hard-working, dedicated and caring person and there were times where I really felt some of the treatment she received was unfair. However, I believe she portrays the highs and lows of working in the service industry well.
Mason has done well to create such an eclectic and vibrant cast of characters who, through their stories, add something important to this book. The stories, which Bailey constantly reminds us should be entertaining and not controversial, actually deal with some very pertinent and complex issues, including: crime, revenge, sexuality, religion and relationships. I loved reading these stories. I found myself to be lost in thought after reading each one, but also eager to move on to the next.
The cocktail recipes and the sometimes detailed descriptions of the varied settings they visit across Australia definitely ensure that this book appeals to the reader’s imagination and senses. After reading, I’m definitely looking forward to trying an “Aviation cocktail” and I’m even more keen to visit the natural beauty that is The Great Barrier Reef.
I feel like the word original doesn’t quite do this book justice. It tackles so many themes and scenarios, has some wonderful structural elements and is completely unlike anything I’ve read before. It is, however, definitely a compelling and entertaining read.