It’s 1965 and 18 year old Jess escapes her stifling English background for a gap year in Ghana, West Africa. But it’s a time of political turbulence across the region. Fighting to keep her young love who she believes is waiting back in England, she’s thrown into the physical dangers of civil war, tragedy, and the emotional conflict of a disturbing new relationship. So why do the drumbeats haunt her dreams?
This is a rite of passage story which takes the reader hand in hand with Jess on her journey towards growing into the adult world.
Walking in the Rain
Jess happily marries the love of her life She wants to feel safe, secure and loved. But gradually it becomes clear that her beloved husband is not the man she thought him to be. She survived civil war and injury in Africa, but can she now survive the biggest challenge of her life?
Single mother, Jess, has struggled to get her life back on track after the betrayal of her beloved husband and her best friend. When she is on the brink of losing everything, including her family and her job, she feels that she can no longer trust anyone. Then she is sent a mysterious newspaper clipping of a temporary post back in Ghana. Could this be her lifeline? Can Jess turn back time and find herself again? And what, exactly, will she find?
Finding Jess is a passionate story of love, betrayal and second chances – and of one woman’s bid to reclaim her self-belief and trust. It is a feel-good story of a woman’s strength and spirit rising above adversity.
I debated how to review this, whether to give each individual book its own smaller review or to review the series as a whole. I’m going to do kind of a mix of both.
The Drumbeats Trilogy by Julia Ibbotson is a book series I find myself falling in love with. It’s a character study in a woman who does what she should, despite the fact that should isn’t always best for her. The first book follows her as should and her own desires coincide to send her to West Africa in the late 1960s. The political happenings of that time are touched on, but because of who Jess is, she doesn’t really see much of it and so the reader is only given the glimpses of the politics that Jess herself sees as a white privileged missionary. The story is immensely engaging. Jess’ growth and insights are contrasted beautifully with her school girl-like love for the boy back home. It’s an interesting type of character that manages to be utterly frustrating while evoking a kind of sympathy from the reader because her naivete and willingness to ignore the world create a person that is equal parts innocent and ignorant. The vivid setting and well-scripted events suck the reader into a world that is rapidly evolving while clinging to its past–for both the Africans and Jess.
The first book flows very smoothly into the second, but the second is MUCH harder to read. In Drumbeats, the reader discovered a character who is on the cusp of being her own person despite pressure from family to be the person they want. The transition back to the UK finds Jess transitioning back to those expectations. Book two, Walking in the Rain, is like a stifling of that character. It’s harder to read for a host of reasons. Her husband is abusive (physically and emotionally) and she stays because she loves him. But it’s also harder to read because the vibrancy that made Drumbeats impossible to put down is missing. It’s not just the return to the UK and a more “grey” climate. Jess herself becomes more muted. The girl who was going to return to Ghana and make a difference gets lost in the shuffle and smothered under the woman who should marry and have a family. It’s a disheartening book, also, because Jim is…missing. I think I spent the better part of the book asking…but what about Jim? The story of Jess and her husband is not a pretty love story, despite multiple declarations about them being the “love of my life”. The naivete that was appealing in Drumbeats drives me almost crazy in Walking in the Rain. Staying with somebody who was like her husband, I understand. But wanting to go back to that after it’s over? Nope. I hurried through this book because I hoped that the third one would be better–that I would see more forward growth of Jess and reclaim that vibrancy and life that infused Drumbeats.
Finding Jess didn’t disappoint. It gives hope for rebirth and finding oneself after living a life that isn’t yours. Ghana comes back and features prominently, and the vibrancy and life that filled Drumbeats comes back. There’s still more drama from the ex-husband and the kids are grown, but Jess seems to finally shuffle off that fog that obscured her in Walking in the Rain. I wish the author would have taken it a tiny bit further in the end, but overall it was a very satisfying finish to the series.
The Drumbeats Saga is really a story of discovery. It’s a story of various kinds of love. Unlike most romances, Jess isn’t limited to a single love, and the shape love takes isn’t just the happily ever after. You spend the entire story hoping that Jess will get her happily ever after, but the journey to reach it is so full of everything good and bad that Ibbotson makes you really unsure of its happening. The ending doesn’t offer much solace on that front, either. However, the whole saga is a feast, where the dessert of a happy-ever-after is appreciated, but you’re so full that it’s not expected. Ibbotson drags the reader on a roller coaster of emotions throughout the series and it’s fitting that she ends with a bang. I really loved this series, though I have to say the second and third books should probably come with a trigger warning. Grab your copy at the links below, and explore Ghana and life as it changes over the course of nearly 30 years.
Award-winning author Julia Ibbotson is fascinated by the medieval world and concepts of time travel. She read English at Keele University, England (after a turbulent but exciting gap year in Ghana, West Africa) specialising in medieval language, literature and history, and has a PhD in socio-linguistics. She wrote her first novel at 10 years of age, but became a school teacher, then a university lecturer and researcher. Finding Jess (2018) is her sixth book and the last of the Drumbeats trilogy (which begins and ends in Ghana). Apart from insatiable reading, she loves travelling the world, singing in choirs, swimming, yoga and walking in the countryside in England and Madeira where she and her husband divide their time.
Acclaimed author of:
Drumbeats (2015), the first of the trilogy set in 1960s Ghana: sometimes you have to escape to find yourself.
Walking in the Rain (2016), the second in the trilogy set in 1970s and 1980s England: never give up on your dreams.
Finding Jess (2018), the last of the trilogy set in 1990s England and Ghana: can the past ever be left behind?
Also by Julia Ibbotson:
A Shape on the Air (2017): historical (Dark Ages/early medieval) time-slip romance. Two women 1,500 years apart, with one aim: to reclaim their dreams and fight the dangers that threaten them both across the ages …
The Old Rectory: Escape to a Country Kitchen, (first published 2011, rereleased 2017) a feel-good story of the renovation of a Victorian rectory interwoven with period recipes to feed the soul, all from the rectory kitchen.
S.C.A.R.S (first published 2012, rereleased 2016) (children’s novel): a troubled boy slips through a tear in the fabric of the universe into a parallel medieval fantasy world of knights, dragons, and a quest for the triumph of Good over Evil. But can he save himself?
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