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Friends of Bookends reviews The Unsinkable Greta James

An indie musician reeling from tragedy reconnects with her father on a week-long cruise in this tale of grief, fame, and love from bestselling author Jennifer E. Smith. 

Our Friends of Bookends reviewing panel share their thoughts on this heart-warming and uplifting new novel. Out in Hardback, Ebook and audiobook on 1st March 2022.


Greta James is a successful indie musician, gearing up for the release of her second album. However, when her mother unexpectedly passes away, Greta has a breakdown on stage and disappears from the public eye.

Three months later, her brother suggests that Greta joins their father on a cruise to Alaska, on what was supposed to be their parents’ 40th anniversary trip-of-a-lifetime. She and her dad don’t get on at all, and she can think of few things worse than to be stuck at sea with him for a week . But her brother convinces her that their dad needs someone there.

Still wrestling with her own grief, and seemingly unable to connect with and really talk to her dad, the trip is not off to a good start. But as the days pass by, and father and daughter are forced to spend quality time together during various activities, they start to talk. And share. And, maybe not fully understand each other, but certainly coming to some sort of an understanding.

Her father summarises the physical and emotional journey they both go on best, when he says: “Maybe the point isn’t always to make things last, maybe it’s just to make them count.”

This is Jennifer E. Smith’s adult debut, and she’s made a fantastic transition from her books aimed at young adults. The Unsinkable Greta James is, understandably, more mature and complex, and it — surprisingly — really tugs at the heartstrings. For a novel where the characters are mostly stuck at sea and not very much really happens, an awful lot actually does happen to them, on an emotional level at least. And that heartfelt connection Smith manages to make from the words on the page to the mind of the reader is stunning.

The Unsinkable Greta James is a moving and beautiful novel about family bonds, growing up and apart, ships passing in the night, and Jack London. Most unexpectedly I now really want to read Call of the Wild.

Zarina, Friends of Bookends


Greta James is a fairly successful musician. She is also dealing with grief after losing her mum. Greta doesn’t have a great relationship with her father, as he doesn’t really agree with her lifestyle of being in the music industry, and doesn’t really see it as a long term career. Trying to work her way through her grief, she agrees to take a trip on a cruise with her father. A trip which her mother booked before she passed away. I think she hopes the cruise will help them bond a bit better, or at least find some common ground.

This book was really well written. I love that the author has tackled grief, especially grief over losing one of the most important people in your life (for some). And also tackled how relationships between father and daughter can be poor, especially when the life you’re living isn’t what that parent wanted or expected for you. The story was really descriptive of all the places visited in Alaska, and made it really lifelike, and was really easy to picture those places in the minds eye, it really was like a travel guide. Although this story was about grief, it was also really heartwarming, and full of positivity.
The characters were all very well written, but I did especially like Greta, she was very relatable, predominately with the emotions she was feeling. Overall, it was a great story of loss, love, and family ties. Would recommend.


Natalie, Friends of Bookends


The Unsinkable Greta James is Jennifer E Smith’s first novel for adults, but it’s not her first novel, and her grasp of characterisation and emotion shows that she’s an experienced and nuanced writer. The Unsinkable Greta James tells the tale of Greta James – recently bereaved, emotionally reeling, trying to recover her career and her equilibrium in the face of the huge loss of her mother – as she joins her father on an Alaskan cruise, and tries to repair her fractured relationship with the man who’s never really accepted that his daughter is a global rockstar. Over the course of a week, with the book beautifully sectioned into days on the ship, Greta meets a crew of characters who’ll help her to pull the pieces of herself back together – and perhaps float her relationship with her father into new territories as well. I loved this book. It was gentle and lyrical, and a very moving exploration of grief and how the same loss can impact different people. It offers a nuanced and delicate look at relationships between parents and their adult children, and how even those who are our greatest supporters can feel like our greatest critics as well. I loved Greta as a character, this self-confident rockstar who’s reeling after a terrible loss, and I thoroughly enjoyed her emotional journey – along with her physical journey through the stunning vistas of Alaska. The book moved gently – but not glacially 😁- through a difficult emotional journey, and honestly, hit all the right story beats for me. The characters were rounded and believable, and I really loved Greta’s brother. Despite never appearing on the page, he was a very real presence and driving force in the book. A really beautiful read, that put a lump in my throat several times!


Aislinn, Friends of Bookends


Greta James is a musician whose career is in tatters after a meltdown on stage in front of thousands. Her mother has passed away and brother, Asher, has suggested that she goes on the Alaskan cruise her parents booked to keep her father company. Greta and her father have often been at odds so will this cruise turn out to be one full of sparks or can they find the connection they had when she was younger? Also, with a concert coming up, can Greta find her inner spark and make a come back?
I enjoyed the story, the relationships and the lessons. The majesty of the Alaskan glaciers is well drawn. The father/daughter relationship was finely wrought, both the closeness and the distance. The hole left by the mother is made so clear, not just in the family’s lives but also their friends.
This is my first book by this author (looks like she usually writes YA) so if this is anything to go by I can add another author to my continually growing list.


Linda, Friends of Bookends

Greta is still mourning the death of her mother, its only two months ago since she passed, and still very raw for her. Her mum and dad were planning a cruise for their 40th wedding anniversary, when suddenly her mum dies of an aneurism. The trip was to be around the glaciers of Alaska, a place they had been really looking forward to visiting. Now Greta has been volunteered by her brother to accompany her dad on the cruise, although he wouldn’t be entirely alone, as two other couples they were good friends with, were also booked to go along too. She goes with him partly because she feels like it’s a case of emotional blackmail and someone has to keep an eye on her dad, but also because she feels she owes it to her mums memory.

Greta packs her guitar, because that’s what she does, plays the guitar in concert venues. I think she feels like she needs the support of something familiar to help her through the difficult days on the cruise. Her dad starts as he means to go on, fully engaging himself with activities and pastimes on the boat, even taking himself along to a spa session, something he has never done before. On noticing that her dad is attending a talk by a best selling author and associate professor of history at Colombia University, Greta thinks why not join him and see what it’s all about. She ends up enjoying both the talk and fellow passenger/historian author Ben Wilder and they meet up to accompany each other around the cruise ship and do some exploring together.

Ben becomes a regular feature of her days both on board the ship and on excursions and Greta finds herself unloading her secrets from her past to him. Ben then tells her about his daughters, will this make a difference to their friendship and relationship?One such trip was to a massive glacier called Mendenhall, which at over thirteen miles long was an interesting and fact filled trip for them both. Greta only went because her dad was ill and quarantined in his cabin and she didn’t want to visit the cannery that he was booked in to visit and she is certainly not disappointed to find that Ben is also going on the glacier trip, they are both enthralled with the trip, and with plenty of time there giving them an opportunity to explore both the glacier and their own personal stories.

But always at the back of Greta’s mind is the time when she realised that her mum was gone and what happened when her whole world fell apart on stage. No matter what activities she takes part in, all she can think about is her mum, which makes her understandably so very sad. Ben does his best to take her mind off things, but it’s difficult, so very difficult for her.

This is one young woman’s quest to rediscover herself after losing both her mother and her will to play the guitar again in public and the journey she takes to get there.

Some great characters in this book make for an interesting and compelling read, it does cover subjects such as grief and loss and having to carry on without your loved one, but it’s done with care and feeling.

A story of grief, families and relationships all crammed together on a cruise ship certainly makes for a comforting read.

A really fun, enjoyable read.


Heather, Friends of Bookends

Greta James is a rock star. She’s a demon on the guitar and has featured in Rolling Stone magazine. But when we meet her at the start of this book, she’s falling apart. Her mum has died and she gave a disastrous performance on stage, leading her to flee, breaking up with her boyfriend for good measure.

When her brother suggests that Greta should take her mother’s place on an Alaskan cruise which their parents were planning for their 40th wedding anniversary, Greta is reluctant. She and her dad don’t see eye to eye, and spending a week with him and the group of friends her parents have had since she was a child seems like a dreadful idea. Can the cruise mend her broken heart, her relationship with her dad and perhaps give her the confidence to get back on stage?

Well, perhaps it can do some of those things. What I liked about this book is that it doesn’t tie up all the loose ends in an unrealistic fashion. It’s relatively gritty for a book of this type, and Greta’s potential love interest has some emotional baggage of his own, which adds interest. I have read previous books by this author which were classified as YA and this feels like it builds a bridge to adult fiction. Greta is likeable enough but it’s hard to really get a sense of the tension between her and her dad – he seemed like he could have been developed more as a character. I did love her brother though, and her mum’s friends are a good source of support. The setting lends itself to some fun too.

Overall, I enjoyed this, and will certainly look out for more books by this author.


Nicola, Friends of Bookends

Greta James, an indie musician is preparing for the release of her second album, when her mum and greatest fan suddenly dies. Greta breaks down on stage and in this world of modern technology, the footage goes viral threatening Greta’s career. A career her father has always told her was precarious.

Greta’s relationship with her father is not as close as the one she shared with her mother but months later, still grieving and feeling lost, her brother talks her into going on a week’s cruise to Alaska planned for her parents, taking her mother’s place.

During this one-week trip, Greta meets other people who have issues and situations within their lives. She faces the unbearable heartache she is suffering and her relationship with her father. With the help of others, she evaluates her life and her career and makes a decision which will map out her future.

This is a moving story which flowed well and was based on passion, love and hope. When things seem dark, there is always light. It’s just knowing where to find it.


Anne, Friends of Bookends

I unexpectedly found myself loving this book! It’s a thoughtfully written story about family relationships and how people cope with grief differently. It’s also full of a quiet humour which gives the book a warm tender feel rather than an overwhelming sadness.


Set on a week long cruise around Alaska, it focuses on the relationship between rising star musician Greta James and her newly widowed father, Conrad, who have found themselves having to face their differences when Greta takes her late mothers place for what would have been a fortieth anniversary trip. Despite having had a recent breakdown on stage and trying to build the courage to sing again in time for her new album launch, Greta is persuaded to go as the cruise as it was always her mother’s dream, but is a week long enough to come to terms with her bereavement and heal some of the awkwardness between father and daughter?


The conversations are cleverly handled, showing how everyone in a family tries to do the ‘right’ thing in their own way. The four family friends who are also on board and a writer historian who provides the love interest, are likeable additional characters but I also enjoyed the travel aspect that was brought into the story – the Alaskan land/seascape is described extremely well and makes a perfect backdrop for the

book. 5/5!


Karen, Friends of Bookends

Despite her being a prolific author this is the first of Jennifer E Smith’s books that I’ve read. I found it to be an enjoyable although emotional read. And I think for anyone who has lost their mum it may affect them. It’s a story of family dynamics, partly fractured, dealing with bereavement and healing.


And for any Titanic buffs out there the title will resonate. The unsinkable Molly Brown was an indomitable force in one of the lifeboats helping to evacuate passengers. helping to steer the boat and by all accounts was a larger-than-life character. The comparison is partially a symbolic one. Greta James is not as ‘in your face’ as Molly and the action takes place on board a boat, sorry ship, that doesn’t sink. And the story really is about Greta trying to stay afloat, not on the boat, sorry ship, but in life. The book also looks at the relationship she has with her father.

The ship, too, serves as a symbol of Greta’s artistic and personal claustrophobia, in fact the whole concept of the cruise works very well as a metaphor for this indie musician’s struggles. The Alaskan landscape too with its glaciers, sea lions, whales all sustain the metaphors.

Although this book might be categorised as romantic fiction genre it does go beyond that with its observations of how people deal with losing someone they love, it’s cultural allusions, the nature of creativity and passion. The characters are well drawn unbelievable. You feel the pain in the conflict between Greta and Conrad, her father. I thought the author achieved a good balance between being compassionate yet not overly sentimental which could’ve been easy to do. The ending is satisfactory, enigmatic even, without being predictable, another trap that it would’ve been easy to fall into. It’s an entertaining read that offers its audience things to consider.


Gill, Friends of Bookends