Review: The Road Trip by Beth O’Leary


Title: The Road Trip

Author: Beth O’Leary

Published: 29th April 2021, Quercus

Status: Read April 2021 courtesy Hachette Australia

++++++

 

My Thoughts:

The Road Trip is Beth O’Leary’s third entertaining romcom novel, following her success with The Flatshare and The Switch.

Addie, her sister Deb and rideshare passenger, Rodney, have just begun the eight hour drive from Chichester to Scotland to attend a close friend’s wedding when they are rear ended by a Mercedes. The driver is Addie’s ex-boyfriend, Dylan, accompanied by his best friend, Marcus, heading to the same event. With the Mercedes out of action, Addie reluctantly offers the pair a ride in Deb’s Mini Cooper.

Unfolding from the alternating perspectives of Addie and Dylan in the ‘Now’ and the ‘Then’, the physically uncomfortable conditions created by five adults crammed into Deb’s car are almost secondary to the emotionally fraught atmosphere caused by the tumultuous history between Addie and Dylan in particular. I thought the narrative structure worked well to reveal to what happened between them in the past, and their current status with one another.

The road trip itself is beset by a chain of mishaps, from endless traffic (it’s a Bank Holiday weekend) to a breakdown, punctuated by Deb’s need to pump breastmilk, country music singalongs, and Marcus’s less obnoxious tantrums, providing plenty of humour. There’s always an edge of tension though as Addie and Dylan try to navigate their unexpected reunion, complicated by the presence of Marcus who played a significant role in their breakup.

O’Leary’s characters are interesting, all with their own lighthearted quirks, but many of them also struggle with serious issues such as clinical depression, alcoholism, addiction, sexual assault, and difficult family dynamics, making this story a little darker than her previous novels. And while there is a happy ever after for Addie and Dylan, as befitting the romance genre, it’s more mature than a fairytale ending.

Funny and engaging with a bit of edge, I enjoyed The Road Trip.

++++++

Available from Hachette Australia

Or from your preferred retailer via Booko I Book Depository I Indiebound I HiveUK

Review: The Jam Queens by Josephine Moon


Title: The Jam Queens

Author: Josephine Moon

Published: 13th April 2021, Michael Joseph

Status: Read April 2021 courtesy PenguinRandomHouse Australia

++++++

 

My Thoughts:

 

A sweet novel to savour, The Jam Queens is the seventh charming contemporary fiction novel from Australian author Josephine Moon.

A year after the collapse of her marriage following a devastating loss, Agatha has decided to focus on growing her business, a cafe in the Barossa Valley which features the prizewinning jams Aggie, and the women in her family, are known for. The news that her Great Aunt Myrtle has sold Agatha the building in which Strawberry Sonnets operates is likely to upset Aggie’s mother, Valeria, and in order to both soften the blow, and celebrate Valeria’s seventieth birthday in the wake of a health scare, Myrtle has decided that the three women, along with Aggie’s adult daughter Holly, home on vacation from the US where she works as a teacher, and Myrtle’s best friend and erstwhile traveling companion, Dolce, will take a trip on The Ghan.

Unfolding primarily from the perspectives of Aggie, Myrtle and Valeria, Moon tells a story of family, regret, friendship, loss, and love as the group of women travel from Darwin to Adelaide aboard the famous overland train.

Aggie serves as the central character of the story. She has had a very difficult year and she’s hoping the trip will give her clarity on how to move forward with her life. She’s a very likeable character, who exhibits fortitude and kindness in the face of very trying circumstances. Myrtle is a delight, spirited and generous, if a little bit meddlesome. Both Aggie and her Great Aunt Myrtle hope the journey will help heal their fraught relationship with the uncompromising Valeria, but the complicated history between the trio is not easy to reconcile.

The story is quite busy, as in addition to the secrets and burdens the individual characters carry, and the fraught dynamics of their old, and new, relationships, there are also other important elements. One naturally involves the actual journey on The Ghan and the side excursions enjoyed by the group to places like Uluru and Katherine (Nitmiluk) George, all well described by Moon. Another centres around the role of jam-making in the family, and Aggie’s hopes of winning first place at the Adelaide Royal Show. Foodies will love the delicious recipes contained in the book, including one for Moon’s own blue ribbon winning strawberry jam.

Ripe with drama, romance, travel and food, The Jam Queens is a treat not to be missed.

++++++

Available from PenguinRandomHouse Australia

Or from your preferred retailer via Booko I Book Depository I Booktopia I Amazon

Review: Second First Impressions by Sally Thorne

 


Title: Second First Impressions

Author: Sally Thorne

Published: 13th April 2021, William Morrow Paperbacks

Status: Read April 2021 courtesy William Morrow/Edelweiss

++++++

My Thoughts:

Second First Impressions is a charming romantic comedy from USA Today bestselling, Australian author, Sally Thorne.

Ruthie Midona is twenty-five years old but is more at ease among her fellow residents at the Providence Luxury Retirement Village, where she has lived and worked for six years, than among her peers. When her boss takes a vacation, leaving Ruthie in charge, she is determined to prove herself worthy of the responsibility. She doesn’t have the wherewithal to indulge the too-personal questions of the young and pretty temp, Melanie, or the attentions of the property owner’s vainglorious son, Teddy, who on their first meeting mistook her for an elderly woman, but both are determined to impress Ruthie with the need to lighten up and live a little.

It’s a case of opposites attract for the staid, straight-laced Ruthie and the carefree, charismatic Teddy. I enjoyed the chemistry between them as their inevitable romantic relationship developed, providing moments of both tenderness and passion. Their connection sparks change in one another, but I like that Thorne is clear that the changes they want to make are in pursuit of their own life goals, not about pleasing the other.

Ruthie has been stuck in a rut ever since a shadowy incident in her past. Encouraged by Melanie and her Sasaki Method* (*patent pending), Ruthie recognises she needs to step out of her comfort zone. The friendship that forms between the two women is lovely, and important to Ruthie’s personal growth.

Teddy has his own issues that he needs to deal with, including a rocky relationship with his father and older-half sister. His goal is to earn enough money to buy into a tattoo business, but commitment is something he’s been avoiding for much of his life.

The cheeky, imperious Parloni ‘sisters’ are a wonderful addition to the story. Aged 91 and 89 respectively, Renata and Agatha are enjoying growing old disgracefully, and delight in tormenting Teddy (in a very un-PC manner) in his role as their personal assistant.

Old age residences seem to have become a popular setting in fiction recently. I liked how Thorne linked it to both Ruthie’s past and Teddy’s future. And the turtles that roam the grounds are a cute additional element.

With appealing characters, a sweet romance, and plenty of well-timed humour, I found Second First Impressions to be a delightful, feel-good read.

++++++

Available from HarperCollins 

Or from your preferred retailer via Indiebound I Book Depository I Booko I Amazon

 

Review: All We Have Is Now by Kaneana May

 


Title: All We Have Is Now

Author: Kaneana May

Published: 7th April 2021, HQ Fiction

Status: Read April 2021 courtesy HarperCollins

++++++

My Thoughts:

All We Have Is Now is Kaneana May’s second novel following her well-received debut, The One in 2019.

All We Have Is Now unfolds from the perspectives of Bree, Elsie and Olive, colleagues and best friends who run a wellness centre, ‘Healing Hands’. The success of their business has allowed them to relocate to larger premises where Bree, the life of any party, is a Pilates instructor; Elsie, happily married and newly pregnant, provides counselling services; and pragmatic Olive, a dietician, runs cooking classes.

While the centre is thriving, Bree, Elsie and Olive come under increasing personal stress and I quickly found myself invested in their stories. May skilfully develops complex, distinct characters whose behaviours and attitudes feel authentic. With her concealed past, I found Olive to be the most intriguing figure, while Elsie was the most sympathetic given her circumstances. It took me a little longer to warm to Bree, but I loved the depiction of the close, but not uncomplicated, friendship between the three.

May addresses a number of themes in the novel, such as friendship, family, love and romance, but it’s her exploration of grief that is especially thoughtful and sensitive. Each of her main characters are forced to find the courage to confront some difficult realities about loss in order to move forward with their lives. Though bereavement is not something that can be, nor should be, compared, Elsie’s is particularly heartrending given its immediacy.

There is a special sort of thrill in being familiar with the setting of a story. All We Have Is Now is primarily set in Wingham, which adjoins my own town of Taree, so I could easily envisage both the house in which the centre operates and the characters movements around their environs (the author herself is a local).

Thoughtfully crafted, heartfelt and poignant, All We Have Is Now is a pleasure to read.

++++++

Available from Harlequin/HarperCollins Australia

Or from your preferred retailer via Booko I Book Depository I Booktopia I Amazon

Review: Last Night by Mhairi McFarlane


Title: Last Night

Author: Mhairi McFarlane

Published: 1st April 2021, HarperCollins UK

Status: Read April 2021 courtesy HarperCollinsUK/Netgalley

++++++

My Thoughts:

 

“That night was the last night of The Past, and we had no idea.”

 

I sat down to get a start on Mhairi McFarlane’s newest release and turned the final page just as my husband put his key in the door. The house was dark, the oven was cold, and I realised I hadn’t moved for the past three hours or so. While I very much enjoyed McFarlane’s previous novels, If I Never Met You, It’s Not Me, It’s You, and Don’t You Forget About Me, Last Night just felled me.

Though both romantic and funny, Last Night is much more than the romcom it’s marketed as. It’s a contemporary, captivating story exploring friendship, loss, secrets and love, told with McFarlane’s distinctive blend of insight, heart, and wit.

It would be far too easy to spoil the plot, which is why I’m avoiding my usual introduction to a review, but I can say it centres around four best friends since childhood – Eve, Susan, Justin and Ed, now all aged in their mid-thirties, faced with a shattering event that challenges their comfortable status quo.

There’s an authenticity and nuance to McFarlane’s characters that just appeals so strongly to me, even though I don’t necessarily have anything in common with them. Last Night unfolds from the perspective of Eve, single (and secretly in love with Ed), with an unfulfilling job, but nevertheless content with her life, largely due to her close relationships with Susan, Justin and Ed. The dynamic between the four friends is enviable, though not without its complications, which are brought to the fore in the wake of profound tragedy.

I’m not claiming Last Night is flawless, nor will it appeal to everyone, but it was near perfect for me for so many reasons. The author has a talent for natural dialogue and great timing, and I love McFarlane’s sharp, dry wit, but it’s her ability to evoke a full range of emotions that ensures I become invested in the story. I laughed and shed a tear, sighed and held my breath.

It should be obvious by now that I adored Last Night, its going to be a favourite for this year.

++++++

Available from HarperCollins UK

Or from your preferred retailer via HiveUK I Book Depository I Booko

Bookshelf Bounty


Every third Sunday of the month I share my Bookshelf Bounty – what’s been added to my TBR tile recently for review from publishers, purchases or gifts.

This month I’m linking up with Mailbox Monday

Click on the cover images to view at Goodreads

For Review (print)

(My thanks to the respective publishers)




Ebook



Review: Crackenback by Lee Christine

Title: Crackenback

Author: Lee Christine

Published: 1st February 2021, Allen & Unwin

Status: Read February 2021 courtesy Allen & Unwin

+++++++

My Thoughts:

Crakenback follows Lee Christine’s bestselling debut, Charlotte’s Pass, featuring NSW Homicide Squad Detective Sergeant Pierce Ryder. It’s not necessary to have read the former however, as I found this story works very well as a stand-alone.

With the start of the ski season still a few weeks away, Golden Wattle Lodge proprietor Eva Bell is alone with her three year old, Poppy, when Jack Walker, bruised and bleeding, bursts through the door. Eva is terrified as he strips her of her phone and keys, irrationally convinced he has come for his daughter. Learning that Jack has instead come to protect them from a killer bent on revenge gives her only the smallest sense of relief.

Meanwhile DS Ryder and his small task force are searching for a new lead in the hunt for Gavin Hutton who is suspected of beating two men to death. Joined by Detective ‘Daisy’ Flowers, and new team member, Nerida Sterling, the investigation takes them from Sydney, south to Jervis Bay, north to the Central Coast and west to the Snowy Mountains, where their quarry is finally in sight.

Christine immediately captures the reader’s attention in Crackenback with a dramatic prologue, the relevance of which is revealed later in the story, but there’s plenty of action and tension to follow in this tightly plotted, exciting story.

I was as interested in the progress Ryder and his team were making in the search for their fugitive, as I was in Jack and Eva’s nervous wait for their attacker, though it quickly becomes clear they are one and the same. Both perspectives advance the plot and are neatly complimentary while building suspense. I thought the pacing of the story was very good, and I read it easily in one sitting.

Both Eva and Jack were appealing characters. I admired Eva’s determination to protect her daughter and her practical, sensible way of coping with the frightening situation she was thrust into. Jack has an interesting background, and he is obviously capable and resourceful. Though their relationship, which resulted in Poppy, was not much more than a one night stand, it’s obvious the pair are still attracted to each other, though Christine plays down the romance angle in favour of the action.

Unfortunately I hadn’t the opportunity to read Charlotte’s Pass so I’m not terribly familiar with Ryder, but I liked what I saw of him. It was his girlfriend Vanessa, who is also Eva’s sister, who had a larger role in that story. It seems likely to me that the third book will feature one of Ryder’s team.

While the main action takes place at the Lodge in Thredbo, and the deepening snow plays beautifully into the action, one of things I liked was the way in which Christine’s characters moved within the state of NSW. I was particularly delighted that my town of Taree even got a mention (though it wasn’t very flattering and, as far as I know, not true, given the Officer in Charge of our station is a woman).

With an intriguing storyline, fast paced action, and strong characterisation, I thought Crackenback was a great book, and I’ll definitely be reading Christine Lee’s next.

++++++

Available from Allen & Unwin RRP AUD$29.99

Or from your preferred retailer via Booko I Book Depository I Booktopia I Amazon

Review: Before I Saw You by Emily Houghton

Title: Before I Saw You

Author: Emily Houghton

Published: 4th February 2021, Bantam Press

Status: Read February 2021 courtesy Bantam Press/Netgalley

++++++

My Thoughts:

Before I Saw You is a winsome contemporary novel from debut author Emily Houghton

Badly burned in a fire and deeply traumatised, Alice Gunnersley, can’t even bear to look at herself, and has refused to speak since she woke. Moved into a rehabilitation ward, she insists the curtain around her bed remain closed at all times, but that wont stop Alfie Mack from getting to know the girl in the bed next door. Alfie has been in St Francis’s Hospital for months, recuperating after his leg was amputated due to a car accident. He rarely stops talking, determined to keep both his own, and his fellow ward mates spirits high, and he’s sure if he asks enough questions, Alice will eventually answer.

Told from the alternating points of view of Alice and Alfie, this is very much a character driven story primarily taking place in the one location. It’s focus is on the connection that slowly forms between the two protagonists, both of whom have experienced life changing events but are very different personalities, and therefore have very different approaches to coping. Alice, a workaholic with no family to speak of and only one close friend who has relocated to Australia, used to being alone, has withdrawn further into herself. Alfie, a passionate teacher with loving parents and a large group of friends tries to remain positive by using humour and focusing on the needs of others, despite his private grief and pain.

As their first tentative conversation progresses to a late night sharing of secrets, It’s no surprise that deeper feelings develops between them. That neither know what the other looks like adds a layer of interest to the attraction, particularly since they are both physically scarred, and worried about the reaction of others to their injuries.

I thought Houghton was sensitive to the trauma her protagonists have, and continue to experience. She doesn’t minimise their darker emotions, but neither does she dwell in them, at least until the last 20% or so where the story gets quite bogged down in the self pity of both characters – honest perhaps, but dull reading particularly when whatever sense of anticipation you may have is poorly rewarded if you are expecting a traditional romantic HEA ending.

Though I thought there was a misstep or two with regards to the plot, Houghton’s skilful portrayal of character and emotions in particular meant I found Before I Saw You to be a moving and engaging read.

+++++++

Available from Penguin UK

Or from your preferred retailer via HiveUK I Book Depository I Booko I Indiebound

Review: Adult Virgins Anonymous by Amber Crewe

Title: Adult Virgins Anonymous

Author: Amber Crewe

Published: 21st January 2021, Coronet

Status: Read January 2021 courtesy Hodder & StaughtonUK/Netgalley

++++++

My Thoughts:

In looking for a light read for the month of January, Adult Virgins Anonymous by Amber Crewe garnered my attention because of its eye catching title and unusual premise. Billed as a romantic comedy, Kate and Freddie, both in their late twenties, meet at a support group for adult virgins.

This wasn’t quite the light hearted romp I was expecting though. When the book opens, Kate is on the verge of a depressive episode. Her career has stalled, her friends seem to have moved on and left her behind, and she has no choice other than to move back in with her parents. Meanwhile Freddie, who has a clinical history of anxiety and OCD, is tired of feeling misunderstood and alone. Both are virgins not through choice per se, but because of a lack of opportunity, and both feel it is a burden that contributes to their single status.

Cue the fortuitous discovery of a support group, where they learn they aren’t the only adult virgins in London. Hosted by a person who identifies as nonbinary, the group includes a diverse range of members who for varying reasons are also virgins. They are an appealing bunch, and Crewe takes care to flesh these characters out, even though they play a reasonably minor role in the story as individuals. The group though is the stage that allows for thoughtful discussion about the nature of desire, sex, sexuality, love, insecurity, loneliness and personal happiness.

Inevitably Kate and Freddie decide that having sex with each other is a good idea, an opportunity to get ‘it’ over with, with no strings, but predictably the pair catch feelings for each other they are too afraid to admit to. It’s a cute take on the friends to lovers trope though the repetitive cycle of angst before they confess does get a little tiring.

Crewe’s characterisation is impressive, and I thought she wrote sensitively in regards to the various issues explored in the novel, including on the subjects of adult virginity, OCD and self esteem. What I thought was uneven with regards to the story was the balance between the comic and serious elements, and the pacing.

While Adult Virgins Anonymous wasn’t quite the romantic comedy I was anticipating I thought it offered some unique detail, and enjoyed reading it.

+++++++

Available from Hodder & Staughton

Or from your preferred retailer via HiveUK I Book Depository I Booko

Review: Something Like This by Karly Lane


Title: Something Like This

Author: Karly Lane

Published: 1st December 2020, Allen & Unwin

Status: Read December 2020 courtesy Allen & Unwin

++++++

My Thoughts:

Despite the devastating loss of her husband, with hard work and the fortuitous inheritance of her grandparents farm, Tilly Hollis is now on the verge of fulfilling their shared dream to launch an equine therapy program for troubled teens. With just a few more weeks of work at a local cafe, she will finally have the funds to build the last of the infrastructure that will allow her to launch Healing Hooves Horse Therapy.

In need of solitude and a fresh start, retired army soldier and handyman Jason Weaver plans to renovate the old farmhouse he just purchased on the outskirts of Ben Tirran, and then move on. He is not expecting to have his head turned by a waitress in a small country town, and it surprises them both when a mutual attraction develops.

Something Like This from bestselling Australian author, Karly Lane, is a heartwarming rural romance set in the the New England highlands.

Tilly and Jason are well-realised, appealing characters. Tilly is a strong and resilient woman, particularly for having endured more than her share of tragedy including the loss of her father and brother in separate incidences as a teen, her husband’s untimely death, and most recently her mother’s slow demise from breast cancer. Jason is also no stranger to death, having served in the army he has lost several friends, and is especially haunted by the incident that cost him his lower leg. Still struggling with his past, falling for Tilly encourages him to look to the future.

I thought the relationship between the two characters was very well-handled, Lane allows them both time to adjust to their attraction to one another, and doesn’t rush the inevitable. I appreciated the lack of dramatic obstacles usually employed to keep a couple apart, which served to make this romance more realistic and relatable.

They say some people are horsey people, while others are not, but even non-horsey people will be moved by the touching goals of Tilly’s equine therapy program, and the history of the Guy Fawkes Heritage Horses Tilly uses at her farm. Guy Fawkes Heritage horses (previously referred to as wild Brumbies), found in the Guy Fawkes River National Park in north eastern NSW, were once subject to regular culls to protect the environment, but are now considered to be of significant historical, military and cultural value. The population of this spirited breed is now managed with a rehoming project, and in Something Like This, Tilly combines her therapy program with the need to acclimatise these horses to humans.

An engaging story, set at a gentle pace, told with genuine warmth for her characters and setting, Something Like This is a lovely and eminently satisfying read.

++++++

Available from Allen & Unwin RRP AUD$29.99

Or from your preferred retailer via Booko I Book Depository I Booktopia

Also by Karly Lane reviewed at Book’d Out

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