Review: Fool Me Once by Karly Lane

Title: Fool Me Once

Author: Karly Lane

Published: April 28th 2020, Allen & Unwin

Status: Read May 2020 courtesy Allen & Unwin

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My Thoughts:

When cattle farm manager Georgie Henderson meets businessman Michael Delacourt at a B&S ball, she throws caution to the wind and accepts his invitation to spend the night. Barely a month later they are married during a holiday in Hawaii, but Georgie’s trust in her new husband is shattered just days later when she learns of his connection to the loss of her family’s farm, and her father’s subsequent suicide.

A story about loss, love, trust, and forgiveness, the tumultuous relationship between Georgie and Michael takes centre stage in Fool Me Once. Love-at-first-sight sours when Georgie believes Michael has lied to her, and refuses to let him to explain. Michael isn’t willing to give up on their marriage though, and waits patiently for his chance to convince her that what they feel for each other is true. I liked the whirlwind romance between the couple, and though a dramatic separation is predictable, their eventual reunion is satisfying.

Set in the New England region of NSW, I’m always impressed by the way Lane integrates the realities of farming life into her stories. In Fool Me Once she raises the issues of ‘corporate farming’ -where large company’s buy family farms, sometimes using underhand tactics in order to pressure a reluctant farmer to sell; and the increasing need for farmer’s to embrace technology and diversify in order to increase their operational incomes.

With it’s appealing characters, easy pace and happy ending, I found Fool Me Once to be another engaging and satisfying rural romance novel from bestselling author, Karly Lane.

++++++

Available from Allen & Unwin RRP AUD$29.99

Or from your preferred retailer via Booko I Book Depository

 

Also by Karly Lane reviewed at Book’d Out 

 

Review: Adult Conversation by Brandy Ferner

Title: Adult Conversation

Author: Brandy Ferner

Published: May 5th 2020, She Writes Press

Status: Read May 2020, courtesy SheWrites Press/Netgalley

++++++

My Thoughts:

Adult Conversation is an engaging and funny novel about a woman’s struggle with contemporary middle-class motherhood.

“Modern motherhood looked so much like anxiety, which was which?”

April doesn’t understand why she is finding full-time motherhood so difficult. She adores her children, eight year-old Elliot, and two year-old Violet, but is increasingly overwhelmed by her family’s endless demands on her time, energy and sanity. Desperate for advice she reaches out to a therapist who helps her to find some perspective

Ferner’s observations of motherhood are wry and honest. I well remember feeling exhausted, frustrated, and ‘touched’ out after a long day of caring for young children so I immediately empathised with April. Her concerns are so close to what my own were in the early years, and though the anxiety of wondering if you are doing it ‘right’ never goes away, thankfully time offers perspective.

April’s shift in perspective comes not only from the wise advice of her therapist to take time for herself without guilt, but an unlikely adventure in her company to Vegas. It’s perhaps a little absurd, with a rather shocking twist, but the trip is illuminating for April.

Told with wit and warmth I enjoyed Adult Conversations, I believe most mothers will relate with at least some aspect of April’s experience, and her desire to meet the needs of her family without sacrificing herself.

++++++

Available from She Writes Press

Or your preferred retailer via Booko I Book Depository I Indiebound

Review: Confessions of a Forty-Something by Alexandra Potter

Title: Confessions of a Forty-Something

Author: Alexandra Potter

Published: April 28th 2020, Macmillan Australia

Status: Read May 2020, courtesy Macmillan Australia

++++++

My Thoughts:

“Hi and welcome to Confessions of a Forty-Something F##k-Up, the podcast for any woman who wonders how the hell she got here, and why life isn’t quite how she imagined it was going to be.”

After the end of her engagement and the collapse of her business, Penelope ‘Nell’ Stevens has returned home from LA to London, single, broke and feeling like a f##k-up on the wrong side of forty. Her friends seem to have it all – the loving husband, adorable children and beautiful home – while she’s forced to rent a room from a stranger and start over.

I loved Nell, who despite feeling stuck on ‘Planet What The F##k Am I Going To Do With My Life’ is determined to move forward and learn to be grateful for what she has. It’s not easy for Nell as she struggles with feeling as if she is a failure, and I think Potter captures her cycles between pessimism and optimism well.

Unexpected inspiration and support for Nell comes from Cricket, an eighty-something year who as a recent widow is in a similar position to Nell. Cricket is a wonderful character, feisty and honest, and even threatens to upstage Nell at times.

The themes of the story focus on relationships between lovers and friends, and family. Of most significance though is the reminder that no one’s life is perfect, and that’s OK. As a forty-something year old myself I can relate to the issues that Potter explores, though I have more in common with Nell’s friends than Nell herself.

Confessions of a Forty-Something could have been cheesy and shallow, but instead I found it to be charming and insightful. Witty, engaging and relevant for any one who feels like life hasn’t quite worked out as planned, I found Confessions of a Forty-Something to be an enjoyable read, and am happy to recommend it.

“For all of us, it seems, life isn’t always easy, and the lesson I’ve learned is that you’re not f##cking up if life hasn’t worked out how you expected. Because real life is messy and complicated. Shit happens. One size doesn’t fit all. Remove the filters and the hashtags and the motivational messages and we’re all just as scared and confused as the next person. We’re all just living our life, and it might not tick all the boxes or look Insta-perfect, but that’s OK.”

++++++

Available from Macmillan Australia

Or from your preferred retailer via Booko I Book Depository

Review: Something To Talk About by Rachael Johns

Title: Something To Talk About {Rose Hill #2}

Author: Rachael Johns

Published: April 20th 2020, MIRA Australia

Status: Read April 2020 courtesy Harlequin Au/Netgalley

+++++++

My Thoughts:

Something To Talk About is Rachael John’s second rural romance in the Rose Hill series, which began with Talk of the Town featuring the relationship between widowed dairy farmer Lawson Cooper-Jones and new storekeeper Meg, but reads well as a stand-alone.

In Something To Talk About, Tabitha Cooper-Jones, Lawson’s younger sister, has created a life she is proud of. She’s refused to let the loss of her arm to cancer hold her back, developing a thriving gourmet ice cream business, operating a successful cafe, and volunteering as a St John’s emergency assistant, but what she wants most is a family of her own, and despairing of ever finding a partner in the small town of Walsh, she’s chosen to become pregnant via donor insemination.

Fergus McWilliams is looking to escape the fallout from a broken engagement when he accepts a short term teaching position at Walsh Primary School, but he’s unprepared for the attention a single man in a small town attracts. Not looking for another relationship so soon, a ‘friends with benefits’ arrangement with Tabitha, despite her unusual circumstances, is a convenience for them both, but their plan to keep it casual goes awry when their hearts become involved.

I loved the chemistry between Tabitha and Fergus. Sparks fly at their very first meeting and as the story develops their growing affection for one another feels organic. Johns’s characters, both main and supporting, always feel genuine and elements of their situations relatable. The obstacles between Tab and Fergus are not insignificant, but I thought they were resolved convincingly.

The residents of Walsh add texture to the story from the members of Stitch & Bitch, to the children of Fergus’s class. The Western Australian setting is always a thrill for me, having been born there. I’ve holidayed in Bunbury and I’m familiar with the tiny farming towns in the southwest where community really matters.

Readers should be aware that several of the characters in Something To Talk About are affected by cancer, but the story really centers around the themes of independence, resilience, forgiveness, and trust.

Without fail, I finish each book by Rachael Johns with a sigh of satisfaction and contentment for a story well told, and it’s no different here. This is a book I am happy to talk about.

++++++

Available from Harlequin Australia

Or from your preferred retailer via Booko I Book Depository


Also by Rachael Johns reviews at Book’d Out

 

 

Review: Return to Stringybark Creek by Karly Lane

Title: Return to Stringybark Creek {The Callahans of Stringybark Creek #3}

Author: Karly Lane

Published: April 1st 2020, Allen & Unwin

Status: Read April 2020, courtesy Allen & Unwin

+++++++

My Thoughts:

The third book in The Callahans of Stringybark Creek trilogy by Karly Lane, is aptly named Return to Stringybark Creek and features the youngest Callahan sibling, foreign correspondent, Hadley Callahan.

When Hadley’s short marriage to on-air celebrity anchor Mitch Samuals implodes, she retreats to the family farm in Stringybark Creek to avoid the scrutiny of the media. She is glad to be home, even if she’s nervous about telling her parents the real reason for her impending divorce, but the last thing she expects is to fall in love with the boy next door.

Return to Stringybark Creek is, at its heart, a rural romance novel so it’s the relationship between Hadley and neighbour, Ollie Dawson, that takes centre stage. Ollie has been in love with Hadley since they were teenagers, while Hadley, whose focus has always been on her career, has never considered Ollie in a romantic light. I enjoyed their developing romance, with the friends to lovers trope being my favourite.

As always, the author’s personal experience of rural life lends an authenticity to her characters and setting. She touches on circumstances that challenge farmers such as injury, farm management, and the increasing need for diversification.

Arguably however, the most significant facet of the novel is the attention Lane brings to the issues of rural mental health, particularly among farmers. When a contemporary of Ollie’s suicides, he grows determined to raise awareness of the issue and create change within a culture that has difficulty admitting to struggles with mental health. The entire fictional community becomes involved in the effort, with Lane drawing inspiration from the real-life Naked Farmer campaign.

It’s not necessary to have read The Wrong Callahan (featuring Lincoln Callahan and Cash Sullivan) , or Mr. Right Now (featuring Griffin Callahan and Olivia Dawson) to enjoy this novel as the story stands well on its own. Told with humour and heart, Return to Stringybark Creek is an engaging read.

++++++

Available from Allen & Unwin

Or from your preferred retailer via Booko I Book Depository

Also by Karly Lane reviewed at Book’d Out

Review: The Banksia Bay Beach Shack by Sandie Docker

 

Title: The Banksia Bay Beach Shack

Author: Sandie Docker

Published: March 17th 2020, Michael Joseph

Status: Read March 2020 courtesy PenguinRandomHouse Australia

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My Thoughts:

Sandie Docker’s third novel, The Banksia Bay Beach Shack, is a heartwarming yet bittersweet tale offering a touch of romance and intrigue.

After the loss of her beloved grandmother, investigative journalist Laura Prescott finds a photograph that hints at a secret in Lillian’s past. Eager to learn more, Laura travels to the small coastal town of Banksia Bay where a story of friendship, love, regret, and heartbreak is waiting to be told.

The contemporary plot line introduces us to the residents of Banksia Bay, among them Virginia aka ‘Gigi’, the owner of the Banksia Bay Beach Cafe, locals Charlotte and Heath, and Gigi’s closest friend Yvonne. Laura opts to explain her presence in the town by claiming she is writing a travel piece, but Gigi, who immediately see’s the resemblance between Laura and her childhood best friend Lily, is wary of her motives. I liked Laura well enough, I empathised with her curiosity about her grandmother’s life, and I enjoyed the development of her character, but it was Gigi’s past that intrigued me.

Flashbacks reveal the devastating events of the past that severed the friendship between ‘summer sisters’ Lily and Gigi. Set during the 1960’s, the author captures both the innocence and darkness of the period, exposing issues such as anti-migrant sentiment, and social class prejudice. Docker builds the tension skilfully as history unfolds to climax in an unexpected and shocking double tragedy which explains Gigi’s present distress at Laura’s arrival in Banksia Bay.

I delighted in Docker’s depiction of Banksia Bay, I was reminded of the many summer holidays I spent in beachside caravan parks along both the west and east coast of Australia growing up, and the fleeting but intense friendships formed with fellow holiday-makers.

Sweet yet poignant, The Banksia Bay Beach Shack is a lovely read.

++++++

Available from PenguinRandomHouse Australia

Or from your preferred retailer via Booko I Book Depository

Also by Sandie Docker reviewed at Book’d Out

Review: The Lawson Sisters by Janet Gover

 

Title: The Lawson Sisters

Author: Janet Gover

Published: January 20th 2020, MIRA

Status: Read January 2020 courtesy Harlequin Au

++++++

My Thoughts:

Set in the western region of the NSW Hunter Valley, The Lawson Sisters by Janet Gover could be considered both a family drama and a rural romance.

Fifteen years after the tragic death of her parents, Liz is struggling to keep the family horse stud, Willowbrook, from foreclosure, and with nowhere left to turn, swallows her pride and turns to her estranged younger sister Kayla for advice.

Kayla, who has made a life for herself in the city as a wedding planner for wealthy clients, isn’t sure she cares if they lose Willowbrook, and is certain her sister won’t like the only suggestion she has to offer – to use the homestead and grounds as a wedding destination.

Liz’s reluctance to concede stems not only from her shame in failing to make the property profitable, but also because Kayla’s return to Willowbrook will force her to face some shocking secrets about her parents deaths, her relationship with her sister, and her feelings for the boy next door.

Exploring the themes of love, guilt, estrangement, and reconciliation, The Lawson Sisters unfolds primarily from the perspectives of Liz and Kayla as both come to terms with the secrets that have kept them apart.

Not only is Liz under enormous financial pressure to keep the stud viable, she has the sole physical and emotional responsibility for the maintenance and operation of the farm, all intensified by the crushing burden of guilt she carries. As a result, Liz is single-minded, closed-off, and bitter, and Gover’s characterisation is so convincing that unfortunately I had more pity than empathy for her. I want to at least in part identify with the heroine in this type of story, and I found that difficult here as Liz wasn’t particularly likeable.

However, I was rooting for the sisters reconciliation, for Willowbrook’s fortunes to be reversed, and for Liz to be able to let go of her guilt and move on with the ever patient Mitch.

++++++

Available from Harlequin Australia

Or from your preferred retailer via Booko I Book Depository

Read an Excerpt

Review: Mix Tape by Jane Sanderson

 


Title: Mix Tape

Author: Jane Sanderson

Published: January 23rd 2020, Bantam Press UK

Status: Read January 2020, courtesy Bantam Press/Netgalley

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My Thoughts:

I had been looking forward to reading Mix Tape by Jane Sanderson for a while before it finally came up in my schedule. I am of an age when mix tapes were common. I’d be listening to the radio on my boom box on a Sunday evening, a blank tape in the cassette deck, waiting for the Top 40 to start, with my fingers on the ‘play’ and ‘record’ buttons, poised to catch the opening bars of the whatever song I was hoping to record. We played mix tapes at parties, traded them among friends, and shyly gifted them to our boyfriend/girlfriend. I still have two or three of those tapes, though I no longer have anything to play them on.

Moving between the past and the present, this is the story of Daniel and Alison, who meet as teens in Sheffield, England in 1978. Their romantic relationship is brief, but intense, ending abruptly when Alison is compelled to flee her harrowing home life. Alison’s journey eventually leads her to Australia, and in 2012 she is a bestselling novelist, married with two near-adult daughters, when Dan, a music journalist whose home base is in Scotland with his wife and college bound son, receives a tweet from an old friend directing him to the profile of @AliConnorWriter. When Dan finally reaches out to the woman who has haunted his dreams for decades, he does so with a music video that speaks to a seminal moment in their relationship, ‘Pump It Up’ – Elvis Costello and the Attractions, 1978.

“No words, no message. Only the song, speaking for itself.”

Mix Tape is unapologetically a love story, a tale of soulmates forcibly parted, and then reunited after a separation of thirty years.

Sanderson wonderfully captures the intensity of Daniel and Alison’s connection as teenagers. Dan, sweet and steady, is infatuated with the beautiful and enigmatic Alison. Alison, whose home life is chaotic and neglectful, basks in Dan’s admiration and returns his desire. When she leaves they are both devastated, aware they have lost something special.

When Dan and Ali reconnect decades later, they initially communicate only by trading songs via Twitter that remind them of their relationship, and then songs whose lyrics speak to their growing desires. I’m in my mid forties so I wasn’t particularly familiar with a fair amount of the music referenced in Mix Tape, and I found myself having to stop and search through YouTube on occasion to listen to the song to understand its significance. It’s a delightful idea though, a modern take on those not so subtle cassette mix tapes declaring love

Without sharing a word, despite all the time that has passed, the physical distance between them, and being married to other people, Dan and Alison rekindle the flame. Here is where Sanderson lost me a little, because while the idea of a love that cannot be denied is romantic, that it comes at the expense of others, even if neither of their spouses are particularly likeable, is uncomfortable for me. Still the inevitable reunion is epic, and to the author’s credit I wanted it to happen.

Mix Tape is unapologetically a love story, but it’s also about heartache, nostalgia, loss, forgiveness, and the music. While my feelings about it remain a little mixed, it has its charms.

++++++

Available from Bantam Press UK

Or from your preferred retailer via Booko I Book Depository

Review: Maggie’s Going Nowhere by Rose Hartley

Title: Maggie’s Going Nowhere

Author: Rose Hartley

Published: 7th January 2020, Michael Joseph

Read an Extract

Status: Read January 2020 courtesy Penguin Australia

++++++

My Thoughts:

Maggie’s Going Nowhere is a charming and hilarious debut from Rose Hartley.

Devoted to avoiding hard work and responsibility, twenty-nine year old Maggie Cotton may finally have to grow up when she is dumped by her boyfriend, loses her place at University, disinherited by her mother, and slapped with an outrageous debt by Centerlink.

Forced to take her first steps towards independence, Maggie moves into a shabby 1960’s caravan with no running water, electricity, or toilet facilities, that she parks out the front of her best friend’s house, and grudgingly takes a volunteer position at a charity in order to keep her Newstart payments.

Maggie’s Going Nowhere feels like a coming-of-age tale for the millennial generation, some of whom seem determined to extend adolescence by a decade.

In truth, Maggie is the sort of character that I would despair of in real life, and that I usually find frustrating in fiction. She’s entitled, irresponsible, insensitive, and unapologetic, so it’s to Hartley’s credit that I actually found her likeable, and even somewhat endearing. Maggie’s confidence is appealing, her lack of tact is refreshing, and her loyalty to her best friend Jen is sincere.

Jen has the patience of a saint, not only with Maggie, but also with her own fiancé Johnno, whom Maggie refers to as ‘The King of Arseholes’. I liked the author’s depiction of these relationships, and the acknowledgement that even having it all- a home of your own, a steady job, and committed relationship – is no guarantee of a happy ever after.

Given her history of sabotaging her romantic relationships, (in the worst way possible), Maggie’s crush on fellow volunteer Rueben, a sexy ex-con focused on taking responsibility for himself, seems destined for failure, but convincing him otherwise proves to be surprising motivation for her, and I couldn’t help but hope that Maggie would finally get everything she wants, even if it’s nothing she perhaps deserves.

Fast paced and thoroughly entertaining, I really enjoyed Maggie’s Going Nowhere, and I’m happy to recommend it.

++++++

Available from PenguinRandomHouse Australia

Or from your preferred retailer via Booko I Book Depository

Review: If I Never Met You by Mhairi McFarlane

 

 

Title: If I Never Met You

Author: Mhairi McFarland

Published: 15th December 2019, HarperCollins Australia

Status: Read December 2019, courtesy HarperCollins/Netgalley

++++++

My Thoughts:

A delightful romantic comedy, If I Never Met You is Mhairi McFarlane’s sixth novel.

Laurie is devastated when her boyfriend of eighteen years suddenly announces he is leaving her, claiming the need to ‘find’ himself, and then completely shattered when she learns just weeks later that Dan not only has a new girlfriend, but that the girlfriend is pregnant.

Desperate to retain a shred of dignity, especially given she and Dan still have to work together in the same law firm, Laurie strikes a deal with a colleague. Jamie needs help to rehabilitate his reputation as a lothario to have a shot at making partner, and being seen to enjoy a new relationship with a handsome and successful man might make Dan rethink his decision to breakup with Laurie. A fake relationship will benefit them both…as long as no one ever finds out.

The bare bones of the plot of If I Never Met You is not by any means unique, but the execution by McFarlane has real appeal. Yes this is a romantic comedy that exploits the enemies to lovers trope, but there is also a surprising depth to the story.

In particular, McFarlane’s characters move beyond the expected stereotypes, subverting them in ways that are thoughtful and realistic. I felt as if I could relate to Laurie, even though I don’t share her experience, and empathised with her feelings and behaviour. On first impression, Jamie appears to be a typical ‘Alpha’ hero, but it quickly becomes clear that appearances can be deceiving.

I love McFarlane’s sense of humour, which can be very dry, but also makes judicious use of the cheap laugh. I also really admire the way in which the author utilises a full range of emotion without becoming too farcical, nor too angsty, it’s a difficult balancing act that she gets just right.

If I Met Never You is witty, heartfelt and utterly engaging.

Read an Extract

++++++

Available from HarperCollins Australia

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

Also by Mhairi McFarlane reviewed at Book’d Out

 

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