Review: Long Way Home by Nicola Marsh

 

Title: Long Way Home

Author: Nicola Marsh

Published: September 23rd 2019, MIRA Australia

Status: Read September 2019, courtesy Harlequin/Netgalley

++++++

My Thoughts:

Long Way Home is the first book of a new rural romance series set in the fictional town of Brockenridge from Nicola Marsh.

After the sudden death of her mother, Ruby Aston reluctantly returns to the small country town of Brockenridge she had fled eleven years earlier. Planning to go back to Melbourne after the funeral, Ruby is stunned to learn that she’s inherited the roadhouse and motel she assumed her mother had simply managed, and when a local developer, Connor Delaney, reveals his plan to tear the place down, Ruby realises she can’t let go of her legacy.

In this (kinda) second-chance romance, Ruby and Connor, who were on the verge of a relationship as teenagers, find that their attraction to one another has endured, but Connor’s plan to acquire and raze The Watering Hole to make way for a resort complicates any thoughts of a reunion. I thought the conflict was realistic, and Marsh handled it well. I enjoyed the flirting between the pair and the eventual resolution.

Long Way Home also features a second romance. With Clara’s death, The Watering Hole’s hostess Alisha, and chef, Harry, begin to consider their plans for the future, and Alisha is contemplating leaving Brockenridge to travel, just as Harry finally seems to express an interest in her. I liked that the author chose to make Alisha a person of colour, which is rare in rural romance, but Alisha’s race is mentioned often enough, that it becomes a little gratuitous.

While I thought it was possibly a bit of a stretch that all of Ruby’s high school nemeses had not fared well during her absence (though it was pretty satisfying), the author ably captured the dynamics of a small country town. I’d guess that single mum Tash, The Watering Hole’s waitress, will be one of the character’s featured next.

Long Way Home is a pleasant and engaging read, sure to satisfy fans of the rural romance genre.

++++++

Available from HarperCollins AU

Or from your preferred retailer via Booko I Book Depository

Review: Don’t You Forget About Me by Mhairi McFarlane

 

 

Title: Don’t You Forget About Me

Author: Mhairi McFarlane

Published: September 10th 2019, William Morrow

Status: Read September 2019 courtesy William Morrow/Edelweiss

++++++

My Thoughts:

This is probably the first time I’ve chosen to read a book because I can’t read the title without wanting to burst into song. The Breakfast Club was my favourite movie as a teen, and ‘Don’t You Forget About Me’ by Simple Minds plays during the film’s closing moments, as John Bender (ie. Judd Nelson) punches the air.

Mhairi McFarlane’s book doesn’t really have any connection to the movie, though the story does begin in highschool as Georgina falls in love with her classmate, Lucas, only for the relationship to end abruptly. Nearly twelve years later Georgina is having a tough week. First she is fired from her waitressing job, and next finds her boyfriend in bed with his personal assistant, then when she is offered a great new job, she discovers that the co-owner of the business is none other than Lucas, who seems not to recognise her.

While marketed as a romcom, and I don’t dispute that Don’t You Forget About Me is both romantic and funny, the term doesn’t give McFarlane the credit she deserves for the serious issues she explores in this novel. I really enjoyed the humour that moves between the dry and somewhat slapstick, but the story also packs quite an emotional wallop that I didn’t expect. Key is McFarlane’s examination of Georgina’s experiences at the hands of men behaving badly.

I really liked Georgina and found her to be authentic and relatable. She is funny, though she often uses humour as a defence, and strong, even if she doesn’t recognise it. While she doesn’t get much emotional support from her family, (gotta love her Nan though), her friends are wonderful. But there is no denying that Georgina is stuck, and needs to find a way to move forward.

Witty, heartfelt, and moving, I enjoyed Don’t You Forget About Me. Don’t ‘walk on by’ this one.

++++++

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Available from HarperCollins US

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And because I can’t resist- enjoy

 

 

Review: A Question of Us by Mary Jayne Baker

 

Title: The Question of Us

Author: Mary Jayne Baker

Published: September 5th 2019, Aria Fiction

Status: Read September 2019 courtesy Aria Fiction/Netgalley

++++++

My Thoughts:

A Question of Us is a charming and funny contemporary romance from British author, Mary Jayne Baker.

The friends to lovers trope in romance has always been my favourite, and it’s the focus of A Question of Us. Clarrie and Simon have been best friends for over twenty years (since they were four) and both have harboured unacknowledged romantic feelings for each other since their late teens. Now in their mid twenties, Simon is ready for Clarrie to to take him seriously, but Clarrie, desperately worried that giving in to her attraction to Simon will eventually spell the end of their friendship, prefers to deflect and deny. Clarrie’s concerns are understandable, and relatable for anyone who has been in a similar position. Her fears are also magnified by what seems to be mild social anxiety.

In the attempt to convince Clarrie to give him a shot, Simon offers her a bet – if their team wins the trivia league she agrees to a date, and if the The Mighty Morphin’ Flower Arrangers lose, he will never ask her out again. The weekly trivia competition is a great framework for the story, allowing the author to bring her characters together naturally (and it’s fun to answer the questions).

Probably my favourite element of the novel is the dynamic between the group, which includes Clarrie, Simon, Sonny, Gemma and and Davy, who have all been close friends since high school. A lot of the banter involves the pushing of each other’s buttons in only the way people who have known each other forever can, and while much of it is hilarious, if juvenile (and un-PC), the affection between them reads as totally genuine. Each of the characters also have their own story, and unusually, so do their parents.

I also really enjoyed the ‘Britishness’ of A Question of Us, Baker freely makes use of British ‘slang’ and the story largely takes place in a variety of quintessential English pubs, resulting in the downing of several pints of Guinness, lager, and cheap wine. I’ve noticed some (American) reviewers complaining it’s ‘too British’ but as an Australian, with plenty of exposure to British culture and TV, it felt familiar, and honestly refreshing.

Witty, fun and engaging, I was delighted with A Question of Us.

++++++

Available from Aria Fiction

Or from your preferred e-retailer

Review: Things You Save In A Fire by Katherine Center

 

Title: Things You Save In a Fire

Author: Katherine Center

Published: August 13th 2019, St Martins Press

Status: Read August 2019

++++++

My Thoughts:

I’d seen so much praise for Things You Save In a Fire by Katherine Center on various blogs well in advance of its publication date that I was eager to get my hands on a copy.

Cassie Hanwell is a firefighter in Austin, Texas who loves her job, and has worked hard to earn the respect of her crew. When a run in with a local councillor puts her career in jeopardy, Cassie reluctantly decides to move to small town Massachusetts, where she takes a position in a firehouse, and moves in with her estranged, ailing mother.

Things You Save In a Fire is a contemporary romance that also explores the themes of family, courage, forgiveness, and redemption. Center does an impressive job of balancing the romance and humour with the more serious elements of the story.

There is an emphasis on the complexities of relationships in Things You Save In a Fire, not only in the romance that develops between Cassie, and ‘rookie’ Owen, but also Cassie’s difficult relationship with her mother, and the relationships she needs to forge with her new colleagues in order to safely do her job.

I enjoyed the romance between Cassie and Owen, it’s inevitable from the moment they meet, but there are good reasons for Cassie to be wary of their attraction. Owen is perhaps a little too good to be true, but I was willing to embrace the fantasy.

Cassie’s resentment of her mother is tangled up with a traumatic incident she experienced on the same night her mother left the family, their relationship therefore is a complicated one. That her mother is ill adds another layer of strain to their interaction, and I liked the way the author navigated the issues between them.

Not unexpectedly, Cassie has to prove herself to her fellow firefighters who aren’t really sure that a woman is capable of the job. For the most part, the crew are welcoming if somewhat bemused, and it was very entertaining to see her repeatedly exceed their expectations, but it soon becomes clear that at least one of them deeply resents her presence.

Perhaps the most important relationship in Things You Save In a Fire is the one Cassie has with herself. She shut down emotionally at sixteen, fought to become hard, tough and strong, and struggles to relax the control she clings to. I appreciated the growth shown by her character as the story unfolded.

“Choosing to love—despite all the ways that people let you down, and disappear, and break your heart. Knowing everything we know about how hard life is and choosing to love anyway … That’s not weakness. That’s courage.”

Warm, witty, and casually subversive I really enjoyed Things You Save In a Fire, and ?I hope to read more of her work.

++++++

Available from St. Martins Press

Also available via Indiebound I via Booko I via Book Depository

Review: Matters of the Heart by Fiona Palmer

 

Title: Matters of the Heart

Author: Fiona Palmer

Published: August 27th 2019, Hachette Australia

Status: Read August 2019 courtesy Hachette/Netgalley

++++++

My Thoughts:

Jane Austen’s ‘Pride and Prejudice’ has been the subject of numerous retellings, especially of late, and to be honest, I was a little hesitant about selecting this for review. As it happens, my doubts were unfounded, Matters of the Heart by Fiona Palmer is a charming, delightful and thoroughly enjoyable adaption of the classic romance novel.

The story of Matters of the Heart doesn’t stray far from the original plot of ‘Pride and Prejudice, but it is effectively translated into a modern tale, exploring the themes of love, family, class prejudice, gender and of course, pride, in an Australian rural setting.

Palmer deftly reimagines the beloved characters of Pride and Prejudice, with the story focusing on Lizzy, the second oldest daughter of the Bennet family. Spirited, smart and passionate about working on the land, she is determined to ensure the success of their sheep farm, Longbourn.

The author introduces Will Darcy as the best friend of new neighbouring property owner, Charles Bingley. While Charlie and Lizzy’s older sister, Jane, hit it off immediately, Lizzy is less impressed with the wealthy Will, especially when she inadvertently overhears him make unflattering remarks about Longbourn’s viability under a woman’s (her) management.

Their relationship is beset by obstacles, not the least their poor first impressions of one another. Lizzy pegs Will as a snob, and he fails to give her the respect she is due.

Present also in the story are versions of Charlotte, as Lizzy’s best friend, Lizzy’s awkward suitor (Ken) Collins, and (Luke) Wickham, a charming rodeo rider who stirs up trouble, among others, including all of the Bennet sisters.

Crafted with wit, warmth and heart, even if you have never read, or watched, Pride and Prejudice, Matters of the Heart is an entertaining rural romance novel in its own right. I loved it.

++++++

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Available from Hachette Australia

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Also by Fiona Palmer reviewed at Book’d Out 

 

 

Review: What Happens Now? By Sophia Money-Coutts

 

Title: What Happens Now?

Author: Sophia Money-Coutts

Published: August 22nd 2019, HQ Fiction

Status: Read August 2019, courtesy Harlequin AU

++++++

My Thoughts:

What Happens Now? is a light, funny, thoroughly contemporary romance novel from Sophia Money-Coutts.

Thirty one year old private school teacher Lil is still raw from the end of an eight year relationship when her best friend, Jess, convinces her to use a dating app. Lil chooses mountaineer Max, who likes like ‘a cross between a Jane Austen hero, and Jack Sparrow’. and the evening goes well, so well in fact that Lil goes home with him. But Max is gone when Lil wakes up the next morning, preparing to mountain climb in Pakistan, and fails to respond to her carefully worded texts. Six weeks later Lil realises thrush isn’t the only souvenir from her one night stand with Max, she’s pregnant. Letting Max know is the right thing to do, but he is missing somewhere on Muchu Chhish, so what happens now?

Max obviously isn’t the greatest of communicators which continues to be issue throughout the book, but Money-Coutts ensures he’s not short on charm. I thought his reaction to the news of the pregnancy was pretty realistic, and once he commits to fatherhood, he is kind and generous with Lil.

I liked Lil, her apprehension on finding out she was pregnant felt natural, and I admired her general equanimity once she’d made the decision keep the baby, with or without Max. I really enjoyed her interactions at the school where she teaches, especially with her small charges.

I enjoyed the friendships too. Lil’s bestie Jess, and her twin brother Clem are amusing, and the glimpses of Lil’s flatmates and work colleagues are fun. I also liked how sweet and supportive Lil’s parents are.

I appreciated the honesty with which the author described several scenes in the story, particularly how awkward it is to pee on a pregnancy test stick, and the delicate answers needed to satisfy the curiosity of five year olds (I fielded similar questions when I was pregnant and teaching). I could have done with a few less details about a particular act in the sex scene though.

I’m too old fashioned to not to be at least a little uncomfortable about the failure of Max and Lil to use a condom, especially during a casual encounter (with the knowledge that two of my children were conceived while I was on the pill and STD’s are still a thing people!).

That point aside, I was engaged by the wit and warmth of What Happens Now? An entertaining read.

++++++

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Available from HQ Fiction Australia

Or from your preferred retailer via Booko I Book Depository

Review: White Horses by Rachael Treasure

 

Title: White Horses

Author: Rachael Treasure

Published: August 17th 2019, HarperCollins Au

Status: Read August 2019 courtesy HarperCollins/Netgalley

++++++

My Thoughts:

When I started making notes to write this review of White Horses by Rachael Treasure, I was disheartened to realise that on balance, the negatives for me outweighed the positives. This has nothing to do with the quality of writing as such, and everything to do with specific elements of the story that I personally didn’t care for.

Treasure’s passion for regenerative agriculture, and ethical animal husbandry, something she herself practices on her farm in Tasmania, is admirable and is clearly communicated in White Horses. It’s evident, even to a lay person, that the agricultural industry needs to embrace more sustainable, holistic methods of farming and Treasure doesn’t hesitate to drive this point this point home at every opportunity. ‘The Planet’ does sound inspirational, but there is no denying it has a cultish vibe, especially with the talk of the ‘Waking World’ vs the ‘Sleeping World’.

I really wasn’t too keen on the spiritual overtones of the story overall. While I’m all for love and light, compassion and cooperation, I personally found the endless philosophising a bit grating, and I thought the idea of the ‘ghost girl’ was cheesy.

I liked Drift (aka Melody Wood) well enough, she is smart, capable, idealistic, and feisty but also insecure and a bit naive. Her unusual upbringing, spent droving with her father, certainly seemed to have had some benefits, especially when it came to her connection with the land and the environment, but I was a little bothered that the author seemed to consider her isolation from her peers and unfamiliarity with technology somehow laudable.

The romance between Drift and ‘the stockman’ was okay, and obviously it all turns out fine. I would have preferred we had the opportunity to ‘see’ them spend more time together, instead we really only witness them at two crisis points.

*spoiler* One point I feel compelled to make is that the likelihood of ‘the stockman’ being legally allowed to re-enter the country, which leads to the HEA, would be almost nil, and it bugged me.

My biggest issue with the book however was the lack of repercussions for the men who assaulted Drift. It appeared that in both instances there were no formal charges laid against any of the men for the attacks on her (though it was hinted that they eventually faced consequences for other crimes). Perhaps I’m mistaken in my interpretation, but it seemed to me that the author implied that Drift was too ‘spiritual’ to require that the men answer for their crimes against her, and I was uncomfortable with that idea.

White Horses has received several glowing reviews from readers who were delighted with it, unfortunately I just wasn’t one of them.

Read a Sample

++++++

Available from HarperCollins Australia

Or from your preferred retailer via Booko I Book Depository

Review: Our Stop by Laura Jane Williams

 

Title: Our Stop

Author: Laura Jane Williams

Published: August 8th 2019, Avon UK

Status: Read August 2019, courtesy Avon/Netgalley

++++++

 

My Thoughts:

Our Stop is a light hearted romantic comedy from UK columnist and Instagram influencer, Laura Jane Williams.

“To the devastatingly cute blonde girl on the Northern line with the black designer handbag and coffee stains on her dress–you get on at Angel, on the 7.30, always at the end nearest the escalator, and always in a hurry. I’m the guy who’s standing near the doors of your carriage, hoping today’s a day you haven’t overslept. Drink some time?”

Not quite sure how to introduce himself to the ‘devastatingly cute blonde girl’ who regularly shares his train carriage during his morning commute, Daniel Weissman opts to place a message in ‘Missed Connections’. Nadia Fielding is not entirely convinced the message is meant for her but she is willing to take a chance of finding true love, and replies. A flirtation ensues through the column, but when their first planned meeting goes awry it seems it will all come to nothing…unless fate steps in.

Generally the tone of the Our Stop is a light and witty romance with a very millennial vibe, though Williams touches on some serious issues such as emotional abuse, consent, depression, and UK politics.

The story unfolds from the alternating perspectives of Nadia and Daniel as their relationship is impeded by a series of missed opportunities. Nadia is likeable enough, a fairly typical heroine for the genre, except that her work has something to do with artificial intelligence, which does make a nice change from the usual professions (PR/PA) pursued by romcom heroines. Daniel is perhaps a little too perfect – embodying the ideal ‘millennial’ male, but appealing nonetheless, and I particularly liked the portrayal of his relationships with his friends, and parents.

It’s not easy to develop romantic tension over the length of a book between two people who never meet, nor given the need for a string of contrived near-misses, to sustain interest in the potential of the relationship, but I thought Williams did so reasonably well. While I did feel it was all dragged out a bit too long overall, I wanted to see how Williams would finally bring Nadia and Daniel together, and I was satisfied when they finally got their happy ever after.

Ultimately Our Stop was an okay read for me, not quite as engaging as I was hoping for, but not bad either.

++++++

Available from Avon UK

Or your preferred retailer via Booko I Indiebound

Review: The Shelly Bay Ladies Swimming Circle by Sophie Green

 

 

Title: The Shelly Bay Ladies Swimming Circle

Author: Sophie Green

Published: July 23rd 2019, Hachette

Status: Read July 2019 courtesy Hachette/

++++++

My Thoughts:

 

The Shelly Bay Ladies Swimming Circle by Sophie Green is an inspirational and heartwarming testament to female friendship.

In need of some time for herself, busy wife and mother Theresa Howard opts for a daily dawn swim at Shelly Bay Beach. It’s there that she meets the widowed Marie, who has swum from Shelly Bay to Little Beach, and back again, almost every morning of her long life. The two women are soon joined by Elaine Schaeffer, the British wife of an Australian heart surgeon, who is struggling with homesickness, and somewhat reluctantly, Leeane, a young pediatric nurse with a painful past. Little more than strangers to one another, these four women soon become the closest of friends.

Beginning in the summer of 1982, the companionship that Theresa, Marie, Elaine and Leeane find in the water, slowly moves beyond the shore of Shelley Bay Beach, and as each woman encounters a myriad of life changes over the next two years, they reach out to one another in friendship. Getting to know these four authentically written characters is gratifying journey as we share their journeys through happiness and sorrow.

While Green sensitively explores difficult, but not uncommon, challenges faced by women such as infidelity, divorce, grief, loneliness, ageing, alcoholism, family estrangement, sexual assault and illness, her characters share moments of joy and laughter too. They find within themselves, and each other, the strength and courage, to love, and live, their lives fully.

“They’re all women she loves, and she knows they love her in return. It’s been enough to get her through some days, and she knows what Marie would say: it never ends. Love is eternal…”

Written with heart, humour and compassion, The Shelly Bay Ladies Swimming Circle is a wonderful read.

Read an Excerpt

++++++

Available from Hachette Australia

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Review: Five Wakes and a Wedding by Karen Ross

 

Title: Five Wakes and a Wedding

Author: Karen Ross

Published: July 22nd 2019, Avon UK

Status: Read July 2019 courtesy Avon/Netgalley

++++++

My Thoughts:

Nina Sherwood believes everyone deserves a happy ending, but the retailers of Primrose Hill’s high street, seem determined to deny her her’s. Within weeks of Nina’s funeral parlour, ‘Happy Endings’ opening, she is denied membership of the Primrose Hill Traders Association, harassed by a council inspector, and presented with a £22,000 bill for roof repair from her crabby new neighbour, and when Nina finally receives a booking for a funeral, it turns out to be a cruel hoax. Will her business die a slow death, or will Nina get her happy ending after all?

The topic of death could be considered the antithesis of the romance genre but Ross makes it work, and it’s a point of difference that I found appealing. What I really enjoyed about this story was Nina’s championing of individualised, modern funerals, which Ross portrays in a respectful and matter of fact manner. I have to admit I don’t like to think about my death, however inevitable, but I was quite intrigued by the funeral ideas explored in this novel, especially those showcased at the ‘Death Expo’. I also liked that Ross framed organ donation in such a positive way, I happen to agree that it should be an opt out process.

Nina is an engaging protagonist, but I concur, she has terrible taste in men. Unfortunately I wasn’t really a fan of the romance between Nina and Barclay, whom I thought was too much of a cliche as a handsome, wealthy, lawyer with a reputation as a thrillseeker and playboy. I didn’t find him much more appealing than Nina’s very awful ex-husband, especially at first, and I think he only redeemed himself by the skin of his teeth. Nina and Endo, an artist and her housemate, seemed a more likely match.

I did like Nina’s friendship with her other housemate, Gloria (who also has awful taste in men), and her brief friendship with celebrity, Kelli. I also thought several of the other characters were interesting, even the unpleasant ones, and I was amused by the identity of wedding party.

Five Wakes and a Wedding is an easy, lighthearted romance novel, despite the spectre of death.

++++++

Available from Avon UK

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