Review: The Heart Principle by Helen Hoang

 

Title: The Heart Principle {The Kiss Quotient #3}

Author: Helen Hoang

Published: 31st August 2021, Allen & Unwin

Status: Read September 2021 courtesy Allen & Unwin

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My Thoughts:

 

I adored Helen Hoang’s The Kiss Quotient and enjoyed The Bride Test. The Heart Principle is her third novel in the loosely linked romance fiction series.

On reading the Author’s Note, in which Hoang writes of her personal connection to the characters and events in The Heart Principle, any criticism of the novel risks seeming presumptuous and petty. And to be honest I have one or two issues with the story, including that this is not the ‘romance novel’ I was expecting.

The thing is, I’m not sure why that matters. I’ve never much cared for genre rules, and my own reading is fairly eclectic. In itself, I think The Heart Principle is a great read, but I definitely felt the gap between what I expected of the genre, and therefore the mood of the book, and what Hoang gives.

Don’t get me wrong, I loved the romance here. The development of the relationship between the protagonists- Quan, who has appeared in previous novels, and Anna Sun, a violinist in the midst of a professional and personal crisis is swoony and steamy, and though of course it has its complications, there is a happy ever after ending for the couple. As a whole, however, the romance feels sidelined in favour of the serious challenges faced by Anna and her journey to overcome them.

Professionally, Anna is struggling with self doubt, and reluctantly seeing a therapist in an attempt to resolve it. When said therapist suggests her issue stems from a set of behaviours that indicates Anna is autistic, Anna is surprised, but recognises diagnostic traits in herself such her use of masking – imitating neurotypical behaviours to fit in. Anna’s family, who have always been critical of her, immediately rejects the notion, but any further exploration of the topic is shut down when Anna’s father is incapacitated by a stroke. Caring for her father, who will not recover, places Anna under an intolerable amount of pressure, and her subsequent meltdown results in estrangement from her family, and an emotional collapse.

I have nothing but praise for Hoang’s authentic, honest characterisation of Anna, and for the genuine depiction of her experiences, including autistic burnout and caregiving for an invalid family member, but there is also so much raw emotion, it makes for quite a harrowing read, and I found it a little overwhelming because I wasn’t expecting it.

So here is my recommendation, before you pick up The Heart Principle, throw out your expectations of genre and take this novel as it comes. It is sexy, heart-rending, intense and poignant.

+++++++++

Available from Allen & Unwin RRP AUD$29.99

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Review: See Jane Snap by Bethany Crandell

 

Title: See Jane Snap

Author: Bethany Crandell

Published: 7th September 2021, Montlake

Status: Read September 2021 courtesy Montlake/Netgalley

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My Thoughts:

 

Jane Osborne is desperately trying to preserve the facade of her ‘perfect life’, even though her handsome, successful husband of 18 years is sleeping with someone else (and not for the first time), her twelve year old daughter is getting in trouble at school, and, after a supermarket car park incident involving oranges and a purloined ecstasy tablet, she’s been ordered to attend a First Offender’s Group to avoid jail.

In this witty contemporary novel, Bethany Crandell explores the struggle of a wife and mother to keep it altogether while everything is falling apart. Jane is under tremendous pressure to protect her husband’s career, her daughter’s innocence, and her mother’s care needs, and expected to suppress her feelings of betrayal, guilt and anger. Though the specifics of Jane’s trials may not be familiar, it’s very easy to empathise with the strain she is under, and honestly who hasn’t been tempted to throw something at a person who insists on going through a 12 item only check out with twice as many groceries!

Jane’s parking lot meltdown, and the consequences of mistaking an ecstasy pill for Zoloft, had me laughing out loud. Though the event, and subsequent punishment, seems like it can only make everything worse, it serves as a catalyst for Jane to confront her situation, and figure out how to move forward. I really liked the friendships Jane developed in the group, and the unexpected romantic connection with her arresting officer. I was absolutely always on Jane’s side, and felt Crandell’s development of her character was thoughtful and realistic.

See Jane Snap is often funny but also provides some astute observations about the difficult balance many women face between the needs of others and themselves. This is a light, entertaining and engaging read.

++++++

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Tour Review: The Wattle Island Book Club by Sandie Docker

Title: The Wattle Island Book Club

Author: Sandie Docker

Published: 31st August 2021, Michael Joseph

Status: Read September 2021 courtesy PenguinRandomHouse Australia

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My Thoughts:

The Wattle Island Book Club, the fourth book from Australian author Sandie Docker, is a bittersweet story about love, loss, courage, passion and hope.

Seven years after the last meeting of the book club on Wattle Island, octogenarian artist, Anne Sato, is determined to revive it, hoping in part that it will provide her grandson, Sam, with the impetus to move past the tragedy that haunts him. Reaching out to a library on the mainland, Anne is put in contact with Grace Elliot who is happy to help, despite the logistical challenges. When Anne reports a lacklustre participation in the first book club meeting, Grace proposes attending the next gathering. Not only is she eager to encourage the success of book club, but visiting the island will fulfil an item on her bucket list, which Grace is running out of time to complete.

Anne is a delightful character with a little of the sass that comes from no longer worrying much what others think of you. A recent stroke is her motivation for reviving the book club, which she hopes will not only bring the community together, but also help her grandson. Further insight into her character comes through Anne’s reminiscing about the past, from arriving on the island as an orphan to be placed in the care of her aunt, through to her unconventional (for the times) courtship and marriage to Tadashi Sato.

Grace is initially a bit of an enigma. When we are first introduced she seems to be like any twenty something year old, indulging in adventures like bungee jumping and skydiving with her best friend, though there are early hints that not all is as it seems. I liked the idea of Grace’s evolving bucket list (I’ve never put together one of my own, suspecting it would just say ‘Read more often’) and her determination to live on her terms. Grace is a character that garnered both my admiration and sympathy.

Docker touches on some serious issues in The Wattle Island Book Club including misogyny, racism, mental illness, suicide and cancer, but the power of literature to change lives is a theme that unifies the characters, as well as the past and the present. Readers will no doubt enjoy references to cultural classics such as Anne of Green Gables, Bridget Jones Diary and Jane Austen’s oeuvre.

Combining history, romance, literature, art, and a touch of mystery, there is plenty to engage with in The Wattle Island Book Club. However, It would be remiss of me not to mention there is a fairly major element of the story I have mixed feelings about, and though I was somewhat mollified by the epilogue, it would definitely be something I’d raise for discussion in a book club.

The Wattle Island Book Club is a captivating, wistful, and poignant novel, and would make a wonderful selection for your next book club meeting.

++++++

Available from Penguin Books Australia

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Review: About Us by Sinead Moriarty

 

Title: About Us

Author: Sinead Moriarty

Published: 15th July 2021, Sandycove

Status: Read July 2021 courtesy Penguin UK

 

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My Thoughts:

 

About Us is the fifteenth contemporary novel from Irish author, Sinead Moriarty, an engaging novel about three couples facing intimacy issues in their relationships.

Exhausted by the daily demands of caring for their four rambunctious young children, feeling inadequate and frumpy, Alice has an excuse ready every time her husband reaches for her. Niall, an ambitious lawyer, loves his wife but is hurt by her repeated rejection and desperate for something to change.

With her sixty fifth birthday approaching, her children living their own lives and her husband on the cusp of retirement, Ann is bored and restless but her husband is not the least bit interested in adventure or, it seems, her. Ken doesn’t understand why, after 39 years of marriage, Ann is no longer happy with the status quo, he just wants things to stay just as they are.

Orla has escaped her father’s boundless grief but not her mother’s legacy. She’s convinced that she’s a freak who will never have the only thing she wants – love, marriage and children, but Paul, the divorced father of one her students, wants the chance to convince her otherwise.

Desperate to improve their situations Niall, Ann and Orla make an appointment with American sex and relationship psychotherapist, Maggie Purcell, who helps them voice their deepest fears, disappointments, wants and desires.

Moriarty writes with honesty and sensitivity about issues related to identity, marriage, family, and intimacy at different stages of life in About Us.

I thought the couples relationships were relatable, aspects of the issues in the marriages of Alice and Niall, and Ann and Ken are likely to resonate with many readers. Moriarty’s insights were thoughtful and genuine and she was pretty fair to each partner, though I had more empathy for the women, particularly at first.

Orla isn’t in a relationship, but she wants be. The issue that prompts her to seek out Maggie is a little known condition and one I’m glad that Moriarty addresses. I had a lot of sympathy for Orla, who has a tragic background, and though I didn’t really relate to her, I wished the best for her.

I liked About Us, Moriarty offers a story with emotional depth, written with warmth, humour, and honesty.

+++++++

Available from Penguin UK

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Review: The Wattle Seed Inn by Leonie Kelsall

 

Title: The Wattle Seed Inn

Author: Leonie Kelsall

Published: 5th July 2021, Allen & Unwin

Status: Read July 2021 courtesy Allen & Unwin

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My Thoughts:

 

To prove a point to her ex-fiancé, whom is also her business partner, Gabrielle Moreau decides that transforming the pub they bought as an investment in the tiny community of Wurruldi into an upmarket B&B would be an ideal project. She plans to be hands on but the building is in worse shape than she expected, and Gabby has no real idea where to start.

Hayden Paech dismisses Gabby as a stuck-up city girl from the moment she walks into the pub at Settlers Bridge, not that it matters given he believes he is no longer has anything to offer to any woman. But the more time he spends in Gabby’s company, particularly as he begins work on the Wurruldi Hotel, the more he wonders if the future he thought he had lost is possible after all.

The Wattle Seed Inn is the second heartwarming contemporary rural fiction novel from Leonie Kelsall set in the Murray River region of South Australia.

Kelsall explores familiar themes such as love, friendship, forgiveness and loss in The Wattle Seed Inn, and also issues such as self acceptance, trust and post traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). Romance is still the key element of the story though, and I enjoyed the way in which the author developed the relationship between Gabby and Hayden.

Gabby and Hayden are drawn together in part because they have experienced the tragic loss of a loved one for which they have held themselves responsible, and recognise that wound in each other, even without knowing the details. The pain is much fresher for Hayden, who also carries physical scars as a daily reminder, and experiences panic attacks. I thought Kelsall’s portrayal of his PTSD was sympathetic and believable, and the inclusion of Hayden’s service dog, Trigger, and his role in supporting him was illuminating. Gabby seems to have it all -wealth, privilege and beauty- but she too carries emotional scars, and harbours hidden insecurities that make her wary of relationships.

The addition of a third perspective in the novel was somewhat of a surprise. Ilse can’t clearly recall how the Wurruldi Hotel, that has been owned by her family for generations, came to be so run down, but she is happy that her home is finally getting the attention it needs, and is eager to offer Gabby advice on how to restore it to its former glory. She drifts around the hotel recalling happier times when her husband was alive, but is also haunted by a sense of something being badly wrong.

I enjoyed the connections Kelsall makes to her debut novel, The Farm at Peppertree Crossing, with the main characters playing a small role in this story. Matt and Roni are two of Hayden’s group of friends which also includes Sharni, who is the first to welcome Gabby to the area, secretly hoping that Gabby could be her ticket off the dairy farm.

Written with warmth, humour and sincerity, offering appealing characters and an engaging story, The Wattle Seed Inn is a lovely read, sure to satisfy fans of the genre.

++++++

Available from Allen & Unwin RRP AUD$29.99

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Review: You and Me On Vacation by Emily Henry

 

Title: You and Me on Vacation

Author: Emily Henry

Published: 8th July 2021, Penguin UK

Status: Read July 2021 courtesy PenguinUK /Netgalley

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My Thoughts:

 

You and Me on Vacation (also published until the title People We Meet On Vacation) is a charming romantic comedy from Emily Henry.

When Poppy met Alex (that’s a deliberate reference) on the first night of college O-week, their short conversation, and wildly disparate wardrobes, was enough to convince her that they never need speak again, but the pair are thrown together at the end of freshman year when they carpool home for the summer. Though the two quickly discover they have little in common, except that they were both raised in Linfield, Ohio, and dislike that boats are given female names, the road trip sparks a friendship that sees Poppy, and Alex promise to vacation together every summer.

You and Me On Vacation unfolds over a period of about twelve years moving between the past, describing Poppy and Alex’s annual summer adventures, and the present, where the pair have tentatively reunited after an unnamed incident that caused a rift in their friendship. The structure works well to develop each character, and provide context for their relationship.

Friends to lovers is my favourite romance trope so You and Me on Vacation had immediate appeal for me. I thought Henry’s portrayal of the connection between Poppy and Alex was wonderful. Their banter, studded with teasing, in-jokes and obvious affection, is funny and sweet, their chemistry is evident. I could relate to the pairs fears about ruining their friendship with a romantic entanglement, especially as they seem so incompatible, with Poppy’s carefree spirit contrasting with Alex’s steady nature.

I imagine many twenty-somethings will likely relate to Poppy, one of Henry’s character’s refers to Poppy suffering ‘millennial ennui’, her career goal met, she’s restless and wondering what’s next. Though she thinks all will be solved by another vacation with Alex, to move on with her life, Poppy needs to deal with several issues, particularly those stemming from childhood bullying that affect how she sees herself and the decisions she makes.

Witty and heartfelt, I found You and Me On Vacation to be an easy, engaging read.

+++++++

Available from Penguin UK

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Review: Lily’s Little Flower Shop by Lisa Darcy

 

Title: Lily’s Little Flower Shop

Author: Lisa Darcy

Published: 5th May 2021, Bloodhound Books

Status: Read June 2021 courtesy the author

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My Thoughts:

 

Lily’s Little Flower Shop is an engaging contemporary romantic comedy from Australian author Lisa Darcy (aka Lisa Heidke).

Passed over for a promotion she deserved, and unwilling to follow her boyfriend overseas, Lily impulsively decides to ditch the corporate rat race and become her own boss by opening a florist on the south coast of NSW.

I liked Lily, who throws herself into making the flower shop a success. Lily, whose floristry experience comes from helping her aunt in the flower shop she once owned and a long ago completed course, faces a steep learning curve as she launches her business. I think becoming your own boss is a dream that often tempts people, but it’s hard work that requires a huge ongoing investment of time and money. Lily is often exhausted and stressed about the financial viability of the decision she has made, and I like that the author doesn’t downplay the challenges Lily faces in following her heart.

Lily is supported by well-drawn, relatable characters. While her mother is certain that Lily’s sea-change is a mistake, her slightly eccentric aunt Iris, is always there to cheer her on, as is Lily’s former colleague and friend, Taylor, who becomes a regular visitor. The townspeople of Clearwater are largely welcoming, and Lily quickly befriends hairdresser Zena, and artist and picture framer, Andy. I really liked the genuine sense of community that Darcy evoked, and the diversity represented.

Lily tries to maintain a long distance relationship with Matt, who has relocated to Hong Kong, but it’s clear the two are incompatible. This leaves the way clear for Darcy to introduce romance in Clearwater, and Lily finds her self with two admirers, Ben – the owner of a local winery, and the aforementioned Andy. The men are quite different from each other, and Andy’s unusual backstory adds drama to the story in introducing the issues of domestic violence and mental health.

Lighthearted but with pleasing depth, told with warmth and humour, Lily’s Little Flower Shop is a bloomin’ good story.

++++++

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Blog Tour Review: Someone I Used To Know by Paige Toon

 

Title: Someone I Used To Know

Author: Paige Toon

Published: 16th June 2021, Michael Joseph

Status: Read June 2021 courtesy PenguinRandomHouse Australia

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My Thoughts:

 

I had tears in my eyes when I turned the last pages of Someone I Used To Know, the fifteenth contemporary romance novel from bestselling author, Paige Toon.

Shifting between the past and the present, this is a heart wrenching tale of first love and second chances.

Then, Leah was fifteen when George and Theo came into her life. George the latest to be added to her parents brood of fostered teens, Theo expelled from his third exclusive boarding college and doing penance by attending the local secondary school. Unexpectedly the three form a close bond, one Leah is wary of jeopardising by revealing her deeper feelings for George.

In the now, Leah returns home to the farm with her young daughter, but without her husband, Theo. She is stunned when George reappears after an absence of nearly fifteen years to repay the kindness his foster parents showed him, and wary of renewing their friendship, especially when old feelings begin to resurface.

I found myself utterly captivated by Someone I Used To Know, charmed by Leah’s busy household and generous hearted parents who offer sanctuary to children in need, warmed by the intense bond that develops between Leah, George and Theo, and heartbroken when the trio are separated. I delighted in alpaca’s with personality, giant fluffy bunny’s, and a wood planted with love and hope for the future.

I was shocked by the tragedy that called Leah home, devastated when I finally learnt the truth behind Theo’s absence from Leah and her daughter’s life, hopeful when she was reunited with George, and teary-eyed as I read the epilogue.

Someone I Used To Know offers #allthefeels. I loved it.

++++++

Available from Penguin Books Australia

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Review: Magpie’s Bend by Maya Linnell

 

Title: Magpie’s Bend

Author: Maya Linnell

Published: 1st June 2021, Allen & Unwin

Status: Read June 2021 courtesy Allen & Unwin

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My Thoughts:

Magpie’s Bend is Maya Linnell’s third engaging contemporary romance novel featuring the McIntyre sisters in rural Victoria.

When Bridgefield’s only general store owner is injured and decides to sell up, local nurse, and single mother, Lara McIntyre reluctantly finds herself leading a campaign to ensure it’s services aren’t lost to the community. She doesn’t want the distraction of handsome newcomer, journalist Toby Paxton, even if he’s the first man since the public collapse of her disastrous marriage to pique her interest, she just needs his help to save the store.

The second eldest of the McIntyre sisters, Lara is a lovely character. A dedicated community nurse, she enjoys running, baking and managing her small holding. She is the mother of thirteen year old Evie, who has recently enrolled in boarding school and  Lara is struggling somewhat with her absence. The victim of domestic abuse by her ex-husband whom she only managed to escape when he was jailed for financial crimes, Lara is still wary of men and reluctant to trust her heart.

Toby is also a single father whose teen daughter, Holly, lives with her mother in Ballarat, visiting every other weekend. His move to Bridgefield is calculated to advance his career at a city paper, though he is finding he enjoys the lifestyle the town affords him as a keen runner, and the opportunity to indulge in his passion for photography.

I enjoyed the romance between Lara and Toby which Linnell develops slowly but organically, respecting Lara’s past trauma. Lara’s family can’t help but meddle a little wanting the best for their sister. Toby is very patient as Lara stubbornly refuses to admit her interest in him, but just as it seems he has found his way past her defences, Lara learns something that seems to confirm her worst fears.

There are lots of delightful elements to this story. I love the focus on community in Magpie’s Bend as the townspeople rally to save their general store. The shop is much more than a convenience for Bridgefield locals, and they fight hard to save it. There are some charming animal ‘characters’, including a dog named Basil and a baby magpie named Vegemite, and a range of delicious homemade pies.

Magpie’s Bend is a heartfelt, winsome and satisfying rural romance, a delightful read I enjoyed over a long weekend.

+++++++

Available from Allen & Unwin RRP AUD $29.99

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Review: Love, In Theory by Elodie Cheesman

 

Title: Love, In Theory

Author: Elodie Cheesman

Published: 25th May 2021, Macmillan Australia

Status: Read June 2021 courtesy Pan Macmillan Australia

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My Thoughts:

 

Love, In Theory by debut author Elodie Cheesman is a sweet, if rather predictable, romcom that explores the age old debate of whether to place more trust in your heart or your head when it comes to love.

Cheesman introduces Romy, a single, twenty four year old junior lawyer who works and lives in Sydney. When Romy learns that, according to the theory of the ‘optimal stopping point’, she has only a few months to find her best chance at ‘happy ever after’ she decides it’s time to make a concerted effort to find ‘the one’. Unwilling to trust her own instincts, which have led her into previous disastrous relationships, Romy decides to eschew passion and rely on science to find a match.

Drawing on advice from family, friends, a book or three, and a workshop on Intelligent Dating, Romy starts her search for her perfect partner on Tinder. There are the expected bad dates – a bore, and a sleaze; before she meets Hans, who embodies her three most desirable traits – risk averse, emotionally stable, and agreeable,- even if he doesn’t make her heart flutter in quite the way that James, a graphic designer who doesn’t seem to be any of those things, does.

Life would probably be simpler if the question of love could be reduced to a neat algorithm, but a solution seems determined to remain elusive. Though the outcome is inevitable, I enjoyed Romy’s journey well enough. I did find her a little frustrating at times, particularly given she’s probably a bit young these days to be so worried about being alone for the rest of her life.

I did like the subplot related to Romy’s ambivalence towards her job working in employment law, including issues around #metoo, bad bosses, and work/life balance which provides more depth to the story.

Love, In Theory is a wholesome contemporary romance that will likely appeal to a twenty-something readership looking to be reassured ‘the one’ is still out there.

+++++++

Available from PanMacmillan Australia

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