Review: Mad About You by Mhairi McFarlane

 

Title: Mad About You

Author: Mhairi McFarlane

Published: 14th April 2022, HarperCollins UK

Read: April 2022 courtesy HarperCollins UK/ Netgalley UK

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My Thoughts:

 

Mhairi McFarlane’s publisher seems determined to market her books as romantic comedy’s, even when they are not. Sure, Mad About You includes humour and romance, but I feel this is a disingenuous description of the book.

In fact the romance, that comes about after thirty-four year old Harriet Hatley ends a relationship with her boyfriend of two years, Jon, and needs somewhere else to live in Mad About You, feels almost incidental. The meat of the plot revolves around Harriet’s toxic history with a previous long term boyfriend, Scott.

During their four years together, Harriet was a victim of psychological and emotional abuse, Scott’s charming public veneer belying a pattern of coercive control within their relationship. She’s forced to confront that legacy, firstly when she realises, with some help from her best friend Lorna, that Jon also employed manipulative tactics during their liaison, and secondly when Harriet learns through a chance encounter that Scott is getting married, and she reaches out to his fiancée.

As part of that journey, Harriet must also come to terms with the loss of her parents as a child, a friend’s betrayal, and the sabotage of her business, so there is a lot of strong emotion in play which I think McFarlane handles sensitively. There are realistic consequences for decisions, and Harriet’s self reflections feel honest.

Though I didn’t find the romance to be as convincing as I’ve come to expect from the author, it’s enough to satisfy the conventions of the genre with its mild ‘enemies to lovers’ trope. Harriet gets her happy ending, but more importantly she is finally happy within herself, having come to terms with her past.

If you are looking for a light, breezy romcom, you won’t find it with Mad About You, but you will discover a thoughtful and engaging read.

++++++++

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Review: Impossible by Sarah Lotz

 

Title: Impossible

Author: Sarah Lotz

Published: 17th March 2022, HarperCollins UK

Read: March 2022 courtesy HarperCollins/Netgalley

++++++++

 

My Thoughts:

 

I fell in love with Impossible (also published as Impossible Us) by Sarah Lotz a sublime romance with a fantastical twist.

When Nick sends an angry email to a late-paying client that is erroneously delivered to Bee’s inbox, her witty response and his sincere apology leads to daily exchanges, that quickly shift in tone from cautious and friendly to candid and flirty. Meeting in person is the obvious next step, but though they both claim to be waiting under the clock at Euston Station they can’t seem to find one another. While Bee assumes that her best friend, Leila, is right and she’s been had, Nick realises that something strange is happening…something impossible.

Unfolding through the email exchanges and first person narratives of Nick and Bee, Impossible offers a heartfelt romance thwarted by rules of physics. I don’t want to attempt a clumsy explanation of how this happens because you deserve to be drawn into their unconventional love story, and convinced by Lotz that the impossible is possible.

This is a book that appeals directly to the romantic at heart with numerous direct and oblique references to film and literary classics such as The Lake House, You’ve Got Mail, Sliding Doors, Rebecca, and Strangers on a Train, with a little David Bowie thrown in as a bonus, but nevertheless the plot feels creative and fresh. More serious issues are touched on too though including infidelity, suicide, domestic violence, and environmental harm.

I was entertained by the witty banter between Bee and Nick, and Lotz develops their chemistry with ease. Both protagonists are older than you might expect, Bee, a fashion designer with her own small business repurposing wedding gowns, is in her early to mid thirties, while Nick, a largely unsuccessful author, is forty-five. Credibly portrayed with a mix of strengths and flaws, they are appealing characters that I found easy to invest in.

Though quite different in tone and theme to her last book, Missing Person, Lotz’s flair for original storytelling, dynamic characterisation, and expressive writing remains compelling.

Witty, poignant, surprising and absorbing, I recommend you embrace the Impossible.

+++++++

Available from HarperCollins UK

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Review: Murder Most Fancy by Kellie McCourt

 

Title: Murder Most Fancy {Indigo #2}

Author: Kellie McCourt

Published: 5th January 2022, HQ Fiction

Status: Read January 2022 courtesy Harlequin Australia

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My Thoughts:

 

Murder Most Fancy by Kellie McCourt is the second enormously entertaining novel to feature the improbably named Sydney heiress Indigo-Daisy-Violet-Amber Hasluck-Royce-Jones-Bombberg, and her personal assistant, Esmeralda.

Mystery, humour, action and romance blend to create this thoroughly enjoyable, lighthearted caper. Indigo is still recovering from the events of Heiress on Fire, where she was accused of murdering her husband and his mistress, when she stumbles upon, quite literally, the body of a poorly dressed, unkempt man who is assumed to be homeless by the police, in her grandmother’s garden. Her philanthropic neighbour Dame Elizabeth Holly wants the man to have a proper burial and so tasks Indigo and her PA, Esmeralda, with identifying the stranger. Indigo has no idea where to start until her grandmother asks that the pair discretely inquire as to the whereabouts of Dame Holly’s paramour, Max Weller, whom seems to have disappeared, and suspects that the anonymous body, and the Dame’s missing lover is one and the same. I thought the mystery surrounding the identity of the dead man was well plotted, leading the duo from Sydney to Palm Beach to the Northern Territory to solve it, while making some surprising discoveries along the way.

Indigo, a billionaire socialite, and Esmeralda, a statuesque parolee, are an unusual partnership, though Esmeralda is technically Indigo’s personal assistant she’s not at all subservient. The two are more like friends than employer/employee, and their banter made me laugh. Esmeralda is definitely the brains of the pair, with the street and tech savvy Indigo lacks, but Indigo’s near unlimited funds prove just as useful as often as not. I was actually prepared to dislike Indigo because I’m generally not fond of uber-wealthy characters, and though Indigo is a bit of a flake who cares far too much for shoes and has a ridiculous habit of fainting under stress, I actually found her endearing, though I preferred Esmeralda and her feisty attitude.

The search to identify the dead man isn’t the only trouble the women have to contend with as odd anonymous notes arrive, Indigo’s sleazy former teenage sweetheart and shady brother-in-law make surprise appearances, and it becomes clear someone is trying to kill Esmeralda. Luckily they have some help from a conscientious forensic pathologist, and Indigo’s very attractive love interest, Detective Searing. I liked the additional interest these threads, and characters, added to the story.

Loaded with laugh out loud moments, a well crafted plot and appealing characters, Murder Most Fancy is a delight to escape into, and McCourt has found herself a new fan.

+++++++++

Available from Harlequin Australia

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Review: Love and Other Puzzles by Kimberley Allsopp

 

Title: Love and Other Puzzles

Author: Kimberley Allsopp

Published: 2nd February 2022, HarperCollins Australia

Status: Read January 2022 courtesy HarperCollins Au/Netgalley

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My Thoughts:

 

In the delightful romcom, Love and Other Puzzles from debut Australian novelist Kimberley Allsopp, Rory Byrnes impulsively turns to the New York Times crossword puzzle for inspiration to change her life.

‘7A A bovine Baskin treat = icecream’

With her career stalled and her relationship failing, Rory, who has always relied on order and routine, decides that three times a day for the next week she’ll let the answers to The New York Times crossword puzzle guide her decisions.

‘34A What do you do before you speak in class = raise your hand’

To revitalise her journalistic career at ‘The Connect’ Rory, raises her hand, and volunteers to arrange an interview with elusive newsreader, Elle Chambers, who is rumoured to be launching a bid for a political seat. The only problem is Rory has no idea how to deliver on it.

‘12D A 2010 Steve Martin novel = An Object of Beauty’

The first step Rory takes to reconnect with her live in boyfriend, artist Lucas, is to agree to attend a gallery opening, despite generally avoiding such events, where she ends up spending most of her time talking with the bartender, Harry, and goes home alone.

As the week progresses, the crossword inspires a little more chaos than Rory expects but she’s determined to follow through.

Allsopp’s protagonist is easy to like. Rory is sweet and warm-hearted, just a little lost amid her quarter-life crisis. Her need for order is mostly a form of self defence, the result of a somewhat chaotic upbringing with her free spirited single mother, which her grandparents did their best to ameliorate.

I was also a fan of Rory’s loyal and funny best friend, Kitt, and charmed by several of the other characters, including Rory’s mentor Dave, and bus driver, Ted. Rory’s boyfriend, on the other hand, is a jerk, but this is a romcom so there is a worthy man waiting in the wings.

The writing is witty and sharp. I loved the many pop culture references, most of which relate to Hollywood romcoms.

Love and Other Puzzles is a captivating uplifting read, sure to satisfy any hopeless romantic.

++++++

Available from HarperCollins Australia

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Review: A Marvellous Light by Freya Marske

Title: A Marvellous Light {The Binding #1}

Author: Freya Marske

Published: 26th October 2021, Tor UK

Status: Read January 2022 courtesy Pan Macmillan Australia 

+++++++

My Thoughts:

Blending fantasy, romance and mystery A Marvellous Light is a delightfully entertaining novel, the first in a new series, from Freya Marske.

As Mr. Edwin Courcey conjures a snowflake from glowing string above his office desk, it’s clear to Sir Robert (Robin) Blythe that his assignation to His Majesty’s Civil Service as Assistant in the Office of Special Domestic Affairs and Complaints has been a mistake, even more so when he is cursed by a group of faceless men in search of a document his missing office predecessor, Reggie Gatling, hid. It’s a rather harrowing introduction to a world of magic concealed from most of ordinary society, an unbusheling Robin would prefer to forget, but in order to have the painful curse devouring him lifted, Reggie, or the secreted contract, must be found.

When Edwin and Robin are unable to locate Reggie quickly, Edwin, who has a talent for understanding magic but is a weak practitioner, attempts to devise a way to lift the curse himself. Meanwhile the pair continue to seek more information about the magical artefacts demanded by the shadowy thugs, despite being assaulted by vicious swans, and a murderous maze.

Set in Edwardian England, Marske captures the period credibly, from the behaviour and attitudes of the characters to her descriptions of London and country manor estates. The magic system sits well within the world Marske has created, and I thought the basics were adequately explained. I really liked some of the more unique elements, such as using the movements of a Cat’s Cradle to cast spells, and the sentient nature of the magic that imbues family estates.

A Marvellous Light unfolds from the alternating perspectives of Edwin and Robin. Edwin presents as aloof, cautious and fastidious, while Robin is easy-going, and charming. Both men are from dysfunctional aristocratic family’s, though only Edwin is part of the magical community.

I really liked the dynamic between Edwin and Robin. While neither is particularly impressed with one another initially, they slowly become friends. Given the illegal status of homosexuality during the period, both men are wary of expressing their growing sexual attraction though. I thought Marske built the romantic tension between Edwin and Robin very well, and the mix of tenderness and heat in their relationship was appealing, though I wasn’t expecting the sex to be quite so explicit.

A Marvellous Light isn’t perfect but I fell into the story so easily, it’s charming, witty and fun and I’m already looking forward to the next.

+++++++

Available from Pan Macmillan Australia

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Review: Once Burnt, Twice Shy by Karly Lane

 

Title: Once Burnt, Twice Shy

Author: Karly Lane

Published: 30th November, Allen & Unwin

Status: Read December 2021 courtesy Allen & Unwin

+++++++

 

My Thoughts:

 

Karly Lane shines a light on the Rural Fire Service, and their heroic efforts during Black Summer in this heartfelt rural romance set in the mid north coast of NSW.

At a loose end now that her daughters have left home and she’s sold her Gold Coast business, Samantha Murphy has volunteered to look after the family farm in Burrumba while her parents enjoy an extended overseas holiday. Though a world away from the life she has been leading since leaving home as a teenager, Sam quickly regains the rhythms of country living and considers making her return permanent. A passionate reunion with her high school boyfriend, Jack Cameron, cements the idea, but life seems reluctant to give them the second chance they both want as a deadly bushfire threatens to destroy everything they love.

Like the author, I was unfortunate enough to be surrounded by the 2019/2020 fires, but luckily I was never directly impacted thanks to the selfless work of the NSW Rural Fire Service who defended our town. Sam and Jack’s experiences of the fire ring true and Lane captures the heightened emotions of the event with sensitivity. I well remember the stress and anxiety as a thick pall of smoke darkened the sky while the fire front crept ever closer, as people from outlying areas sought shelter in our local halls, and as the showground filled with displaced pets and livestock. It was devastating to learn of homes and property destroyed, and even more so the lives tragically lost.

While there are many tense moments in Once Burnt, Twice Shy as the bushfire rages, the ‘second chance’ romance between Sam and Jack also has its complications with their renewed relationship marred by family drama. Both are divorced and carry baggage from their previous relationships, and both also have daughters who aren’t comfortable with their parent becoming involved with someone else. I thought Lane portrayed the issues that affected them authentically.

Despite the rather heavy, emotional themes within the novel, there are flashes of humour. I laughed aloud as Sam attempted to wrangle her mother’s recalcitrant Guinea fowl.

Once Burnt, Twice Shy is another engaging novel from talented author Karly Lane whose stories celebrate rural Australian communities, and its people.

++++++

Available from Allen & Unwin RRP AUD$29.99

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Review: Bad Habits by Sarah Evans

 

Title: Bad Habits {DI Eve Rock #2}

Author: Sarah Evans

Published: 1st September 2021, Clan Destine Press

Status: Read December 2021 courtesy Clan Destine Press

+++++++++

My Thoughts:

Bad Habits by Sarah Evans is an entertaining romantic mystery featuring Detective Inspector Eve Rock.

With both her house and her car nothing more than ashes after being blown up by a drug baron, Eve has temporarily moved in to the exclusive St Immaculata’s School for Girls in Perth with her mother, former prostitute turned schoolmistress nun, Sister Immaculata, and her 16 year old daughter, Chastity. It’s Christmas, and Eve is desperate for some distance from her disapproving mother, her volatile daughter, the father, Henry Talbot, she was only introduced to a fortnight ago, and colleagues and romantic rivals, Quinn Fox and his son Adam, so it’s fortunate that the festive season gifts Eve a series of gas fires in the CBD, a multi-million dollar jewellery and art heist, a murdered man in a skip bin, and body parts in a freezer to keep her busy.

Bad Habits the same energy as Janet Evanovich’s Stephanie Plum series, with its mix of faintly ridiculous comedy, crime and romance. Eve isn’t as hapless as Stephanie, but she’s definitely a magnet for trouble, hard on vehicles, and torn between the men in her life.

There is plenty of drama, both professionally and personally for Eve as she tracks tattoo artists selling inked flesh as artwork, brazen jewellery thieves, and discovers suspicious behaviour in the school basement, all while attempting to dodge a sociopath bent on revenge. Eve is also preoccupied with uncooperative insurance agents, getting to know her father, a flirtatious lawyer, and finding the right time to tell Chastity that Quinn is her dad, not to mention her attraction to Quinn, and his son. There is rarely a dull moment as Eve is shot at, abducted, framed for a murder, and drugged (twice).

The story is busy, but well crafted and moves at a good pace. Evans has a keen sense of comedic timing and I enjoyed the snark and banter of the dialogue. Though Bad Habits is a sequel to Operation Paradise, it works well as a stand alone.

An engaging read, I found Bad Habits to be a fun crime caper, and I’d be happy to read more.

++++++

Available from Clan Destine Press

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Review: The Santa Suit by Mary Kay Andrews

Review: The Santa Suit

Author: Mary Kay Andrews

Published: 28th September 2021, St Martin’s Press

Status: Read December 2021

+++++++

My Thoughts:

Celebrating second chances, community and love, The Santa Suit by Mary Kay Andrews is exactly what you want from a Christmas novella – short, simple and sweet.

Looking for a fresh start, newly divorced Ivy Perkins buys an old farmhouse, sight unseen, in the tiny town of Tarburton in North Carolina. Full of abandoned furniture and flotsam, The Four Roses farm needs a little more work than the online advertising seemed to suggest, though the handsome real estate broker, Ezra Wheeler, is happy to offer his help. As Ivy begins clearing the house, she finds a finely tailored Santa Claus suit in a box at the top of a wardrobe, in the pocket is a child’s letter asking Santa to bring her father safely home from the war for Christmas. Moved by the wish, Ivy decides to find out what became of the little girl and her family, a search that will forge friendships, families and festive cheer.

I don’t have a lot to say about The Santa Suit. There are a couple of threads that Andrews brings together in a neat and satisfying way. The small town feel is charming, and the characters are appealing, though the brevity of the story doesn’t allow for much more than broad strokes.

Ultimately The Santa Suit was a quick, uplifting Christmas Eve read, combining a little mystery, romance & touch of seasonal magic.

+++++++++

Available from Pan Macmillan Australia 

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Review: Deception Creek by Fleur McDonald

 

Review: Deception Creek {Detective Dave Burrows}

Author: Fleur McDonald

Published: 1st November 2021, Allen & Unwin

Status: Read November 2021 courtesy Allen & Unwin

+++++++

 

My Thoughts:

 

Two seemingly unrelated story threads eventually overlap in Deception Creek, the fifth Australian rural mystery novel by Fleur McDonald to feature Detective Dave Burrows in the town of Barker, though the ninth in which he appears.

When Joel Hammond returns to Barker after serving a nine year jail sentence, Dave is surprised by the venom directed at him by a handful of locals. Their anger, Dave learns, is unrelated to the financial crimes that Joel claims he is innocent of. When Joel was a teenager his girlfriend, Maggie, died after a fall from a water tower, and though he was cleared of any involvement, her family have always believed him responsible.

Though Emma Cameron’s marriage has ended in divorce, she’s proud that all her hard work means the farm she inherited from her parents in Deception Creek is almost debt free. She doesn’t want to be alone forever though and when Kyle Pengilly, with whom she shares a tragic memory, comes to town, she finds his obvious interest flattering.

McDonald’s plot is skilfully crafted, well paced, and offers a truly unexpected ending. While Dave, and his partner Senior Constable Jack Higgins try to keep peace in town as Maggie’s brother, Steve, becomes increasingly confrontational with Joel, their partners, Kim Burrows and journalist Zara Ellison, grow curious not only about Joel’s insistence that he was not guilty of fraud, but also what really happened the night Maggie died. I was caught up in the drama and suspense as their questions unravel shocking truths that have been hidden for decades.

I’ve grown familiar with the core characters, who share a strong sense of community and justice, over previous instalments and find them to be an appealing foursome. I liked Emma, an independent, capable farmer, and Joel who, despite the accusations levelled against him, is sympathetic. Interestingly, both these characters give McDonald another opportunity to explore facets of PTSD, as she has done in several previous novels.

Though it can be read as a stand alone, Deception Creek is another great read is what is an engaging series that combines suspense and romance in an authentic rural Australian setting.

+++++++++

Available from Allen & Unwin RRP AUD$29.99

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Review: Outback Secrets by Rachael Johns

 

Title: Outback Secrets {Bunyip Bay #5}

Author: Rachael Johns

Published: 27th October 2021, Mira

Status: Read October 2021 courtesy Harlequin Australia

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My Thoughts:

I’m delighted to finally return to Bunyip Bay with Rachael Johns! Outback Secrets is her fifth rural romance set in the Western Australian community, and pairs publican Liam Castle, with agricultural aviator, Henrietta ‘Henri’ Forward.

Liam has been The Palace publican in Bunyip Bay for a decade, having arrived from Colorado in the wake of a tragedy. Though he’s privy to the many secrets of the community, no-one can claim to know his. When Henri, spending Christmas at the family farm, confides in him the need for a fake beau to distract her mother from nagging her to stay and settle down, Liam surprises both Henri and himself by agreeing to the plan.

Unsurprisingly, though delightfully so, real feelings quickly develop between Liam and Henri. Johns is adept at establishing chemistry between two characters and then deepening the relationship in a believable way as they learn more about one another. Liam and Henri complement each other well and their romance is fun and heartwarming.

It’s refreshing to have a heroine in a romance who actually isn’t all that interested in the traditional ‘happy ever after’ that leads to marriage and babies. A confident, independent woman, Henri loves her job as a pilot and I liked her passion for her chosen career.

Liam, who has played a minor background role in previous Bunyip Bay novels, is an appealing romantic hero, thoughtful, discrete and generous. The tragedy in his backstory is an unexpected element that introduces some sensitive subjects to the novel, including trauma, PTSD, grief, and suicide.

I was surprised to realise it’s been five years since the last Bunyip Bay book was published as the community and its characters all still feel very familiar. Though Outback Secrets can be read as a stand-alone, it’s a joy catch up with the lives of the couples who have featured in earlier novels including Faith and Monty (Outback Dreams), Ruby and Drew (Outback Blaze), Adam and Stella (Outback Ghost), and Frankie and Logan (Outback Sisters).

Outback Secrets is another engaging and charming story of romance, family and community, and I hope to visit Bunyip Bay again soon.

++++++++

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