Review: The Roadhouse by Kerry McGinnis

Title: The Roadhouse

Author: Kerry McGinnis

Published: July 2nd 2019, Michael Joseph: Penguin

Status: Read July 2019, courtesy Penguin AU

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My Thoughts:

The Roadhouse is an engaging story of romantic suspense, the eleventh novel set in the Australian Outback region from author Kerry McGinnis.

When Charlie Carver learns of her cousin’s suicide, she decides to leave behind her life in Melbourne, making her way to the remote roadhouse, east of Alice Springs, that she calls home. Little seems to have changed during her five year absence, except her mother appears to be struggling, and within days of Charlie’s return, Molly has a heart attack is is airlifted to Adelaide for life saving surgery.

Charlie willingly steps up to run the roadhouse with the assistance of long time handyman, Bob, and a new cook, Polish backpacker Ute, and is also tasked with taking care of the details related to her cousin’s death. Though she disliked Annabelle, whose beauty barely masked her selfishness, and is beginning to suspect that the suicide could have been faked, Charlie is as shocked and puzzled as everyone else when the body of a murdered woman is found at a nearby abandoned mine site, and is identified as Annabelle.

When Charlie’s family home is ransacked shortly afterwards, she believes the incident is somehow connected to a visit Annabelle made shortly before her death, and danger could be closer to home than anyone expects.

I really enjoyed the mystery element of The Roadhouse, which firstly focuses on the possible motives for Annabelle’s suicide. Charlie is suspicious of the verdict from the outset, believing that even if Annabelle killed herself, she would never choose that particular manner in which to die. After the discovery of Annabelle’s body proves her right, Charlie speculates as to the meaning of a recent visit Annabelle made to the Roadhouse with a strange man in tow, and after the break in at her home, rashly follows a hunch and finds herself in a fight for her life in a tense and thrilling confrontation.

Unfortunately I did feel that the relationship between Charlie and Mike, a stockman she meets from a nearby station, was underdeveloped. The seeds of attraction were sown, but the couple spent very little time together, even less time alone together, and their relationship was unusually chaste for two twenty somethings in this day and age, all of which made Charlie’s ‘proposal’ awkwardly presumptuous, rather than romantic, in my opinion.

The Roadhouse is also a story about family. Molly was not a demonstrative mother, and Charlie’s feckless late father favoured Annabelle, who came to live with Charlie’s family as a young girl after the death of her own parents. Charlie felt overshadowed by her beautiful cousin whose spiteful behaviour towards her often went unnoticed. Charlie hopes to forge a closer relationship with her mother on her return home, and

over the course of the novel comes to understand more about her family’s dynamics.

Ute, with her unique grasp of English, was probably my favourite character in The Roadhouse, I enjoyed the humour she brought to the story and her practical approach to every facet of her life. I also liked the curmudgeonly Bob, whose gruff exterior fails to hide his soft spot for Charlie and Molly.

With a dramatic suspense plot, and likeable characters, in an uniquely Australian setting, I enjoyed The Roadhouse.

Read an Extract

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Available from Penguin Australia

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#lovebetweenthepages

Review: The Bride Test {The Kiss Quotient #2} by Helen Hoang

 

 

Title: The Bride Test

Author: Helen Hoang

Published: July 1st 2019, Corvus

Status: Read June 2019, courtesy Allen & Unwin

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My Thoughts:

I loved The Kiss Quotient, it was such an unexpected delight that I was very much looking forward to reading The Bride Test. Hoang’s second contemporary romance novel, which can be read as a stand-alone, features Khai Diep, who was introduced briefly in The Kiss Quotient as Michael’s cousin.

Khai, a successful business owner in his mid twenties, is content to focus all his energy on his work, convinced that he is incapable of ‘normal’ emotions, and therefore destined to be alone. His mother however is determined that Khai will marry, and travels to Vietnam to find a him a bride whom she will present to her son as a fait accompli.

Mỹ Ngoc ‘Esmeralda’ Tran is a a young woman of mixed Vietnamese/American parentage who works as a hotel maid to support her daughter, mother and grandmother. Though surprised by Cô Nga’s unexpected invitation to spend time with her son in California with a view to marriage, Esme realises that it’s an opportunity too good to pass up. She has the summer, she is told, to convince Khai to make her his bride, or she will be returned to Vietnam.

It’s an inauspicious start to a love story. Esme’s motives can be construed as mercenary, she wants the chance of a better future for both herself and her daughter, and is willing to seduce Khai to secure it. It’s to Hoang’s credit that she manages to evoke sympathy for Esme, but I wasn’t keen that Esme kept so many secrets from Khai, it meant that there was a lack of honesty in their emotional connection which I did find disappointing.

However I wanted the relationship to work, in large part because Khai deserves to find the love and intimacy he believes he is incapable of reciprocating. Though Khai knows he is on the autistic spectrum, it’s clear he doesn’t quite understand what that means in terms of how he experiences emotion, and his response to a tragic incident as a teenager meant he formed an erroneous belief of himself. Khai’s perspective feels authentic and his struggle is actually very moving, even more so I think because his concern is not for himself.

My favourite scene in The Bride Test involved Esme giving Khai a haircut, it was both intimate and very sweet. I loved how Khai found the courage to explain about his needs, and Esme responded in a manner that was matter of fact. This occurs not long before their first kiss, almost halfway through the book.

I didn’t particularly care for the epilogue though which I thought was over the top. Given that we know a third book (most likely to feature Quan) is coming, Hoang could have given us a more subtle update, as she did here when Esme and Khai attended Michael and Stella’s wedding.

I did enjoy The Bride Test, and it has some funny, sweet and sexy moments, but I have to admit that the relationship between Khai and Esme felt uneven to me in a way that Stella and Michael’s did not.

++++++

Available from Allen & Unwin

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Click the cover to read my review of The Kiss Quotient

Review: The Baby Doctor by Fiona McArthur

 

Title: The Baby Doctor

Author: Fiona McArthur

Published: October 2nd 2017, Michael Joseph: Penguin

Status: Read June 2019, courtesy Penguin AU

++++++

My Thoughts:

 

Readers familiar with Fiona McArthur’s Red Sand Sunrise will be delighted to reacquaint themselves with obstetrician/gynaecologist Dr. Sienna Wilson. While Sienna’s sister, Callie, and half sister, Eve, are settled in the Queensland outback, Sienna was always adamant the heat, dust and isolation was not for her, and at the beginning of The Baby Doctor, she is the Director of Obstetrics at a Sydney hospital, enjoying the benefits of her success.

Sienna is exasperated when outback matriarch, Blanche McKay, overrides her objections and insists that she personally investigate the cause of three newborns affected by microcephaly in a remote outback town, only marginally less so when she learns Sargeant Douglas McCabe, with whom she has enjoyed the occasional dalliance, is based there. Left with no choice, Sienna reluctantly heads to Spinifex, population 300, determined to solve the medical mystery, and return to her life in the city within the week.

Housed in the local pub, The Desert Rose owned by the indomitable Alma Toms, at Blanche’s expense, Sienna is eager to begin her investigation. While McCabe refuses to let Sienna stay in his police residence, concerned at least in part about propriety, he does allow her to set up an office in his spare room, and she hires Maddy, a young woman who works at the pub to assist her with administrative tasks for an hour or so a day.

Alma and Maddy become important characters in the story. Alma who is nearly 70, is a bit of a cliche, the tough publican with a heart of gold, but delightful all the same. Maddy is barely 21, and keeping a desperate secret from everyone she knows. Maddy proves to be an incredibly resourceful young woman despite the situation she is in, and her story, sensitively told by McArthur, sheds light on an important issue.

Sienna’s relationship with McCabe is complicated. Despite their strong attraction to one another (and McArthur nails the chemistry between them), they are such polar opposites and there seems no way for them to reconcile their differences. I do like the compromise they eventually reached though (and I hope McArthur might explore this new setting further).

Microcephaly is a rare birth disorder, but there are several possible causes which Sienna needs to eliminate. I found her sleuthing interesting, especially considering the challenges she faces due to factors such as distance. I also appreciate that McArthur brings to light issues in rural medicine. The actual cause, when Sienna solves the mystery, seemed a little melodramatic to me, though it’s clear McArthur did her research and the scenario is plausible, if not very likely.

A story of resilience, friendship, and love, The Baby Doctor is an appealing rural romance with an edge of drama and suspense.

Read an Excerpt

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Available from Penguin

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Review: While You Were Reading by Ali Berg & Michelle Kalus

 

Title: While You Were Reading

Author: Ali Berg and Michelle Kalus

Published: July 1st 2019, Simon & Schuster

Status: Read June 2019, courtesy Simon & Schuster/Netgalley

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My Thoughts:

 

After accidentally ruining her lifelong best friend’s marriage, a mere hour or so after the wedding, Beatrix Babbage moves from Perth to Melbourne looking for a fresh start, but it’s more difficult than she envisioned. The only respite from her loneliness is provided by The Nook, where barista/slam poet Grover ‘Dino’ Dinopoli, scribbles book quotes on her coffee cup, and pastry chef, Sunday, occasionally lets her lick the spoon.

Until, one evening while exploring the city, Bea, a self confessed bibliophile, wonders into a bookstore where she discovers a second-hand book. While the blurb piques her interest, it’s the handwritten notations in it’s margins that captures her imagination, and Bea grows increasingly convinced that finding the ‘Mystery Writer’ will be the catalyst that will change her life.

While You Were Reading is a likeable, modern contemporary romance, the second book from co-writer’s Ali Berg and Michelle Kalus, who are also cofounders of the fabulous Books on the Rail project.

Instagram posts (complete with photo’s, follower comments and likes), texts, instant messages, email’s and notes (left for her cleaner) helps tell Bea’s story as her obsession with the ‘Mystery Writer’ leads her in surprising directions.

I mostly liked Bea, and had some sympathy for the awkward situations she found herself in. Her level of self esteem is awfully low though, and she makes some immature assumptions, and decisions. It takes her quite some time for her to find her feet, but I was glad she did.

I did enjoy the romantic plot developed by the authors. I like a friends to lovers trope, and though the obstacles were mostly predictable, there were some interesting elements, particularly surrounding the identity of the ‘Mystery Writer’. I also enjoyed the mini romance plot that played out through Bea’s Instagram comments.

Supporting characters, Ruth, with her pet ferret, and Bea’s sister, Ex-bachelorette star, with her Instagram obsession, add a touch of absurdity. I liked the odd start to Bea’s friendship with Martha, and the supportive relationships Bea formed with them.

I would love to attend a literary pub crawl like that which Bea attends, and the event she organises, Next Chapter: speed dating for books. There are dozens of references to classic and modern books, from Little Women by Louisa May Alcott to The Sunday Girl by Pip Drysdale, including a cheeky mention of the authors’ first novel The Book Ninja, throughout While You Were Reading. It’s a fun addition to the story for book lovers, and handily the authors provide a list of every title at the end of the book, which I appreciated (quite a few I’ve either read, or are on my TBR).

When You Were Reading is an engaging romance, particularly if you are a bibliophile. I do feel I need to add however, that despite Bea’s age (she turns 30 early on in the story), While You Were Reading, overall feels like it’s probably more suited to a younger barely ‘adulting’ demographic.

++++++

Available from Simon & Schuster Australia

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Weekend Cooking: Cake at Midnight by Jessie L. Star

 

Title: Cake at Midnight

Author: Jessie L. Star

Published: January 15th 2018, Simon & Schuster AU

Status: Read May 2019 courtesy Simon & Schuster

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My Thoughts:

An engaging novel of contemporary romance, Cake at Midnight is a story of friendship and love from Australian author, Jessie L. Star.

Giovanna, Zoë and Declan – the baker, the beauty, and the brains- have been best friends since childhood. Now in their early twenties, they have celebrated one another’s successes, and commiserated with one another during times of heartbreak. For years Gio has nursed a crush on Declan who doesn’t mind taking advantage of her slavish devotion when it suits him, much to the growing disgust of Zoe. And after a disastrous not-a-date Gio realises she has let the situation get out of control, and in order to preserve their friendships, decides to cut Declan out of her life for 30 days. It’s not an easy step for Gio to take, not even cake is enough to dull the hurt, but her new neighbour, the enigmatic Theo, might just be exactly what she needs.

I enjoyed the romance in Cake at Midnight, it develops slowly from an odd sort of companionship, to a ‘friends with benefits’ situation, to the beginnings of a real relationship. Despite their very obvious differences, Gio and Theo complement each other well, though of course their path to true love has obstacles to overcome.

But romance is not all Cake at Midnight is about. It’s also about the friendship between Gio, Zoe and Declan and how it has changed over time as they have matured. There is a layer of emotional complexity relating to the family dynamics of Theo, and Declan. It’s also about being true to oneself.

The foodie element of the novel comes from Gio’s love of baking. She works at Pickle, Peach and Plum, an artisanal bakery, as an apprentice pastry chef.

“You’d perhaps think that, working at a bakery, the last thing I’d want to do upon returning home from a gruelling, every-last-swirl-of-ganache-critiqued, constantly-on-my-feet, nine-hour day, was more baking. You’d be wrong. It was like the difference between reading for school and reading for pleasure. I’d certainly always found during my years of education that the chance to chuck aside a textbook and pick up a recipe book had been a welcome one. That was what home baking was like for me.”

The first cake she bakes for Theo, to both apologise and thank him for rescuing her the night her not-a-date with Declan goes badly, is a Dark Chocolate and Rum Cake. She serves him a two-layer Lemon and Cardamom Cake the first time they kiss. The foodie references and metaphors added to the sweetness of Cake at Midnight.

++++++

Available from Simon & Schuster AU

or from your preferred retailer via Amazon AU I Amazon US 

 

Review: Messy, Wonderful Us by Catherine Isaac

 

Title: Messy, Wonderful Us

Author: Catherine Isaac

Published: June 1st 2019, Simon & Schuster UK

Status: Read May 2019 courtesy Simon & Schuster AU

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My Thoughts:

Unfolding from the viewpoints of Allie, Ed and an unnamed girl, (whose chapters are italicised) that is speaking of the past, as the present, Messy, Wonderful Us is a touching tale of friendship, love, regret, and second chances.

Allie and Ed have been friends since adolescence, and remain so in their early thirties, despite periods of both physical and emotional distance.

Allie, an academic research scientist, who lost her mother as a young girl to cancer, is devastated when she finds a photograph that seems to suggest her beloved Dad, Joe, may not be her father. When Allie’s grandmother refuses to assuage her suspicions, Allie decides to find answers for herself, arranging a trip to Italy in search of the man who shares the gap between her front teeth.

Ed, a successful business owner, shocks everyone when he leaves his wife of two years, offering nothing but the vaguest of explanations. Julia, unwilling to accept her husband’s decision, begs Allie for her help, and so Allie allows Ed to join her on her quest.

As Allie, urged on by Ed, crisscrosses Italy in search of answers about her past, the pair are forced to face some uncomfortable truths and make some difficult decisions.

Ed and Julia’s supposedly blissful marriage is not what it seems, exactly why, he is reluctant to admit. Isaac treats the secret with sensitivity, and I thought the reversal of perspective of an oft used trope was examined in a thought-provoking manner.

Allie is rocked by the answer to her questions, but it’s the time spent with Ed that has the greatest effect on her life. To be honest, I found Allie a little insipid, she’s generally not very decisive and I have to admit I was disappointed somewhat by one element of the ending. Perhaps it’s petty of me, but I didn’t feel Allie, and therefore Isaac, made the right decision.

That said, I do like Ed and Allie together, though their situation is messy, Issac hits the right notes with their relationship, making it seem genuine. I also really appreciated the epilogue of sorts.

Messy, Wonderful Us is a likeable novel, and though I wasn’t wowed by it, I did find aspects of it thought provoking and engaging.

++++++

Available from Simon & Schuster AU or Simon & Schuster UK

Or from your preferred retailer via Booko

Review: When It All Went to Custard by Danielle Hawkins

 

Title: When It All Went to Custard

Author: Danielle Hawkins

Published: April 15th 2019, HarperCollins

Status: Read May 2019 courtesy HarperCollins AU

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My Thoughts:

“…what’s yellow and very dangerous?….Shark-infested custard “

Having enjoyed Dinner at Roses and Chocolate Cake for Breakfast, I was delighted to have the opportunity to read Danielle Hawkins fourth novel, When It All Went to Custard.

Learning of her husband’s affair with their neighbours wife, Jenny Reynolds is surprised to realise that the end of her marriage will be a relief. In the wake of the separation her priorities are ensuring the happiness of her two young children, and figuring out how to keep the family farm she loves.

Between her ex-husband’s attempts at emotional blackmail, nonsensical knock knock jokes, a lazy farmhand, a lonely old man plying her with chokos, a demanding sister, a high-strung dog, her part time job as a building control officer, and an attractive, and now single, neighbour, Jenny tries to hold it all together and find her footing.

Hawkins has a talent for creating charming and relatable characters, her personal experience of the joys and hardships of farming provide authenticity to the setting, and her skill with genuine dialogue results in great pacing.

Laden with warmth, honesty and humour, When It All Went to Custard is an engaging contemporary story of family, farming and romance in rural New Zealand.

Read an Excerpt

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Purchase from HarperCollins Australia or your preferred retailer via Booko

Also available via HarperCollins US

 

Also by Danielle Hawkins on Book’d Out 

 

Review: Outback Sisters by Rachael Johns

 

Title: Outback Sisters {Bunyip Bay #4}

Author: Rachael Johns

Published: February 2016 , MIRA

Status: Read March 2016, courtesy Harlequin AU

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My Thoughts:

This is Rachael Johns fourth book in her rural romance series linked by the fictional community of Bunyip Bay. Readers familiar with the town will recognise Frankie Madden, the owner of a local cafe, and her sister, widowed mother of two, Simone, as the tititular Outback Sisters.

When a tall, ruggedly handsome and desperately sexy stranger strides into Frankie’s cafe and sweeps her into his arms with a bone melting kiss, she is stunned, and then a little disappointed to learn Logan Knight has mistaken her for her sister. Unbeknownst to Simone, her teenage daughters, Harriet and Grace, have been playing online matchmaker.

What follows is a charming, if slightly unconventional, tale of romance when Logan introduces the sisters to his older brother, Angus. Each of the four main characters are wary of love, having experienced hurt and loss in the past, and then there is the complication of their sibling bonds. I really enjoyed the way in which the author developed these relationships, it’s a tricky proposition but one which Johns achieves admirably.

Johns writes with a great ear for dialogue and a wonderful sense of humour. This ensures her characters feel authentic, including the teens. The relatable characters have been one of the strengths of the series.

It is satisfying as always to revisit Bunyip Bay, in this book we learn Faith and Monty (Outback Dreams) are expecting their first child, Ruby and Drew (Outback Blaze) are happily engaged, and we attend Adam and Stella’s (Outback Ghost) wedding.

The Bunyip Bay series has been a delight, I’m sad to see it end with Outback Sisters though it’s a wonderful note to close on.

++++++

 

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Review: The Sparkle Pages by Meg Bignell

 

Title: The Sparkle Pages

Author: Meg Bignell

Published: April 16th Penguin AU

Status: Read April 2019, courtesy Penguin 

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My Thoughts:

Susannah Parks is convinced her marriage of fifteen years has lost it’s spark and, from the comfort of her wardrobe, begins to formulate a New Years Resolution. She will be interested, and be interesting, she will be stylish and have great hair, she will be relevant and useful, and she will have passionate sex with her husband.

“We certainly had passion once. Sometimes I catch a fleeting flash of it again, but for the most part, passion just seems to have fallen by the wayside….(There are lot of good things by the wayside, if only I could find where it is – somewhere near the too-hard basket, probably.)”

It’s been a while since a book has both made laugh out loud, and moved me to tears.

As a wife and mother of four myself, I perhaps related better to Susannah than it is wise to admit. From the barely controlled chaos of Susannah’s days, to the tedium of cleaning, cooking and caretaking for a young family, to the dwindling priority of intimacy (ok..yes, sex) in a marriage. Unlike her though, I have always understood that marriage, and family life, has its ups and downs as it is a constantly changing dynamic.

This too is what Susannah eventually comes to realise, with the help of her best friend, the indomitable Ria, her family, her friends and her neighbour, Valda. It is Susannah who has lost her spark, buried under piles of wet towels, baskets of insecurity, and a load of guilt so heavy, it has all but been extinguished.

Though there is plenty of humour, and moments of sheer absurdity, to be found in this novel, the story also reveals a shocking truth and heartbreaking tragedy. The author’s writing shines as she deftly steers the reader through sadness and joy.

The Sparkle Pages is witty, wise, honest and moving, a glittering debut from Australian author, Karen Bignell, it’s my favourite read so far this year.

“Sparks. Passion and sparks. And when there are no sparks, at least just a little sparkle.”

++++++

#lovebetweenthepages

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Review: I Owe You One by Sophie Kinsella

Title: I Owe You One

Author: Sophie Kinsella

Published: Bantam Press February 2019

Status: Read April 2019

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My Thoughts:

It’s difficult to have to admit disappointment in what was once an author I could reliably expect to find entertaining. Perhaps I’m simply too jaded (ok…old) now to be charmed by Kinsella’s formula, because I’ve increasingly found her heroines insipid, and the romances underwhelming.

I found myself horribly impatient with not only Fixie’s inability to leave things alone, but also her repeated failure to defend herself from her narcissistic siblings. The romance between Seb and Fixie, complicated by the presence of Whiny Briony, is a touch unsavoury, though I did like the meet-cute setup. Ryan is so irredeemably awful from the outset I could never take him seriously.

That said, there were moments that I found entertaining, the shop assistants in Farr’s, the family business, were amusing, and I particularly enjoyed it when the Cake Club crashed the Farr’s store’s ‘relaunch’ party.

I Owe You One is an undemanding romantic comedy, and I expect fans of Kinsella will generally enjoy it, unfortunately I found it just tolerable.

++++++

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