Review: The Littlest Library by Poppy Alexander

 

Title: The Littlest Library

Author: Poppy Alexander

Published: 19th July 2022, Avon Books

Status: Read July 2022 courtesy Avon Books/Netgalley

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My Thoughts:

 

The Littlest Library by Poppy Alexander was exactly what I hoped for, a feel-good  story about friendship, community, love and books.

After Jess loses both the beloved grandmother who raised her and her job in short succession she impulsively purchases a cottage in the tiny rural hamlet of Middlemass. Ivy Cottage is a little run down but Jess sees its potential despite the bats in the attic, the overgrown garden, and the empty, urine soaked red telephone box in the front garden. Hard works soon transforms the cottage, and with a nudge from the community, Jess, an unemployed librarian, gives the telephone box a new life as a free community library, stocked with her late grandmother’s books.

There are no real surprises as to what happens next. The little red library is a hit, quickly attracting loyal patrons. Jess makes friends with an assorted array of slightly quirky characters like grocery store owner Paddy, lively seniors Diana and Mungo, harried mother of three Becky, and despite a rocky start with her gruff across-the-way neighbour, Aiden, a will-they/won’t-they romance blossoms. Alexander builds a delightful community you would want to be part of in an English country dream setting.

Of course there is some drama stirred up by a petty parish council member, a sudden illness, a strained marriage, and an intrusive ex-wife, but you can take comfort in knowing that these complications will be resolved. The predictability of a happy and hopeful ending is a balm when everything outside the books pages these days feels so chaotic.

A heartwarming and blithesome read, The Littlest Library is big on charm.

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Review: Five Bush Weddings by Clare Fletcher

 

Title: Five Bush Weddings

Author: Clare Fletcher

Published: 2nd August 2022, Penguin Random House Australia

Status: Read July 2022 courtesy Penguin Random House Australia

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My Thoughts:

 

Five Bush Weddings is a charming Australian romantic comedy debut from Clare Fletcher.

Wedding photographer Stevie-Jean Harrison loves being part of a couple’s special day, but, single at 31, she’s starting to think she may never have her own. Everyone she knows seems to found ‘the one’ – her ex has just announced his engagement, and his gorgeous, young bride-to-be wants Stevie as their photographer; Jen, her best friend and roommate, seems committed to the Most Boring Man Alive; even Stevie’s sexagenarian mother has started dating, – why can’t she?

Johnno West has been in love with Stevie-Jean since he was nineteen. Recently returned to rural Queensland to fulfil his parents expectations and take over the family farm, he is hopeful his best friend’s ex might finally be ready to give him a chance. After all, she once made him promise that if they were both single at 32, they would get married, and he intends to hold her to it.

The friends-to-lovers romance trope has always been my favourite, and it underpins the story of Five Bush Weddings. Stevie and Johnno have known each other for over a decade, but her relationship with Tom (Johnno’s best mate), and his later move to London, stunted their mutual attraction. Fletcher cleverly utilises the wedding ceremonies that Stevie is hired for to create a framework that ensures the two characters are reunited. I enjoyed the chemistry between the pair, and their teasing banter. There are several obstacles to their relationship as the story progresses including a reluctance to risk their friendship, Stevie’s poor self-awareness, and the introduction of romantic rivals, and while you know it’s going to work out, the author does generate some tension. The heat level in this novel is quite chaste, though remarkably Fletcher is able to communicate passion with a dropped meat pie.

I did grow impatient with Stevie at times as she leant into her self-pity a little too often, and behaved badly as a result, particularly with Jen. I liked her relationship with her mum though, and no one deserves to have an affair implode so publicly. Funny, thoughtful and easy-going, Johnno is a less complicated character. I liked the dynamic with his family, and his support of his sister.

I really enjoyed the distinctive Australian details in this novel. Though Stevie is based in Brisbane, the book is set largely in rural Queensland where the various weddings she photographs take place. Fletcher ably evokes the vastness of the outback and its landscape, but more importantly she captures the sense of community and tradition that unites small towns, and the characters that populate them. The ‘Bush Telegraph’ posts are a fun touch, and I appreciated that Fletcher also touches on some important issues that impact rural life.

Told with heart and humour, Five Bush Weddings is an entertaining read with a satisfying happily ever after.

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Review: The Emma Project by Somali Dev

 

Title: The Emma Project {The Rajes #4}

Author: Sonali Dev

Published: 17th May 2022, Avon Books

Status: Read June 2022 courtesy Avon Books/Edelweiss

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My Thoughts:

 

The Emma Project is the fourth (and last) book in Sonali Dev’s popular Jane Austen inspired rom com series, The Rajes, though if, like me, you haven’t read any of the earlier books it is a successful stand-alone read.

The story’s connections to the original ‘Emma’ are generally quite subtle, but still recognisable. Vansh Raje is the youngest of the Raje’s siblings. Handsome, successful and single, he is effortlessly charming, and somewhat spoilt. Knightlina (Naina) Kohli is the aloof ‘Knightly’ to Vansh’s ‘Emma’, a long term, close friend of the family, who had previously been involved in a fake relationship with Vansh’s older brother, Yash.

I liked both characters, who are portrayed with a complexity I wasn’t expecting from a romcom. Naina and Vansh both have rich back stories that are coherent motivator’s for their attitudes and actions.

The pair’s history is an obvious impediment to their relationship, with Naina having been Yash’s (fake) girlfriend for nearly a decade, both have trouble seeing each other as a potential romantic partner, as does the entire Raje family. Vansh is also twelve years younger than Naina, and her (horrible) father, clearly the root cause of her distrust of love and marriage, in particular is disparaging of the age difference.

Much of the couple’s conflict however stems from Naina being forced to share a multimillion-dollar endowment from Jignesh Mehta, the sixth-richest entrepreneur in the world, to her charitable foundation that supports sustainable economic security for women in remote and neglected regions. Naina has a plan for every dollar, so she is appalled when Mehta insists she share his largess with Vansh on the basis of a cocktail conversation.

I liked the development of their romance, it’s not quite an enemies-to-lovers trope but  fairly close. There are the inevitable misunderstandings and miscommunications, tantrums and tears. I liked the heat level of the romance, but I was a bit surprised to find it here.

A secondary romance plot involves another Raje family member, cousin Esha who has an unusual story of her own, and Sid, a photojournalist. To be honest, I felt this thread was shoehorned in, and elements of it, out of place, though there is a loose parallel to the romance in ‘Emma’ between Jane Fairfax and Churchill.

Dev also touches on a number of surprisingly serious issues including domestic violence, homelessness, dyslexia, and (what I thought was) an odd reference to to the BLM movement.

Others will be better judges than I on how satisfying The Emma Project was as a series finale. I was entertained by the story and its characters, though I don’t feel compelled to read the earlier instalments.

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Review: Book Lovers by Emily Henry

 

Title: Book Lovers

Author: Emily Henry

Published: 12th May 2022, Penguin UK

Status: Read May 2022 courtesy Penguin/Netgalley

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My Thoughts:

 

“Sometimes, even when you start with the last page and you think you know everything, a book finds a way to surprise you.”

‘Five stars aren’t enough’ is what I wrote on Goodreads when I marked Emily Henry’s Book Lovers as ‘read’.

An entertaining plot, witty characters, incisive writing, and the combination thereof, all play their part, and of course no book lover can resist a book about books, but the ability to articulate why I had such a strong reaction to Book Lovers eludes me.

Told with distinctive blend of insight, heart, and wit, Henry had me smiling, laughing, aching and I even shed a tear or two.

++++++++

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Review: A Stone’s Throw Away by Karly Lane

 

Title: A Stone’s Throw Away

Author: Karly Lane

Published: 1st May 2022, Allen & Unwin

Status: Read May 2022 courtesy Allen & Unwin

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My Thoughts:

 

A Stone’s Throw Away is the latest engaging novel from Australian bestseller Karly Lane.

Still reeling from a vicious assault after breaking the story of a corrupt politician, investigative journalist Phillipa ‘Pip’ Davenport, has retreated to her uncle’s property, Rosehaven, in rural Victoria to write a book about the high profile case. Despite her best intentions, Pip finds it difficult to settle to the task, and in the spirit of procrastination, decides to hire someone to remove the detritus at the bottom of her uncle’s dam, exposed by the ongoing drought. To her shock, and that of the small community of Midgiburra, the skeleton of a young woman is discovered in the rusted remains of an old car, and Pip finds herself caught up in the decades old mystery, even as her own past threatens to catch up with her.

Offering intrigue and romance, this contemporary set novel also touches on Australian history.

There are two elements of suspense in A Stone’s Throw Away, one of which centres around Pip and her safety. Though her assault was likely at the behest of the politician Pip exposed who is now jailed, her attacker was never identified, and concern remains that she is still a target. Pip simply wants to put the incident behind her but, struggling with PTSD, she can’t always suppress episodes of anxiety.

Pip’s wariness also affects her interactions with the two romantic possibilities introduced, local police officer, Erik, and city detective Chris. Though she chooses to drop her guard with one of the men, she soon finds herself wondering if she’s made a deadly mistake.

The other thread of mystery involves the former owner of Rosehaven, 98-year-old Bert Bigsby, a WWII veteran incapacitated and confined to a nursing home after a major stroke, and the fate of his wife, Molly, who disappeared seventy years ago. Despite her reluctance to get involved in the cold case, Pip uncovers the heartbreaking story of deception and betrayal that has haunted Bert, and exposes the truth behind the accusations levied against him by the town.

It’s through Bert’s character that Lane highlights a facet of Australia’s involvement in WWII, adding another layer of interest to the novel. Bert, like many young men, volunteered to serve in the Australian Armed Forces, though he and Molly were essentially newlyweds. Letters from Bert to Molly provide some insight into the experiences of those soldiers who served in Papua New Guinea, particularly those who were captured in the Australian Territory peacetime capital, Rabaul, when it fell to the Japanese.

I thoroughly enjoyed reading this novel, though I did feel the touch of supernatural that linked Pip and Molly was an unnecessary addition. With its appealing characters, well crafted setting, and layered storyline, A Stone’s Throw Away is an entertaining read.

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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

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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.

+++++++

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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.

+++++++++

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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.

++++++

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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.

+++++++

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