Review: The Farm at Peppertree Crossing by Leonie Kelsall

Title: The Farm at Peppertree Crossing

Author: Leonie Kelsall

Published: July 2nd 2020, Allen & Unwin

Status: Read July 2020 courtesy Allen & Unwin

++++++

My Thoughts:

Told with heart, humour and candour, The Farm at Peppertree Crossing is Leonie Kelsall’s first contemporary rural romance novel.

When Veronica is told she is to inherit an 800-acre farm in South Australia she is at first convinced it is a scam, and then certain it’s a mistake. Growing up within the foster care system she learnt the hard way to trust no one, and believing in the generosity of an aunt she never knew is difficult, so Roni is not surprised when she learns there is a catch. In a series of letters, her late aunt explains that to freely inherit the Peppertree Crossing Roni must complete a number of tasks. Single, pregnant and with few other options, Roni, with her beloved cat Scritches in tow, decides to accept the challenge, and perhaps find the home she’s always yearned for.

Kelsall explores familiar themes such as family, friendship, and love in The Farm at Peppertree Crossing. The themes of forgiveness and redemption are also strongly represented in a way I particularly appreciated. Several sensitive issues are also raised in the novel, among them sexual assault, addiction, suicide, and pregnancy loss, in a manner that feels genuine rather than contrived. These subjects add depth to the story, pushing it a little beyond the borders of the genre.

Romance is still a key element in The Farm at Peppertree Crossing though, with a twist on the ‘enemies to lovers’ trope between Roni and share-farmer, Matt. Roni’s first instinct, particularly around men, is to be wary and defensive and she misconstrues Matt’s genuine offer of advice, help and friendship as manipulative and devious. I appreciated that Matt is not cast as her saviour, Roni must reach the conclusion that she is worthy of love on her own before their relationship can progress.

Roni is a prickly character to begin with, nursing a deep hurt she is closed off, mistrustful, and stubborn. I really liked Kelsall’s development of her character, which is somewhat slow, but authentic. She’s destined to learn lessons the hard way it seems, but she does learn and grow. Her journey is supported by several charming characters, most notably her late aunt’s dearest friend/partner, Tracey, and Matt, but also of the four-legged variety which includes her cat, a sheep named Goat, and a calf named Baby.

Well written, thoughtful and engaging with an ideal balance of romance and drama, I am impressed by The Farm at Peppertree Crossing and look forward to more from the author.

++++++

Available from Allen & Unwin RRP AUD$29.99

Or from your preferred retailer via Booko I Book Depository

Review: The Weekend by Charlotte Wood

Title: The Weekend

Author: Charlotte Wood

Published: June 25th 2020, Weidenfeld & Nicolson

Status: Read July 2020 courtesy Orion/Netgalley

++++++

My Thoughts:

“Adele and Wendy and Jude did not fit properly anymore, without Sylvie.”

The Weekend by Charlotte Wood is a searing and insightful portrait of friendship, ageing and grief.

“Because what was friendship, after forty years? What would it be after fifty, or sixty? It was a mystery. It was immutable, a force as deep and inevitable as the vibration of the ocean coming to her through the sand. Wasn’t it?”

Less than a year after the death of Sylvie, her lifelong closest friends -Jude, Wendy and Adele, are spending Christmas weekend emptying her holiday home in Bittoes on the NSW Central Coast. It’s a chore each of them have been dreading, and in the sweltering summer heat, the task threatens to tear them apart.

“‘This was something nobody talked about: how death could make you petty. And how you had to find a new arrangement among your friends, shuffling around the gap of the lost one, all of you suddenly mystified by how to be with one another.’”

Shifting perspectives reveal the complex inner lives of these women as they grieve, and bicker and reminisce. Wood explores the fragility and resilience of their friendship as old hurts resurface, resentments simmer, and secrets are laid bare.

“It was true that time had gradually taken on a different cast. It didn’t seem to go forwards or backwards now, but up and down. The past was striated through you, through your body, leaching into the present and the future. The striations were evident, these streaky layers of memory, of experience— but you were one being, you contained all of it. If you looked behind or ahead of you, all was emptiness.”

Aged in their seventies, the women keenly feel the passage of time, reflecting on their pasts, and contemplating their futures as they attend to their tasks. Having enjoyed successful careers, and relationships, they struggle with their losses, and what they have yet to lose. Ageing is an uncomfortable process for them all, though in different ways for different reasons. Wendy’s old and feeble dog, Finn, is a clear metaphor for its indignities.

“And each of the three let go, plunged down and felt herself carried, lifted up in the great sweep of the water’s force, and then—astonishingly gently—set down on her feet again. They breathed, and wiped their eyes, reached for each other again, waited for the next wave.”

Yet there is plenty of life left in these women, none are quite ready to submit to mortality. Told with wit, tenderness and brutal honesty, The Weekend explores the mundane to expose the extraordinary.

++++++

Available from Orion Books UK

Or from your preferred retailer via Booko I Book Depository i Hive UK I Indiebound

 

Also by Charlotte Wood featured at Book’d Out 

 

Review: The Cake Maker’s Wish by Josephine Moon

 

Title: The Cake Maker’s Wish

Author: Josephine Moon

Published: June 2nd 2020, Michael Joseph

Status: Read July 2020 courtesy PenguinRandomHouse Australia

++++++

My Thoughts:

The Cake Maker’s Wish is a delicious treat from bestselling author Josephine Moon.

After the loss of her beloved Ma, Olivia Kent’s curiousity about her grandmother’s early life leads her to successfully apply for a project offering the descendants of Stoneden villagers in England’s Cotswold region a subsidised opportunity to relocate. Leaving Tasmania behind, Olivia is excited to launch her business, Rambling Rose Fine Cakes on the village High Street, and give her young son, Darcy, a fresh start, as well as the chance to finally meet his Norwegian father in person.

The Renaissance Project is a fantastic concept and a wonderful element of the story, which also provides a backdrop for some minor intrigue. The initiative is designed to revitalise the community of Stoneden but unfortunately not everyone is happy about it with at least one resident actively trying to sabotage the scheme (and I was surprised to finally learn who, and why).

Nevertheless Olivia and Darcy quickly begin to feel at home in the village, befriending both other ‘imports’ and locals alike. As the story unfolds, Olivia is able to learn more about her grandmother’s past, which leads to a surprise revelation. There is also romance for Olivia with local dairyman Grayson, and Darcy’s visiting father, who is newly separated from his wife, and eager to build a relationship with both his son and Olivia, both vying for her affection. Olivia’s business thrives, particularly after a celebrity couple voice their support. Foodies will appreciate Moon’s delicious descriptions of Olivia’s creations, and delight in the included recipe for her Persian Love Cake.

With a serve of appealing characters, a sprinkle of mystery and a generous dollop of heart, The Cake Maker’s Wish is a delectable story about community, friendship, family and food.

++++++

Available from PenguinRandomHouse Australia

Or from your preferred retailer via Booko I Book Depository

 

Also by Josephine Moon reviewed at Book’d Out 

 

Review: Better Luck Next Time by Kate Hilton

 

Title: Better Luck Next Time

Author: Kate Hilton

Published: June 16th 2020, Allen & Unwin

Status: Read June 2020 courtesy Allen & Unwin

++++++

My Thoughts:

Better Luck Next Time is an entertaining and engaging contemporary family dramedy from Kate Hilton.

The story primarily features the women of the Hennessy family -feminist icon Lydia, daughters Mariana, Beata, and Nina, and cousins Zoe and Zack. It begins on Christmas Day as the family gathers to celebrate revealing its own special brand of chaos. Lydia is frantically preparing the perfect Christmas dinner, Zoe is reluctant to admit her marriage is over, Mariana is furious with her husband, Beata is exasperated with her teenage son, Nina is uncharacteristically quiet, and newly sober Zach is looking to make amends.

Unfolding from multiple perspectives, each family member negotiates a series of disappointments, surprises, joys, secrets, and mistakes over a period of a year. The characters have distinct personalities and are easy to relate to as Hilton explores a variety of issues common to midlife including marriage, divorce, motherhood, addiction, and dating.

Hilton’s observations are often incisive, sometimes witty and occasionally poignant. The story moves at a good pace and I liked the balance between the humour and serious themes.

A fabulously funny, feel-good novel.

++++++

Available from Allen & Unwin. RRP AUD$29.99

Or from your preferred retailer via Booko I Book Depository

Review: I Was Told It Would Get Easier by Abbi Waxman

Title: I Was Told It Would Get Easier

Author: Abbi Waxman

Published: June 16th 2020, Berkley Books

Status: Read June 2020 courtesy Penguin/Edelweiss

++++++

My Thoughts:

In just a few months my daughter will graduate high school and we are in the process of choosing which university she will attend, so the premise of I Was Told It Would Get Easier by Abbi Waxman appealed to me immediately.

Busy corporate lawyer Jessica Bernstein is hoping a week long college tour with her daughter will be a way for them to reconnect before Emily leaves the nest. Emily isn’t sure she even wants to go to college, but the timing is perfect given the situation at school.

The story unfolds from the first person viewpoints of Jessica and Emily, and I loved the way Waxman exploited the technique to provide a dual perspective of the same events, especially when it involved interactions between mother and daughter. The dynamic between Jessica and Emily felt very familiar to me as both the mother of teenage daughters, and as a former teenager daughter who was convinced her mother understood nothing.

The group college tour is a great vehicle for the story. Jessica and Emily have no choice but to spend time together, trapped on the bus and sharing a motel room. It gives them the opportunity to reconnect and consider their expectations of and for themselves, and each other.

The tour also traps them with a collection of characters that include a perky guide, a handful of earnest parents and their offspring, potential romantic interests, and a pair of frenemies. While Jessica is eager for Emily to attend a good college, she is taken aback by the intensity of some of the parents on the tour who seem to have been planning their child’s path to college since birth. One parent in particular makes it clear that she will do anything to ensure her daughter has the future she envisions. Emily envies the certainty of her tour companions when she isn’t even sure if she wants to go to college at all.

The humour in the novel particularly appealed to me, both Jessica and Emily have a dry, snarky wit. Waxman’s observations across the generational divide are relatable, and some cut deep, like this one from Emily…

“And why do they all have phone cases that open like little books and make it difficult to take photos in the first place? They created the monster and don’t even know how to use it properly.”

An entertaining, astute and easy read, I really enjoyed I Was Told It Would Get Easier.

++++++

Available from PenguinRandomHouse

Or from your preferred retailer via Booko I Book Depository I Indiebound

Review: Bottlebrush Creek by Maya Linnell

Title: Bottlebrush Creek

Author: Maya Linnell

Published: June 2nd 2020, Allen & Unwin

Status: Read June 2020 courtesy Allen & Unwin

+++++++

My Thoughts:

An engaging contemporary novel set in rural Australia, Bottlebrush Creek is Maya Linnell’s second novel following her bestselling debut, Wildflower Ridge.

Featuring the youngest of the McIntyre sisters, Angie, she and her partner, Rob Jones, are thrilled when they find a bargain-priced, if run down, 200-acre property in Port Fairview, South West Victoria. Recognising its potential to provide a wonderful life for their small family, they plan to live in a caravan on site while they renovate the derelict cottage but the relentless hard work and financial stress of the renovation soon begins to take its toll on their partnership, exacerbated by Angie’s tense relationship with their new next door neighbour – Rob’s mother, a toxic friendship, and the return of Rob’s estranged twin brother.

I really like that Linnell chooses to feature an established couple with a somewhat unconventional back story in Bottlebrush Creek. I thought the author’s depiction of Angie and Rob’s relationship was nuanced and realistic, touching on familiar marital stressors such as parenting, finances, renovation, and communication failures. Bottlebrush Creek has a real sense of emotional authenticity that’s very appealing. While Angie and Rob’s relationship is quite fraught at times, there are also plenty of moments of humour, romance, and fun in the novel.

I generally found the characters convincing and often relatable. I liked Angie and could mostly empathise with her emotions and behaviour. Rob’s mother, Rosa, is delighted that her son, his partner, and her grandchild have moved in next door but Angie finds Rosa’s enthusiasm intrusive, and struggles as Rosa repeatedly pushes against her boundaries. It doesn’t help that Rob fails to recognise the problem, adding to the strain between he and Angie. Rob is a decent guy who loves Angie and his daughter but has his own issues and insecurities. The return of his twin brother from years overseas, and their shared past, leads to him making mistakes, which he is reluctant to share with Angie.

With its focus on relationships and family, Bottlebrush Creek is a wonderful story I found to be moving, entertaining and charming.

++++++

Available from Allen & Unwin RRP AUD$29.99

Or from your preferred retailer via Booko I Book Depository

Review: The Extraordinary Hope of Dawn Brightside by Jessica Ryn

 

Title: The Extraordinary Hope of Dawn Brightside

Author: Jessica Ryn

Published: May 28th 2020, HQ Fiction

Status: Read June 2020, courtesy Harlequin Australia

++++++

My Thoughts:

The Extraordinary Hope of Dawn Brightside is a moving and uplifting contemporary novel from debut novelist, Jessica Ryn.

Dawn Elisabeth Brightside has been running from her past for more than two decades. Offered a place at St Jude’s Hostel for the Homeless in Dover she finally thinks she may have found somewhere to she can stay.

Focusing on the issues of homelessness and mental health, The Extraordinary Hope of Dawn Brightside is set in Dover, England. St Jude’s is a refuge that provides accomodation and social support to homeless people staffed by a dedicated and idealistic social worker, Grace and a former client, Peter. Dawn quickly settles into the hostel, fighting the familiar impulse to flee, and befriending several of the residents.

Though I thought the story felt a little slow to begin with, the pace improved as it unfolded.

The narrative alternates between the perspectives of Dawn and Grace, and Ryn portrays both women with compassion and nuance. Dawn tends to be sidetracked by florid daydreams, and sometimes fails to distinguish reality from fantasy. Many of her delusions centre around Rosie, Dawn’s daughter, though whether she actually exists or not, is unclear for much of the novel. Despite her mental health issues, Dawn is a largely an optimist and always eager to help others, and when she learns that St Jude’s is in danger of closing she is determined to save it.

As is Grace who feels deeply for her clients, and is worried that she isn’t good enough to do right by them.

A story of heart, humour and humanity, The Extraordinary Hope of Dawn Brightside is an engaging read.

+++++++

Available from Harlequin/ HarperCollins Australia

Or from your preferred retailer via Booko I Book Depository

Review: Heatstroke by Hazel Barkworth

Title: Heatstroke

Author: Hazel Barkworth

Published: May 28th 2020, Headline Review

Status: Read May 2020 courtesy Hachette Au/Netgalley

++++++

My Thoughts:

Heatstroke is a tense, atmospheric novel from Hazel Barkworth about mothers and daughters, desire and obsession, trust and betrayal.

It begins when the best friend of Rachel’s fifteen year old daughter, Mia, disappears, but this is not really a story about the missing Lily, it is about what Rachel feels she is losing…. her daughter, her youth, her attractiveness, and perhaps her mind.

Rachel presents initially as a somewhat depressed, slightly overprotective, devoted mother, but as the book progresses Barkworth reveals a complex character, with a searing secret that has the potential to burn her world to the ground.

The author’s writing is evocative and gripping, the fevered, oppressive atmosphere of the heatwave reflects Rachel’s tumultuous emotional state as the tension stretches to breaking point.

Yet I was left feeling somewhat underwhelmed by the narrative, though I can’t quite articulate why. Still, this is an impressive debut, and I’ll be interested in reading what Barkworth writes next.

++++++

Available from HarperCollins Australia

Or from your preferred retailer via Booko I Book Depository

Review: When Grace Went Away by Meredith Appleyard

 

Title: When Grace Went Away

Author: Meredith Appleyard

Published: May 18th 2020, HQ Fiction

Status: Read May 2020, courtesy Harlequin Au

+++++++

My Thoughts:

A thoughtful, well-crafted story of a mother and daughter at a crossroads, When Grace Went Away by Meredith Appleyard explores the themes of family, love, grief, regret, and forgiveness.

While financial analyst Grace Fairley is excited about her new posting to London, leaving behind her mother Sarah is difficult. Estranged from Grace’s father and siblings in the wake of tragedy, Sarah will be on her own in Adelaide, and Grace fears she’ll be needed and unable to help.

Sarah is happy about her daughter’s well-deserved promotion but once Grace is gone, the only link to her son, daughter and grandchildren is lost. With nothing keeping her in Adelaide she decides to return to Miners Ridge, the small rural town where her family still lives, and attempt to rebuild her relationship with her children.

Told from the perspectives of Grace and her mother, Sarah, one woman is faced with making decisions about her future, while the other is looking to reconcile her past. This is an emotional, layered story that explores a wide variety of issues including the process of grief, family dysfunction, addiction, illness, and long distance romance, as well as challenges related to farming, FIFO, career ambition, and small communities.

I think one of the reasons I enjoyed this so much is because the two main characters are of a ‘mature’ age – Grace is in her early 40’s and Sarah in her late 60’s – and even though I have little in common with either of them, I found it refreshing to have the focus on familiar contemporary themes and issues from the perspective of those closer to my age group. There is a sincerity and realism to the actions and emotions of the characters which meant I became invested in their journey.

I found When Grace Went Away to be an engaging, poignant, and satisfying read, and I enthusiastically recommend it to readers who enjoy contemporary women’s fiction.

++++++

Available from Harlequin/HarperCollins

Or from your preferred retailer via Booko I Book Depository

Review: Who We Were by B.M. Carroll

Title: Who We Were

Author: B.M. Carroll

Published: April 28th 2020, Viper

Status: Read May 2020 courtesy Allen & Unwin

++++++

My Thoughts:

Who We Were is an entertaining, fast paced contemporary suspense novel from Irish born Australian author B.M.Carroll, (who pens womens fiction as Ber Carroll).

In organising their twenty year high school reunion, Katy Barclay invites her former school mates of Macquarie High to answer a few questions to create an update of their yearbook. Annabel is the first to receive a spiteful email with her questions completed by someone else, Grace is next. In both instances the mystery writer knows details about their lives that no stranger should. Katy initially dismisses it as a thoughtless prank but soon more of her classmates, notably members of a particular clique, are targeted.

Who We Were unfolds from multiple viewpoints giving each character the opportunity to share their current lives, and their perspectives on their shared past. Katy, as the reunion organiser, acts as the story’s anchor. Along with Annabel (and by extension her husband Jarrod) and Grace, whom have remained friends over the years, we also meet Melissa, Luke, Zach and Robbie. I found the characters recognisable, and even relatable, both as teenagers, (as it happens my highschool ‘Queen Bee’ was also named Annabel), and as adults (like Grace I’m a SAHM of four).

Most of the group harbour regrets from their high school days (I think there are few of us who don’t), and any one of them could have reason to be holding a grudge. Carroll carefully lays misdirects and red herrings as the threats escalate, which left me guessing as to the identity of the guilty party for most of the novel.

With a dramatic conclusion, a well crafted plot and interesting characters, I really enjoyed Who We Were, and I’m happy to recommend it.

++++++

Available from Allen & Unwin RRP AUD$29.99

Or from your preferred retailer via Booko I Book Depository I Amazon US I Amazon UK

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