Review: The Blue Rose by Kate Forsyth

 

Title: The Blue Rose

Author: Kate Forsyth

Published: July 16th 2019, Vintage

Status: Read July 2019 courtesy Penguin AU

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My Thoughts:

 

The Blue Rose is an enthralling tale of love, betrayal, peril, and adventure, set against the turmoil of the French Revolution, and the inscrutable Empire of China.

After disgracing her father, Marquis de Ravoisier, at the court of Versailles, Viviane de Faitaud is exiled to her late mother’s estate, the Chateau de Belisama-sur-le-Lac in Brittany, where she spent her childhood. Though meant as a punishment, Viviane is happy in Belisama, far from her father’s cruel attentions, and able to regularly escape the notice of her chaperone.

While the estate is barely viable after years of the Marquis’s mismanagement and neglect, when Viviane’s father remarries, he decrees that an extravagant garden shall be created to honour his new bride and hires an ambitious young Welshman to design and oversee it’s construction. David Stronach hopes that the commission will launch his career among the French nobility, allowing him to support his family, and throws himself into the project, but he soon finds himself distracted by the beauty and grace of Viviane.

Despite the impossibility of the match, Viviane and David fall in love, but when the Marquis discovers their romance, David barely escapes the chateau with his life, and Viviane is given no choice but to marry a rich Duke more than twice her age. Believing her lover dead, Vivienne returns to the palace of Louis XVI, just as the revolution begins to gather momentum, while David, believing himself betrayed, joins a British diplomatic mission to Imperial China at the behest of Sir Joseph Banks.

Forsyth deftly illustrates the decadence of life at the court of Versailles under the reign of Louis XVI, and the extraordinary evolution of the French Revolution. After the death of her hated husband during riots in Paris, Vivane serves as a lady in waiting to Marie-Antoinette and stays with the beleaguered royal family as their rule falters. Seen through Viviane’s eyes, the French royal family, especially the much maligned Marie-Antoinette, become humanised as they face the situation with bewilderment, grief, and growing horror. The author’s recounting of the astonishing historical events that defined the Revolution, from the demands of the Third Estate, to the storming of Bastille, and finally to the wholesale imprisonment and gruesome beheadings of the country’s aristocracy, is utterly engrossing.

David’s journey was inspired by the author’s discovery of a diplomatic mission led by Lord Macartney at the behest of King George III to request the Chinese Emperor open trade with Britain, during which a member of the party gathered botanicals and shipped them to Sir Joseph Banks. This trip fits neatly into the timeline of the story, and ties beautifully into David’s desire to obtain a blood-red rose, unavailable in Europe at the time. I found David’s expedition by sea, and his impressions of Imperial China, interesting.

As with much of Forsyth’s recent work, The Blue Rose also takes some inspiration from traditional lore, in this instance a version of The Blue Rose, a Chinese folk tale. It is a romantic story that ties beautifully into David’s quest, and his relationship with Vivane.

An enchanting, captivating novel, with a plausible, seamless narrative which melds compelling historical fact, with vividly imagined fiction, The Blue Rose is another spectacular story from Kate Forsyth.

Read an Excerpt

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Also by Kate Forsyth reviewed at Book’d Out

 

 

 

Review: The Bookshop of the Broken Hearted by Robert Hillman

Title: The Bookshop of the Broken Hearted

Author: Robert Hillman

Published: July 11th 2019, Faber & Faber

Status: Read July 2019, courtesy Faber & Faber/Netgalley

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My Thoughts:

The Bookshop of the Broken Hearted is a literary novel from award winning Australian author, Robert Hillman.

In the Spring of 1968, as Tom Hope toils away on his farm, lonely after his wife has deserted him and taken her son with her, Hannah Babel arrives in rural Victoria intending to open a bookshop, and offer piano and flute lessons.

The farming community of Hometown seems an unlikely place for a woman like Hannah, a Jew who barely survived the horrors of Auschwitz and it’s aftermath, to settle, and in which to establish a bookshop with a goal to sell twenty five thousand books,in honour of her father, who died in an internment camp.

“She took an oblong of stiff paper, craft paper, the colour of parchment, sat at the counter and wrote a single line of neat Hebrew script with black ink and a steel-nibbed pen….And so Hannah’s first choice of a name for her business remained known only to her: Bookshop of the broken hearted.”

Hannah, and Tom, who responds to Hannah’s request for help hang a sign, become an unlikely couple. Hannah’s effusive persona contrasts with Tom’s taciturn nature, and the age difference (Hannah is more than a decade older) worries some of the townsfolk, especially those who know how much Tom misses his wife’s son, Peter. Tom however finds Hannah beguiling, if a bit mad, and is quietly thrilled that such an interesting woman seems to be so interested in him.

“He felt like a great block of stone talking to her, but she was interested in him, that’s what it felt like. He had never before in his life been made to feel interesting.”

This is much more than a love story though, one of the major themes Hillman explores is that of suffering. Hannah’s suffering during the Holocaust, including the loss of her husband and son; Tom’s suffering after the loss of Peter; and Peter’s suffering at the hands of his mother and the leaders of the ‘Jesus Camp’.

“Tom didn’t think of himself as observant, astute. He didn’t notice things. He more failed to notice. But when he pictured Mrs Babel’s—sorry, Hannah’s—face, as he did now, her eyes, her green eyes, he grasped that she was suffering. That huge smile, all of her teeth on show, one at the side a bit discoloured; but she was suffering. He had suffered. In the same way? He didn’t know.”

The Bookshop of the Broken Hearted is a languid, poignant story about loss, heartbreak, survival, hope and redemption.

++++++

Available from Faber & Faber

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Review: Stay Sexy & Don’t Get Murdered by Karen Kilgariff and Georgia Hardstark

 

Title: Stay Sexy & Don’t Get Murdered: A Definitive How To Guide

Author: Karen Kilgariff and Georgia Hardstark

Published: May 28th 2019, Forge Books

Status: Read July 2019

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My Thoughts:

I’m a recent ‘Murderino’, which marks me as an avid listener of Karen and Georgia’s true crime/comedy podcast, My Favorite Murder. If you are not familiar with this weekly broadcast, Kilgariff and Hardstark each select a single murder, true crime story, or survivor story to recount and discuss in an empathetic but humorous manner. More recently the podcast has also featured Minisodes – which consist of audience write-ins detailing their near misses, or tangential relationships to murder cases; and broadcasts of their live shows. Stay Sexy & Don’t Get Murdered is their signature show sign off.

I probably shouldn’t have bought Stay Sexy & Don’t Get Murdered without reading the description (though I likely would have got it anyway), because it wasn’t what I was expecting.

I wanted something more closely related to the podcast, a mix of true crime stories with reference to their patented advice such as ‘F*ck Politeness’ and ‘You’re in a Cult, Call your Dad’.

Instead this is largely a memoir/selfhelp book detailing the hosts’ dysfunctional childhood/adolescence/young adult years including their issues with addiction, eating disorders, mental health, and relationships.

It’s not that these stories aren’t interesting, or funny, and occasionally relatable (I was a latchkey kid like Karen, and I had a brief flirtation with kleptomania at thirteen like Georgia- a single Mars Bar I still feel guilty about), but stories like Georgia’s ‘red flag’ encounter, and the essay in ‘Stay Out of the Forest’, which includes some information about the murder of Michele Wallace, were probably closest to what I wanted.

Stay Sexy & Don’t Get Murdered is really a book for fans of the personalities of Karen and Georgia, those more interested in the true crime aspect of their podcast may be slightly disappointed. I did enjoy it, I just would have appreciated a different approach more.

Read an Extract

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Review: The Heart Keeper by Alex Dahl

 

Title: The Heart Keeper

Author: Alex Dahl

Published: July 11th 2019, Head of Zeus

Status: July 2019, courtesy HarperCollins/Netgalley

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My Thoughts:

 

“Hearts are wild creatures, that’s why our ribs are cages.”

The Heart Keeper by Alex Dahl is an intensely emotional story of grief, loss and hope.

Devastated by the accidental drowning death of her beloved six year old daughter, Alison reels brokenly between crippling emotional agony and a drug and alcohol induced stupor, unable to accept her loss. When her stepson raises the theory of cellular memory, which suggests that a transplanted organ retains some of the memories or personality traits of the donor that manifest in the recipient, Alison becomes obsessed with the idea that somewhere Amalie lives on…and she wants her back.

“I envision her heart beating in this moment, sutured in place in a little stranger’s chest. I see fresh, clean blood pumped out and around a young body, carrying miniscule particles of my own child. I stand up and press my face to the window. Out there, somewhere, her heart is beating.”

The narrative of The Heart Keeper moves between the first person perspectives of Alison, and Iselin, whose paths cross when Alison seeks out the recipient of her daughters heart, seven year old Kaia. At first Alison believes just a glimpse of her child’s ‘heart keeper’ will ease the ache, but it’s not enough, and she arranges a meeting with Iselin, ostensibly to commission some artwork, which simply feeds her obsession.

“I couldn’t have grasped, then, that it would grow bigger and sharper every day, that it would rot my heart, that it would devour everything that was once good,…”

Alison’s pain is so viscerally described by Dahl, the intensity is difficult to cope with at times. Her slow unraveling is utterly compelling, and though it’s known from the outset the direction the plot will take, Alison’s journey, her longing for her daughter, is what drives the story.

“You and her, you’re one and the same. I can’t believe I didn’t realize this before, that all of this time, you were right there.”

With richly drawn characters and raw emotive writing The Heart Keeper is an engrossing, poignant and heartrending story about death, and life.

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Available from HarperCollins AU

Or from your preferred retailer via Booko I Book Depository

Review: The Chain by Adrian McKinty

Title: The Chain

Author: Adrian McKinty

Published: July 9th 2019, Hachette Australia

Status: July 2019 courtesy BFredricksPR

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My Thoughts:

 

“Number one: you are not the first and you will certainly not be the last. Number two: remember, it’s not about the money—it’s about The Chain.”

Adrian McKinty’s The Chain is a riveting thriller with a terrifying premise.

The Chain works like this: your child is kidnapped, and the only thing that will ensure their safe release is the payment of a ransom, and for you to then kidnap a child, whose parents must in turn pay a ransom, and kidnap a child. If you fail to comply, your child will die, if your victim’s parents fail to comply, you must kill their child and choose another target, or your child will die. Attempt to inform law enforcement, or in anyway interrupt The Chain and you and your entire family will be the first to die.

Rachel Klein is not an obvious target for this macabre network. She is newly divorced, recently in remission after treatment for breast cancer, and has very little money. When her thirteen year old daughter, Kylie, is abducted, and Rachel receives the chilling instructions as the newest link in The Chain, she balks, as most right-minded people would. What Rachel is being asked to do is unthinkable, but with the life of her beloved daughter at stake, Rachel realises she has no choice.

The first half of the book is an absolute page turner, I raced through it wondering just how far Rachel was willing to go. McKinty skilfully communicates the fear and desperation experienced by victims of The Chain. When the lives of our children are threatened there is very little a parent won’t do to protect them, and it is exactly that primal instinct that the sociopathic minds behind The Chain exploit.

“Be thankful for our mercy and remember that once you are on The Chain, you are on it forever. You are not the first and you will not be the last. We are watching, we are listening; we can come for you at any time.”

The pace slowed somewhat during the second half as Rachel, and Kylie, struggle with the aftermath of their experience, but it ramps up again as Rachel realises the only way she and her daughter will ever escape The Chain, is to expose the diabolical masterminds behind the scheme.

The Chain is an impressive thriller that will get your heart racing and keep the pages turning. Don’t miss being part of The Chain.

Read an Extract

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Available from your preferred retailer or

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Book Depository

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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

Or from your preferred retailer via Booko I Book Depository

#lovebetweenthepages

Review: Wild Horses of the Summer Sun by Tory Bilski

Title: Wild Horses of the Summer Sun

Author: Tory Bilski

Published: July 1st, Murdoch Books

Status: Read June, courtesy Allen & Unwin

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My Thoughts:

“My first connection was finding a picture of an Icelandic horse on Google. I looked at it everyday and I couldn’t think of anything else.”

Tory Bilski is In her early 40’s when she becomes obsessed with the idea of riding an Icelandic horse in it’s native setting. An Equitour whets her appetite but it’s not until she meets Eve, the owner of a horse farm in the Berkshires, that she is able to return to Iceland for the experience she has been yearning for.

Over a period of about ten years, for a week every summer, Tory accompanies Eve, and a group of up to eight women to Thingeyrar, an Icelandic horse farm owned by breeder and trainer Helga. It’s an opportunity for Tory to leave behind the stresses of ordinary life and connect with the wild horses under the midnight sun. Not every trip is blissful, some are marred by the weather, others by personality clashes, but Bilski is always eager to return, and this travelogue/memoir shares a little of her personal life, her friendship with the women with whom she travels, her experiences in Iceland, and her soul deep connection to the Icelandic horses.

“These were our tales, these were the times, these were the women, and this was the place.”

Icelandic horses are a special breed, its pedigree is mixed but unique to Iceland, which has not permitted the import of other horses for centuries. Though I have no particular love for horses, I do think the Icelandic breed is appealing, and they look wonderful galloping across the gorgeous Icelandic plains, long manes flying, despite their short and stocky stature.

Bilski writes well, and I found Wild Horses of the Summer Sun to be both an engaging and interesting read.

++++++

Available from Murdoch Books 

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Review: Six Minutes by Petronella McGovern

 

Title: Six Minutes

Author: Petronella McGovern

Published: July 1st 2019, Allen & Unwin

Status: Read June 2019, courtesy Allen & Unwin

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My Thoughts:

“Three hundred and seventy-one, three hundred and seventy-two, three hundred and seventy-three…I’ve made it. I can stop counting now. Three hundred and seventy-three seconds. Six minutes.”

Six minutes after leaving her daughter, Bella, playing happily with her friends at playgroup, Lexie Parker returns to discover the three year old is missing, and none of the mothers that were supposed to be watching her can tell Lexie where her daughter went. Lexie clings to the idea that Bella has somehow simply wandered away, and be will found any minute, but as the hours pass and an extensive police search fails to find her, Lexie has to face other frightening possibilities. Someone knows what happened in those six minutes, but who?

McGovern provides us with plenty of suspects in the abduction of Bella, and keeps us guessing as the plot unfolds. The narrative moves between the perspectives of several characters, among them Lexie, her husband and Bella’s father, Marty, the investigating officer, Detective Sergeant Caruso, and Tara, one of the mother’s present at the playgroup when Bella went missing.

Everyone has secrets, some which prove to be relevant to Bella’s disappearance, some not, and the story is told in such a way that it’s almost impossible to guess where guilt or innocence may lie. While the question of what happened to Bella is Intriguing on its own, there is more than the one mystery in Six Minutes that kept me turning the pages.

I haven’t read many books set in Canberra (in the Australian Capital Territory), but the small community on the fringe of the city felt authentic and familiar. Residents turn out in force to help search for Bella, the media descends and causes chaos, and outsiders, and insiders, speculate wildly on social media, eager to be heard.

With a compelling cast of characters and a riveting plot, Six Minutes is an engrossing thriller from debut author Petronella McGovern.

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Available from Allen & Unwin

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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

Or available from your preferred retailer via Booko I Book Depository

 

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

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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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