Review: The Year of the Farmer by Rosalie Ham

 

Title: The Year of the Farmer

Author: Rosalie Ham

Published: September 25th 2018, Picador Australia

Status: Read April 2019, courtesy Pan Macmillan Au

++++++

 

My Thoughts:

“The smell of sheep permeated the car and all around the plains were brown and grey. The air was perishingly dry and it was only eight in the bloody morning. And always, the stalking ravens on electricity wires and prehistoric eagles hanging overhead. Nothing was as it was supposed to be. Nothing exciting ever happened. The stupid drought came and everyone went broke or left town; those who remained succumbed to the drought and it just continued on and on…”

The Year of the Farmer could probably be best described as a tragicomedy. It’s set in a small Australian farming community caught in the stranglehold of drought, and is centred on a small group of the towns residents.

Mitch Bishop’s crops are failing, and his stock is half starved, but he refuses to give up on the land he loves. This could be his year- if Neralie comes back, if it rains. Mitch’s wife, Mandy, doesn’t share his optimism. She’s had it with the farm, with her business, and with the town that refuses to accept her, but she’s not quite done with her husband-yet.

“‘The farmers are appreciated and all water authorities aim to celebrate and support the farmers and the vital role they play in feeding, clothing and sheltering us all.”

So says the Water Authority, while their local representatives plot to line their own pockets at the farmers expense. Mitch isn’t fooled by the hard sell and empty promises, but the towns options, like its water supply, are dwindling fast. Ham does a commendable job of illustrating the flaws in the government scheme and its effects on a farming town at its mercy.

Neighbours bicker over land management, feral dogs run wild, sides are chosen, the sun shines and Mandy, well Mandy is just getting started.

The Year of the Farmer is a slow paced novel with a sly wit, which exaggerates and encapsulates, everyday life in a struggling farming town.

++++++

 

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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 

++++++

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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It’s Monday! What are you reading?

The It’s Monday! What Are You Reading meme is hosted at BookDate

 

Life…

Do you ever experience weird coincidences with your reading? Sometimes it’s something simple, like the same name used in two different novels, at other times an unexpected esoteric topic crops up in conversation with a friend, or in the news, which is the subject of the next book you pick up. Once, when visiting my mother, she showed me a tea towel she’d bought on a recent trip that listed unusually named towns that I’d never heard of, the next day I started a new book which mentioned two of those towns. In this instance, I unintentionally scheduled two books to read in the past week that both feature a synesthete teenage boy – one is a murder mystery, The Colour of Bee Larkham’s Murder, the other a literary novel, The Book of Dreams, which gave no hint as to a synesthete character. In addition, my daughter casually mentioned that synesthesia was a topic in her biology class this week after I mentioned the coincidence to her. ( ♪♫♪ Insert Twilight Zone theme here ♪♫♪)

By the way, you may find I’m posting more frequently over the next few weeks. In an effort to tidy up things left undone (particularly my netgalley account) during my hiatus I’ve been writing posts for books I read but didn’t review at the time. I’ve also been attempting to update my Goodreads shelves (which are still glitching) and my LibraryThing account (feel free to add me as a friend on one, or both) Thankfully I at least kept my BookCollectorz app up to date during my absence.

Oh and it was my birthday yesterday.

🎂 Happy Birthday to me 🎂

It was a quiet day, I lounged and read. My kids bought me some new slippers for the fast approaching winter weather, and made me a cake 🙂

 

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What I’ve Read Since I last Posted…

After the Party by Cassie Hamer

The Colour of Bee Larkham’s Murder by Sarah J. Harris

Bridge Burning and Other Hobbies by Kitty Flanagan

Fortune’s Son by Jennifer Scoullar

The Weight of Him by Ethel Rohan

 

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New Posts

Review: I Owe You One by Sophie Kinsella ★★

Review: The Lost Girls by Jennifer Spence ★★★★1/2

Review: The Book of Dreams by Nina George ★★★

Review: Bridge Burning and Other Hobbies by Kitty Flanagan ★★★

Review: The Colour of Bee Larkham’s Murder by Sarah J. Harris ★★★1/2

Weekend Cooking: Slow Cooker Central 2 by Paulene Christie (and me!)

Review: After the Party by Cassie Hamer ★★★

(a better late than never) Review: Recipes of Love and Murder by Sally Andrew ★★★★1/2

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What I’m Reading This Week

 

‘Is marriage just a series of texts about where the children are and whether we need milk until one of you dies?’

Susannah Parks – wife, mother, cleaner of surfaces and runner of household – is a viola virtuoso. Except she hasn’t picked up a viola for over a decade. She has, however, picked up a lot of Lego, socks, wet towels and other exhibits of mundanity. She has also picked up on the possibility that her husband has lost interest in her. (And frankly, she’s not very interested in Susannah Parks either.) But this year, she has resolved to be very interesting. Also thoughtful, useful, cheerful, relevant, self-sufficient, stylish, alluring and intelligent.

In her highly confidential diary, Susannah documents the search for the elusive spark in her marriage, along with all the high and low notes of life with her four beloved children, with her free-spirited (and world famous) best friend Ria, and with Hugh, the man who fills her heart with burning passion and her washing pile with shirts.

And perhaps amid the chaos she might be brave enough to find the missing pieces of herself.

++++++

Brisbane 1999. It’s hot. Stormy. Dangerous. The waters of the Brisbane River are rising.

The rains won’t stop. People’s nerves are on edge. And then…

A body is found.

And then another.

And another.

A string of seemingly ritualized but gruesome murders. All the victims are men. Affluent. Guys with nice houses, wives and kids at private schools. All have had their throats cut.

Tabloid headlines shout, THE VAMPIRE KILLER STRIKES AGAIN!

Detective Sergeant Lara Ocean knows the look. The ‘my-life-will-never-be-the-same-again look’. She’s seen it too many times on too many faces. Telling a wife her husband won’t be coming home. Ever again. Telling her the brutal way he was murdered. That’s a look you never get used to. Telling a mother you need her daughter to come to the station for questioning. That’s another look she doesn’t want to see again.

And looking into the eyes of a killer, yet doubting you’ve got it right. That’s the worst look of all – the one you see in the mirror. Get it right, you’re a hero and the city is a safer place. Get it wrong and you destroy a life. And a killer remains free. Twenty years down the track, Lara Ocean will know the truth.

++++++

Rivalries and resentments between mums and non-mums spiral wildly out of control in the compelling new book by the bestselling author of The Fifth Letter

Poppy’s world has tipped sideways. The husband who never wanted children has changed his mind. The trusted childhood best friend has betrayed her. And the new friend from work, Annalise, insists she need to let loose.

At least Annalise is on Poppy’s side – she has no interest in having kids either. After they create a private Facebook group dedicated to women like themselves who don’t have or want kids, the memberships soar, and Poppy feels like she’s in control again. Then things take a nasty turn. They have a mole – someone in their group isn’t who she says she is.

But Poppy and Annalise aren’t the only ones who are fed up. Their colleague, Frankie, is tired of being judged at every turn: by colleagues when she leaves early to pick up her kids, by stay-at-home mums when she can’t volunteer at school, and by her own children for missing events. Her frustrations are complicated by a secret she’s keeping, and she doesn’t know how much longer she can pretend everything is fine.

As the online hostility between parents and non-parents spills out into the real world, things begin to slide disastrously, dangerously out of control, exposing carefully concealed secrets and lies that will have a devastating effect on these three women’s lives.

++++++

Christine Nilsson and her husband, Marcus, are desperate for a baby. Unable to conceive, they find themselves facing a difficult choice they had never anticipated. After many appointments with specialists, endless research, and countless conversations, they make the decision to use a donor.

Two months pass and Christine is happily pregnant. but one day, she is shocked to see a young blond man on the TV news being arrested for a series of brutal murders-and the blond man bears an undeniable and uncanny resemblance to her donor.

Delving deeper to uncover the truth, Christine must confront a terrifying reality and face her worst fears. Riveting and fast-paced, with the depth of emotionality that has garnered Lisa Scottoline legions of fans, Most Wanted poses an ethical and moral dilemma: What would you do if the biological father of your unborn child was a killer?

++++++

For more than a decade, the “Complete Review “has been an essential site for readers interested in learning about new books in translation and developments in global literature. Expanding upon the site’s content, this wide-ranging yet user-friendly resource is the perfect guide for English-language readers eager to explore fiction from around the world. Profiling hundreds of titles and authors from 1945 to today, with an emphasis on fiction published in the past two decades, this reference provides a fascinating portal into the styles, trends, and genres of the world’s literatures, from Scandinavian crime thrillers and cutting-edge works in China to Latin American narco-fiction and award-winning French novels.

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Thanks for stopping by!

I’m also linking to The Sunday Post @ Caffeinated Reviewer


And the Sunday Salon @ ReaderBuzz

Review: After The Party by Cassie Hamer

 

 

Title: After the Party

Author: Cassie Hamer

Published: March 2019, HarperCollins Au

Status: Read April 2019

++++++

 

My Thoughts:

Dear Lisa,

I’m sorry. Please know this, above all else. I am truly sorry to put this responsibility on you but I have been left with little choice.”

After an exhausting morning hosting 32 kindergarten children for her daughter’s fifth birthday, Lisa Wheeldon is stunned to learn that one tiny guest won’t be collected any time soon. In amongst the gifts, is a heartfelt plea for Lisa to look after six year old Ellie for a few weeks while her mother, a complete stranger, deals with some unspecified crisis. Lisa knows she should notify the relevant authorities, but having experienced the perils of the foster system first hand, decides she will care for Ellie, at least temporarily, while making every effort to track down the absent mother.

Child abandonment seems an unlikely theme in which to find humour, but Hamer somehow does as Lisa enlists the help of her sister, Jamie, and an odd selection of school mum’s she barely knows, in an effort to find Ellie’s missing mother. Lisa’s attempts are well intentioned, but she doesn’t have the cunning, or know how, to deal with the situation she finds herself in, so she does what she can do well, which is care for Ellie.

As a mother, I could relate to several of Lisa’s experiences in the book – the chaos of children’s birthday parties, and the gossipy and competitive nature of primary school mum’s particularly, though Lisa’s naivety is a bit of a stretch.

I think the story could included less of Jamie’s relationship troubles, they were a distraction. I think the plot would have been better served by focusing more on ‘Missy’, Ellie’s mum’s, past and present.

I think Hamer just tried to include too much, not an unusual error in a debut novel, so the focus was split and in the end, the novel was a bit messy. However, I did enjoy the humour, and overall found After the Party to be a quick, easy read.

++++++

 

Available to Purchase from

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Weekend Cooking: Slow Cooker Central 2 by Paulene Christie (and me!)

 

So while I was on hiatus, one of the more exciting things that happened for me was the publication of a couple of recipes I submitted in the book Slow Cooker Central 2 by Paulene Christie.

I joined the Slow Cooker Central community in the search of ways to make more use of my slowcooker. With a large family, whom have large appetites and a busy schedule, I am always on the lookout for easy, economical and satisfying meal ideas.

Slow Cooker Central 2 (HarperCollins AU I HarperCollins US) contains 270 recipes organised into 14 chapters that will help you make meals to match your appetite or what’s in the fridge. They are family friendly recipes from people who cook for their families everyday. You’ll find great ideas for casseroles, curries, soups and roasts; plus plenty of recipes you might not expect, such as those for desserts, cakes, fudge and even face paint and play dough.

The recipes I contributed to Slow Cooker Central 2 are two of my family favourites, Creamy Chicken Fajitas and Luau Chicken.

The website at Slow Cooker Central contains an archive of recipes, hints, tips and more, and the Slow Cooker Central Facebook group is busy and active group. There is even an App It’s membership is primarily Australian so metric measurements are most common, but all nationalities are welcome. Other publications available are Slow Cooker Central 1, Slow Cooker Central Family Favourites, Slow Cooker Central Kids and Slow Cooker Central Super Savers.

One of my favourite slow cooker recipes that I didn’t submit is a tasty fakeaway meal. I’ve recently had to replace my trusty 20 year old 7L Breville Banquet Maker (pictured) with a newer model after it finally gave up the ghost, so this recipe is made in a 7L Breville Flavour Maker.

Homemade Turkish Doner Kebab (Gyro)

1.5 kg lean or extra lean beef mince
500g lamb mince
2 1/2 tbsp Greek Seasoning (I used Masterfoods brand)
1 Tbsp Harissa Seasoning
1 tsp garlic powder
1 tbsp all purpose seasoning
1 tsp salt
Optional: 1/4 -1/2 tsp cayenne pepper (omit if you dislike heat)

Measure Greek seasoning, Harissa Seasoning, garlic powder, all purpose seasoning, salt and cayenne pepper into a small container and mix well.
Place beef and lamb mince in a large bowl and mix by hand until well combined.
Add spices to mince and mix well again.
If available add mince mix to food processor and pulse til a thick paste
Line a rectangular container (approx lunch box size) with foil and add mince, pressing firmly with knuckles to expel air and fill. Cover and refrigerate for minimum 2 hours or up to overnight.
Remove container from refrigerator, ensure meat is tightly wrapped in foil, re-wrap if necessary.
Make 6 balls of foil (or use a rack) and place in slow cooker to create a stand for the foil wrapped meat. Add 1 – 1 1/2 cups water to slow cooker, make sure water level is below the level of the stand.
Add foil wrapped meat and turn slow cooker to HIGH
Cook on HIGH for 1.5 hours. This ensures meat will keep its tight shape.
Remove foil wrapped meat from slow cooker, take out balls/rack and pour out water.
Turn slow cooker to LOW, unwrap meat and place directly into the slow cooker bowl.
Cook on LOW for a further 2-3 hours (a meat thermometer should register at least 70c (150F) when inserted into the middle of the loaf)
When cooked, remove meat, wrap in foil and allow to stand for 10-15 minutes.
Slice thinly with a large very sharp knife (an electric or shaving knife would make this easier).
Serve wrapped in warmed pita or tortilla wraps with your preferred dressings
I like lots of shredded lettuce, thinly sliced onion rings, BBQ sauce and a squirt of aioli (garlic sauce). You can also add sliced tomato, shredded cheese, tabbouleh, humus etc
Leftovers still taste great heated in the microwave.

But it happens to be my birthday today..so I’m not cooking tonight YAY!

Review: The Colour of Bee Larkham’s Murder by Sarah J. Harris

 

Title: The Colour of Bee Larkham’s Murder

Author: Sarah J. Harris

Published: April 2018 HarperCollins Au

Status: Read April 2019, courtesy HarperCollins AU

++++++

 

My Thoughts:

I’ve long been fascinated by synesthesia, a condition where the brains perceptions of sensory input are blended. Synesthetes may taste sounds, smell colors or see scents.

In The Colour of Bee Larkham’s Murder, thirteen year old Jasper Wishart hears sounds as colours.

“Lawn mower: shiny silver; Car revving: orange; Aeroplane: light, almost see-through green; Radio: pink….; Dogs barking: yellow or red; Cats meowing: soft violet blue; Dad laughing: a muddy, yellowish brown; Kettle boiling: silver and yellow bubbles”

Unusually, Jasper also suffers from prosopagnosia, known as face blindness, and is probably also somewhere on the autism spectrum, given his literal manner and self soothing behaviours. His father doesn’t understand, and is perpetually frustrated by his son’s ‘weird’ ways.

When Bee Larkham moves into the Wishart’s Street, Jasper is enchanted by the colour of her voice-sky blue, the explosions of colour from the music she plays loudly in her living room, and most particularly, the flock of parakeets that takes up residence in her garden. However not everyone is happy with the disruption Bee causes in the neighbourhood.

“Bee Larkham’s murder was ice blue crystals with glittery edges and jagged silver icicles.”

The Colour of Bee Larkham’s Murder is essentially a murder mystery, the story of which unfolds through Jasper’s unique perspective. It is not a straightforward narrative, skewed by Jasper’s limited, and sometimes unreliable view, partially reconstructed by his ornithological log, and the paintings he creates to help him order events. I did feel the pace dragged sometimes but I was engrossed by Jasper’s distinctive voice.

A colourful and Interesting novel, Harris paints a vivid picture of an exceptional boy caught up in extraordinary circumstances.

++++++

Available to Purchase from

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Review: Bridge Burning and Other Hobbies by Kitty Flanaganh

 

Title: Bridge Burning and Other Hobbies

Author: Kitty Flanagan

Published: March 2018, Allen & Unwin

Status: Read April 2019

++++++

 

My Thoughts:

“Had I told my mother I was writing an autobiography, she’d quite rightly have asked, ‘Why?’ Instead, this is a book of true stories and ill-informed opinions. And I believe it was Paul Simon who once said, ‘Your opinion is not important, it is merely of interest.’ So, while this book is not important, I do hope you will find it of interest. Most of all, I hope you will find it funny because that really is my favourite thing.”

I did find it mildly interesting, Kitty, but mostly I found it funny. I smiled a lot, laughed out loud a few times, and spat out my drink at least once.

Kitty and I are of the same generation, so we share similar childhood experiences and attitudes. I enjoy her self deprecating humour, and her witty observations.

The only thing I thought the book lacked was a handful of photos from Kitty’s childhood.

++++++

 

Available to Purchase from

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Also coming soon by Kitty Flanagan

Review: The Book of Dreams by Nina George

Title: The Book of Dreams

Author: Nina George

Published: April 2019, Simon & Schuster

Status: Read April 2019, courtesy Simon & Schuster

++++++

 

My Thoughts:

Henri Malo Skinner is on his way to meet his son for the first time when he dives from a bridge to save a life, and nearly loses his own. Now he lies in a coma, caught in the Between, as his son, Sam, and the estranged love of his life, Eddie, will him to return to them.

Told from the perspectives of Henri, Samuel, and Eddie, The Book of Dreams is a study of lost chances, grief, love and letting go. It’s a heartfelt novel, in the Postscript the author explains it’s connection to the death of her father.

Samuel Noam Valentiner , a precocious 13 year old, waits for the father he desperately wants to know, to wake. Wandering the corridors, he stumbles across twelve year old Madelyn, a similarly vegetative patient, whose entire family was killed in the accident that injured her. Sam soon becomes a regular visitor, forming an inexplicable bond with the unresponsive girl. It is a poignant and moving connection, enhanced by Sam’s synesthesia, that is beautifully rendered by George.

“I can hear her breath and then, with my soul snuggling against her heart, I hear her breath become a note. The note becomes a tune, a breeze, but it’s not like Madelyn’s piano music. This wind has been scouring the earth for a long time and is now slowly rising, growing brighter, as it continues its quest over the cool, silvery, frost-rimmed, icy coating of a long, broad, frozen river. It is changing into a warming ray of sunlight, which captures the sparkling silence and then alights on a motionless ice sculpture, inside which a heart is beating. My heart.”

Eddie last saw Henri two years ago, when he cruelly broke her heart by disregarding her declaration of love and devotion. Nevertheless she is devastated by his current circumstances, and having been named as his Power of Attorney, she finds she can’t shirk the responsibility for his care. She is stunned to learn of Sam’s existence, but takes it her stride, I loved the relationship she developed with him, but mostly I admired her strength and heart.

“I sit on the floor and don my courage like a mask. I dissect my competing, struggling, mutually obstructive instincts until only three essential ones remain. I focus entirely on keeping them in my mind and preventing any other emotions from approaching them…..I breathe in and out and think: Affection. I take a deeper breathe and pray: Courage. I breathe in and beg: Be like Sam.”

As Henri lies in his coma, fighting hard to return to the world of the living, he experiences alternate versions of his past and future.

“I have searched and searched for the right life – and never found it. None of the lives was perfect, no matter what I did, or didn’t do.”

While the poetic prose and evocative imagery is often beautiful, it can also become somewhat tiring. I struggled too, with the pace of the novel, it drags in parts, particularly through the middle. However I liked The Book of Dreams for it’s powerful characterisations, and the thoughtful exploration of life, death, and what may lie Between.

And while it’s something I rarely comment on, I think the (Australian) cover of The Book of Dreams is gorgeous.

 

++++++

 

Available to Purchase from

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Review: The Lost Girls by Jennifer Spence

Title: The Lost Girls

Author: Jennifer Spence

Published: Simon & Schuster January 2019

Status: Read April 2019, courtesy Simon & Schuster Au

++++++

 

My Thoughts:

 

I had made some assumptions about this novel, based mostly on the cover and title. I was expecting a fairly standard novel of mystery involving a missing girl or two, but what I discovered was a compelling and unique story using one of my least favourite tropes – time travel.

It is 2017 and sixty three year old Stella Lannigan is making her way home from a night out when she realises that her surroundings seem somehow changed. Baffled, she wonders if she absentmindedly took a wrong turn, but the landmarks are familiar, just not quite… right. Stella slowly realises that she has inexplicably stepped into the past, it is 1997, and as she stands outside her former home, she watches her forty three year old self step out of the front door.

What would you do if you had the chance to change a moment from your past, to rewrite your history, and avoid inevitable tragedy? Stella knows she will do whatever she must to subvert her daughter’s fate.

The concept of time travel is, as I have said, one of my least favourite devices in film and literature. It’s either presented in a too simplistic, or convoluted, manner. In The Lost Girls, Spence uses it in a way that made sense to me. As Stella insinuates herself into her family, posing as her own long last aunt, she subtly attempts to manipulate the future, but destiny, it seems, is not as malleable as it may appear.

There is also a traditional mystery, with a missing girl at it’s heart, which is central to the story.

I’m loathe to say much more, lest I inadvertently spoil your own future reading of this novel . Suffice it to say, The Lost Girls is a poignant, intriguing ,and captivating read I wouldn’t hesitate to recommend.

 

+++++

Available to Purchase from

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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

++++++

 

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.

++++++

Read an Excerpt

Available to Purchase

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#lovebetweenthepages

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