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

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Review: Fool Me Once by Karly Lane

Title: Fool Me Once

Author: Karly Lane

Published: April 28th 2020, Allen & Unwin

Status: Read May 2020 courtesy Allen & Unwin

++++++

My Thoughts:

When cattle farm manager Georgie Henderson meets businessman Michael Delacourt at a B&S ball, she throws caution to the wind and accepts his invitation to spend the night. Barely a month later they are married during a holiday in Hawaii, but Georgie’s trust in her new husband is shattered just days later when she learns of his connection to the loss of her family’s farm, and her father’s subsequent suicide.

A story about loss, love, trust, and forgiveness, the tumultuous relationship between Georgie and Michael takes centre stage in Fool Me Once. Love-at-first-sight sours when Georgie believes Michael has lied to her, and refuses to let him to explain. Michael isn’t willing to give up on their marriage though, and waits patiently for his chance to convince her that what they feel for each other is true. I liked the whirlwind romance between the couple, and though a dramatic separation is predictable, their eventual reunion is satisfying.

Set in the New England region of NSW, I’m always impressed by the way Lane integrates the realities of farming life into her stories. In Fool Me Once she raises the issues of ‘corporate farming’ -where large company’s buy family farms, sometimes using underhand tactics in order to pressure a reluctant farmer to sell; and the increasing need for farmer’s to embrace technology and diversify in order to increase their operational incomes.

With it’s appealing characters, easy pace and happy ending, I found Fool Me Once to be another engaging and satisfying rural romance novel from bestselling author, Karly Lane.

++++++

Available from Allen & Unwin RRP AUD$29.99

Or from your preferred retailer via Booko I Book Depository

 

Also by Karly Lane reviewed at Book’d Out 

 

Review: Prey by L.A. Larkin

Title: Prey {Olivia Wolfe #2}

Author: L.A. Larkin

Published: April 22nd 2020, Clan Destine Press

Read: April 2020

+++++++

My Thoughts:

 

Investigative journalist Olivia Wolfe is back in L.A. Larkin’s latest exciting action thriller, Prey.

When the source that alerted her to a corrupt British Cabinet Minister dies in suspicious circumstances, Olivia ignores the warning from Global Threat Taskforce agent Casburn to drop the story, and instead chases it all the way to South Africa. With the help of friend and local police officer, Thusago, Olivia links the Minister’s tax haven account to a school principal in Soweto, and from there hunts down the powerful cabal who are playing a very dangerous and deadly game.

Short chapters and breathtaking moments of tension ensures Prey is a fast-paced read. Olivia’s investigation takes her across Africa as she tracks the clues that will lead to the mysterious head of the syndicate behind murder, money laundering and illegal poaching. And as Olivia attempts to avoid corrupt locals, and Casburn, with whom she has a complicated relationship stemming from the events in Devour, she’s unaware she has drawn the attention of a sadistic assassin sent to silence her.

The assassin is a horrifying character who takes delight in his macabre work, and streams it live over the Dark Web. Sensitive readers may want to skim a few descriptive paragraphs here and there, but his final confrontation with Olivia is a nerve-wracking encounter not to be missed.

While Olivia is not always sure who to trust, she does have allies in London, her mentor Butcher and his associate Ponnappa, helping her with investigation, and in South Africa, Vitaly Yushkov, Olivia’s former lover, steps in twice to save her life. I love that Olivia refuses to give up no matter the obstacles, she’s a kickass character who follows her conscience and the truth no matter the consequences.

While Prey is a sequel to Devour, which introduces Olivia in a similarly high intensity thriller, it’s not necessary to have read it to enjoy this (though I recommend you do).

An action packed story with a plot of intrigue and a dynamic lead character, Prey is a gripping and exciting read.

++++++

Available from Clan Destine Press

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Review: Something To Talk About by Rachael Johns

Title: Something To Talk About {Rose Hill #2}

Author: Rachael Johns

Published: April 20th 2020, MIRA Australia

Status: Read April 2020 courtesy Harlequin Au/Netgalley

+++++++

My Thoughts:

Something To Talk About is Rachael John’s second rural romance in the Rose Hill series, which began with Talk of the Town featuring the relationship between widowed dairy farmer Lawson Cooper-Jones and new storekeeper Meg, but reads well as a stand-alone.

In Something To Talk About, Tabitha Cooper-Jones, Lawson’s younger sister, has created a life she is proud of. She’s refused to let the loss of her arm to cancer hold her back, developing a thriving gourmet ice cream business, operating a successful cafe, and volunteering as a St John’s emergency assistant, but what she wants most is a family of her own, and despairing of ever finding a partner in the small town of Walsh, she’s chosen to become pregnant via donor insemination.

Fergus McWilliams is looking to escape the fallout from a broken engagement when he accepts a short term teaching position at Walsh Primary School, but he’s unprepared for the attention a single man in a small town attracts. Not looking for another relationship so soon, a ‘friends with benefits’ arrangement with Tabitha, despite her unusual circumstances, is a convenience for them both, but their plan to keep it casual goes awry when their hearts become involved.

I loved the chemistry between Tabitha and Fergus. Sparks fly at their very first meeting and as the story develops their growing affection for one another feels organic. Johns’s characters, both main and supporting, always feel genuine and elements of their situations relatable. The obstacles between Tab and Fergus are not insignificant, but I thought they were resolved convincingly.

The residents of Walsh add texture to the story from the members of Stitch & Bitch, to the children of Fergus’s class. The Western Australian setting is always a thrill for me, having been born there. I’ve holidayed in Bunbury and I’m familiar with the tiny farming towns in the southwest where community really matters.

Readers should be aware that several of the characters in Something To Talk About are affected by cancer, but the story really centers around the themes of independence, resilience, forgiveness, and trust.

Without fail, I finish each book by Rachael Johns with a sigh of satisfaction and contentment for a story well told, and it’s no different here. This is a book I am happy to talk about.

++++++

Available from Harlequin Australia

Or from your preferred retailer via Booko I Book Depository


Also by Rachael Johns reviews at Book’d Out

 

 

Review: Thrill Me by Lynette Washington (Ed.)

 


Title: Thrill Me: Suspenseful Stories

Author: Lynette Washington (Editor)

Published: April 4th 2020, Glimmer Press

Status: Read April 2020 courtesy Glimmer Press

++++++

My Thoughts:

Thrill Me is a provocative short story collection contributed to by thirty-one Australian storytellers, edited by Lynette Washington, the owner of Glimmer Press.

The thirty-five original stories within this anthology aim to surprise, provoke, shock, or scare the reader in imaginative ways. They push the boundaries of the traditional thriller, eschewing cliche’s while still eliciting the heightened emotion that characterises the genre.

I found a handful of stories to be particularly affecting, including Mrs Meiners Has Gone to Get Chalk by Stephen Orr, featuring a classroom of bewildered children, and Top Deck by Doug Bray, whose ending makes a splash (or not as the case may be). Not unexpectedly, there were a few tales that didn’t resonate with me for one reason or another but are sure to capture another’s imagination

Offering a variety of thrills and chills to suit a wide audience, Thrill Me is entertaining reading.

The Authors: Katherine Tamiko Arguile | Joanna Beresford | Carmel Bird | Doug Bray | Ben Brooker | Lauren Butterworth | Elaine Cain | Brid Cummings | Kate Shelley Gilbert | Ashleigh Hardcastle | Alys Jackson | Michelle Jäger | Riana Kinlough | Melanie Kinsman | Gay Lynch | Amy T Matthews | Rachael Mead | Susan Midalia | Ruairi Murphy | Stephen Orr | Cameron Raynes | Caroline Reid | Fiona Robertson | Andrew Roff | Polly Rose | Justine Sless | Angela Sungaila | Reg Taylor | Alex Vickery-Howe | Sean Williams | Jonny Zweck

++++++

Available from Glimmer Press or Wakefield Press

Or from your preferred retailer via Booko I Book Depository

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Review: The Beautiful Mother by Katherine Scholes

Title: The Beautiful Mother

Author: Katherine Scholes

Published: March 31st 2020, Viking

Read: April 2020 courtesy PenguinRandomHouse Au

++++++

My Thoughts:

Set in Tanzania during the 1970’s The Beautiful Mother by Katherine Scholes centre’s around archaeologist Essie, who has lived at the Magadi Research Camp since her marriage to fellow archaeologist Ian Lawrence, five years earlier. The Camp, first founded by Ian’s father, and still home to his mother, Julia, has been the source of a number of valuable finds, but with no recent significant discoveries, funds are beginning to dry up. The situation is already tense as the Lawrence’s attempt to secure a new patron to continue their search for Homo Erectus, so when Essie inexplicably returns from a scouting trip with an orphaned Hadza infant whom she is to take care of for four months, the future of the Camp is threatened.

Scholes explores a number of themes in The Beautiful Mother. One of the most significant examines universal questions about motherhood as Essie cares for the baby girl she names Mara. It’s a joy to be part of her journey as she opens her heart to Mara, and gains new perspective about who she is and what she wants.

Essie’s relationship with Mara also allows the author to delve into the dynamics of marriage and family as the infant’s presence drives a wedge between Essie, Ian, and Julia. The baby stirs up repressed feelings about the loss of Julia’s youngest son who disappeared as a toddler at Magadi, and Ian resents the changes Mara effects in his previously pliant wife.

Also of importance in the novel is the author’s exploration of home and belonging. This is particularly shown through the character of Essie’s assistant, Simon, who is torn between his perception of himself as a ‘modern’ Tanzanian, and his birthright as as a member of the Hadza.

Scholes descriptions of the Tanzanian landscape are breathtakingly vivid from the red rocky desert plains of Magadi to the majesty of Ol Doinyo Lengai, an ever grumbling volcano, and the lake, a nesting ground for a flock of flamingos. I found it easy to visualise the layout of the Camp, it’s work tables cluttered with tools and specimens, and the careful grids of the nearby the dig sites. The people too are easy to imagine from Mara’s bright eyes, to the African Camp workers, and the women of the nearby Maasai village.

A well told, evocative novel The Beautiful Mother is sure to engage both interest and emotion.

++++++

Available from PenguinRandomHouse Australia

Or from your preferred retailer via Booko I Book Depository

Review: Gulliver’s Wife by Lauren Chater

Title: Gulliver’s Wife

Author: Lauren Chater

Published: April 1st 2020, Simon & Schuster Australia

Status: Read April 2020 courtesy Simon & Schuster Au

++++++

My Thoughts:

Gulliver’s Wife is an inventive tale that imagines the life of Mary Gulliver, the wife of Lemuel Gulliver whose fictional adventures are authored by Jonathan Swift in Gulliver’s Travels.

Lauren Chater opens her story in London during the year of 1702. With her husband lost at sea and declared deceased, Mary Gulliver has fought hard to keep body and soul together. Left with crippling debts run up by her feckless husband and two young children to raise, it has taken her three years of hard work as a midwife in Wapping to rescue her family from penury, but all that is cruelly jeopardised when her husband unexpectedly returns. Clearly ill, restless and raving about little people, Mary can only hope that when her husband recovers his health, he will be a better man than the one who left. But it soon becomes clear that Lemuel has bought nothing but trouble home with him.

“Only yesterday she was a widow of independent means. Now she is some monstrous hybrid, a creature who has tasted freedom and knows too well how things might be otherwise.”

Life three centuries ago was challenging for women, and in Gulliver’s Wife, Chater explores the myriad of ways in women‘s agency was curtailed by men. As a wife Mary is beholden to her husband and his selfish and abusive treatment, but as a widow Mary had discovered a modicum of independence. Luckier than most, her work as a midwife provides her with respectability and income, but Mary is still at the mercy of men – to permit her to ply her trade, to educate her son, even to see her home safely at night. With her husband’s return, Mary is powerless as his behaviour threatens to destroy her reputation, their tenuous financial stability, and even their daughter’s future.

Mary attempts to hide the worst of her husband’s behaviour from their daughter Bess, a headstrong, naive girl who was crushed by her adored father’s reported death, and is thrilled by his return. Bess compares her mother’s ordered life unfavourably to her father’s adventures, failing to understand the realities of a woman’s lot in the early 18th century. Chater’s exploration of the fraught relationship between mother and daughter, as Bess rebels and Mary tries to protect her without wholly disillusioning her, is relatable even now.

The risks Bess take are even more frightening for Mary as a violent, serial rapist is stalking the lanes of Wapping, illustrating yet another way in which men assert control over women, as it is the women who are forced to change their behaviour to accomodate the rapist, and his victims who are ruined in men’s eyes.

All this oppression tends to make Gulliver’s Wife a rather bleak read, though it does end with a note of hope.

Rich in historical detail, offering vivid description, and complex characterisation, Gulliver’s Wife is an engrossing, literary read.

++++++

Available from Simon & Schuster

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Review: Return to Stringybark Creek by Karly Lane

Title: Return to Stringybark Creek {The Callahans of Stringybark Creek #3}

Author: Karly Lane

Published: April 1st 2020, Allen & Unwin

Status: Read April 2020, courtesy Allen & Unwin

+++++++

My Thoughts:

The third book in The Callahans of Stringybark Creek trilogy by Karly Lane, is aptly named Return to Stringybark Creek and features the youngest Callahan sibling, foreign correspondent, Hadley Callahan.

When Hadley’s short marriage to on-air celebrity anchor Mitch Samuals implodes, she retreats to the family farm in Stringybark Creek to avoid the scrutiny of the media. She is glad to be home, even if she’s nervous about telling her parents the real reason for her impending divorce, but the last thing she expects is to fall in love with the boy next door.

Return to Stringybark Creek is, at its heart, a rural romance novel so it’s the relationship between Hadley and neighbour, Ollie Dawson, that takes centre stage. Ollie has been in love with Hadley since they were teenagers, while Hadley, whose focus has always been on her career, has never considered Ollie in a romantic light. I enjoyed their developing romance, with the friends to lovers trope being my favourite.

As always, the author’s personal experience of rural life lends an authenticity to her characters and setting. She touches on circumstances that challenge farmers such as injury, farm management, and the increasing need for diversification.

Arguably however, the most significant facet of the novel is the attention Lane brings to the issues of rural mental health, particularly among farmers. When a contemporary of Ollie’s suicides, he grows determined to raise awareness of the issue and create change within a culture that has difficulty admitting to struggles with mental health. The entire fictional community becomes involved in the effort, with Lane drawing inspiration from the real-life Naked Farmer campaign.

It’s not necessary to have read The Wrong Callahan (featuring Lincoln Callahan and Cash Sullivan) , or Mr. Right Now (featuring Griffin Callahan and Olivia Dawson) to enjoy this novel as the story stands well on its own. Told with humour and heart, Return to Stringybark Creek is an engaging read.

++++++

Available from Allen & Unwin

Or from your preferred retailer via Booko I Book Depository

Also by Karly Lane reviewed at Book’d Out

Review: The Lost Jewels by Kirsty Manning

Title: The Lost Jewels

Author: Kirsty Manning

Published : March 31st 2020, Allen & Unwin

Status: Read April 2020 courtesy Allen & Unwin

+++++++

My Thoughts:

In The Lost Jewels, author Kirsty Manning weaves a fictional narrative around the mystery of the ‘Cheapside Hoard’, a large cache of expensive jewellery unearthed during construction in a London street in 1912.

The ‘present day’ timeline introduces Kate Kirby, an American historian who specialises in investigating the provenance of jewellery. Offered a rare opportunity to view the jewels discovered in Cheapside, the story follows Kate from the United States to England, India, France and then back as she attempts to trace the origins of a handful of pieces of the collection, during which she discovers a link between one of the pieces and her own family history.

Entwined with Kate’s journey, are two historical timelines, one of which reveals the story of Kate’s great grandmother, Essie Murphy, and her connection to the found jewellery set during the early 1900’s, and another set at two different points in the 1600’s which reveals the origin of one particular piece of a jewellery, a diamond champlevé enamel ring.

I found I appreciated the story of The Lost Jewels more after I googled the ‘Cheapside Hoard’ and was better able to understand what a remarkable find the jewels were. Manning’s speculations about the origin of the Hoard through her fiction read as credible and interesting, though to this date the truth remains a mystery, and likely always will.

Essie’s story as a young woman struggling to survive and raise her siblings was of the most interesting to me. I thought the author’s portrayal of daily life in urban London for its poorest citizens was accurate, and I had empathy for the Murphy family, particularly Essie, and her sister Gertie, who experienced such hardship and tragedy so young.

I liked Kate well enough. I thought Manning communicated her passion for her work well, I don’t particularly care for jewellery but this novel did prompt me to think about the story’s custom pieces could reveal. There is a touch of romance that is developed between Kate and Australian photographer, Marcus, but it was kept fairly low key.

Well written and researched, I found the The Lost Jewels to be a pleasantly engaging read, of family, secrets, love, loss, and new beginnings.

++++++

Available from Allen & Unwin. RRP AUD $32.99

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

 

Review: Red Dirt Country by Fleur McDonald

 


Title: Red Dirt Country

Author: Fleur McDonald

Published: March 31st 2020, Allen & Unwin

Status: Read March 2020 courtesy Allen & Unwin

++++++

My Thoughts:

 

Red Dirt Country is Fleur McDonald’s third book to feature Detective Dave Burrows, and the sixth in which he appears, but can be enjoyed as a stand-alone novel.

Several months after his undercover assignment chasing cattle thieves in North Queensland led to him being shot, Dave is relieved that he has finally been given the go ahead to return to work, gaining his dream job with the Perth Livestock Squad. His very pregnant wife, Mel, is not. Torn between his love for his family, and his passion for his job, Dave may be forced to make some difficult choices.

Dave’s first case in Western Australia partners him with his new chief, Bob Holden. Livestock is being stolen from an Aboriginal owned station, and the thefts are stirring up long held rivalries, spilling out across the community. While the identity of the culprits are easy to guess, I enjoyed the way in which the investigation unfolded. Bob and Dave work well as partners, with the senior proving to be a capable and canny, if not wholly traditional, mentor.

The case allows McDonald to explore the historical and current issues related to Aboriginal managed stations. I felt for Kevin, torn between his Elder’s warnings, and his own judgement. It’s disheartening that prejudice and resentment persist along racial lines, and the author captures that well.

McDonald also alludes to the continuing drought which places pressure on farmers, along with other common stressors like inheritance, and stock sale prices. Her knowledge and experience of farming ensures the authenticity of the setting, and her characters.

Ramping up the tension in the novel is Dave’s impending appearance at the trial of the crooked cop unmasked during the undercover North Queensland investigation. Bulldust, the mastermind behind the theft ring who has yet to be apprehended, is determined to avenge his destruction, and the threat he poses to Dave, and his family, is edging closer.

If you have read McDonald’s contemporary novels in which Dave has a role but does not feature, you will know how the relationship between Dave and Melinda pans out. In Red Dirt Country, Mel, heavily pregnant and suffering bouts of high blood pressure, is worried about Dave’s safety, and resentful of his return to work. Dave loves his wife, and children, but knows he wouldn’t be happy doing anything else. I felt that McDonald portrayed the feelings of both Dave and Mel sympathetically, there is no easy solution to the issue that divides them.

With its engaging mystery and authentic rural setting, I enjoyed Red Dirt Country, and the (sort of) cliff hanger has me anticipating the next instalment.

++++++

 

Available from Allen & Unwin *RRP AUD $29.99 Read the first chapter

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Also by Fiona MCDonald reviewed at Book’d Out

 

 

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