All The Books I Can Read

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Review: Starting From Scratch by Penelope Janu

on January 6, 2021

Starting From Scratch
Penelope Janu
Harlequin AUS
2021, 349p
Copy courtesy of the publisher

Blurb {from the publisher/Goodreads.com}:

After a troubled childhood and the loss of her beloved grandmother, Sapphie Brown finally finds somewhere to call home – the close-knit rural community of Horseshoe Hill.

The locals love Sapphie because she never gives up – as chair of the environment committee, with the children in her classes, the troubled teens at the youth centre, the ex-racehorses she cares for and even the neglected farmhouse and gardens she wants make her own. Sapphie gives second chances to everything and everyone. Except Matts Laaksonen.

An impossibly attractive environmental engineer who travels the world, Matt’s was Sapphie’s closest childhood friend. He came to deliver a warning – now he doesn’t want to leave.

All Sapphie wants to do is forget their painful past, but thrown together they discover an attraction that challenges what they thought they knew about each other. Do they have a chance to recapture what they lost so long ago? Or will long-buried secrets tear them apart?

In the flowers she creates from paper and the beauty that grows on the land, Sapphie has found perfect imperfection. Could that be what love is like too?

There’s nothing better than starting the New Year with a wonderful book – I deliberately made this book my first read for 2021 because I felt like it would deliver that, based on previous experience and I was right.

Starting From Scratch is set in the same location as Penelope Janu’s previous book, Up On Horseshoe Hill with a few familiar faces appearing. Sapphie is a local primary school teacher who also chairs an environmental committee and works with troubled children, including using horses as equine therapy. In Horseshoe Hill, Sapphie has found a home that was lacking in her formative years after her parent’s trouble marriage, the postings overseas for her father’s work and the deaths of some of the people she loved most in the world. Sapphie found a new home with a foster family despite her father still being alive and from there, she began to build the existence she lives today. Which is threatened when her childhood best friend, Matts Laaksonen reappears in her life and gives her the kind of news that turns it upside down.

Sapphie is brave and determined – she’s experienced a lot of pain and loss in her life and even though she’s damaged, she’s not broken. She has a lot of things she throws herself into. She’s a huge part of the local community and she’s great with her kids, who worship her and she can often get through to the local teenagers, who know that she’ll forgive them their mistakes and help them make things right. She has several rescue horses and she’s passionate about them and the old schoolhouse which she is leasing with the option to buy, once she’s saved a little more. She has friends – including Jet from Up On Horseshoe Hill and purpose even though for Sapphie, there’s not really anyone to share this life with.

Enter Matts, who was her best fried when their fathers were posted together first in Argentina and then Canberra. Matts is three years older, which complicated their friendship as they grew older but when they were younger, they were often inseparable. Years ago, Sapphie cut Matts off for a betrayal and they haven’t spoken since, until he appears in her backyard. It brings about a lot of complex feelings for Sapphie, especially when Matts seems to want to spend more time in her local area. As there are in many (perhaps all?) of Penelope Janu’s other books, there’s a strong environmental concern, this time about wetlands in western NSW and the usage of them, how important they are as habitats, for a myriad of species, including endangered ones and how the changing climate and over draining of them mostly from large, corporate owned farms, is impacting severely. I really enjoyed a lot of the information about the wetlands as well as the trip they take. Stuff like this is always a concern to me, the way in which rivers are diverted (the Murray-Darling has loads going on) and wetlands are drained or also diverted to the way of big farms. I know you need water to grow things but if you alter or destroy these habitats, the ramifications are so huge.

This story went in some unexpected places, particularly concerning the background in the foreign country. I loved Sapphie’s relationship with her grandmother, including the making of the paper flowers. I also think a lot about colours and naming them (there’s a reason I have so many coloured markers and pens, I always need what I feel is the ‘right’ colour for something) and her devotion to her mother and her unwillingness to tarnish her reputation when she is no longer able to defend herself. There’s a good fleshing out of Matts and Sapphie’s backstory, as well as expressing a younger Sapphie’s innocence at the change in Matts towards her when he’s about 18. And in the present, Sapphie is still a little naive in some ways, prickly and defensive but vulnerable too and still ripe for being used as a tool by one person who should be trying to protect her, not manipulate her to his advantage and render her helpless in the new life she has slowly built for herself.

I loved this – revisiting Horseshoe Hill was a lot of fun and I enjoyed seeing familiar faces like Gus and of course, Jet and Finn. I also liked Hugo and felt like there might’ve been a hint of a suggestion that he might get his own book one day in the future. But Sapphie really shone in this as a character, shaped by her past but brave enough to be embracing her future and I enjoyed Matts’ patience and quiet determination. Like the others, this ticked all my romance boxes.

9/10

Book #1 of 2021

Starting From Scratch is book #1 of the Australian Women Writers Challenge for 2021


3 responses to “Review: Starting From Scratch by Penelope Janu

  1. Lily Malone says:

    I know I will love this too – great choice for first book of the year. Pen has become one of my go to Aussie authors. I really love her writing style.

  2. […] Claire Louisa Holderness’ most anticipated reads of the year, and it didn’t disappoint. Bree @1girl2manybooks had this to say as […]

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