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Review: Outback Secrets by Rachael Johns

on October 27, 2021

Outback Secrets (Bunyip Bay #5)
Rachael Johns
Harlequin MIRA AUS
2021, 382p
Copy courtesy of the publisher

Blurb {from the publisher/}: Keeping secrets comes naturally to him … but will it ruin his chance at love?

Liam Castle knows the secrets of everyone in Bunyip Bay. As the owner of the pub, he’s heard it all – from marriage proposals and farming disasters to family rifts and everything in between. The locals love to confide in him, but no one knows he’s hiding a tragic past.

And he wants to keep it that way.

Agricultural pilot Henrietta Forward lives for her job, choosing work over romance. But when an incident in the air brings Henri home to Bunyip Bay earlier than planned, she finds herself questioning everything she believes about herself.

But Henri’s secret isn’t her only problem.

Her mother will stop at nothing to have her settled down back in the Bay, and while Henri had always known domesticity wasn’t the life for her, now she wonders what her future holds. So when Liam – always the first to lend a hand to those in need – agrees to play along with Henri’s scheme to ward off her mother, she has mixed feelings. What happens when a pretend romance starts to feel like the real thing?

Will Henri’s demons and Liam’s traumatic past prove too great a barrier to love? 

Rachael Johns returns to the popular Bunyip Bay series with her latest release, this time focusing on the local publican and holder of the town’s secrets, Liam Castle. Liam has been in Bunyip Bay for around a decade, but is originally from the United States and settled in the area after doing some travelling. He’s poured a lot of time and money into doing up the pub and making it a comfortable and enjoyable space that attracts a large part of the town. The food is good, sometimes there is entertainment and it provides a space for those who might not otherwise have much social interaction.

Henri Forward is born and bred Bunyip Bay but these days she spends a large portion of the year travelling the country and the world flying small planes – crop dusting, mustering, bushfire fighting, Henri has done it all. Back in Bunyip Bay after a bit of an incident, Henri finds her smart mouth getting the better of her when she retorts to the local town busybody that she and Liam are in a relationship. Henri’s mother has been trying to marry her off to a local boy for years and this might get her off Henri’s back long enough for her to enjoy her holiday without being ambushed with dates and info about “boys she used to go to school with who are now single”. And for some reason, Liam agrees to “fake date” her for the duration of her time in Bunyip Bay but of course…..fake dating is complicated, especially when you start to feel some real feelings!

Oh this was loads of fun! Fake dating is one of my favourite romance tropes and I’ve read two in a row after finishing The Love Hypothesis and then picking up this book. I always enjoy seeing how authors set up a fake dating situation and I think this one worked really well. It suited Henri’s character that she would respond the way she did when warned away from Liam – act first, deal with repercussions later! What I also liked was that Henri owned it straight away – she went to Liam to tell him what she’d done and why and Liam, who doesn’t really seem to be bothered by much, is more bemused than angry. The two of them have really only just met but there’s already a bit of an attraction between them but for a while, they really are only just pretending, which gives them time to get to know each other and actually build a friendship first. They end up confiding a lot in each other, with Liam confessing the reason he left the US for Australia and Henri telling Liam just why she’s back in Bunyip Bay for a longer period of time than anyone expected.

Although it’s not really necessary to have read the previous books set in Bunyip Bay before reading this one, as each book is about a new couple. And if you have then you’ll enjoy the cameos here. I think we get a glimpse of pretty much every couple from the previous books and through their interactions with Henri and/or Liam, we get plenty of life updates and a good look at where each couple is now and that is something I always enjoy seeing but it also doesn’t take up more of the narrative than it should. This is Liam and Henri’s story and the other characters only appear at events in the town where it’s logical that everyone would be there.

Liam and Henri had really good chemistry – I really enjoyed the scenes where Henri teaches him to surf and also the day trip they take in the plane. I’ve never been to Western Australia so I’m not really familiar with the general area this book is set in but that plane trip sounded amazing. I also thought that Rachael Johns did a good job with the trauma Liam had experienced and its lasting impacts in regard to not being “fixed”. I also really, really liked the ending that the book gave us because so many times you read of characters being adamant about not wanting something only to end up with it at the end of the book and for them to realise it was “something they just really wanted all along”. That would 100% not have fit Henri’s character and lifestyle and the book gave her the ending she (they) deserved.

Really enjoyable.


Book #191 of 2021

This is book #83 of the Australian Women Writers Challenge for 2021

One response to “Review: Outback Secrets by Rachael Johns

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