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Review: Cherry Season by Trish Morey

Cherry SeasonCherry Season
Trish Morey
Pan Macmillan AUS
2015, 352p
Copy courtesy of the publisher via NetGalley

Blurb {from the publisher/Goodreads.com}:

Dan Faraday is too busy for love. With the long hours running the family orchard, he doesn’t have time to date. If he did, he would be looking for someone that fits into his ten year plan. Someone traditional, reliable and dependable – someone like him.

Someone the opposite of beautiful drifter Lucy Mariano. A free spirit who chases the moment rather than a paycheque, she’s only in town for the cherry picking season. While she’s tempted to see how cute Dan could be if only he smiled, she’s not going to stick around to wait and see.

But the cherry trees aren’t the only things blossoming, and Lucy and Dan are increasingly drawn to one another. In spite of their differences, each begins to wonder if maybe they have a future after all.

With the weight of Dan’s family’s legacy on his shoulders and Lucy afraid to lose the freedom and adventure of the open road, can Dan give Lucy a reason to put down roots before the seasons change?

Recently I picked up one of Trish Morey’s earlier novel, Stone Castles as a free read on iBooks when I was browsing. I’ve never read any of her books before but I knew I had this one in my TBR and so I thought I’d add Stone Castles just in case I loved this one. That turned out to be a good decision because I really enjoyed this book and now I can’t wait to read more Trish Morey!

Lucy is a drifter, always has been. Her mother never stayed long in one place and Lucy has followed in her footsteps, winging her away around the world on little more than a feeling. She leaves behind the room she’s been renting in Melbourne, intending to head to Sydney only things don’t turn out quite that way. Instead she finds herself on a truck to Adelaide belting out country songs. She is told she should head up into the hills rather than to the beach – it’s picking season and there’s bound to be some work.

Dan is everything Lucy is not. Where Lucy lives her life wild and free with never a plan, Dan lives his life by the schedule of the fruit seasons. Cherries, apples, pears, raspberries. It’s a full time job and the orchard has been in his family for generations. At 37, Dan’s three sisters and his grandparents would love to see him settled and happy, maybe well on the way to bringing about the next generation to take over. Dan doesn’t disagree that he needs a wife and he thinks he knows exactly what he needs. Someone smart, grounded, someone who will stick around because being an orchardist is a lifetime job. The last thing he needs is a drifter with a tattoo and a nose ring….even if she is beautiful.

Dan and Lucy are so fun. I really do love a good opposites attract story and this is definitely one of those. Lucy certainly doesn’t live life tied down, she’s originally American but she’s lived in many places and has never felt the urge to be tied down before. She’s picked fruit before but not cherries and the chemistry between her and Dan is obvious from the get-go. They’re very different but I think essentially they want the same thing. Lucy might enjoy her life traveling but it doesn’t take long for the orchard -and Dan- to get under her skin. The two of them bicker and Dan probably fires her about three times but Lucy seems made for the orchardist life. And Dan.

Dan was a bit frustrating at times – some of his views are decidedly 1950s, especially about tattoos and piercings and at one stage in the book he’s pretty savage to Lucy. It’s borne out of fear and loss but what he says is very cruel and Lucy isn’t much better. Dan was pretty close-minded, still equating tattoos and piercings with irresponsibility and rebelliousness even though a vast majority have either or both these days, from all walks of life. Both Dan and Lucy want the same thing from each other but both of them are too afraid to put themselves out there and ask for it – Dan because he assumes Lucy will always move on and Lucy because she feels that Dan doesn’t have a permanent place for her in his life because she doesn’t fit his ‘ideal’ wife. Dan is extremely uptight in the beginning of the book but Lucy manages to bring out the best in him, including a sense of humour.

There are a few orchards not too far from us and we’ve been fruit picking a couple times before as they’re open to the public at certain times. Their cherry season just started as I was reading this book and they were posting for people to come and pick some. There’s nothing better than being able to pick your own fruit – it always tastes so much better and having been to a few orchards, I was sort of able to picture what it might’ve been like. I really enjoyed the setting – it’s the first book I’ve read set around orchards. I’ve read plenty around vineyards but not fruit trees. And the best thing is, this book is the first in a four book ‘series’ of sorts where Dan’s three sisters will also get a story. Having met them all in this book, I can only imagine how fun they’re going to be in their own starring roles!

This is a perfect summer story and I can’t wait to get to Stone Castles now.

8/10

Book #179 of 2015

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Cherry Season is book #71 of the Australian Women Writers Challenge 2015

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Review/Random Thoughts On: The Red Queen by Isobelle Carmody

Red QueenThe Red Queen (The Obernewtyn Chronicles #7)
Isobelle Carmody
Penguin Books AUS
2015, 1108p
Purchased personal copy

Blurb {courtesy the publisher/Goodreads.com}:

After years spent struggling to balance her desires with her responsibilities, Elspeth Gordie has fully embraced her role as the Seeker. Battle-scarred and lovelorn, haunted by memories of her beloved Rushton, Elspeth is not prepared for what she finds at the end of the black road she travels: the Compound, a lost community with a startling secret. As Elspeth strives against her captors, she learns that Rushton and her friends have fallen into the hands of the deadly slavemasters that rule the Red Land. And worst of all, as Elspeth stumbles, the Destroyer creeps ever closer to his goal: awakening the cataclysmically destructive weaponmachines that Elspeth has been charged with stopping. Has all her sacrifice been in vain?

Full of romance, action, and suspense, The Red Queen is a worthy finale to such a breathtakingly elaborate series.

Please note: This review probably contains a ginormous amount of ***SPOILERS*** for the previous books in The Obernewtyn Chronicles and assumes a pretty deep familiarity with the overall plot. This is also not really a *review* so much as a brain dump upon finishing this series. 

So it is here, it is here, it is finally here. As I’ve mentioned several thousand times, one of my few reading friends recommended this book to me when I was 14 and in year 9 in high school, waaaay way back in 1996. This girl and I had met in primary school and when I moved away, we communicated by writing letters where we talked about books we were reading, high school dramas and whatever else we had going on. At that time, the first three books were published and I never dreamed I’d be waiting 19 years for the conclusion. I think at that stage, there were only meant to be four or five books! That turned into 7, several of which are massive 1000+ page behemoths.

It was released on a Thursday and I trekked to my local shopping centre to track a copy down. I didn’t have much hope – we have one local bookstore that to be honest, is a bit random with what it carries. Lots of “bargain” stuff, a good selection of older fiction but “new releases” can be up to a month or two old. I asked but they told me although it was on order, it hadn’t been sent from their supplier yet and would be at least a week. Did I want to order a copy? No thank you, I was determined to get it before that. There are 3 department stores in the shopping centre so I tried those too although with even less confidence. Then I took to twitter to see who could get back to me the quickest about definitely having it in stock. The winners were the fab people at Dymocks Geelong who put a copy away for me. We’re off to Geelong, I told my husband, who pulled a face at the prospect of this 90min round trip. Luckily he’s a reader too so although he wasn’t entirely thrilled, he got it.

When I had it, I was surprised by my reluctance to actually start it. When you have been waiting for something for so long, it builds up to incredible heights in your mind. I wanted so many things from this book, what if it didn’t give me all of them? Or actually, any of them? What had I been spending the last 20 years waiting for? I was also going away over the weekend and not planning on taking it so on Friday, I settled on the couch with the intention of getting through as much of it as possible.

This book encompasses misfit Elspeth Geordie’s final mission to destroy the weaponmachines and also return the Queen of the Red Land to her people. It’s a long and quite winding story during which we learn a lot about the Beforetime and even more about Cassy and Hannah Seraphim and Jacob Obernewtyn. For someone who loves post-apocalyptic stories as I do, the section on Habitat (which is, no denying, extremely length, it was far longer than I expected it to be) was extremely interesting. I thought it was a very thorough study on what might happen to an isolated society as it evolved over a long period of time. In some ways, it would’ve made an excellent book all on its own but in terms of being shoehorned into this one, it served a purpose in many ways and in others, provided a bit of distraction.

The whole series has been moving towards Elspeth’s final showdown with the Destroyer and much has been made of who the Destroyer is and how Elspeth was going to defeat them. I have to admit, I’ve had lots of theories about the Destroyer over the years but never once did I touch upon who it actually turned out to be. Perhaps because I dismissed that character from my mind almost 20 years ago but since reading The Red Queen I went back and re-read quite a bit of the book that introduces the character who turns out to the Destroyer and it’s actually quite well planned and clever in the way that it plays out through orchestrated manipulation. There’s no denying though that even though I thought that part was well planned I’m not overly sure it was as well executed as it could’ve been. It seemed almost rushed compared to the rest of the book where Elspeth took forever to escape Habitat and forever to get to the Red Land and forever to get to the showdown. I expected that to last much longer, to be a bigger portion of the book considering it was one of the end games, so it was a little surprising that it took the time that it did. It was full of interesting revelations and I wish I’d almost had more time to let them sink in, to stop and examine them instead of rushing.

I can’t talk about this series without talking about Elspeth and Rushton and how I’ve longed for them to finally be happy! The poor things, they’ve had quite the courtship – first poor Rushton had to deal with thinking Elspeth was dead (probably more than once), then she ran away from him every time he tried to talk to her and he thought she disdained him because he can’t access his powers or really use them in any useful way. By the time Elspeth figured she was ready, she thought Rushton had moved on, then he was kidnapped and tortured by Ariel and programmed to kill her. Then when they finally do get a chance to connect properly and physically, he asks her to bond with him officially and she has to leave on her final journey, the one that he knows nothing about because she’s forbidden to tell anyone. I re-read all their interactions as well since finishing this book and they take up a startlingly small amount of page space. In this one they don’t even cross paths until almost the end of the story and it makes me wonder how something has had such a major impact on me. But it has! Somehow Isobelle Carmody can say something in a couple of pages that has the impact of a thousand pages. The two of them are one of my favourite couples in literature and they needed  to be together.

I knew with a book like this, the ending was never going to be neat and tidy. There would be sadness, there would be some regret and some confusion. There are things that are tied up well and you can get a glimpse of how things will be in the future but there are a lot of things I wish I knew, that I wish I had more clarification on. Nevertheless, the ending satisfied me overall, even though I had questions. In finishing such an epic saga there will always be questions I think and those little things that you wonder about. I know one thing – I finished this book and immediately wanted to start it from the beginning again. To read it slower and more thoughtfully because I know I raced through it looking for the end and the answers to the questions I had before starting it. I want to be able to read the whole series as one, to put together all the little hidden clues and keys, the information at hand at one time instead of trying to remember or searching for it. A lot may complain about how long this book took coming but there’s no denying that it’s been an epic journey, one of the more richly detailed stories I’ve ever read. You only begin to realise how much detail there is late in the piece – it seems really quite simple when you first start out. Each volume gets a little more complex, a little more deep until the big picture is quite ginormous.

It’s been a fun ride. It’s taken up a large portion of my life, reading these books and awaiting the next installment and it honestly feels quite weird that it’s over now. I see that there is more than one door left open for Isobelle Carmody to revisit this world in the future, be it the Beforetime, the time of these stories or even the future, should she so choose and I’d be happy to pick up anything relating to this world. I’ve never gotten around to reading her other series, I believe fans of that one have been waiting almost as long as fans of Obernewtyn for its conclusion. Perhaps when it’s done, I will dive into it. There’s no denying that this is my biggest literary commitment – I doubt I will ever wait 20 years in the future to ever finish another series. It’s been many things – frustrating, heartbreaking but above all, pretty damn wonderful. It will always remain one of my favourite ever series of books and I think it says a lot that it’s held my interest for so long, from the time I was a teenager to being a woman in her thirties. I’m glad I got to experience it, the highs and lows.

9/10

Book #171 of 2015

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The Red Queen is book #69 of the Australian Women Writers Challenge

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Review: Spirits Of The Ghan by Judy Nunn

Spirits Of The GhanSpirits Of The Ghan
Judy Nunn
Random House AUS
2015, 359p
Copy courtesy of the publisher via NetGalley

Blurb {courtesy of the publisher/Gooreads.com}:

It is 2001 and as the world charges into the new Millennium, a century-old dream is about to be realised in the Red Centre of Australia: the completion of the mighty Ghan railway, a long-lived vision to create the ‘backbone of the continent’, a line that will finally link Adelaide with the Top End.

But construction of the final leg between Alice Springs and Darwin will not be without its complications, for much of the desert it will cross is Aboriginal land.

Hired as a negotiator, Jessica Manning must walk a delicate line to reassure the Elders their sacred sites will be protected. Will her innate understanding of the spiritual landscape, rooted in her own Arunta heritage, win their trust? It’s not easy to keep the peace when Matthew Witherton and his survey team are quite literally blasting a rail corridor through the timeless land of the Never-Never.

When the paths of Jessica and Matthew finally cross, their respective cultures collide to reveal a mystery that demands attention. As they struggle against time to solve the puzzle, an ancient wrong is awakened and calls hauntingly across the vastness of the outback . . .

About four years ago I attended an author event with Judy Nunn at my local library. She’s a passionate and engaging speaker and I bought four of her books that day and acquired another 4 not long after. When I read that her latest book was going to be about the Ghan railway which finally connected Adelaide and Darwin by rail in 2004 I knew that I had to read it. I would love to travel on the Ghan – it takes 54 hours to go from Adelaide to Darwin and I can only imagine how different most of scenery when travelling through the middle must be to everything I’ve ever experienced. Like the east to west train the Indian-Pacific, travel on the Ghan is pretty pricey – enough to put it out of my price range. The cheapest option Adelaide – Darwin is about $2000 and considering I can fly to Darwin for probably less than $200 on a good day, the Ghan is clearly not about getting from A to B. It’s about the experience so onto the bucket list it goes, for hopefully one day when I can do it properly.

The extension of the railway from Alice Springs in the middle of Australia to Darwin in the north would’ve been a delicate operation probably not faced by the construction of the Adelaide to Alice section due to the negotiations that took place with Aboriginal elders. The tracks crossed through land given back to the indigenous people and there had to be numerous discussions about places of spiritual importance. The role of Jessica in the book is such a negotiator, a liason between the local people and the engineers and surveyor teams.

I found Jessica a fascinating character – a half Aboriginal, half Irish girl raised in Sydney’s inner west in the late 70s and 80s but also taught her mother’s mother tongue of Arunta. Described by her father as an ‘exotic mix’ Jess lost her mother at a young age but her father continued to foster her appreciation and connection to her heritage, taking her to find her mother’s relatives when she finished school. She’d already made the decision to study her culture at university and becoming more connected to it was just confirmation that she was doing the right thing. I really enjoyed learning a little bit about some of the culture of the local indigenous groups, such as the way in which courtesies were observed during meetings as well as some of the things they found important and sacred.

Woven in is the tale of an event that happened in the late 1800’s and the way in which it comes to impact on the modern day story was really interesting. At first I wasn’t sure if it was going to be my sort of thing, because I tend towards practicality rather than spirituality but the way in which it unfolded just became so intriguing that I ended up getting right into it. I appreciated the different elements that Nunn incorporated into this part of the story, such as the Afghan cameleers who are such a big part of the history of central Australia.

Spirits of the Ghan is written with sensitivity and respect to Aboriginal beliefs and culture. The setting is vividly described  – despite having never visited the centre I found it easy to picture the construction of the Ghan as well as what some of the sacred sites described might look like. I liked Jess and Matt’s interactions, although it does take a while for their parts of the book to come together.

Now I really need to get to the rest of my Judy Nunn books, which are still sitting patiently on my TBR shelf. It’s so hard to find time to read old books when new ones keep showing up! But with every book of hers I read, I realise how well she can construct a story and I definitely need to get to the others. Going to make it a reading resolution for 2016 to read a couple from her backlist!

8/10

Book #169 of 2015

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Spirits of the Ghan  is book #67 of the Australian Women Writers Challenge 2015

 

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Review: If I Kissed You by Louise Reynolds

If I Kissed YouIf I Kissed You
Louise Reynolds
Penguin Books AUS
2015, eBook
Copy courtesy of the publisher via NetGalley

Blurb {courtesy the publisher/Goodreads.com}:

Raised by a pair of hopeless hippies, Nell Connor had to grow up quickly. But now her father, awash in whisky, has handed her the reins of his Irish pub. After obliterating every trace of Ireland, Nell has transformed it into a smart, and trendy bar. Business is booming but, outside of work, things aren’t going so smoothly.

When gorgeous musician Declan Gaffney arrives, it’s clear he’s definitely not Nell’s type. He’s Irish (therefore must be feckless and unreliable), he sings romantic Irish ballads (which Nell hates) and his nomadic lifestyle reminds her of some of the most painful parts of her childhood.

After Declan helps Nell out of a tricky situation, her father takes a shine to him and starts matchmaking. And when her aura-reading mother turns up, Nell’s carefully ordered life is thrown into chaos. She’s losing control but the biggest shock of all is yet to come …

In a story that shines a light on the unusual forms family can take, Nell must accept that sometimes love takes you in unexpected directions.

Romance is always my “go-to” when I’m not sure what I want to read so I requested this from NetGalley thinking it would be perfect for my mood – and it was! It’s set in Melbourne, where I live in a suburb I’m pretty familiar with and enjoy going to.

Nell has been handed the keys to her father’s old pub but she’s made sure that she’s changed it completely. No longer a place for drunken fights and old blokes propping up the bar all day, it’s now a smart pub with a good chef and entertaining live music. She’s proud of what she’s achieved and how she’s managed to move on from the days when the police were regular visitors. Nell’s dream does wobble a little when Declan Gaffney turns up instead of the musician she had booked. Declan is Irish – fiddle, blarney, lilting words Irish and Nell doesn’t want any of that. He’s also incredibly good looking and as she finds out, can handle himself in a scrap when a couple of drunk businessmen cause trouble.

But more than anything, Nell craves security and stability. Her father is a slave to the drink, always misty-eyed and dreaming of Ireland despite the fact he wasn’t actually born there. He wallows in the culture of Ireland, reading Irish literature, drinking Irish whiskey and waxing lyrical about the music and how it brings a tear to the eye. Nell’s mother is a ‘free-spirit’ who flits in and out changing her name with each new fad that she embraces. Nell’s childhood was disrupted and erratic and now that she’s an adult she seeks to distance herself from all of it. She has a respectable, classy establishment and a respectable and hard working boyfriend. Okay, so they don’t see each other that often but they both work hard and have goals.

Declan threatens Nell’s ideals. He’s Irish, which she wants to avoid like the plague and Declan hasn’t told her exactly what sort of Irish he is which is even worse. Declan has never really put down roots, something that frightens Nell enormously, having been dragged around by her mother who doesn’t believe in roots either. I liked the way Declan challenged Nell to step outside of her comfort zone and the safe life she had built for herself. I understand her need to have that security but it was clear that it was also at the expense of anything wild and fun as well. Declan encourages Nell to live a little, to embrace her fun side. Not everything is about work and building the future, sometimes it’s just about the now and the having a good time…and that sort of stuff can lead to more. I felt for Nell, her mother is truly a despicable sort of person, utterly self absorbed and uncaring of the impact that selfishness had on Nell as a child and still was having as an adult. Nell’s father had his flaws too and the Irish stuff was laid on a bit thick but I think that at least he cared for Nell’s wellbeing and happiness and he wanted good things for her. He also knew that mistakes had been made in her upbringing and was willing to shoulder the responsibility for some of those. He was a bit of a wily old bloke and the scene where he ‘falls’ and needs specific sort of help, setting poor Nell up, is very funny.

Not only is this a super enjoyable read but I learned quite a bit too about the Irish travelers. It was great to read about them, don’t come across them too often in contemporary fiction and it made for an interesting point of potential conflict between Declan and Nell.

8/10

Book #166 of 2015

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If I Kissed You is book #65 of the Australian Women Writers Challenge 2015

 

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Review: Rain Music by Di Morrissey

Rain MusicRain Music
Di Morrissey
Pan Macmillan AUS
2015, 384p
Copy courtesy of the publisher

Blurb {courtesy of the publisher/Goodreads.com}:

Di writes about the Australia she knows, she loves, she’s explored.

Rain Music is inspired by her adventures in far north Queensland – its characters, its forgotten history, its modern dilemmas.

A brother and sister, Ned and Bella Chisholm, are struggling with a family tragedy that has set them on opposite paths. After Ned takes off to pursue his musical dreams in far north Queensland, he disappears. When Bella goes in search of her brother, she ends up in remote Cooktown and both their lives are dramatically changed in the isolated, little-known far north of Australia.

One story through two sets of eyes.

Although I read a lot of Australian authors (and specifically, a lot of Australian female authors) I’ve had a bit of a goal to attempt to broaden the locations of books I’m reading. There are always plenty of books set in Melbourne or Sydney but I’m always looking for ones set in places I’ve never been. Di Morrissey’s books are pretty much always good for that. She chooses many and varied local settings and her latest book, Rain Music is no exception, set in the lush tropical north part of Queensland around Cooktown. For the uninitiated, Cooktown is about 2000kms north of Brisbane.

Bella Chisholm lives in Melbourne and her deceased father is about to receive a great honour. She desperately wants her brother Ned, a drifter musician to return to Melbourne for the event but Ned is proving extremely elusive to track down via phone. Bella decides to take some annual leave and travel north to find Ned, unaware that the journey she takes will also help her find herself.

Bella and Ned provide alternating points of view in this story, each with their own very distinctive voice and personality. They were once close siblings but time and distance has stretched their relationship. Both of them are quite different – Bella has always done what was expected of her, she has a steady job and lives not too far from their widowed mother in Victoria. Ned on the other hand shrugged off their surgeon father’s expectations and threw his life into music. Although he’s produced one CD, he now spends most of his time travelling around playing gigs in pubs and the like, although recently he’s been motivated to really write something with meaning. He plans to use his time spent in the remote north to accomplish this and has little interest in returning to Victoria for the ceremony honouring his father.

The furthest north I’ve ever been is the Sunshine Coast, which although feels quite far given I now live in Victoria all the way at the bottom of the country, still leaves a lot of unexplored country. I really enjoyed reading about Cooktown and some of the surrounding areas as well as some of the places Bella visits as she makes her way north in her attempt to find Ned. There’s quite a lot about the history of the area dating right back to the days it was mostly plantations and a way for the masses rushing in for the goldfields. Woven into the modern day story is a historical one which unfolds through a series of letters that Ned encounters at a local museum as well as a story told to Bella by a local. When Ned and Bella eventually meet up they begin to put the pieces they have together to come as close as they can to the whole.

Having a brother myself and living some distance away from him (about 1200kms) I found myself relating quite well to the sibling relationship between Ned and Bella. I at times, understood Bella’s frustration at Ned’s disappearing and his lack of keeping in touch but at the same time, I also understood Ned’s need for freedom and the strong conviction he had to follow his own path and do what he wanted to do. It becomes quite obvious quite soon on that Ned has a specific reason for not wanting to attend the ceremony and it’s something he wishes to shield Bella from, should she allow him. Bella however is quite the terrier, demanding and picking and needling Ned until he confesses to her, knowing that what he tells her will change her perceptions and feelings on many things. From that however, the two of them do reach a new place, no secrets and a better understanding of the choices they have each made. I also really liked Bella’s journey of her own self-discovery, allowing her to finally make decisions about her own future.

Rain Music was a very engaging story that did a wonderful job of showcasing its setting. I enjoyed it a lot.

8/10

Book #167 of 2015

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Rain Music is book #66 of the Australian Women Writer’s Challenge 2015

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Review: Summer And The Groomsman by Cathryn Hein

Summer And The GroomsmanSummer And The Groomsman
Cathryn Hein
Self-published
2015, eBook
Copy courtesy of the author

Blurb {courtesy the author/Goodreads.com}

It’s Levenham’s wedding of the year but unlucky-in-love Harry Argyle has more on his mind than being groomsman.

After yet again nearly colliding with an escaped horse while driving home to the family farm, Harry Argyle comes face-to-face with its pretty owner, and doesn’t hold back his disapproval.

Confronted by a bad-tempered giant on a dark country road, beautician and new arrival in town Summer Taylor doesn’t know who to be more afraid for: herself or her darling horse Binky. It’s not her fault Binky keeps escaping. The alcoholic owner of the paddock she rents won’t fix the fence and Binky can be sneaky when it comes to filling his stomach. But no matter how big and muscled the bully, she refuses to be intimidated.

When Harry’s wedding party book a session at the day spa where Summer works, both she and Harry are horrified to be paired together. Grudgingly, they agree to make the most of it – only for the session to spiral into disaster. Realising he’s made a dill of himself in front of sweet Summer yet again, Harry vows to set things right.

Summer isn’t about to easily forgive the man who called her horse stupid, no matter how brave and kind, but with everyone on Harry’s side, even fate, resistance is hard. Can these two find love or will Summer’s wayward horse put his hoof in it again?

Aussie rural romance author Cathryn Hein steps into the self-publishing arena with this sweet little romantic novella set in a world with some familiar faces for regular readers of her books.

The characters in this novel are so fun and it was awesome watching them evolve, even though the story is quite brief. Harry Argyle is less than impressed when he finds a horse on the road late at night and he doesn’t waste much time letting the horse’s pretty owner have it. Despite this early introduction into Harry’s temper, he’s really quite a softie and almost immediately regrets his outburst and wants to make it up to Summer, the horse’s owner. Before he can however, he finds himself at Summer’s mercy when the men of the wedding party Harry is participating in are booked in at the local spa and Summer is one of the beauticians.

Even though I kind of suspected what might happen to poor Harry in this scene but it was still so hilarious to read and it played out really well. The scene is kept light and funny with just a touch of the humiliation for poor Harry but it also helps them find new ground and begin to move forward from their previous encounter on the road at night. What follows is a very sweet, awkward and realistic courtship in a way. That’s quite an old-fashioned word to use for a contemporary romance but it fits. Harry is lovely, definitely a typical Hein hero, very much a country boy with a very gentle nature who gets embarrassed quite easily!

Summer Taylor is new in town and just wants a safe option for her beloved horse when she’s at work. I thought the story of the man who owned the property Summer agisted her horse on was very well woven into the story and he became a character you really came to care for the more you read about him. Summer had her reasons for wanting to look after him, perhaps going that extra mile when a lot of the other locals had dropped off, however some come to rally around to help when he really needs it and it became an integral part of the story that helped bring Summer and Harry closer together as well as showcase more of the small community.

I really enjoyed this cute and fun little romance with a very professional polish. Summer and Harry are amazingly sweet and very easy to relate to and it was nice to see those few familiar faces and get to be a part of something special with characters from a previous story.

8/10

Book #156 of 2015

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Summer And The Groomsman is book #64 of the Australian Women Writers Challenge 2015

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Review: So Far Into You by Lily Malone

So Far Into You So Far Into You
Lily Malone
Harlequin Escape AUS
2015, eBook
Copy courtesy of the publisher via NetGalley

Blurb {from the publisher/Goodreads.com}

When she cut her viticulture degree short and moved home, Remy wasn’t thinking about anything more than making the next dollar for her pocket. Working two jobs to keep food on the table and a loan shark from the door, Remy and her mother slowly build a new life together. Then a freak storm tears through the Margaret River Wine Festival — and Seth Lasrey tears through Remy’s life.

Seth is old money. She is no money. He’s the boss. She’s his employee. He is society connections and expectations. She is threats and bad decisions and lost dreams. They seem to be so wrong they can only be right — until a costly mistake and a timely deception drives them apart. Remy picks up the pieces of her life and begins anew. The last thing she expects is Seth to show up in her small town in South Australia, bringing with him memories that she can’t escape and a damaged heart that she’s not sure she can resist.

I must’ve started a dozen books lately and abandoned them – not because they weren’t good, but they simply weren’t what I was looking for. I didn’t even really know what I was looking for until I remembered that I had nabbed this from NetGalley and it was probably time that I read it. Lily Malone writes fabulous contemporary romance set in Australia and from the moment I started this, I couldn’t put it down.

Seth and Remy come from very different worlds but there’s a definite likable chemistry between them from the very beginning. Remy is lots of fun but she desperately needs her job and she’s very serious about it as well. She’s attracted to Seth but she’s also cautious and wary, because she knows what will happen if anything goes wrong. He’s on the board and he’s one of the owners, he’s going to be fine. It’ll be Remy that will be out of work and in big trouble. Things were barely off the ground between Remy and Seth when they went horribly wrong, sabotaged in a neat two pronged attack that left both Remy and Seth with confused and troubled feelings about the other. Remy leaves, rebuilding a new life for herself in South Australia, a life that is threatened when Seth and his company turn up in the local area, making sure that Remy and her fledgling property is dependent on them.

I loved Remy and Seth. They were fun together, I enjoyed their banter and Seth was far more down to earth than I expected him to be. At heart they had a lot of similar interests and played off each other very well. What I really liked though, was the way that things played out in South Australia when they ran into each other again. Seth is under several misconceptions about Remy, fed to him after she left but he listens to her side of the story and believes her and better than that, he uses what he knows of Remy and what he sees, to judge for himself what really happened back when Remy was working for him. This was a refreshing change from having things drag out and allowed the story to move on at a good pace and give the two of them time to reconnect, get to know each other all over again. Even though Seth is in a difficult place having bought out the winemaker that buys Remy’s grapes and needs to make it more profitable, he still takes the time to listen to her concerns and takes an interest in how Remy gets involved in the community. Seth at times, seemed a bit removed from the smaller growers and I think that Remy was a good way for him to be able to connect with them and their needs. He has his board to answer to and he needs to make sure his business does well, but if his lower prices drive the growers out of business, then he’s going to be stuck, unable to make his product to the best of his ability. So there’s a need for balance and compromise and I think Remy helps Seth see the growers as more than just a cog in his business wheel as well. Remy is perfect because she’s a strong character who stands on her own two feet and is determined to free herself from something she considers to be hanging around her neck. Despite her strength of personality and her determination, there’s a hint of vulnerability to her as well.

I absolutely loved this book. Seth and Remy had me from the start and even though I don’t really drink wine (nothing against it, I just don’t drink much in general), I like reading about the process. It’s a huge part of many Australian states and I wouldn’t mind visiting the Margaret River area one day as well as some of the winegrowing regions in South Australia. I haven’t seen much of the country and there are lots of different areas I’d like to see where wineries are a big part. I remember the last time I did a winery tour, it was actually for a wine tourism course I did at university – it was close to 40 degrees and there was a lot of walking. I ended up with sunstroke! We learned a lot about the process that day too and I like hearing about the different growing techniques. I’m not sciency-minded so the actual winemaking tends to go over my head but the growing stuff interests me, as did the stuff Remy was doing with vegetable gardens in the local community. So even if you’re not a wine connoisseur and know nothing about wine (like me!), don’t worry. It’s not a huge part of the story, more just the backdrop for both our characters. It did make me wish I drank wine though, in a way!

I’ve read quite a few of Lily Malone’s books now….I think this is #4 and this one is my favourite. All of her books have been highly enjoyable and just getting better with each release. This one is a must for contemporary romance lovers.

9/10

Book #154 of 2015

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So Far Into You is book #62 of the Australian Women Writers Challenge 2015

 

 

 

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Review: The Patterson Girls by Rachael Johns

Patterson GirlsThe Patterson Girls
Rachael Johns
Harlequin MIRA Aus
2015, 496p
Copy courtesy of the publisher

Blurb {courtesy of the publisher/Goodreads.com}

How can four sisters build the futures they so desperately want, when the past is reaching out to claim them?

When the Patterson daughters return home to Meadow Brook to be with their father after their mother’s death, they bring with them a world of complication and trouble.

The eldest sister, obstetrician Madeleine, would rather be anywhere but her hometown, violinist Abigail has fled from her stellar career, while teacher Lucinda is struggling to have the children she and her husband so desperately want. The black sheep of the family, Charlie, feels her life as a barista and exercise instructor doesn’t measure up to that of her gifted and successful sisters.

Dealing with their bereft father who is determined to sell the family motel, their loves old and new and a series of troublesome decisions doesn’t make life any easier, but when they go through their mother’s possessions and uncover the shocking secret of an old family curse, they begin to question everything they thought they knew.

A warm and wise novel about secrets revealed, finding your soulmate and the unique bond between sisters.

It’s always a little scary when a favourite author tries something new. Their previous books are familiar, you always know what you’re going to get and it’s going to be good! There’s always a little nervous anticipation diving in when a writer deviates from their previous work, but it’s an excited anticipation. It’s the unknown and if you’re lucky, it will be just as fabulous but in a different way.

With The Patterson Girls, Rachael Johns moves from rural romance to the broader women’s/contemporary fic genre and neatly ties in the stories of four sisters, all returning to spend their first Christmas at home with their recently widowed father. Their mother died unexpectedly and her absence is felt keenly by each of the Patterson daughters, as well as her husband. Two of the daughters, obstetrician Madeleine and violinist Abby now live overseas. The two other daughters, teacher Lucinda and yoga teacher Charlie also live interstate so it’s not often that they all return together to their family home.

I don’t have a sister and sometimes I lament that but sometimes I’m actually rather glad of it. I have a brother and we have a wonderful relationship, I couldn’t ask for a closer sibling. But I do enjoy reading about sisters, perhaps because for me, it’s the unknown, the different relationship that I’ve never experienced. I have sisters-in-law, and get on rather well with one of them but it’s not quite the same. I think the sister dynamic can be difficult to get right because four, very different grown up women are going to interact in many and varied ways. They will love each other and they will at times, hate each other too, or at least fight. In this novel, each of the sisters is a fully fleshed out personality with attributes and faults and their personalities do often clash in believable and yet also silly ways – just as people who have known each other all their lives would.

Each of the sisters has an issue in their personal life and after the Christmas holiday is over all four of them once again find themselves back at home. Each of the girls’ stories are incredibly interesting and I found that I had little trouble relating to almost all of the sisters at one point or another in the story. I understood Lucinda’s longing for a child and her frustration at her mother-in-law’s attitude. I also understood how her longing could become an obsession driving a wedge between her and her husband Joe. Charlie was a favourite character of mine and her story is an absolute page turner! I don’t want to say too much about it for fear of spoiling anything but the twist in the story that involves Charlie is amazing and very well orchestrated. It’s an emotional rollercoaster – for both the characters and the reader!

To be honest I’m not really one for believing in curses or anything like that so I did wonder how I would go with that part of the story but I think it’s presented in a way that you can understand why the sister’s would begin to really start to question it, especially Lucinda who is searching for an answer, any answer to a question. I found myself quite enjoying the revelation about the curse and how it played out. There was something about the way it was written and something about the way the girls slowly came to question whether or not it was just rubbish or if there could really be something to it and it might explain a few things that they have begun to question and worry over. Each of them react to the news about the curse, some of them do things that are quite out of character and some of these things (probably most of these things) end up getting them into problematic situations. It’s how these situations get resolved that make for wonderful reading as each of the sisters put their lives back together, take on new challenges and head in different directions from the ‘before’ time, when their mother was still alive. Even their father begins to embrace change and the chance to live again.

I really enjoyed The Patterson Girls and I’m sure it’ll bring Rachael Johns new admirers. For her old fans, there are times when she hasn’t strayed too far from the familiar – Charlie and Mitch’s story could’ve probably made a full length rural! But there are more intricate layers here and more main characters are handled expertly with none losing out in depth and time in the limelight. Luckily for me, The Patterson Girls is just as fabulous as Johns’ other books, just in a different way!

9/10

Book #142 of 2015

aww-badge-2015The Patterson Girls is book #56 of the Australian Women Writers Challenge 2015

 

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Review: Swimming Home by Mary-Rose MacColl

Swimming HomeSwimming Home
Mary-Rose MacColl
Allen & Unwin
2015, 387p
Copy courtesy of the publisher

It’s 1925 and after an idyllic childhood growing up in the Torres Strait Islands, learning to swim in the clear warm waters, Catherine finds herself an orphan and living with her aunt in England. She’s miserable, trapped in a school where she doesn’t fit in, where she hasn’t been raised the same way as the other girls. She can’t swim, something she has lived for as long as she can remember. Her aunt Louisa is a busy doctor and she holds views on the way Catherine needs to behave now. The time for running wild on the island is over – she needs to grow up into a well rounded young woman who now has the opportunity to do anything, to be anything.

A chance meeting with rich American Manfred Lear Black gives Catherine the opportunity she so desperately craves – the chance to swim. He convinces Catherine to come to New York and go up against some of America’s best female swimmers. He’s convinced that she could be the first woman to successfully swim the English Channel and he’s willing to provide the financial backing for her attempt. But is it simply an innocent interest in finding a champion or does he have deeper motives?

Swimming Home is the latest novel from bestselling author Mary-Rose MacColl and it gives the reader three very different settings – an island in the Torres Strait off the coast of the northern tip of Australia, London and then New York. Catherine grew up the daughter of a doctor who worked on a remote island in the Torres Strait. She learned to swim in the open water at an incredibly young age and it’s something that shapes her entire life, as are her relationships with her father’s native housekeeper, who has cared for Catherine since the death of her mother when she was a toddler, as well as the housekeeper’s son Michael. On the island, the relationships are different, although the native Torres Straight Islanders do not escape having their children taken to be ‘fostered out’ among white families in order to see them raised properly and put to work.

When Catherine is 14, her father dies leaving her an orphan. He makes his sister, Catherine’s Aunt Louisa her guardian, someone Catherine has only seen once when she was a young child. Unmarried, Louisa is a busy surgeon, not at all sure of how to raise a teenage girl. Still she does her family duty and travels to the islands to bring Catherine back to England, seemingly unaware just how reluctant Catherine is to leave her home and move somewhere so utterly removed from everything she has ever known. To be honest I thought Louisa, although clueless about adolescents, did show quite a bit of shortsightedness here, thinking that enrolling Catherine in good school where she would be very unlikely to fit in, especially immediately would be the answer to Catherine’s development. I understand where she was coming from and her thoughts on how to raise Catherine, a girl who had been left to really kind of go wild, from an English point of view. But she really seems very oblivious to the fact that the girl has had so much change in her life and she’s miserable. She’s had the things and people she loves most taken from her and she’s moved to a place that’s the virtual opposite of everything she’s ever known. Louisa is very busy and she has trouble actually sitting down and talking to Catherine, as Catherine’s presence stirs up memories for her. It’s Louisa’s housekeeper Nellie who understands how lonely and out of place Catherine feels. When Catherine swims the Thames, she is asked to leave her exclusive school but it also in its own way, is the catalyst for the presentation of opportunity.

I really enjoyed reading about Catherine as a character – her unusual upbringing, her difficulty in fitting in once she moved to England and her devotion to swimming. For Catherine it wasn’t just a past time, it was a necessity. Something she required for her mental well being, it was almost as much a part of her life as breathing. And not just swimming, but the sort of open water swimming she had grown up with. Training in a tank in New York, attempting to adapt her stroke to what her coach wanted, wasn’t enough to satisfy the craving in her to just get out on the water and swim. I loved the part of the book devoted to swimming and the move towards the first woman being able to swim the English Channel. As someone who cannot really swim (bit embarrassing, being an Australian!), the idea of swimming such a distance is mind-boggling. The fatigue, the cold, the sheer length of time it takes – it’s amazing that someone of Catherine’s age with pretty much no formal training, could be considered for such a feat.

There are a few mysteries and twists in this book which are really interesting. So interesting in fact that I’d have loved to read more about the time before Catherine was born. The upbringing of Louisa and her medical studies and what happened to her would’ve been good to read about in greater detail, as well as Catherine’s parents’ marriage. There could’ve been a deeper delving into the island life of the early 1900’s, especially what it was like when her parents first arrived there. I really could’ve read a lot more in this setting.

Swimming Home is a beautifully written story of a girl who just wants the freedom to go home, to be with the people she loves and do what she loves. I did really like the way in which the relationship between Louisa and Catherine evolved, even though they did spent quite a bit of time apart. Louisa makes some difficult choices sometimes, you can see where she’s coming from and why she might do it but you can also see that it’s going to make things even more difficult between her and Catherine and from those different places they have to come together and reach an understanding, air the secrets between them in order to move forward. The believability and well-roundness of the characters are definitely a strong point and it’s the sort of book that makes you feel as if you know the people involved. I only wish there’d been more.

8/10

Book #146 of 2015

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Swimming Home is book #58 of the Australian Women Writers Challenge 2015

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Review: The Saddler Boys by Fiona Palmer

Saddler BoysThe Saddler Boys
Fiona Palmer
Penguin Books Aus
2015, 359p
Copy courtesy of the publisher

Blurb {from of the publisher/Goodreads.com}

Schoolteacher Natalie has always been a city girl. She has a handsome boyfriend and a family who give her only the best. But she craves her own space, and her own classroom, before settling down into the life she is expected to lead.

When Nat takes up a posting at a tiny school in remote Western Australia, it proves quite the culture shock, but she is soon welcomed by the swarm of inquisitive locals, particularly young student Billy and his intriguing single father, Drew.

As Nat’s school comes under threat of closure, and Billy’s estranged mother turns up out of the blue, Nat finds herself fighting for the township and battling with her heart. Torn between her life in Perth and the new community that needs her, Nat must risk losing it all to find out what she’s really made of – and where she truly belongs.

Some people might notice there hasn’t been a lot of action on this blog lately – and by that I mean none at all. In fact this is the first review I’ve written for two months due to serious health issues faced by my husband. However I have still been reading, even if it is a little less than usual and I’m hoping to try and get back into the swing of reviewing, starting with a few titles recently released. When I have been reading, I’ve been picking books by authors I know I already enjoy, the sort of comfort reads that I won’t have any trouble being engaged by. Fiona Palmer is a very well known and loved Australian rural author and I’ve read most, if not all of her previous books so this one was a welcome surprise on my doorstep recently.

Natalie is definitely not what the locals would be expecting when she rolls into town in her cute little sports car with her designer clothes and high heels. She’s clearly from a very different world but Natalie has come to Lake Biddy, population less than 300 in Western Australia, to take up a position at the small local school. She’s very passionate about her job and she cannot wait to meet her young students and get started. Nat’s enthusiasm and energy for her job and the way that she builds a rapport with her young charges as well as her friendliness and willingness to be involved in the local community quickly wins over the residents.

The Saddler Boys packs a lot in between its covers – it’s not just a rural romance. Palmer tackles some issues close to a rural community’s heart as the school Natalie has come to work at faces closure by the government due to lack of numbers, which will mean longer bus rides for the children to nearby, bigger towns with schools. The community bands together to protest the closure and Natalie becomes heavily involved as they campaign to save it. Despite the connection Natalie has made with local single father Drew, and the time they are spending together, she has a boyfriend in the city. She finds herself torn between the life she always envisaged with her boyfriend, who comes from a family very close to her own, but it’s a life that since she moved to Lake Biddy, has become somewhat suffocating. Natalie finds herself patronised by her boyfriend and wondering if he really is all that she had thought him to be. In contrast, time spent with Drew is easy as she learns more and more about country life, helping with shearing and minding Billy, Drew’s son while Drew seeds new crops on the farm. She fits in and she’s one of the first people Drew turns to when he feels that Billy may be in danger. I got a good idea of what it might be like to be a single parent and a farmer as well as how closures of things like schools can really affect tiny communities.

I loved the ease of Natalie and Drew’s friendship and the way Palmer took time to nurture it. Drew is well aware Natalie has a boyfriend and the two of them are mindful of boundaries but at the same time, really enjoy spending time with each other and want it to continue. I really enjoyed the glimpses into Drew’s head that writing in the third person allowed Palmer to give the reader and he’s always much more honest about his feelings for Natalie to himself than she is to herself about him, still confused by the complication of her boyfriend. Drew and Natalie fit together very well, despite their very different backgrounds and lifestyles and all of their scenes together are so well done that you become very invested in them getting it together already. Natalie is perfect with Billy, Drew’s young son who is perhaps a little different, and who requires a little more than most students would. He’s an interesting child and I enjoyed the part of the story concerning him and how it all played out. Children are often hard to place within a book that has romance and it’s difficult to get that authenticity but I feel as though this was definitely one of the book’s strong points.

I love a good rural story – even though I don’t live in the country myself, they’re just so familiar and comforting, they’re the perfect things for me to read when I’m distracted and stressed because I can slip into the story so easily. This was exactly what I needed and I’d recommend it not only to fans of the genre but also those who haven’t yet tried it yet. It’s got enough going on to satisfy any reader.

8/10

Book #143 of 2015

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To be honest, I’ve lost track of how many books I’ve read for the AWWC because my record keeping has gotten a bit lax during my hiatus. At a guess I think it’s around #57

 

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