All The Books I Can Read

1 girl….2 many books!

Review: The Secret Vineyard by Loretta Hill

The Secret Vineyard
Loretta Hill
Penguin Random House AUS
2018, 362p
Copy courtesy of the publisher

Blurb {from the publisher/}:

When you’re stumbling through life, try falling head over heels …

Grace Middleton knew that her ex-husband Jake was a lying, cheating, wife-abandoning bastard.

What she didn’t know – until his untimely death – was that he was also the owner of a secret vineyard in the heart of the Margaret River Wine Region. And, much to the chagrin of his new wife, he’s left the property to Grace’s three young sons.

With the intention of putting it up for sale, Grace takes the boys to view Gum Leaf Grove. And immediately finds herself embroiled in mysteries from Jake’s past – and becomes the accidental target of the resident ‘ghost’.

Nowadays Grace believes in love even less than she believes in ghosts. So no one is more surprised than her when she’s caught between two very different men – with secrets of their own . . .

A sparkling romantic comedy about trust after betrayal, hope after regret, and falling in love after vowing never ever to do it again . . . 

I love all of Loretta Hill’s books and I definitely noticed when she didn’t release something in 2017. However we are kicking off 2018 in the right way with a new book from her.

Grace Middleton is struggling at the beginning of the book. She’s a single mother of three, her former husband having left her for her former best friend. He seems to have little interest in their young boys and almost zero interest in contributing to their upbringing, despite his high-paying job. Grace is tired, lonely, frustrated and her life seems in desperate need of a shake up. It’s kind of ironic that the man responsible for the predicament she’s in now is also the one to provide an out. When Jake, her ex passes away Grace is informed by a lawyer that he’s left their three children a property, acquired before he even met Grace and therefore able to be kept out of the grasping hands of his second wife. Grace decides to visit the property in order to decide what to do with it.

I really enjoyed this. Grace is an easy character to sympathise with. Raising kids on your own is hard, especially when you have a disinterested former partner who only does the bare minimum. Having to explain to three young ones that their father is dead is something no one should ever have to do, no matter the circumstances. Grace originally intends to sell the property in order to fund schooling for the boys or something like that but when they camp out with the intention of getting a house that hasn’t been lived in for 20 years ready for sale, something happens. The boys are thriving, Grace is finding the local community idyllic and even the rumours of the house’s resident ghost isn’t enough to put her off.

You could really see the life that Grace and her children could have at Gum Leaf Grove. The boys are able to get outside and play and explore and there’s a small local school. Grace is intrigued by the background of the house, how it fits into her ex-husband’s life and she discovers that it holds a lot of secrets. She finds herself wanting to get to the bottom of them.

Whilst visiting Gum Leaf Grove, Grace also meets two very different men – one a confident, suave type who wants to sweep her off her feet…..and the other quieter, reclusive and a bit mysterious. Grace will have to decide where her heart lies and what will fulfill her the most but both men have secrets. I liked the way this played out a lot. Grace has been out of the game for a long time – she and her ex-husband were together for a number of years and she hasn’t dated anyone since their separation. I can’t say too much without giving key things away but this worked really well and I think it nailed Grace’s excitement but also her nervousness at stepping back into the dating scene.

Loretta Hill writes with such genuine warmth. I loved the connections between the characters and it’s rare for me to find young children so believable, but Grace’s three boys were a delight but also energetic, busy kids that argue and get into mischief. I really loved the stuff about their interactions with the “ghost” before Grace realises what/who they are talking about. This is a really wonderful feel good type of story. I also really enjoyed the way in which Grace and her mother’s relationship was explored in depth as well as the issues that had led to their estrangement. I got really invested in Gum Leaf Grove as well and the mystery of what had happened there that resulted in the house being abandoned. I love a bit of a renovation story – I think I watch too many shows on the Lifestyle Channel! But you could just see that there was so much potential in the house and for Grace’s life if she were to make it her home rather than selling it and investing the money. The kids were young enough to embrace the “tree change” and a more outdoor, rural lifestyle where they could roam and play.

A Loretta Hill book is perfect for any occasion but there’s something about this one that makes me think warm summer nights with a glass of wine! Highly enjoyable and full of some heart warming surprises.


Book #209 of 2017

The Secret Vineyard is book #61 of the Australian Women Writers Challenge 2017


Review: Little Secrets by Anna Snoekstra

Little Secrets
Anna Snoekstra
Harlequin AUS
2017, 336p
Copy courtesy of the publisher via NetGalley

Blurb {from the publisher/}:

What happens when ambition trumps the truth?

A town reeling in the wake of tragedy

An arsonist is on the loose in Colmstock, Australia, most recently burning down the town’s courthouse and killing a young boy who was trapped inside.

An aspiring journalist desperate for a story.

The clock is ticking for Rose Blakey. With nothing but rejections from newspapers piling up, her job pulling beers for cops at the local tavern isn’t nearly enough to cover rent. Rose needs a story — a big one.

Little dolls full of secrets.

In the weeks after the courthouse fire, precise porcelain replicas of Colmstock’s daughters begin turning up on doorsteps, terrifying parents and testing the limits of the town’s already fractured police force.

Rose may have finally found her story. But as her articles gain traction and the boundaries of her investigation blur, Colmstock is seized by a seething paranoia. Soon, no one is safe from suspicion. And when Rose’s attention turns to the mysterious stranger living in the rooms behind the tavern, neighbour turns on neighbour and the darkest side of self-preservation is revealed. 

I found this book very unsatisfying, despite all of the hype around it and the praise I’ve read.

There are several things happening here – firstly there’s an arsonist in the small town of Colmstock and the latest fire claimed the life of a young boy. Then residents start finding small doll’s on their front steps, which look eerily like their young daughters. And Rose Blakey, 25, is desperate for a break that will kickstart the career she so desperately wants – journalist. She sees opportunity when knocked back on yet another application. She’s in a unique position to bring what’s happening in Colmstock to the wider community and there’s not much she wouldn’t do in order to get what she wants. The time is ticking and Rose is on a deadline.

The premise intrigued me and the set up was quite good. Snoekstra does a good job of nailing a dying town. The unemployment is high, there’s a meth problem, the local newspaper has closed and families are struggling to get by. Rose’s own mother works long hours at a chicken production plant and her stepfather is gone days at a time supposedly driving trucks. Rose still lives at home although her stepfather has made it clear that it’s time she moved on. They need the room, he and her mother have three young kids of their own. Rose herself works at the local pub pulling beers for the local police community and anyone else that might wander in to blow the week’s wages.

The arson is very dramatic and the dolls seem very creepy so I think I was probably enjoying this for the first third or so but then….it kind of loses its way for me. Pretty much everyone is horrible in this book and there are some episodes of gross behaviour from so many. Rose is actually a big disappointment as a main character although perhaps she really has picked the most perfect career that she could, given her actions in this novel. I am not sure if what happens with her getting published would be likely but her articles all felt ridiculously Daily Mail-esque with terrible writing. Her friend I had some sympathy for in the beginning as her life seems very difficult and it’s clear she needs some stability. She’s quite willing to throw Rose under the bus in order to get it though. The behaviour of the local police force is abominable in a myriad of ways without even the most basic of understanding about what the difference between homosexuality and pedophilia is. They’re a sad portrayal of a country police force but to be honest, I didn’t have to stretch my imagination too far in order for it to seem credible but I feel as though it went a bit too far after the first incident. The second one was just bizarre.

My biggest problem was that a lot of the resolutions were just…..lackluster. The build up had been good for a while but it was only in the last few pages that one important aspect of the story was resolved and it actually made me laugh when I read it (and not in a good way). It just seemed so silly. Also the book was littered with inconsistent characters (Rose’s stepfather being the primary one) and there were 4 or 5 threads going on that it felt as though none of them could really be done properly.

A disappointing read unfortunately.


Book #205 of 2017

Little Secrets is book #60 of the Australian Women Writers Challenge 2017

Leave a comment »

Review: The Country Girl by Cathryn Hein

The Country Girl
Cathryn Hein
Harlequin AUS
2017, 352p
Copy courtesy of the publisher via NetGalley

Blurb {from the publisher/}:

Bestselling Australian author Cathryn Hein returns with a moving and uplifting rural romance about facing hard truths and moving on in pursuit of life.

After landing a major cookbook deal, star food blogger Tash Ranger swaps city life for the family farm. But Tash’s homecoming is bittersweet, for now she can no longer avoid seeing her best friend Maddie, who was severely injured in a riding accident and unable to communicate. No one knows that Maddie and Tash had a deep falling out and with every visit Tash must pretend to be the friend everyone believes her to be.

Patrick Lawson, Maddie’s fiancé, battles despair and hope daily as Maddie lies imprisoned in her body, gradually losing his faith in her recovery. When Tash returns to Castlereagh Road with her joy and boundless appetite for life, he realises finally what his loved ones have been trying to tell him for months – that Maddie wouldn’t want him to throw his life away. It’s time to move on. But letting go is no easy feat, especially if moving on means Tash. He’s a country boy and she is a star on the rise with ambitions that could propel her out of reach.

Can these two friends step out of the shadow of Maddie’s tragic life and accept love, or is the past forever destined to dictate their future?

Tash Ranger has made her career as a food vlogger, her good recipes and camera presence building her a steady following. In an attempt to keep her output fresh she’s moving back to her family farm – the Urban Ranger goes (back to the) country! It’s the place Tash grew up and she’s remodelling her grandfather’s old flat for cooking and filming. She has lots of ideas about fresh, local produce but it’s not supposed to be a permanent thing. Her mind is always ticking over, thinking of new ideas, keeping her output new and innovative.

Tash knows Patrick Lawson as first the boyfriend and then later the fiance of her childhood best friend Maddie. A shocking accident means that Maddie is no longer the person she was, but Patrick has remained loyal to her. He still visits her every day and he intends to keep his promises to her. This is severely complicated by Tash’s return and the reactions that Patrick has whilst around her. It starts off as overprotective as he seeks to stop Tash from doing the very thing that injured Maddie and he is very adamant about it. Tash however, is not really into being bossed around by Patrick, nor is she incapable of making her own judgements. Tash challenges Patrick and isn’t afraid to tell him off and despite their rocky start when Tash arrives back in town, they keep crossing paths.

I’m not going to lie – I had some reservations about this pairing before I started the story. Tash knows Patrick as her best friend’s boyfriend. It’s true that Maddie isn’t the same anymore and won’t ever be the same. But I was wary about the whole “best friend’s boyfriend/girlfriend’s best friend’ sort of thing. It’s not an entanglement I usually enjoy although the circumstances in this story were very different. And the way it was handled definitely won me over. Patrick is so obviously such a tortured soul. He’s still so young but he’s stuck by Maddie, even though they will never be able to have that life together that they’d planned anymore. He’s so determined to keep his promises, despite the fact that other people are concerned about him an want him to embrace his life. The way that the attraction between him and Tash unfolds felt really natural and that like Patrick was ready to move on, he just had to make that conscious decision to actually do so, which he was struggling with because he had made promises to Maddie. I have to admit, Patrick didn’t endear himself to me at first – there’s an incident towards the beginning of the story that’s a bit hard to take although I know the logistics of why Patrick wanted to do something but ultimately the fault doesn’t lie where he was trying to place it. He needs something to blame though, and that’s the easiest option. There’s also how bossy and arrogant he was with Tash, but she puts him in his place relatively quickly and once he kind of settled down a bit and realised no one had a death wish, he began to grow on me. I thought that his internal struggle was very well written and I could really feel his pain and indecision. The desire to do what he’d promised versus the possibility of a more fulfilling life with someone who was in a position to love him in return.

I absolutely loved Tash’s job as a food vlogger and the devotion to her creations in this story. There’s lots of amazing meals described – Cathryn Hein is a pretty enthusiastic cook so I wouldn’t be surprised if most are these are some of her favourite dishes! Tash spends quite a bit of time with her grandfather starting up the farm’s vegetable garden too and I loved their chats – her grandfather goes kind of “viral” which was cute. He was a fantastic character, a cheeky older man who in some ways reminded me of my own (sadly gone now) grandfather. Mine could be cheeky as well and enjoyed a story over a veggie garden. I think if I’d asked him to help me revive one he’d have been in on that before you could blink.

The Country Girl definitely won me over, which is no surprise really because Cathryn Hein is one of my favourite authors and her rurals are always sweet with a bit of a sassy twist. I went from my original slight skepticism to fully on board with Patrick and Tash because I think they were bringing out the best in each other as well as showing each other that they had options.


Book #203 of 2017

The Country Girl is book #59 of the Australian Women Writers Challenge 2017

1 Comment »

Review: Raelia by Lynette Noni

Raelia (The Medoran Chronicles #2)
Lynette Noni
Pantera Press
2016, 448p
Purchased personal copy

Blurb {from the publisher/}:

“Life is full of crossroads, Alex. Full of choices.”

Returning for a second year at Akarnae Academy with her gifted friends, Alexandra Jennings steps back through a doorway into Medora, the fantasy world that is full of impossibilities. 

Despite the magical wonder of Medora, Alex’s life remains threatened by Aven Dalmarta, the banished prince from the Lost City of Meya who is out for her blood. 

To protect the Medorans from Aven’s quest to reclaim his birthright, Alex and her friends seek out the Meyarin city and what remains of its ancient race.

Not sure who—or perhaps what—she is anymore, all Alex knows is that if she fails to keep Aven from reaching Meya, the lives of countless Medorans will be in danger. Can she protect them, or will all be lost?

This is the second book in the Medoran Chronicles – I read the first a couple of months ago during the The Reading Quest challenge and had enjoyed it enough to pick up books 2&3 not long after. I have to say, this book is definitely a step up in both writing and story, although it starts a bit clunkily.

Alex is back at Akernae Academy for her second year and this time, she’s brought her parents, having confessed everything to them. With them kept occupied by the Library, Alex is free to resume her studies and continue attempting to figure out a way to rid herself of the obsessive attention of Aven. Inadvertently co-opted into a special class against her will, Alex is kept busy with challenges and tasks that tend to reveal more than she bargained for. It’s also agreed that she needs to make a trip to the Lost City of Meya, where Aven is banished from by his royal family to inform them of his actions. That trip also reveals far more about herself than Alex is ready to hear and the implications of it threaten her life even more.

I was really into this story – I like Alex and the little band of friends she has collected along the way at Akernae and the adventures really ramp up in this installment. I loved Hunter’s class and the way in which that all worked out. The tasks that Hunter devises for them are dangerous but exciting and the way in which the students work together and don’t attempt to outdo each other or try and ‘win’ and seek approval from Hunter works for me. I also liked the developments with Kaiden and hope there’s lots more of him in book 3.

The city of Meya and its inhabitants were not a disappointment and I think their contributions to the story are going to be considerable and memorable. Alex has a way of making those around her feel at ease, even when she’s an intruder and she has the ability to connect with many simply by being herself. She grows a lot as a character in this book, although she still has plenty of insecurities and self doubts. But you can see the confidence she is slowly gaining as she betters herself in her combat classes and learns new fighting techniques. A big showdown is coming and Alex will have to be prepared for it.

I was warned that I’d want to have #3 on hand when I finished this because there’s a bit of a shock at the end that leaves the reader hanging. My good forward thinking means I do already have #3 and I am so glad that I do because I did not see what happened coming until very late in the book. It’s a devious twist and gives Alex and her friends something else to focus on – a new very important mission that is tied into the overall mission but this definitely personal. I was tempted to roll straight onto #3, but I am making myself wait just a couple of weeks until the publication date for the 4th book is a little closer. That way it won’t be so long to wait for that one. Spacing them out just a little, but still keeping them read close together, which helps preserve the detail and intricacy of the world and the story.

I feel as though this was a big step up for this series. The first book had a lot of set up about the world and about Alex fitting in to Akernae and adjusting to all the new things she was seeing and experiencing. This book still has a bit of that, as Alex discovers more new things, especially about herself, but she’s also finding her groove in her classes, in her social surroundings. She has the comfort of her parents who are ‘there but not there’ in that she can go and visit them but they aren’t an invasive part of the story. Her friendships develop and grow, including a few more and when the time comes I feel as though Alex will have a strong band of willing supporters behind her. I’m sure there’s still lots to find out about her and I’m looking forward to those reveals.


Book #198 of 2017

Raelia is book #58 of the Australian Women Writers Challenge 2017

Leave a comment »

Review: Our Chemical Hearts by Krystal Sutherland

Our Chemical Hearts
Krystal Sutherland
Penguin Teen AUS
2016, 313p
Copy courtesy of the publisher

Blurb {from the publisher/}:

Henry Page has never been in love. He fancies himself a hopeless romantic, but the slo-mo, heart palpitating, can’t-eat-can’t-sleep kind of love that he’s been hoping for just hasn’t been in the cards for him-at least not yet. Instead, he’s been happy to focus on his grades, on getting into a semi-decent college and finally becoming editor of his school newspaper. Then Grace Town walks into his first period class on the third Tuesday of senior year and he knows everything’s about to change.

Grace isn’t who Henry pictured as his dream girl-she walks with a cane, wears oversized boys’ clothes, and rarely seems to shower. But when Grace and Henry are both chosen to edit the school paper, he quickly finds himself falling for her. It’s obvious there’s something broken about Grace, but it seems to make her even more beautiful to Henry, and he wants nothing more than to help her put the pieces back together again. And yet, this isn’t your average story of boy meets girl. Krystal Sutherland’s brilliant debut is equal parts wit and heartbreak, a potent reminder of the bittersweet bliss that is first love.

I actually received this last year but I think it was during a time when I wasn’t really reviewing and so it’s sat on my TBR shelf ever since. I picked it up on a whim the other day and ended up reading the entire thing in one sitting in an afternoon. It’s not exactly what I thought it would be. I thought it was going to be a cute little romance but yeah……definitely got more than I bargained for.

Henry has never been in love but all this changes when he meets Grace, a new student who has transferred to their school. Grace and Henry are jointly chosen to edit the school paper and this leads to them spending time together outside of that and forming a friendship that on Henry’s side, is much more. It’s not a ‘typical’ relationship though – Grace has secrets, she is hot and cold, she clearly has a lot going on in her life. But Henry doesn’t care. He wants her anyway and continually puts himself through the wringer in order to do so.

I really enjoyed the offbeat character of Henry, his unusual family and his two friends, Lola and Murray. As an Australian, I found Murray a bit overdone – an Aussie who speaks like a combination of Steve Irwin and Alf Stewart from Home & Away, something that is apparently deliberate as an Aussie living in the US, he finds it ‘gets him the ladies’. I honestly can’t imagine that persona getting anyone any ladies, but anyway. It did add the occasional bit of humour tilted towards Aussies and I really liked Lola. To be honest I didn’t find Henry’s family particularly believable but I liked them anyway. They were fun and it was good to see parents feature so heavily in a story, as well as Henry’s older sister Sadie and her young son Ryan.

Grace was a far more complex character and her story is pieced out very slowly but it’s not hard to take a few guesses as to why she is the way she is, why she wears what she does, etc. It’s a very heartbreaking story and I couldn’t really blame Grace for a lot of her actions because I don’t think she was really fully responsible for what she was doing. She was not in any position to be able to give Henry what he wanted, not emotionally. And I think part of the problem was that Henry didn’t care – he would take her however, even with her hot and cold mood swings, her secrets, her obvious emotional distance and that wasn’t healthy for either of them. And yet that was believable because we’ve all done that. Well, I know I have. I’ve thought that either my feelings would be enough for both of us or their feelings would be or we’d ignore this or that and everything would be fine. It’s not though. Not really, not deep down.

This is an important exploration of teenage grief, an attempt to deal with a life changing tragedy and all the mistakes made along the way. I thought it was a very honest portrayal – no idealistic endings. Fair warning, if you’re a HEA only kind of person, this is not really the book for you. But it wouldn’t have been the sort of story it was with one. And I think the kind of story it is, is important. I didn’t love every page – there were times when I was frustrated, when Grace made me annoyed but then there were times when I also felt desperately sorry for her and thought that Henry ought to just leave things be. It’s a rollercoaster this book and I appreciated it. Krystal Sutherland has another book out now and I’d be interested in reading that for sure.


Book #195 of 2017

Our Chemical Hearts is book #57 of the Australian Women Writers Challenge 2017

Leave a comment »

Blog Tour Review: One More Song by Nicki Edwards

One More Song
Nicki Edwards
Pan Macmillan AUS
2017, 381p
Copy courtesy of the publisher

Blurb {from the publisher/}:

Harrison Baxter and Edwina Campbell lead completely different lives.

Much has changed for Harry since he escaped his home town of Yallambah ten years ago, headed for the bright lights of the big city. Now he’s the star of Melbourne’s hottest musical, chasing only the next standing ovation. Why bother going back to Yallambah to visit his parents when his father couldn’t care less about his success?

Meanwhile, nothing much has changed for Edwina in the last decade, which is exactly how she likes it. Eddie adores her career as a nurse and loves the Yallambah community – she can’t imagine living anywhere else. And even if she wanted to, she could never leave her beloved grandparents, who raised her and love her like their own daughter. She’s not going to abandon them in their old age. Not for anything.

So when Harry and Eddie bump into each other on one of Harry’s flying visits home, their instant mutual attraction seems as pointless as it is intense. There’s no way they could ever make it work.

Or is there?

This story has so many elements I find appealing – rural Victorian setting, Christmas, an opposites attract sort of deal. Both Harry and Eddie grew up in Yallambah but they are several years apart in age and didn’t really know each other before Harry left chasing his musical theatre dream. He’s now very successful and has just wrapped up Les Mis in Sydney and will have a brief break, returning to his home town before beginning the Melbourne run. Eddie on the other hand, still lives in her home town and is heavily involved with the community. She’s a nurse at the local hospital, a volunteer with the SES and after her nan needed medical attention and rehab in a nearer big town, she’s organising the local Christmas party. Her whole life is basically Yallambah and she doesn’t see anything wrong with that. In fact her relationship just ended because her boyfriend got a job in America and Eddie couldn’t see herself leaving her grandparents or her home.

The first half of the book felt a teeny bit slow for me but not unpleasantly. Harry is back in Yallambah almost against his better judgement and is shocked at the condition of his family home and the fact that his mother and sister seem to have been keeping a secret from him. Harry has a fractured relationship with his father – he’s the son, the one his father should be passing the family farm onto but Harry has carved out his career elsewhere and has no interest living on the land. His father in turn, doesn’t really understand Harry’s passion and the two barely speak. I really liked the complicated family relationships, the tensions and conflicts that felt refreshingly real. This book also tackles a medical issue that I have personally not seen addressed before and it does it very, very well. There’s a lot of frustrations and built up resentment that boils over during Harry’s visit as well as heart wrenching grief. The emotions are very well done here, some of these characters go through the wringer!

Eddie and Harry meet when her break up is quite fresh and both of them are well aware that their lifestyles are very different. The attraction between them is strong but they grow a friendship as well which I think is really important, given they and their lifestyles are so different. It gives the reader a real understanding of how they might function as a couple long term. Eddie and Harry pack a lot into their time spent together but there’s a lot of mutual support and a strong emotional bond as well as a physical attraction. I liked that the two of them had a bit of a different dynamic – Eddie is older, Harry is in musical theatre, not generally a profession of choice in a rural romance novel! Nicki Edwards really made these things work and the story had a very fresh feel to it – I was reading a lot of things I hadn’t seen done before, which is always a bonus in a strongly populated genre.

Eddie is a fantastic character, loyal and dedicated to her job, the town, her grandparents. So much so that she doesn’t seem to realise that they have their own ideas about the future. They raised her and I think she feels the need to repay that, to always be around if and when they need her. I enjoyed her role with the SES – it’s an organisation we all know about (State Emergency Service for the non-Aussies) who play such a vital role during times of struggle, especially revolving around things like natural disasters – freak storms, flooding, fire, etc. I appreciated the insight into the role of volunteering with them and what it was like for Eddie to be on call and to respond to a dangerous situation. I also liked the sense of small community (warts, busybodies and all!). This book has such an Aussie feel to it, capturing all the elements of our summer Christmas, the harsh realities of life in the bush but also community spirit and the way that people come together in times of grief and hardship.

I really enjoyed this story and found the ending deeply satisfying.


Book #193 of 2017

This review is part of the One More Song blog tour.

One More Song is book #56 of the Australian Women Writers Challenge for 2017


Author Website

One More Song is out now from Pan Macmillan AUS, RRP $29.99


Leave a comment »

Review: The Drifter by Anthea Hodgson

The Drifter
Anthea Hodgson
Penguin Random House AUS
2016, 354p
Read from my local library

Blurb {from the publisher/}:

Cate Christie is a party girl, unable to commit to anything, until she is involved in a tragic accident that changes everything. To escape her guilt and her parents’ bitter disapproval, Cate leaves Perth for her aunt Ida’s isolated farm in country Western Australia.

Henry is a drifter, a young swagman-like character who wanders onto the Christie family property and takes up residence in a disused shed. With secrets of his own, the last thing he wants is to get tangled up in Cate and Ida’s lives.

Against their own better judgement, the fates of Cate and Henry and Ida inexorably intertwine and they learn to face the realities of life, death and letting go.

A witty, charming and moving debut rural romance about what makes a good death and, more importantly, what makes a good life.

Recently a friend recommended this to me with the claim that it was the ‘perfect rural’. I thought I definitely had to try something that had attracted such high praise because I’m always looking for good rurals, I find them really perfect for when I am either in a reading slump or can’t decide what to read next. My local library had it sitting on the shelves so I thought I would check it out and now I am definitely going to have to buy my own copy for my keep shelf because I absolutely loved this.

Cate is a party girl, living up life in the city in a blur of nights out with her friends and temporary jobs that don’t really go anywhere. She’s about the experience and her parents have expressed their frustrations at her lifestyle but Cate doesn’t care because she’s too busy having fun. Until a tragic accident sends her fleeing the city to her aunt Ida’s isolated farm. When Cate arrives she realises that her idea to stay at the farm and ‘help out’ might not be such a bad one. Aunt Ida is clearly struggling with some things and she could definitely use a hand around the place. And someone to deal with the fact that there’s a stranger bunking down on the property.

Cate negotiates the stranger, Henry’s help around the farm for some of the more muscle jobs in exchange for staying in residence. Both Cate and Henry have secrets but almost against their will they build a friendship with a definite undercurrent and it is amazing. I loved both of them together so much. Cate is in a real state of almost breakdown and she’s suffering from both grief and guilt in equal measures. She is forced to reevaluate her life and decide if the way she’s been living is the way she wants things to be or is this a good reason to find something that she really wants to do? To make a commitment to something, instead of just drifting from one temp job to the next, banking enough cash for cute outfits and nights out. At first heading to the farm feels very much like Cate is hiding – avoiding her parents and their judgement and demands that she sort herself out as well as other people whom she feels she has caused pain. Cate’s journey of accepting the tragedy of what has happened and moving past it forms the backbone of the entire story. She’s able to find a place that she belongs, forge a new relationship with her Aunt Ida and truly get to know her and also get to know the farm and the local community. Cate becomes involved in the running of the farm and instrumental in bringing it back to life again and she also becomes part of the community as well, participating in bakes and church meetings. It’s a form of acceptance that I’m not sure she really had previously and it means a lot to Cate that even when some discover why she’s there in the first place, they still accept her and support her.

The characters in this novel are so full of life and realness (is that a word?). I loved the character of Aunt Ida and the way that she and Cate reconnect and her memories of her late husband. I feel as though she added a real dose of warmth and humour to the book and she was the sort of character that I believe many readers will identify with as she’d remind them of a grandmother or aunt or great aunt or someone that they know. Aunt Ida’s friends are also colourful and the sort of get-things-done country ladies that are probably the backbone of a lot of small towns. I liked the scenes with them all together, there was a real sense of camaraderie and devotion but in an understated kind of way.

And then there’s Henry. Man did I love Henry. He’s a mysterious, possibly even slightly shady character in the beginning, living in an unused outbuilding, helping himself to a spare fridge. He’s basically minding his own business but has helped Ida out in unseen ways but then finds himself confronted by Cate. Their abrupt interactions give way to something deeper and honestly, I was on board for the whole thing a ridiculous amount. They have oodles of chemistry and deep down, they have a lot in common. I had a fun time guessing Henry’s secret (as well as Cate’s actually) and thoroughly enjoying the ride of their relationship. They both made mistakes but there was also true acceptance between them.

This book made me bawl my eyes out like a million times, so maybe read with tissues! But it’s absolutely amazing, probably one of my favourite reads for the year. Can’t wait for Anthea Hodgson’s next novel, The Cowgirl. The good thing about it taking me so long to read this? I only have a couple of months to wait for that next book.


Book #178 of 2017

The Drifter is book #54 of my participation in the Australian Women Writers Challenge 2017

Leave a comment »

Review: The Greatest Gift by Rachael Johns

The Greatest Gift
Rachael Johns
Harlequin AUS
2017, 416p
Copy courtesy of the publisher

Blurb {from the publisher/}:

Mother: female parent of a child

Mum: the woman who nurtures, raises and loves a child

Radio host Harper Drummond lives for her career. Every day she meets fascinating people doing extraordinary things, but has begun to wonder whether there could be something more for her out there. She’s financially secure, happily married to Samuel and has a great group of friends – what more could she want? It’s only when she interviews one special couple that she starts to think about whether she could make a different kind of contribution.

Claire and Jasper Lombard are passionate about their thriving hot air balloon business and know they’re lucky to find such joy in their work and in each other. But while Jasper has accepted that he will never be a father, Claire has found it hard to come to terms with her infertility. She doesn’t want Jasper to regret choosing her over a child in the years to come. Is there a way to give themselves a real chance at being a happy family? Can they find someone who will give them the greatest gift? Or will it come at a greater cost?

Where do I even start with this book? There’s a reason why books by Rachael Johns take up one of the largest sections when my books are arranged by author on the shelves!

At first glance, Harper Drummond and Claire Lombard would have little in common or to draw them together. Harper is a focused career woman, 34 and living and working in Sydney. She works as a radio host, interviewing a wide variety of people – famous people but also interesting people. She does a lot of research and clearly loves her job. She’s married to Samuel, a lawyer who works long hours with the aim of obtaining partnership at his firm. Very early on in their relationship, Samuel and Harper agreed that they never wanted children. They were very happy having a life where they were free to work long hours, socialise and not have much in the way of commitments. They’re even too busy for pets, so there’s no way they’d be able to fit a baby into their lives.

Claire on the other hand, has always wanted to be a mother but a childhood illness stole her fertility. Now she knows that in order to live her dream, she’ll need a very precious gift from someone. But in Australia those gifts are hard to find – egg donation and surrogacy for profit are illegal in Australia and anything done must be altruistic. Claire wants to carry and nurture a baby so surrogacy isn’t the best option for her. Instead she needs someone who might be willing to donate a piece of themselves to her so that she might live out her dream of becoming a mother. Harper is struggling with finding a way of leaving her mark, of doing something to make a difference and so these two women are brought together by a desire to change something.

This book is made to be discussed. It would be such a fabulous option for book clubs or groups of friends. There’s just so much in here that is perfect for a bit of spirited debate. I find egg donation and altruistic surrogacy really interesting because I once offered to be a surrogate mother for a friend of mine and I truly believe I would’ve done it, had circumstances played out in a way that would have allowed it. There’s a lot to unpick about the legal rights and what happens if one person suddenly wants to play more of a role than was previously agreed or circumstances change drastically in the case of the people accepting the donation. Rachael Johns really goes about this book meticulously but also with warmth and sympathy towards all the parties involved. When I was reading this I would find myself frequently pausing just to stop and think about things that the book was throwing up – what would I do in that situation? What would my husband think/say/do if I wanted to do something that was happening? How would we go about it? I found it so interesting on so many levels but this book will also tug at your heartstrings. There’s a lot of emotion in the story, all brilliantly told without feeling overly dramatic. This book is a reminder that life can be cruel but also deliver the greatest joy.

I feel as though I say this in every review of a Johns book but with each new novel she really does grow as a storyteller and writer. As she moves more into the women’s fic/life lit genre she is really tackling some powerful issues and examining different parts of society and life experiences. This book is beautifully written, a page turner from the get go but for me it was just definitely the way the book made me think about my own beliefs and the ability I had to so easily put myself in the characters shoes that really made it such a good reading experience.  I love a book that can really make me consider my thoughts and opinions on various topics and ones that spark a good conversation. This is a fantastic read – definitely a must for Rachael Johns’ fans and if you haven’t tried her books yet then this one would be an excellent place to start.


Book #175 of 2017

The Greatest Gift is the 53rd book read for the Australian Women Writers Challenge 2017


Review: Untidy Towns by Kate O’Donnell

Untidy Towns
Kate O’Donnell
University of Queensland Press
2017, 298p
Copy courtesy of the publisher

Blurb {from the publisher/}:

Seventeen-year-old Adelaide is sick of being expected to succeed on other people’s terms. She knows she just has to stick it out at school for one more year and then she’ll be free. Instead, she runs away from her fancy boarding school back to her sleepy hometown to read and dream.

But there are no free rides. When Addie’s grandad gets her a job at the local historical society, she soon finds out that it’s dusty and dull, just like her new life. Things change when she starts hanging out with Jarrod, a boy who seems full of possibilities. But it turns out he’s as stuck as she is. And Addie realises that when you want something in life, you’ve actually got to do something about it.

A heartfelt tale about love, friendship and finding your own way.

I hadn’t heard of this book before it popped up on my doorstep but I was immediately intrigued. It arrived packaged so beautifully, wrapped in paper that looked like the old Melbourne to Warrnambool train timetable, with a postcard, a little button and a page marker that looked like a V-line ticket before Myki became a thing. For pretty much the entire time I’ve lived in Victoria I’ve also lived on the Warrnambool line although I’m close to Melbourne so really it’s another line by the time it gets to me. But for about six months my husband caught the train to and from Warrnambool twice a week and his family also live in Colac, which is on that line so it’s one of those areas that I’m pretty familiar with.

Adelaide is 17 and only has something like 8 months of school to go when she realises that she can’t do it anymore. She walks out of her Melbourne boarding school and gets on a train bound for home. She seems paralysed, suddenly having a crisis of confidence with the weight of expectation. All her life she was referred to as the smart one who would go far, there was talk of medicine and law and all of a sudden she seemed to realise that she didn’t know anymore what she wanted. She just knew that she couldn’t stay at the school a moment longer, nor did she want to enroll at the local high school. It’s unacceptable that she do nothing so her grandfather negotiates a job for her at the local historical society of her small town.

With so much expectation placed on teens sitting their year 12 exams, it feels authentic to read about a teen who chooses not to do it that traditional way anymore, to give herself some time to breathe and decide what she really wants, rather than applying for what people expect and marking time doing a degree that she doesn’t want to do. I admired her for that, because I don’t think it’s the easy option that some people might assume, especially when you return from a fancy Melbourne boarding school. So many people would be asking that dreaded question about “what do you want to be” or “what are you doing when you finish school” and at 17, half the time you don’t know. You don’t know what you want to do for the rest of your life, if what you’re passionate about now will be the same thing you’ll be passionate about at 25, 45, 65. Sometimes, like Addie, you just can’t decide at all what it is that you want to do and she doesn’t seem to want to waste time when she doesn’t know. To be honest I could say so much about the school system and the pressure of deciding what you want to do and competing with the entire state for the chance to be able to do it. So much riding on a score.

I really enjoyed reading a YA novel in a small town setting. I’ve read so many centred around the cities of Melbourne and Sydney that it was really nice to be in a tiny town with a very different feel, atmosphere wise. There’s a university in Warrnambool that seems within commuting distance but for many, furthering their education requires moving to Melbourne, so do many job prospects other than continuing on the family farm. Addie has to address the fact that she kind of distanced herself from her old friends when she moved to Melbourne to go to school but it isn’t long before she slips back into a group to socialise with, a group that includes a boy named Jarrod.

And so there is a romance in this book and it’s funny and sweet and really awkwardly authentic. The two of them are cute together but both of them make mistakes and have to negotiate getting to know each other in this tiny town with parents and grandparents and family reputations. I liked how present Addie’s family were. Her mum was great – definitely far more laid back than my parents would’ve been if I’d told them I was jacking in school in year 12 with so little time to go! But Addie’s mother, whilst being remarkably accepting, also manages to get Addie to agree to what she wants as well in a way that doesn’t involve drama. I also really liked Addie’s evolving attitude towards the historical society throughout the book, as well as her role and how she views the people that give their time to it. This book reminded me that adults can be very present in a YA novel and have a wonderful positive impact on the younger characters.

I think this is a beautifully written book. It beautifully showcases life in a small town for teenagers but I really enjoyed the relationship aspect of the book – family, friendship and romantic. All are wonderfully done and this book definitely left me wanting more from Kate O’Donnell.


Book #164 of 2017

Untidy Towns is book #50 of the Australian Women Writers Challenge 2017

Leave a comment »

Review: The Baby Doctor by Fiona McArthur

The Baby Doctor
Fiona McArthur
Penguin Michael Joseph
2017, 331p
Copy courtesy Penguin Random House Australia

Blurb {from the publisher/}:

‘The right people turn up in your life at the right time if you let them.’

Sienna Wilson is living her dream in the city – a rewarding obstetrics job in a leading hospital, an apartment with a view, and handsome Sergeant McCabe on call whenever she needs him. The last thing she wants is a posting to investigate a medical mystery in a remote outback town.

But on arrival in Spinifex, Sienna is brought to life in new and exciting ways. In a community riddled with secrets, she meets troubled young barmaid Maddy, and tough publican Alma, both with their secrets to hide.

As they draw strength from each other, new friendships, new loves and new babies are born, proving that when strong women join forces, they can overcome even the greatest odds.

A couple of years ago I read Red Sand Sunrise from Fiona McArthur and absolutely loved it so when I received this one in the mail I was very excited to see that it featured some familiar faces, namely obstetrician Sienna, who gets her own story here. Now working in Sydney, Sienna is summoned to the remote Queensland outback town of Spinifex by formidable local matriarch Blanche McKenna who wants Sienna to investigate an unusual occurrence in the area where three babies were born with the same birth defect. Location and timing are their only common factors and Blanche wants this investigated and fixed so that it doesn’t keep happening. She has the money to ensure that Sienna’s hospital employer are happy to see her go and it will of course bring Sienna closer to her sometime lover, Sergeant Douglas McCabe, who is the Spinifex local officer.

Sienna is the quintessential city girl with her designer clothes, high heels, harbourside apartment and reliance on technology and excellent coffee. She’s also a career girl who has worked hard to get where she is and has visions for her future and her department. The fact that she is granted a bit of bargaining power with her boss thanks to Blanche’s donation is one reason why Sienna is okay with heading north – and Sergeant McCabe might be another. Also I think the idea of a medical mystery (and the chance to perhaps solve one) intrigues Sienna and taps into her professional ambitions.

When Sienna arrives in Spinifex she has ideas of staying with Douglas that he quickly vetoes, saying it’s not a good look for his reputation and standing in the town. Instead accommodation has been arranged for Sienna at the local pub where she meets tough publican Alma, who enjoys a flutter on the ponies and hides a painful secret loss from her past, as well as worker Maddy. Sienna’s keen eye notices something about Maddy almost straight away and she hopes that when she employs the young woman to help her with data that Maddy might open up to her about her troubled situation.

Despite her lack of desire to be in a small town, Sienna does seem to settle in there quite well and scores herself an office with internet and an assistant in record time so that she can begin her research and her investigation. It’s a very unusual birth defect to occur three times so close together in such an area and Sienna has only some vague ideas she needs to see if she can hammer into possible genuine hypothesis. I found the mystery and Sienna’s research into it really interesting. It definitely went in directions that I did not expect, which was great.

I also really liked the character of Maddy, a shy young woman who is experiencing some shame at her situation and isolation. There are people there for her, Maddy just needs to be brave enough to ask for and accept the help that they would offer. She retreats into herself but her planning and preparation has to be commended. Maddy is very smart and I would seriously love to see her pop up again in a book in the future so that we can see how she is doing. Her journey was very important and tackles a situation that’s really a very unfortunately common scenario in Australia at the moment and Maddy could’ve easily become a more gruesome statistic. Maddy contributed a real balance to Sienna’s quite brash personality and Alma, the tough publican was another older woman who shines, which seems a common theme in Fiona McArthur’s books.

I did find it a bit funny that Douglas was so adamant about Sienna not staying there and about them not really showcasing that they were, if not in a relationship, then ‘intimately acquainted’. It felt a little bit outdated but this was a very small town – honestly I’m not sure if it was tiny town morals or Douglas himself. He and Sienna were very different but they did work together. I liked their interactions in the previous novel and it had developed nicely in the time between that book and this one. It was also great to catch up with Eve, Sienna’s sister again, as well as her mother-in-law, Blanche McKay. Made me want to read Red Sand Sunrise all over again.

Another really enjoyable rural romance from a very strong author who always creates a great story. I love the intricacy to this one, there’s so much more than what meets the eye and Fiona McArthur’s own background in midwifery really does give such a solid believability to the ins and outs of the plot as well as a focusing on issues in rural medicine, which I find really interesting and I don’t come across a lot. As soon as I finish one book, I’m always looking forward to the next one.


Book #163 of 2017

The Baby Doctor is book #49 in the Australian Women Writers Challenge 2017

Leave a comment »